Short Fiction

Windows to the Soul

Windows to the Soul

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Joshua Olsen
Reading Time: 11 minutes

‘Are you the one they call Eyebane?’

Lirratus looked up from his interrupted game of Regicide, cocking his head slightly and sizing up his questioner: another power armor-clad giant clad in faded black and red. Unimpressed, he returned to the game with his mortal opponent and moved a white piece, deftly knocking off its dark-colored opposite. When he spoke, his voice was musical, though coloured with disinterest.

‘There are those who refer to me as such, yes. Now if you don’t mind waiting, I’m in the middle of a game…’

With a simple movement, a combat knife was drawn and thrust, neatly punching deep into the neck of the mortal. With a wet gurgle the man coughed blood onto the board, clutching the spewing neck wound. The other Astartes gripped the dying mortal and violently yet effortlessly pulled him out of his chair to die on the floor, taking the now-vacant stool. 

Unmoved by the display of violence, Lirratus leaned back, threading hands behind his helm which was styled as a human skull, albeit with speaker grilles in the cheeks. 

‘It seems the game is over. Victory to white. Lirratus Rothesay, known by some as Eyebane, at your service. To whom am I speaking?’

The other Astartes, clad in faded red plate trimmed with silver, cleaned his knife before planting it in the tabletop. ‘Akror of the Company of Misery.’

‘A pleasure I’m sure. What can I do for you?’

‘I’ve come for the stone on your breastplate. I have heard whispers of such a treasure and would possess it. I am a collector of such things.’

Lirratus looked down, stroking the pigeon-egg sized amethyst set into his breastplate. ‘An item any collector would sell out his own battle-brother for, to be sure. But I’m sorry, I am somewhat of a collector myself, and this piece is quite prized. It will stay with me.’

Akror bristled. ‘What use could an Emperor’s Child have for such a thing?’

Lirratus wagged his finger. ‘That’s my business, but I assure you, my collection is no trifling thing.’

With a lurch, Akror stood, the force of his movement splintering the stool he sat on. His hand went to a scabbard at his side and he withdrew with a flourish a power sword marked with the iconography of the Blood Angels. 

‘If you will not sell, a duel then. Your kind is renowned for their pride in their dueling form. Put your skills to the test! If you win, then you may take my blade. A masterwork of the Angel’s craft, few finer blades exist. If I win, then the Periapt is mine. What say you?’ Akros spoke with a sneer, the expression twisting the scar clinging to his cheek. 

Lirratus slowly stood, his movements liquid and unrushed. Around them, the alehouse’s other patrons began to shift en masse- either looking to quickly file out or find a better viewing spot. A promise of violence was thick on the air.

‘You are mistaken friend, not all of Fulgrim’s sons are obsessed with the art of the blade. The gossips waggle their tongues too much on the topic. I, myself am no great duelist, for I find the swinging of sharpened hunks of metal a rather limited way to wage war. I am not interested in your wager. I have little chance of winning and little of worth to win should I do so. It is a passable blade, but I already have one of its ilk, with far more personal attachment. I decline.’ 

A long moment passed. Then, with a snarl, Akror activated the power field on his sword, covering the blade in a blue field of hissing death. 

‘Well then, perhaps I’ll just kill you here and now with this ‘passable blade’ and take the stone from your still-warm corpse, you impudent self-important wretch. After all, you’ve just admitted you could not best me, so why shouldn’t I?’

Something in Lirratus’ demeanor changed then: gone was the playfulness and joviality. As if in response to the threat, a maze of grooves on his power armour slid open, allowing the cold breeze from the storm raging outside to run through them and raising an unsettling chorus of variably pitched mournful sounds. As Lirratus stepped forward, he reached not for his own power sword sheathed at his waist, nor the sonic firearm secured to his back, but for the gemstone, stroking it gently with a few fingers. In response to his touch the stone began to glow softly from within. 

‘Because, if you attempt to take this treasure from me, I can promise you will regret it most dearly. They say we Astartes know no fear, but we both know that is not quite true. Listen to the fear you feel right now, Akror, and leave before I teach you the real meaning of misery.’ 

Lirratus voice was a multilayered thing now, varying mid-word with distortions and changes of register no normal voice box could produce. It was as though a dozen other souls spoke from him, united only by their menace and scorn. 

Those stout enough to remain could see the indecision written on Akror’s face, as he struggled with the revulsion and panic brought on by Lirratus’ voice. Two warring emotions flared within the Chaos Space Marine, but in the end, driven by avarice or perhaps indignation, bravery won out. Akror drew the power sword high in a two-handed grip and charging forward roared ‘defend yourself!’

‘Fool.’

It was as though Akror had crossed some invisible threshold. One moment he was charging, bellowing his aggression as he readied to make a single killing blow. The next he lost all momentum in the blink of an eye, stepping clumsily back with a look of shock etched on his face. His left foot slid out awkwardly and he fell to his knees, his power sword falling from limp hands.

‘What… is this… by the warp, no, no! Away, go away! Leave me be!!!’

The gemstone on Lirratus’ chest was now glowing like a lumen-bulb, lit from within by an infernal light. The bystanders who looked at it directly felt their eyes begin to itch and heard from everywhere and nowhere the sounds of flesh ripping, and the terrified screams of someone they knew well but could not quite place. 

‘Not just a pretty bauble is it my friend? The Lustrous Periapt has such sensations to show us. So many, and so intense, and so fast. Without sufficiently advanced sensory systems it comes across as something quite painful. Like a razor drawn across the eyes. Even with my physiology and neural receptors enhanced by the legendary Fabius Bile it took much time and repeated exposure to be able to acclimatize to its effects. So, to a base cretin of a creature like you it must be nothing short of… torture.’ 

‘It won’t go away, why won’t it go away? Oh God-Emperor, Ruinous Powers, please someone make it stop, make it go away. What is this, why me? WHY WON’T IT STOP!’

Akror fell to the ground with a crash and started to gibber, feverishly talking at a rapid pace to things only he could see. He began to shake as though having a seizure, even as his gauntlets clutched his head, as though trying to squeeze out what he was experiencing by force. 

‘This is true warfare: items so potent that mere recognition of them by a warrior causes unbearable pain. Not the crude waving around of chucks of sharp metal. Do you see now the terrors and wonders that Slannesh can show us? The beauty of my treasure? Do you see, Akror?’

Akror had begun to rock back and forth on the ground like a fish pulled from the water. Lirratus leaned in, grasped his hand and yanked it up. With a chortle, he forced the hand directly onto the gemstone he referred to as the Periapt and leaned in close as Akror began screaming, drawn-out, full-throated howls of anguish. He basked in the torment.

‘DO. YOU. SEE?! TELL ME, YOU WORM! DO YOU SEE?!’ 

Akror was sobbing uncontrollably. He tugged at his trapped arm like it was pressed to an open flame, but couldn’t seem to break Lirratus’ grip of iron.

‘I don’t want to, I don’t want to, don’t make me please. Show mercy, please some mercy… no don’t do it again, it hurts, I don’t wanna see it.’

‘Ah, and now comes the part when the flesh responds to the mind. First the bladder, and… there…that’s the bowel voiding. Between your fear pheromones and the stench of the shit, it’s quite the olfactory bouquet.’

Abruptly, Lirratus released his grip. Akror fell back without a shred of resistance, convulsing wildly. His back arched as though he was being electrocuted, straining so violently the onlookers could hear his ceramite groan. His mad, bloodshot eyes darted around, seeing things no other could see. He made for a pitiable and disturbing sight.

‘Well, this lesson has been amusing to teach, but I think it’s time to draw it to a close.’

Lirratus straddled the prone form of Akror, holding his prey down with sheer weight. He grabbed Akror’s head and forced the jittering head to look directly as Lirratus’ helm.  With his free hand, Lirratus disengaged his skull-helm and removed it. A rank stench filled the room, and cries of disgust and shock rose to meet it.

The onlookers still able to bring themselves to view the spectacle weren’t sure what to expect. Some Emperor’s Children were divinely beautiful, some androgynous and some grotesquely altered. This was worse still.

Lirratus was somehow wearing his own face. The first few layers of skin had been impossibly, perfectly flayed and were bound to the shiny red-raw mass of his exposed skull by straps and binds as if to hold a mask in place. The disconnected skin was decaying and rotting but had somehow not fallen apart, stretched tight in a wide toothless grin. Behind the mask of rotting flesh, a pair of piercing, ice-blue eyes gleamed out, excitement and mania bright in them. Lirratus’ head was an abomination against medicine and sanity. Akror screamed to see it until his voice broke. 

‘Let my ruin of a face be the last thing you ever see so that all you will be able to remember is horror… never again a thing of beauty to be recalled so as to wash away your thoughts.’

And with that, Lirratus reached out and pulled Akror’s eyes out. 

None present could bear to watch, even hardened Astarte butchers averted their gaze at such a sight. They heard the optic nerves stretching, Akror’s muffled scream of protest and finally the distinctive snap as the muscle gave up. Akror’s screaming turned to a liquid gurgle. 

‘If the eyes are windows to the soul, then what does that make you, Akror? For you seem to be without windows. A question for the philosophers no doubt.’ 

Lirratus’ voice had returned to its normal, lordly, cultured tone.

The noise marine rolled the twin prizes he held in the palm of his hand, then deposited them in a small pouch. He stepped off Akror and viewed the broken, moaning wreck he had made of the once-mighty Astartes. 

Akror heaved, blind and traumatized, like some animal awaiting slaughter. 

‘Oh, gods I can still see it! I can still see it, how, how, no more, NO MORE MAKE IT STOP… must make the images stop…’

He grasped blindly at his hip and drew his bolt pistol, raising the barrel to his temple. In the single moment where he hesitated, where he summoned up the courage to end the torment that not even blindness could cease, a power blade lashed out, sweeping through the air one, twice.  

The bolt pistol clattered to the floor, unfired. It was followed by all ten of Akror’s fingers. 

Lirratus had drawn his own power sword, an elongated cleaver-like thing with a hooked-tip and an unusual jade-green power field. Its power field gave off an erratic, atonal buzz the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. All it had taken was two quick controlled slashes. 

Akror blindly reached out for the bolt pistol, trying to grasp it with the blood-spurting stumps of his fingers. Slippery with gore, the gun remained out of his reach. 

‘Kill me…please. Kill me.’ sobbed Akror. 

Lirratus had deactivated the power sword and was now studiously cleaning any trace of gore off it. He didn’t even spare the prostrate Akror a glance.

‘No. You brought all of this on yourself, I did warn you. Not very hard, but still…  Good luck trying to end your suffering with no fingers. Now you know why the wise refer to me as ‘Eyebane’. Tell of your fate to any other dammed fools who would think to take my treasures. The thing about sensations is that they are temporary, but the memories they leave behind are forever. Enjoy those.’

With that, he sheathed the sword and replaced his helm, the unsettling skull-helmet a blessing compared to the face beneath. Thus concealed, Lirratus turned to the onlookers still present, looking at each in turn.

‘Beat him, take his possessions and violate him as you will, but no one kills him. Do it and I will know, and that man shall have the same fate visited upon him. Any problems?’

Lirratus was greeted by a wall of deathly silence.

‘Excellent. Terribly sorry to those of you whose meals or discussions have been so rudely interrupted by the morning’s events, but I think we can all see that the offending party has been delivered justice. Good day all.’

And with that the Noise Marine made his way to the door, fellow patrons giving him a berth like a wolf moving amongst sheep; none wanting to get close enough to feel the effects of the Lustrous Periapt or attract the attention of its fiend of an owner.

As he pushed the door open and looked out into the howling wind, Lirratus stopped and looked back at Akror once more. The once confident and fearsome Astartes was now a catatonic wreck, pawing at himself with fingerless hands and weakly begging for an end to torment that would not come. Lirratus stroked the now inert gemstone once last time, savoring what had occurred and smiled widely.

‘What a lovely start to the day.’

About the Author

Joshua Olsen hails from the possible Death World known as Australia and enjoys writing 40k Fan Fiction both as a means to entertain readers with equal parts characterization, fight scenes and Grimdarkness and to maybe, hopefully one day get picked up by Black Library and actually turn a hobby into a living.

Alternatively, he’s a Lord of Change merely adopting human guise and taking a holiday from the infinite lunacy of the Immaterium to spin tales and possibly do Tzeentch’s work on the side. Either way he enjoys writing fan fiction.

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