Author's Note: the Storm Hawks series, the events concerned, and the characters are all copyright of Asaph Fipke, Nerd Corps Entertainment Inc., 2007-2010, and any other groups/people that deserve the credit. This is a non-profit work of fanfiction.
Like my other Storm Hawks fanfic "A Rainy Midnight Run," this is an idea that's been bouncing around in my head for a bit. Inspired by "Best Friends Forever," it takes us on a journey into the head of Cyclonia's devious and brilliant empress as she broods on the aftermath of her attempt to sway Piper to join her cause. The following takes place somewhere in the space between that episode, and the later one known as "Five Days."
Let's see what lurks in the mind of a teenage tyrant, shall we…?
Storm Hawks: Alone at the Top
Once, the vast, dimly-lit chamber had held an ornate throne. Now, it was home to a large and ominous device—a cylindrical base equipped with a control panel; a large, ceiling-mounted portion rendered vaguely insectoid by its host of tool-equipped mechanical arms; and a central high-intensity crucible, connected to the rest of the apparatus by thick cables. The machine stood upon a raised dais and was flanked by a row of crystal-tipped candelabras, lending it the appearance of an arcane ritual altar. Perhaps, in a sense, it was—as a device made for harnessing and shaping the limitless potential of raw crystals, the Crystal Forge bordered on a mixture of science, alchemy, and sorcery.
And if it were an altar of dark magic, then the solitary figure who stood upon the dais was surely the high priestess of a sinister coven. Its undisputed lord and Master.
Slender arms emerged from beneath a hooded cloak and reached for the control console, long fingers dancing across the complex array of keys with the swiftness of a master pianist. Each stroke evoked a reaction in the Crystal Forge, a series of successive events that blended into a rising symphony of creation. The device's pulsating hum provided the chorus; the rapid movements of the mechanical arms formed the percussion; the sound of those tools at work served as the violin and brass; and the ghostly purple glow that radiated from the Forge's core became the spotlight which illuminated the stage. The focus of it all—the star of the performance—was a sleek black crystal, floating suspended in the central crucible. It was the source of the eerie violet light; the ominous radiance emanated from within the facets of the gemstone itself. The glow intensified as its source was honed, being cut and shaped by the precision tools on those darting mechanical arms. It wouldn't be long, now—in a matter of minutes, the crystal would be complete, ready to serve its purpose.
All was as it should be. The creation of the Nocturne Crystal was coming along nicely. There was no reason to be irritated...no need to be bothered in any way. And yet, the robed figure who stood before the forge, whose youthful appearance belied her cold, calculating intellect—to say nothing of the power that dwelled within her like a growing hurricane—now hesitated, for reasons that she couldn't define. She, who had asserted her birthright as the Cyclonian empress at such a tender age—she, whose name was spoken with a mixture of dread and awe throughout all of Atmos—now found herself unsettled.
With a shake of the head, Master Cyclonis closed her deep azure eyes and willed her hood to open. As it unfurled into a collar of maroon spines atop her flowing cloak, the young empress lifted a hand to her temple and idly toyed with a lock of her dark hair. This was nothing, surely—just a case of mild unease at the delicate nature of her present experiment. Nothing more than that. After all, she was the ruler of the greatest Terra in Atmos—an empire that steadily increased its scope by the day, unmatched by any other Atmos civilization in terms of technological advancement or capacity for warfare. She was a powerful Crystal Mage, a brilliant genius, and a cunning tactician in her own right. Simply put, she was nearly invincible. What could possibly distress her?
You can act all tough and destroy the world, but you can't hide who you really are…
Master Cyclonis closed her eyes tightly, silencing that memory before it could finish the sentence. How could those words linger so? They were merely the empty taunts of an idealistic fool—albeit a fool who was talented and brilliant. A fool whose only true failing was her idealism, her belief in the outdated notions of justice. A fool who squandered her abilities by remaining with the Storm Hawks—by adhering to such narrow-minded concepts as good and evil. If only that talented, idealistic fool—her fellow Crystal Mage—would cast off the false shackles of morality. Free from any restraints, able to pursue the full extent of her untapped potential, she could become so much more…they could do so much more. Conquering Atmos would be just the beginning…
Shaking her head once more, the young tyrant pushed the thoughts aside. Ultimately, it was irrelevant—and moreover, the matter had no bearing on her current task.
Returning her hands to the console before her, Master Cyclonis began the symphony anew. Tipped by polished black nails, her fingers danced across the raised keys in a fluid rhythm. The spindly arms at the top of the device responded to her commands with perfect alacrity, darting about the central crucible to begin their work on the black crystal housed within. Sharpened blades made discreet cuts that shaped the facets of the gem; refined polishers lent its ebon surface a reflective sheen; the crackling tips of energy-enhancing probes drew out and enhanced the latent energies locked within its glittering depths. In response, the crystal glowed ever brighter, the power within it shaping and blossoming under the forces that harnessed and manipulated its genesis.
It was all coming along smoothly—very soon, the forging process would be complete, and the Norcturne Crystal would be ready for use. The gem would be a new addition to the archives of crystal lore—a creation of Master Cyclonis herself, which she'd stumbled upon while experimenting with the Nightcrawlers. By drawing upon the properties that were inherent to her personal assassins—that primordial essence of darkness—the teenage empress had discovered that she could channel those shadowy forces into a raw crystal. Once said crystal had been properly shaped and honed, it would then generate a rare and potent frequency of energy—the likes of which could not be easily countered by most other forms of crystal essence. Perhaps, if applied to the Nightcrawlers themselves, eliminating their most glaring weakness—their sensitivity to sunlight.
Once this project was complete, her empire would be that much more powerful…and she would be…
…A lonely girl who desperately wants a friend.
It came out of nowhere, finishing her thought so flawlessly that it could have been what she meant to say. Cyclonis' fingers instinctively tightened into fists at the memory's accusation, her fingers skidding haphazardly over the control console. Closing her eyes tightly, the young empress shook her head, trying to ignore the chill of misery that went down her spine. "Absurd," she hissed softly, despising the note of desperation she heard in her own voice. "Completely, utterly absurd…!"
A sudden whine of strained mechanical hydraulics cut into her thoughts, making her look up in surprise. Clearly, she'd sent several unintended commands to the Crystal Forge when she'd clenched her fists—the mechanical shaping arms were darting and lashing wildly, their tools acting as if possessed. The sharp honing blades scraped along the sides of the Forge, leaving deep scars in the dark metal. Bursts of chemical vapor were released from the polisher units at random angles, lending a pungent stench to the air. Flashes of electric purple sparks ignited from the tips of the crystal-attuning arms, casting the whole scene in a chaotic light. At the center of it all, the Nocturne Crystal pulsed erratically, as if alarmed at the sudden madness unfolding around it. A spider-web of glowing lines was beginning to spread across the crystal's polished black surface, hinting at the deep fractures that would soon follow.
It was as though the machine was betraying her—as if it were reflecting the sudden turmoil that she refused to let show…
"No!" Even as the cry of protest flew from her lips, Cyclonis lashed out and stabbed a black switch at the bottom of the console, triggering the emergency shutdown. As quickly as it had begun, the madness abated—the flailing mechanical arms came to a halt and smoothly retracted into the ceiling; the litany of pneumatic hisses and whining energy gave way to dead silence. At the center of the Forge, the ominous ultraviolet glow around the unfinished crystal began to fade, shrinking back into its sleek black surface as though nothing had happened.
Cursing silently, Master Cyclonis waited for the pulsing innards of the Crystal Forge to turn dark and cool, then reached inside to retrieve the crystal. Pulling it free, the youthful empress turned to one of the slender candelabra that flanked her dais, lifting her project to the glow-gem so she could survey the extent of the damage. The subtle crimson light cast detail over the Nocturne Crystal's ebon facets…and the pattern of slender cracks that now spread across its surface. Though they appeared superficial to the untrained eye, Cyclonis knew better—from the intensity of the light that had emanated from within those cracks, the damage was worse than it looked. Much worse. She'd have to start all over.
Her eyes narrowing into slits, the Cyclonian empress considered her reflection in the cracked surface of the Nocturne Crystal. It had been a work of her cunning genius only minutes ago, a breakthrough in harnessing the latent power of the Night-Crawlers…but now, the sable crystal was little better than a paperweight. Shot through with internal flaws, it had become dangerously unstable—the slightest provocation, the most mundane attempt to channel energy through it, and the crystal would likely implode upon itself.
Just like your empire, something in her mind whispered. It's lonely at the top of the tower, isn't it?
Piper had never said anything like that in their confrontations. So why did that sound like her voice? And why did its words make her chest ache like this?
Master Cyclonis hurled the ruined crystal to the floor, watching as it shattered with a resounding crash. Glaring at the myriad fragments as they scattered across the massive floor carving of her Terra' emblem, she clenched her hands into fists; her dark-hued nails biting so deep into her own palms that they broke the skin. As tiny rivulets of blood trickled between her clenched fingers, the dark-haired tyrant shook her head, trying to dispel the storm of emotions that raged in her mind. "She has no idea what she's talking about," Cyclonis whispered savagely, willing herself to believe it. "She's wrong! I don't need her!"
Throwing her cloak wide, the youthful empress channeled her crystal magic into the scarlet gem on one of her bracers. A flickering tendril of faint red light crossed the room and seized her sleek Crystal Staff, lifting it from the base of the Forge and sending it whirling into her waiting grasp. Made of an exotic metal and tipped at either end with a dusky violet crystal, the scepter's business end was marked with a jagged set of four claws, within which four smaller talons gripped a larger gem—one of her own design. Through experimentation, Cyclonis had learned how to use her powers to alter this crystal's very structure, giving it any number of properties—from elemental energies to such feats as power re-direction and amplification. It was this crystal's versatility that made the staff more than just the symbol of her office—in her hands, it was also a deadly weapon.
Twirling the scepter once before closing her fingers around its ashen purple haft in a white-knuckled grip, the Cyclonian empress began searching for a target. She didn't have far to look—in a matter of moments, her smoldering violet eyes fell upon the remains of the Nocturne Crystal that were scattered across the floor; its myriad fragments glittering in the dim light like sable tears. Holding her staff aloft, Master Cyclonis tapped into the vast well of her power, letting out a fierce hiss as it flooded through her veins like an icy torrent. As the power built within her, the young empress began to pace the length of her throne room, fixing the remnants of the Nocturne Crystal with a baleful glare. Then she spoke aloud, punctuating every word with vicious action as she gave full vent to her spleen.
She spun on her heel and pointed her Crystal Staff towards the glassy black shards of her failed experiment, focusing her energies through the length of the scepter's sleek haft. The power danced along the double-set of claws that embraced the staff's zenith, finally culminating in the depths of the violet crystal that served as the centerpiece for those insectoid talons.
Stands of energy gathered around the dark purple gem, causing an ominous glow to build within its jagged facets as the crystal's power grew towards a cataclysmic peak. Shaped and amplified by Master Cyclonis' will and the focusing properties of her staff, the summoned energy swiftly coalesced into a sphere of cohesive light. Glowing with a ghostly purple hue, the energy ball pulsed in a steady rhythm. The sound of building energy was clearly audible, a sinister hum that filled the air as Cyclonis aimed her staff directly at the broken pieces of her attempted masterpiece.
With that, she set her power loose, focusing that energy sphere into a cohesive purple beam that stabbed towards the Nocturne Crystal's remains. The energy bolt struck its target like a high-yield cannon shot, and there was an explosive crack as it detonated in a burst of glowing flame and penumbral smoke. Most of the slender ebon shards were instantly disintegrated, the few fragments that escaped the blast were flung to the far corners of the room, where they skittered away into the shadows like discarded coins. But it wasn't enough. She needed more.
Whirling away from the smoking remains of the Nocturne Crystal, Cyclonis aimed her staff at the nearest wall, her blood pounding in her ears as her temper flared even higher.
There was no need for a spoken command, or arcane gestures—her subconscious thoughts were trigger enough. Responding to her will, the crystal in her staff flickered and changed—its dusky purple hues gave way to a fiery scarlet glow; the ghostly essence within the mutable gemstone shifted into an infernal element, causing searing heat to radiate from the gem's facets and turn the surrounding air into a wavering mirage.
Tongues of dragon-esque flame leaped from the head of her staff, scorching the walls with preternatural heat. Not even the reinforced stone of her throne room could escape such infernal fury unscathed—a trail of pitch-black soot snaked along in the wake of those fiery jets; smoke rose from the scorch marks and laced the air with the pungent stench of ash and brimstone. It was a smell that Master Cyclonis barely noticed; her emotions still raging through her mind as they demanded release.
Whirling around once more, Cyclonis' dark purple eyes darted back and forth for a suitable target. For a moment, they found the treacherous machine that had betrayed her inner thoughts…but no. It would take forever to repair. Instead, the dark-haired tyrant found her gaze shifting to the massive emblem that dominated the floor of her chamber—that reptilian-esque bird silhouette that struck fear into the rest of Atmos. The carving seemed to gaze back up at her, its blank gaze somehow mocking. For Master Cyclonis, it was the final straw.
She drew her power once last time. Raising her Crystal Staff above her head, the youthful empress fed the full force of her emotional turmoil into the crystal at its zenith…and as if sensing that inner storm and wishing to make it literal, the gem began to crackle with penumbral electricity. A vortex began to form around the head of her staff; an ominous rumble filled the room as that hurricane helix whirled towards a destructive crescendo…
Cyclonis' voice rose into a shriek as her temper reached its zenith, tearing through the final vestiges of her self-control. Bolts of lightning erupted from her Crystal Staff, and an apocalyptic crack of thunder filled the room as they cut a lethal path towards their target. Scything fingers of violet-white electricity tore at the surface of the floor's Cyclonian standard, blasting vicious gouges into the carved stone. The stench of burning ozone filled the air, along with a thick haze of glowing smoke that wiped the floor carving from view. Paying it no heed, Master Cyclonis continued to unleash the lightning, dimly aware of the fact that her face was twisted into a feral mask as she gave her emotional torment furious release. A few moments later, her fury finally abated, and she lowered her staff. As the crystal-born lightning faded away, the remains of the floor carving became partially visible through the smoke—pitted and scarred by the furious onslaught, it was no longer the proud symbol of Cyclonian might. Further, the damage spread beyond just the carving—the whole floor within a hundred-foot radius was torn and scorched from the penumbral lightning.
As her final shriek echoed off the walls and back at her, Master Cyclonis slumped to her knees, shaken as the intensity of her tirade suddenly caught up with her. Without warning, her vision swum violently, and her eyes began to sting. As she closed them tightly, the youthful tyrant felt something unfamiliar escape her dark-lashed lids and slide down her cheeks. Something warm and wet. Instinctively, Cyclonis brought her hand up and dashed the wetness away, her mind numb with disbelief as she opened her eyes and examined her slender fingers. The source of the moistness was there, sparkling as it caught the scarlet light from the crystal candelabrae. It was something she hadn't felt in a long time—certainly not since the death of her grandmother; and before that, her parents. Something that should have been beneath her, as an empress.
It was absurd. It was unbelievable. And yet, there it was. No amount of denial could make that distinct wetness vanish from her fingertips. As much as she hated it, Cyclonis was forced to acknowledge the reality of her tears. And there was no other explanation for their presence, except…
Abruptly, the teenaged empress shook her head. "I have no problem…" She paused; her voice seemed to have caught in her throat. She swallowed, drew in a breath, continued, "…No problem…being alone."
Even as the words left her lips, they sounded hollow in her ears. Refusing to yield, Master Cyclonis repeated the phrase like a mantra, dashing the rest of the tears from her eyes with a rough sweep of her wrist. Slowly rising to her feet, the youthful tyrant willed her usual self to return, to banish these traitorous and foolish notions from her head. And after what seemed like forever, her composure did start to return—like a surge of arctic water, it flooded through her being, filling her with that familiar sense of icy resolve and detached intellect. By the time she drew herself up to her full height, Cyclonis was master of herself once more—the ruthless and calculating ruler of Terra Cyclonia, who stood unbound by the petty bonds of age, morality, or even the need for companionship. Who needed friends, when she had servants? Who needed equals, when she was singularly brilliant? And who needed to dwell on an outburst like this, when there was no one to witness it?
If only she could convince herself to fully believe that.
For as the Cyclonian Empress looked about about to survey the damage to her audience chamber, the ghost of her turmoil lingered, seeping through the cracks in her personal armor like a bitter poison. As much as she tried to ignore it, there was no denying the evidence of her outburst—the scattered crystal shards, the scorched walls, the crumbled remains of the floor carving. And Master Cyclonis swept up the steps towards the Crystal Forge, the memory of that "mantra" echoed in her mind, chasing her with the inevitability of her own shadow. The words had been hers, but the voice in which she'd spoken them had been all different—there had been no trace of her usual self. Not a sign of the ruthless and calculating empress that she was; the role that she had been raised from birth to assume.
Instead, the voice had been soft, trembling, almost pleading—the voice of a miserable, broken girl who was on the verge of tears, trying desperately to reassure herself. With words that she herself didn't believe. Because she knew, deep down, that they weren't true. Not really.
She was an empress, poised at the zenith of an empire. And yet, deep down, she was truly alone.
There you are, folks…my second foray into the Storm Hawks universe. This time, a one-shot…or is it? Depending on reader input, I might be convinced to extending this into a two-parter—one that might extend to include a certain Supreme Commander of Cyclonia's Talons.
My motivation for portraying Master Cyclonis as I have? Well, While she's shown few outward signs of being deeply shaken by this event, the few glimpses we have into the shadowy depths of her heart—the fact that her Oblivion Crystal didn't work on Piper, and her rather heartfelt smile as she finishes repairing her family memento in "Five Days"—prove that our favorite teenage tyrant isn't completely devoid of emotions like love, or the desire for companionship.
In short, I'm trying to capture everything—who Cyclonis is on the show, and the hidden feelings that might be hidden within the storm cloud of her psyche. All the while, staying true to her character—hopefully, I've accomplished that. I'd appreciate any comments or criticism you'd care to offer; as those who're familiar with my work know, I thrive on reader input in all its forms.
Here's to some glowing reviews, folks! See ya soon!