The sea of the Ethereals swarmed with relentless wisps of agony, missed opportunities and the regrets and fears of millions unborn. The eddies bracketed her ancient vessel as a creature from the depths stirred the sea below her. Blood trickled somewhere nearby, as the forgotten winds of the Blighted frothed to feed at the vestiges of her soul. An enormous talon of hatred and terror scraped the bottom of her ship as she struggled to hold firm and stay the path. Fire and fury in the real world burned her as the creature with no face, eyes, or tongue opened its enormous maw, ready to take vengeance and delight, swallowing them all whole, annihilating her past, present and future selves in one act of spiteful revenge…
A scream stifled mid-gasp, hung in the calm confines of Mildrithia Van Svor’s domicile. Scribbled sigils of warding surrounded her bed of fine lace and golden filigree. The Navigator Secundus of the Rogue Trader ship, The Shimmerstar, wiped away the cold sweat that beaded her brow. It trickled and dampened her protective psychogramatic barrier that covered her third eye. The black orb of aetherglass, as she affectionately called it, had begun to sting. Pulling the velvet bandana clear she took it over to the sink, and collected a replacement from her trunk. She dropped the sweat-soaked cloth into the enamel container and readjusted the seating of the replacement, a blue cloth the colour of midnight oceans on a paradise world.
She hated wearing the bandana. It itched constantly, begging to be removed. It was both a blessing and a curse. It gave her the freedom to roam the stars, but only within the confines of a plastiglass sphere within the vessel.
The Navigator Primus, Ezephemel, was a male cousin and her companion. Notable navigator houses ensured their bloodlines were kept pure by inbreeding. However, their genetic match did not account for differences in personality, aspirations, or just the fact she did not like him at first. Her gift was in ascendance, while his was in decline. However, over time, those feelings had changed, having grown accustomed to his idiosyncrasies.
Although they were cousins, over twenty years spanned their age gap. He was once a tall, domineering fellow whom she acquiesced to. However, he had gotten older and had grown frail during their tenure together. The companionship was welcome, and their reliance on each other’s company was paramount to their own wellbeing. Although they aged, their son, Lecruciel, from what they knew, was alive and well on their Hive World. Lecruciel was strong, and would become a fine navigator, given time.
Yet, why did her waking dream trouble her so? The creature in her dream had almost devoured them all. Not just her and Ezephemel, but their son, their Novator, even their entire house! How could this be?
Souls burnt bright in the warp. Navigator’s souls burnt brighter still, drawing the creatures of the warp, like moths to a flame. In Millie’s dream, their house was a lighthouse in the dark, an insatiable delicacy for the creatures that haunted the warp. The threat to their futures was unmistakable.
She put the thought to the back of her mind. It is nothing, just the wisps of the warp testing your resolve, she reasoned. No need for superstition or thoughts of fate, she had a job to do.
Travelling by vertilift to the Navigator’s Hall, she noticed her counterpart gripping tightly on the raised dais gantry support, as his other palm scanned over the tide map in front of him. His realspace eyes were almost glacial in aspect, his particular gift rendering him almost totally blind. Yet his aetheric talents were furnace-like in aspect. His warp light shone like a newborn star, both lighting the way, and allowing those who venture deeper in the warp to see him, and the Shimmerstar.
‘Come to take over, my dear?’ He asked in thoughtform. They could read one another’s thoughts during warp transit, as the focus was incredibly intensive.
‘I could not sleep,’ Mildrithia replied, pouring herself a drink from the navis-servitor that provided sustenance on an ornate bier.
The contents were bitter to the tongue, but would rejuvenate her in the timeless hours of warp transit.
‘How are the currents, my love?’
Ezephemel curled up his features into an anguished, painful complexion. He turned his head, as if he had noticed something in the background to his left.
‘Dis..tracting, Millie. It has not been an easy route to plot.’ The ship felt as if it was taking a hard-turn to port. Physical movement during warp transit was usually non-existent. This was unexpected.
‘What is happening, my love?’ She did not wish to remove her bandana, but could feel something was not right.
‘Something…something…is following us.’
There was a pregnant pause, only broken by the gold-embossed vox grill embedded in the mouthpiece of a hard-wired servitor that stood vigil at all times near the currently active Navigator.
There was a sharp shrill as the vox link chimed active, followed by static, then a familiar, gruff male voice. It was the Ship’s Captain, Karsten Krucjek.
‘What is happening to my ship, Navigator Primus?’
‘I am unsure. A shadow- no, something that does not wish to be known is tracking us through the warp currents. It scratches like a swarm of flies on my mind, trying to burrow in and latch its mandibles into…into…’
Suddenly, Navigator Ezephemel’s eyes exploded with light, as his warp-tainted soul burned through his body.
Whatever had grasped the light of his soul was beyond his capacity to resist. It was not uncommon for a Navigator’s abilities to wax and wane, but this was generally linked to the prosperity of a Navigator House, and the coming of a new Novator and Paternova. It was, therefore, unexpected for a warp entity to have such an impact on a Navigator, especially while the Gellar field was operational.
His left hand gripped the dais hard, cracking fingernails and drawing blood. Purple veins protruded from his temples and pulsed with his increased blood pressure and pulse rate. He struggled to form words through bloodied teeth.
‘Eze, can you hear me? I’m coming!’ Millie cried out, reaching for her bandana and struggling to reach the Navigator Primus.
The ship bucked and rolled in the darkening chamber, as lumens exploded, pipelines containing life support gases ruptured, and the ruby red emergency glow globes ignited in warning. Danger claxons blurted out hazard conditions. Gellar field fluctuation. Engine Failure. Structural integrity at 82%. Error. Error. Error.
‘NNNoooo. DDDDoonnn’t,’ Ezephemel cried out with all his might. The Navigator Primus was burning, his body becoming more translucent as his corporeal ignited. Smoke billowed from his every orifice.
Millie gasped as she watched her companion slowly immolate. She gasped, turning her failing real-sight away, as Ezephemel’s body became an inferno. His mouth agape in wordless agony, the vox servitor blurted out an alarm in monotone.
‘Warp translation in effect,’
Ezephemel’s mouth opened up in wordless agony, as light emitted from his throat. Blue hazard lighting indicated a fire within the navigator’s sanctum. Millie, in fear for her life, ran with stumbling steps towards the escape hatch. She slammed her hand against the emergency release. The scissored portals opened slowly like the petals of a winter flower. She jumped through the half-opened gap, scrambling to her feet, as the fire retardant systems kicked online. Her companion’s body was fully aflame now, the conflagration causing plasteel to buckle and sag. She slammed her trembling hand against the emergency close button, and the portal shut with a whoosh. Unable to control the flames with retardant, the fire control system vented the chamber to the vacuum of space.‘Fire control successful. Hazard condition- normal,’ the hard-wired servitor in the nearby alcove blurted.
Millie struck the brain-dead servitor, causing its jaw to turn a little. She pulled her broken hand away, and began to cry.
‘We lost him, captain.’
‘His name was Ezephemel!’ Millie barked out with unexpected emotion. She hated the terms ‘Primus’ and ‘Secundus’. She wished that she was back on Adraste IV with the rest of her household, enjoying fine wine, sharing stories of better times gone by, when their family was in ascendence, rather than shrouded in loss and waning power.
‘I advise you to correct your humours, Navigator Secundus Mildrithia,’ Captain Krucjek quietly admonished.
Taking a strained intake of breath, Millie attempted to hide her consternation. She could not see the captain. Vid-links to the bridge had been temperamental since their last journey to the Northern reaches.
‘I apologise, Captain,’ she replied courteously.
‘Accepted. I am sorry for your loss.’
‘We live to serve.’
‘How long until we can travel once more?’
Millie surveyed her surroundings. Much of her location had been ransacked by the shunting of the ship, and several priceless heirlooms lay shattered on the deck plate. Crystal decanters lay in thousands pieces, as a lone servitor attempted to clear up the mess. A Medicae servitor applied counter-septic ointment to her burns. She winced as the cold metal of the servitor’s dendrites touched her sallow skin. For someone barely into her 40th year, she had the appearance of someone well into her 90’s, such was the strain of warp transit.
‘The clean-up team, a collection of automated, ritually blinded, and aetherically warded drones, are currently scouring the navigation level of damage. They say it will be complete in five hours, give or take.’
A bustling fracas could be heard over the vox, evidence of the bustling conditions on the bridge. One of the Captain’s officers could be heard in the background din, discussing calls from a nearby planet for aid.
‘I have ordered a missive be sent via astropath to your household. We expect a reply in the near future.’
‘The warp appears turbulent, it may not arrive expediently,’ the Navigator Secundus warned.
‘Nevertheless, are you well enough to chart us a route to Diamat Triaris?’
Millie looked over her warp transit charts and aetheric tide tables. To witness these with normal eyes would be like pouring acid over a retina. To her, they glowed with un-light. The glassy black orb in the middle of her forehead throbbed as she surveyed a route. Her other eyes clamped shut against the non-trigonometry and un-mathematics.
‘Yes, I believe I can chart a route,’ she said following the lines in the charts that had no business existing in the material world.
There was a pregnant pause, as Millie felt as though she had more to say.
‘My captain, there was something the Navigator Primus mentioned shortly before his demise. He talked about something following us while we were in the warp… did the Astropaths say anything before they sent the request?’
The captain again paused, as though weighing his thoughts.
‘They mentioned the currents were rather turbulent, more so than usual in this location. Was that the reason for his demise?’
‘I am not sure. It will take me time to understand his notes. Ezephemel was always disordered when writing down his thoughtforms and insights after each translation.’
‘Let me know when you glean something from his writings, and inform me when you are ready to jump.’
‘Yes, my Captain.’
With a shriek, the vox link went dead, leaving Millie alone, with the sounds of droning servitor tracks scraping across the deckplate, bleeps from the atmospheric regulator array, and the echoes of the thousands of human souls she could sense, but never know the touch of.
It made her yearn to be held. To be told everything will be ok, that they will be home soon. She wanted to hear that their child was succeeding. She wanted to share stories of successful voyages, of dreams which depicted past, present or future events yet to be lived.
She was, for all intents and purposes, alone. No-one apart from the Astropaths could understand her plight. At least they had limited access to the rest of the ship. The Navigators were secluded away in their hexagrammatic-shielded bubble. The intrusive nature of the crew’s thoughts and feelings could be overpowering.
Yet, the silence was deafening now. She had to stay active.
Rubbing her sunken eyes, she walked over to the Primus’ chambers.
Each Navigator had their own private sanctum. The larger vessels had more spacious dwellings, but only those Navigators from the ascendent households were ever considered for such luxurious dwellings. Theirs were more modest.
Leaning against a tableau hanging from the steel bulkhead, she rested her aching shoulders after hours of leaning over the table in her domicile. Each Navigator kept a diary. Some were thoughtforms and unwritten metaphors recorded on vid-wafers. Others, including her own private notations, were written accounts on priceless vellum. She compared her own writings with those of her partner. Each was deeply private, as if peering into the soul of the departed. She searched to glean for anything that could explain what happened. Eze’s notes were filled with etheric tables, the insane scribblings of the warp-touched, and what appeared to be drips of human blood.
She looked up at the clock on the wall. It was not a clock in the traditional sense, more like a metronome that gave off a ticking sound to mimic the passage of time.
How long had she been at it? She wondered. Minutes? Hours? It felt like days, but then again, time was illusive to a Navigator. The last few days had blurred into one without her companion.
She scrolled through ripped vellum, data wafers, scanning them onto the hololith display, bringing up tri-dimensional representations of visions. These would drive a non-psyker insane. To her, it simply increased her headache.
‘Swirling miasma, the cold embrace of the void thrown into the abyss of a leviathan. The creature wakes, awaiting its next prey. It knows the secret. It awaits its victim, a predator wrapped in shadow.’
Millie recited the words scrawled in gibberish lettering, the sign of a cracking mind. Millie remembered her own dreams.
She looked for her own writings, collected on a side-table for reference. She fingered through them, finding her last log.
‘The blighted… the talon of hatred and fury…’ she read on. Moving with sudden urgency, she dragged the book to the main hololith, where a pictorial depiction of Eze’s dreamscapes was clearer and more concise in its approximation.
Controlling the display with tactile gestures through haptic feedback, she rotated the picture.
‘Stop. Magnify.’ She called out to the computer controls. She focussed on what appeared to be a stain. An image was visible upon magnification. A creature with a shadow-black maw, coming from what could be considered the deep of the warp, heading for what looked like a silhouette of this ship. A claw of unremitting fury looked ready to close on the vessel in the picture, as if to trap it in the warp.
‘It can’t be that, surely.’
She searched the confines of her ship designation logs, found in an antechamber next to the control deck. A small library of ship class, tonnage, displacement, and most importantly, last commander. The blackened creature of nightmare-fuel was not a creature. It was a ship. A massive ship of ancient design, with a prow akin to that of a tuning fork made of flesh instead of plascrete.
Yet it was the name that confirmed it. It appeared blighted, yet it was the plague. Every contagion known and unknown. It had a name long before it became corrupted by one of the Four. Her lip quivered as she considered naming it. Once acknowledged, it would instil utter fear in the Captain, the command bridge, and all the souls on board. The Captain needed to know.
Millie raced to the vox emitter, hammering her fist into the receiver button. ‘Captain.’
‘Navigator. Do you have a lead?’
‘More than that. I have a name. You will not like it.’ Her lip tremored.
‘Well, tell me, what is causing these increasing issues?’
‘Increasing issues?’ The Navigator queried.
‘Yes, unknown poxes, illnesses with no known transmission vector. We have lost contact with several decks so far.’
‘We need to proceed to a safe harbour, straight away, my Captain.’
‘Firstly, tell me what is chasing us.’
‘I would rather not over an unencrypted link, Sir.’
‘Throne, spare my patience, what is chasing us, Navigator?!’
‘It has no name. It is a shadow. If it catches us, I fear for our safety. It intends to kill us, or worse.’
The vox was silent except for the crackle and hiss of interference. The captain gulped some bile down, trying desperately to hide his utter fear. All rogue traders feared the forces of chaos. However, a special level of dread accompanied the shadow in the warp. To be embraced by it was to die.
‘Plot us a route to Diamat Traoris, or the nearest imperial strongpoint.’
Walking to the command dais in the centre of the transit bubble, she entered the Navigator’s Hall, and proceeded to the central dais in the exact middle of the shield dome. It had been reinforced after the warpfire event. However, no manner of cleaning or decontamination would ever remove the scent of burning flesh, or the taste of aerosolised blood from the chamber. Each breath she took in reminded her of the loss. The scorch marks remained embedded in the metal floor, too deep to be removed without a full refit while in the dock. The reminders were almost too much to bear, but she had to endure.
She went through her cantrips and aether-memes as trained. After the traditional thirteen prayers for safe passage to the God Emperor, she added one final prayer.
‘Ezephemel, give me the strength to endure and deny the foe their prize.’
Was it her imagination, or did she, for the briefest second, hear laughter, and the buzzing of flies?
There was no reply. A low notification tone indicated tanslation readiness. The buzzing was the vox-haler remaining active. She had decreed a permanent link to the bridge be established, to which the captain had agreed. She could hear the bridge crew in the background, doing final checks, overseeing lockdown plans, and reviewing engine compensation overrides.
She entered the warp-cradle, which kept the Navigator upright while they completed the haptic manoeuvres necessary to ensure safe passage through the warp. Pulling the bandana away from the Aetherglass, her third eye began to ache. She would endure the pain.
She spoke into the vox-haler suspended from the ceiling.
‘Prepare for warp translation,’ she droned, her voice heard across every deck of the Shimmerstar.
With a silent scream she endured the pain. The Gellar field and the warp engine were both activated. Out in the void, a tear appeared in the fabric of realspace. Insane energies of unknown colours ripped outwards, ready to pull any unlucky soul in. The aetherlight wrapped around the Shimmerstar, looking for a way in. None could be found. Realspace engines rocked forwards, aiding with the translation. The vessel pulsed forwards into the cut in spacetime. A single tendril licked outwards, seemingly pulling the vessel in.
The gods saw what Millie had done, and they accepted her role in their great work.
‘Just as planned,’ came a voice without body or mouth to utter it.
In her aethersight, a shadow instantly enveloped the Shimmerstar, as the warp rift sealed shut. As it surrounded them, it changed form. It had the impression of a giant hand, trying to dig its claws into the ship and pierce the vessel. It was hooked. And with it, every person on the Shimmerstar screamed in unison.
I hungered for their souls.
No, just one. Hers.
His terror was a morsel. A starter course. He was not the main course. He believed that they had mastery of us.
He was wrong. They all were.
They were all pawns in the Great Game.
And now, another piece came to play.
This one was special. It had knowledge.
It had secrets. It had power.
We will have it!
Millie wanted to cry out and let all her warp-tainted power come to bear, but to do so would be the death of them all. No matter which direction she steered the ship, the shadow of the creature was always upon them. It read her every action, every ploy. The thing that had them refused to let go.
She tried travelling against the warp currents, violently testing the structure of the Gellar field and the ship, to no avail. Cries from the captain over the vox went unanswered. Millie decided to leave the link open for now. Whichever direction she turned, the shadow was almost within reach. She needed a way out, a way to break free then gain distance.
It grasped for her directly, clawing at the Gellar field, causing it to ripple. The ship bucked, and the lumens within the protective hexagrammatic bubble flickered as power was diverted to the Gellar field.
‘Power systems divert from life support to reinforce Gellar field operations.’
‘Ships’ systems at 45% efficiency and falling, my Liege.’
She heard the reply, but her focus was elsewhere. Black blood trickled from the orbit of her aetherglass eye.
‘There!’ She called out.
She had been trained in manoeuvres that would expedite their travel, or slow down an assailant. However, all of these were for realspace movement, she did not know how they would work in the warp. She let the ship be guided by the currents alone for a while, as she focused her mind and formed a force screen behind the ship, hiding it temporarily. Behind them the massive black shadow took form, coalescing into a massive vessel. Hands became a prow. Knuckles became gun emplacements. She directed the cloud in the warp, a layer of warpstuff, to envelope the rear of the ship, like an ancient sea-dwelling prey using ink to mask their travels.
The shadow that was, and was not a titanic talon, reached for the vessel, pulling away as the blot of clouded warp currents forced it back.
They were not safe, though. It would require more.
She was tired, quickly running out of will. Her powers were drained, yet she was not done.
She conjured the screen, while the warp engines pushed through the miasmic thoughtstuff of the warp.
‘More power to the warp engines, Captain!’
The captain heard the cries of anguish from the bridge crew. Control stations exploded in shards, as another rogue warp wave rippled through their path.
It worked. They had gained ground on their predator, but it was just within sight, and was gaining momentum. She could sense a massive collection of warp energy coming straight at them. It would be enough to punch a hole through their shield. A death sentence. It would require perfect, pinpoint accuracy.
Her last strategy had run aground, and the creature, that was no creature, rubbed its chaotic fingertips along the ventral shield dome.
‘Gellar field fluctuation identified. Integrity at 18% and falling,’ came the automated reply across the vox.
Pushing her hands out in a grasping motion, Millie went to grab whatever she thought was just within reach. It was a warp wave leading to calmer currents above them.
You are mine now, came the words of the growing darkness.
Millie pulled down as hard as she could, dragging her hands down the dais, breaking every fingernail. The ship seemed to lurch upwards, as if slingshot away.
NOO!!!!! The unbodied vessel yelled out, as the rogue warp wave swallowed it up, tossing it aside, and deeper into the turbulent aethersphere.
‘Translate to realspace. Now, Captain.’ Her voice was hollow. Her strength was almost spent.
The lights changed from red to blue, as the warp rift opened up above them, and the ship tumbled out of the rift from the bottom-up. Gravimetric stabilisers cried out with overloads, as the gravimetric forces pulled on the ship, bucking it into a dive towards the nearest gravitic mass.
The Navigator went limp in her restraints, her legs hanging limply against the metal deck plates and aetheric glass control panel. They had appeared within the orbit of a red supergiant star. Its swollen mass began to pull them deeper into the system, as power systems struggled to activate. The captain lifted himself back to his command throne, activating the comms bead in his ear.
‘Navigator. Millie, respond!’
‘Adjusting position to orbit near-star. Hull integrity holding at 27%,’ came the systems report over the comms net.
The Navigator did not respond. ‘Navigator Secundus respond, Throne damn you!’
She could not respond. The last jump had not gone off without incident. The creature in black had caressed her. It had made contact. Tasted her soul, and had taken a trophy in its action. It had taken a vestige of her life. She was not just asleep. She was comatose.
‘Identification Executive override Krujcek – Tradus Envoyus Imperatus dominus Gamma-Seven -Delta- Zero. Execute.’
A whirl of garbled binaric from the two gun servitors brought their guns to standby. An executive override was a failsafe access code in emergencies.
A tense half minute followed.
‘Welcome to the Navigator’s domain, Captain Krujcek. Magenta warning is in place.’
‘Quickly, go now!’ The medicae team rushed into the main Navigator’s chamber several decks above them. Almost all of the crystalplex walls were cracked and blackened with warpfire. A sign of mass psychic residue and instability.
‘We have her… Oh, my Lord Emperor,’ Medicae Primus Denuciel
‘What is her status?’
‘Not good, Captain. We cannot treat her here.’
‘Can she be moved?’ The captain said with caution.
‘She managed to disconnect herself, so yes, we can move her.’
Two orderlies held her under each arm, dragging her legs as they moved her. They all closed their eyes when they needed to check her head wounds. The captain looked at the frail body, bloodied, battered, and covered in fresh wounds. These were not wounds from exploding glass or gunfire. These were warp-afflictions. The bandana was blood-soaked on her brow.
He looked down at her real eyes. They had spun into her back of her head, but moved as if dreaming.
‘Come back to us, Millie,’ the captain pleaded, as they made their way down to the Apothecarion.
Her mind was adrift, like a shipwrecked sailor on ancient Terran seas.
She had no indication of her location, where she was. When she was.
I am separate from my body, the stranger with no name realised. She would scream, but had no mouth to scream.
There was no ocean, but she could see the currents, the cresting and collapse of waves and the sickening sensation of movement across more than three dimensions.
Where am I? The voice she heard was not physical, nor mental. It was as if her emotions spoke for her.
Somewhere and nowhere, came the unbidden reply.
She turned. She perceived what she thought was once referred to as an apparition. A spectre, of sorts.
It was her partner, Ezephemel. Disembodied, yet his soul-light glowed just as warm and radiant as always. The sea parted, as if burnt away by his incandescence. He smiled. Or did he weep? Emotions were all askew, not fully comprehensible.
We do not have the time. He gestured with what could be a finger, towards a stretch of ocean, waves of malice and hatred roiled with crests of desire and sorrow. The horror of it made her soul sick. I need you to return now. They depend on you. He depends on you.
She looked to the farthest reaches, noticing a blazing aura in the darkness. Distant, yet so bright it stung to witness. The rolling waves blocked its hue, but were quickly reduced in intensity, until the un-light was visible once more.
‘The Emperor?’ She felt insignificant in the presence of such a force of nature.
Our son. They are all at great risk.
She looked again with her failing un-sight, as her presence in the void began to unravel. She felt her senses rush back towards her corporeal body. There, a flickering lantern of light, bracketed by the currents of hatred, envy, entropy and change. It was nearly snuffed out by the weight of the emotions assaulting it.
‘Our son.’ If she could just reach him. She felt purpose reach out and take a grip on her. No. It was not purpose. It was much worse. Fear. Fear gripped her heart, and would not let go. She went to scream once more.
The needles punched deep into her body, as the medicae servitor tried to secure a vein. The stifled scream was barely contained, as unimaginable pain flooded her synapses. Her body felt as if it was on fire. Grafts covered sections of her body, while aether gel counter-septics covered the most damaged tissue around her hands and arms. The only piece of clothing left from her original attire still attached was her bandana, covering her warp-eye; a simple robe covered her torso for modesty. She pulled against the restraints, feeling like a feral creature struggling to escape confinement.
‘Lay still, Lady Von Svor.’ The medical servitor was alpha-epsilon class, the best her house could afford. ‘You have suffered significant burn damage. Your body required time to heal,’ the monotonal voice of the servitor hummed.
She looked around with her eyes, given her head was secured at the temples by a medicae clamp. She was not in her rooms within the Navigator’s sphere, nor was she in the emergency medicatorum below the Aethersphere. She was in the general medicae, on a plasteel slab. The external areas of the room were sparsely decorated. Clinical, efficient, devoid of style or class. They had saved her life. Yet she was conflicted. Emotions rose to the fore, visible only in the slight grimace as the medicae servitor removed the needle in her arm.
‘Can I leave yet?’ A metal neck clamp was placed around her blackened neck, securing her head in place, making her unable to turn her head at all.
‘Please be patient, Lady Von Svor.’ The bed lifted to a near-vertical position, her feet less than a foot from the deck plate. The shift of weight reminded her that her body was more badly damaged than she realised.
Sudden excruciation filled her synapses.
‘You are awake, then.’ A familiar voice was heard behind her.
‘Is that you, Captain?’
‘Yes. You have been badly damaged. Please. Be still, my Lady.’
‘My son!’ She tried to move again, this time feeling something click in her neck. A wave of nausea-inducing agony flowed from deep within her core, bringing bile to her lips. She stifled the need to vomit.
‘What of him?’
‘We must get word to the Royal Household. Our son is at risk.’
‘The Astropaths have confirmed the message was sent. However, no reply is pending.’
‘No, no, no, no.’ She began to feel her heart racing as her attempts to save her son appeared in vain.
‘What was it you saw, Navigator?
She refused to answer. To explain the complexities of warp travel and the entities held within to the unsighted, was similar to explaining the intricacies of the electromagnetic spectrum to an amoeba.
‘My family is at risk, and so are we if we do not make it to my home world.’
‘Is she stable enough to return to duties?’ The captain asked the medicae.
‘Processing…Yes. However 62.7% chance of permanent injury on return to normal duties.’
‘Release her,’ the captain ordered.
The clamps holding her in place released. She flitted her eyelids, trying to keep focus on her surroundings.
‘I must return us to my home world.’
‘We are scheduled to arrive at Diamat Traoris in seventeen days, Navigator.’
‘You have lost your Primary Navigator, and suffered terrible damage to your ship. We must return to my home world.’
Giving his words careful consideration, the captain changed tact.
‘Do you feel strong enough to travel again so soon?’
‘Is the ship warp-worthy?’ Mildrithia asked. She could have used her warp-sight to sense for damaged sections of the ship, but saved her strength for the test ahead.
‘Yes. Damage repairs are ongoing,’ said the captain.
‘Then, take me to my domicile.’
‘I still have orders, Lady Navigator.’
‘Wich are now null and void. Your reserve Navigator is injured, the primary Navigator lies dead. There is a threat in the void after us. We cannot survive this battle.’
The captain thought his options over, then simply acknowledged his decision with a subtle nod.
‘Do it, Navigator.’
She made it slowly towards the exit portal of the Apothecarion, turning back just once.
‘Good luck. The Emperor Protects.’
Preparing herself at the fractured dais, Millie activated the direct link to the bridge.
‘I am ready,’ was all she said. The captain replied with deft curtness.
She was ready. Runes were reinforced with scrawled replacements. Warpfire burn points doused with null-amplifying material surrounded the Navigator’s quarters. She was as prepared as she could be for the next translation attempt.
She had searched for a way to gain an advantage over the creature in the warp. She was convinced it was not representative of a single chaos god, but an amalgamation that served all the Chaos Gods. Every possible route for escape or chance to outrun it led to their destruction. It was as if it read their minds. That was the key. The creature had taken a part of her in its embrace. Her foresight. Hence why her chaotic escape from the warp before had duped it. She had to do the same thing twice. This journey would likely kill her. She accepted her fate. To save the life of her child, and this ship, she had to do what was necessary.
Necessity. The word seemed to have a charged meaning, as if dredged from another’s mind from ages past. She breathed in, removed her blood-soaked bandana, and prepared for her final journey through the realm of Hell. With a dislocation, and feeling of utter self-doubt and loathing, she, and the ship she was on, travelled through the tear in the fabric of void space.
‘Sound off!’ the captain screamed out, to be heard across the din of alarms. The ship translated into the warp, but its Gellar field fluctuated just as the tear in reality sealed shut behind them.
‘Multiple incursions my Lord. Decks 17 through 25. Gunnery decks reporting heavy casualties. Habitation areas overrun. Deck chiefs indicate losses up to 80%.’
‘That’s nearly fifty-thousand souls,’ whispered a bridge helmsman.
‘Silence those alarms. Navigator, are you still with us?’
‘…YYessss…’ came the slurred reply. She then shouted out in alarm. ‘Warp wake incoming!’
A series of otherworldly alarms bracketed the captain’s senses, as he grasped the command dais. Gravity in this realm was nonsensical. One moment they were upright, the next they were upside down. The captain felt his body crawl with a thousand angry spiders, then go cold all over, then move as fluidly as fire in zero-G. All the while he witnessed forces on the bridge reinforce the main doorway to the Arterial causeway. The incursion had been brief, but just long enough for a cavalcade of chaos forces to manifest. They had pushed through initial defensive screens, painting the decks with the blood of the crew. The bridge staff and security teams hastily reinforced their defensive positions, ready to turn away another wave of attackers. The heavy-set doors, which acted as shields against the terror, rippled and buckled under repeat clangs from heavy weapons.
‘Navigator, are we close?’
The Navigator’s real eyes were now burnt-out husks of fleshy orbs. She reeled from the Eldritch touch of the Spectre in the warp. It was more than one. She felt as if she was being hunted by several entities at once. And yet, one had managed to take a price from her. The price of her actions was great. This ship, along with what she knew, could be immolated at a moment’s notice. She shrugged off a giant’s hand in the warp, trying to grab hold of her psyche. It left blackened welts in her actual real-space body, which leaked blackened ooze. She felt the strength leave her through the wound sight. She was bleeding out. This was it, now or never.
She reached out for the tiny pinprick of light that was her destination, reaching as if to grasp it between outstretched fingers. Her mindsight grew dim, surrounded by the Shadow in the warp, as her strength faltered. She wanted to pull the stricken vessel through, and to find a safe passage home. Otherworldly hands, claws, wings and pupating tongues all vied for her submission to them. They would have her, alive or dead. It no longer mattered to them.
‘It matters to me!’ The vox screeched, as Millie’s last words rang like a fallen bell in a Belfry tower.
She gripped the world, and pulled. She pulled for herself, the ship, and all the souls aboard had to work.
You are ours now.
The switch for emergency translation was pulled, and the ship was forcibly yanked back into realspace. Cries of pain and anguish rang out as the warp-borne space horrors lost cohesion.
Talons scratched at her face, cutting deep into her flesh, as parts of her were sampled like a delicacy at a banquet. Her arm was dislocated as the appendage was pulled back and cracked at the elbow. Her jaw was forcibly opened up, a scream silent on her tongue. One leg exploded in light, as the creature within her nightmares bit it off at the knee. The realspace limb erupted in ruby mist, as the Navigator fell back in her cradle, held suspended above cracking aetherglass panels. Mildrithia felt weak but defiant. Her target grew larger and larger, but her ship and the crew on board were being whittled away, selling themselves dearly.
Translation in Progress.
She smiled weakly, knowing her gamble had been successful.
A rip in the fabric of reality opened up in the Svarex system, home to the Navigator’s household. The ship travelled through, tendrils trying to claw the ship back into the warp, refusing to let go. Its warp engines guttered and died, as the tear closed around them. Pinwheeling crew and serfs ejected from fractured bulkheads into the frozen kiss of the void. Fires guttered and were smothered by the lack of oxygen. Echoing reports of autogun fire slowed down, as the forces of the neverborn lost cohesion in this realm. The decks and their occupants that remained intact roared in triumphal relief. They had survived.
‘Navigator, come in. Millie, answer the damnable vox!’
The captain realised something was wrong.
‘Sector analysis sweeps for imperial codes and access wafers,’ he ordered.
‘Open the shutters. I want to see the world.’
A deckhand grasped the emergency pulley and manually opened the shutters. Blood mist glittered in the void, as the world came into focus. Something was off. Half the planet was on fire.
‘Sir, vox-link to the planet. Can I put you through?’
‘Navigator, respond!’ No answer came.
Medicae servitors report on the condition of Navigator Mildrithis Van Svor.’
‘Compliance.’ Two orderly servitors could be seen attending to something off the vid monitor.
‘Vox-link established.’ The vox went live for the first time about the Navigator’s homeworld. The usual chatter of void traffic about the world was absent. What could be heard was the dying sounds of millions of souls corrupted by Chaos. The captain looked again at the planet. Scry scopes in orbit patched into the hololith display at the centre of the bridge and detailed visuals of the world below were rendered in three dimensions for the bridge crew.
The stylised insignia of She Who Thirsts, the Great Diseased corrupting essence of Nurgle, and the persistent reminder of He who craves Blood and Skulls, could be seen across the surface of the planet. The world was dying. Its death throes could be felt, seen, heard. Pict images from the world filled each vid-display, each pict-glyph. The scene brought about nausea and wails of horror from those that witnessed the barbaric horrors.
Millions of humans lined up, hooks embedded deep into fissures of bodies, lined up for ritual beheading. Colours of a thousand unknown hues used as spears of light to mutilate deathless carcasses that twitched and shook with eternal agony. Scores of what appeared to be medical slabs with surgically augmented people conjoined in macabre expressions of human suffering.
The captain accessed his master control switch, disconnecting all vid-capture monitors from screens on the bridge.
The silence was deafening, broken by sudden warbling alarms.
‘Main engines stalled, my Lord.’
‘Main thrusters offline. Main armaments offline, sire.’
He looked at the vid-monitor he had installed covertly within the Navigator’s location, trying to see around the two medical servitors working on the Navigator. Not wishing for a repeat of the previous incident, he had ordered the covert installation of the device within the Navigator’s sanctum while she was unconscious in the medicae.
‘Warp incursion in effect, Sir.’
‘No…no…no…’ the captain cried, falling to his knees.
He looked upon the vid-capture of the world far below. The Navigator’s Palace was destroyed, and its inhabitants likely dead. But that was not what caused the captain to cry in dread. He saw the warp rift open in front of them.
The creature the Navigator had claimed was after them. It was real. He saw an eldritch thing, with claws, fingers, and other anatomical parts present, reach out for his vessel. Crippled in the warp, unable to make harbour, or defend itself. Yet this was not what made him cry.
Hearing the cries of anguish and the screams of those on board being torn apart by daemonic entities filled his hearing. It was not even this that made him lose hope.
It was the vid-capture from the Navigator’s quarters. Two medicae servitors withdrew out of sight, leaving the rotten cadaver of the Navigator’s charred husk. All hope was lost. No way to return to a safe haven. No way to escape. He fumbled with his holster. One last act of defiance. One last act of humanity. He put the laspistol to his temple and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened.
He looked at the weapon. He no longer had a hand. A clawed horror now replaced his hand. His skin began to slough off his arm, as his body was torn in two. A purple creature began to pull itself free from his splitting cadaver, yet his body refused to let him die.
Corporal Agatha was being torn in two, pulled by two of her comrades possessed, each with more eyes in their heads than fingers on their clawed hands. She split with a welch of cracking bone and sinew, from navel to clavicle.
Others on the deck tried to take their own lives, only to be held still, as others forced protruding tentacles down their throats, through eye sockets, into other orifices. Spurs of metal pinning security personnel to the deck, as they were ritually torn apart, entrails spread to form an Eight-pointed Star.
All the while, the captain witnessed everything. Felt everything. Unable to end his life, for his form was utterly broken. The purple creature that had once been his digestive tract jittered and pulled itself along the deck, pulling more of his entrails free. It feasted on the face of his Master of Arms, who managed to put two autopistol rounds into the faces of his nearest security guards, a macabre mercy.
The ship was pulled apart from within, and without, as the black shape dug deep into the marrow of the ship’s superstructure.
He had no words. He could not scream. He had no mouth, he could not form sounds.
There was merely loss, horror, and pain. And the deep, roaring laughter of Thirsting Gods.
About the Author
Matthew is a long-term fan of all things grimdark. He is a keen modeller, writer, narrative creator and have a vivid imagination. he currently resides in Woodville, Derbyshire with his wife, daughter and two dogs.
He enjoys exploring the nuances of humanity, and lack thereof in the 41st millennium, and how the human condition is tried, and fails, within extreme situations. Tales of daring do, hoping against hope and meeting the countless denizens of the enemy within and without keep me entertained, as he hopes his writing keeps others entertained.