Lotara had never been in nature before, and it disgusted her.
There was an all-encompassing foulness to the whole place. It was pervasive but it wasn’t like the putrid filters of the bio waste facilities. Her ship always produced and filtered the same familiar unpleasant odors. This stench... the putrid smell was in competition with itself, the different fauna and flora emitting musks and spores in their bid for air superiority. She heard a melancholic feminine voice wafted towards the center of the garden,
“He is The Beginning, Change is The End, The Split soul will kill his father, and his patron too. He will part the sea of souls.”
Lortara perhaps should have feared, but to her the situation was so surreal, and outside of her previous realm of familiarity that she would not have known what to be afraid of. Fear after all is a rational response to a potential threat, and nothing here was familiar at all. What could the mind do when faced with something so foreign and removed from its range of perception.
“By the Throneworld, what did Lorgar bring me to?” she softly exclaimed.
Lorgar, The Emperor’s Son, was a strange one, but she had no reason to distrust him, especially in matters regarding the unknown. The answer to The World Eaters’ suffering was here, she was told, and if so she must brave the unknown. She owed it to The Conqueror , to Khårn, To Angron.
She allowed herself to be drawn towards the center of the swamp, taking in more of the overwhelming sights and smells that made up this place. Such variety in colors and shapes, an explosion of Fibonacci spirals and fractals to be taken in. A haunting soprano sung inside her head,
“Worlds eaten, vengeance repaid in full, an eglet of blood hatches gold.”
She approached a giant tree in the middle of the marsh with great vines and branches teeming around the tree. At the edge of her vision, around the tree was what looked to be an Eldar. The knife-eared woman seemed to be the source of the song, and yet her mouth only moved in cackling and tears.
“Wolves without Packs, Angels without Halos, Cast from The Parliament, the Raven becomes a Crow.”
The disheveled and unkempt creature performed her madman’s song. What was likely once-regal robes and garments were in ruins. Barely hidden by her matted and disheveled hair was a golden collar, the chain of which stretched to the great tree in the center. The Collar held bound a face of unnatural beauty. Her smooth and exquisite features cushioned the pure crystal tears that laid upon her face.
The Captain felt drawn to the tree in the center, despite something in the back of her mind warning her against going farther. She had no idea who the beautiful xenos creature was before her, but perhaps she too was lured in by the tree. The lamenting melody of the fallen queen echoed in her mind, her haunting instrument-like voice was tarnished with some sickness inside, but the corruption only served to underscore tragedy, like a master performer playing on a broken instrument.
“What brings you from the hive, Insect?” A new voice appeared in her head.
Lotara flinched from the new voice. It spoke with a strange syrupy ichor. It was though the hairs in her ears became caked with the voice as it sloshed its way into her mind.
“I am no insect, show yourself!” she barked.
From the corner of her eye, the pitiful chained xenos whimpered - or did it cackle? The trees and swamps bubbled and bobbed. The voice continued,
“Insect is no insult, Little Larva. Your kind sow a seed for new life from death. Indeed a good little insect you are!"
Lotara searched the bog for the origin of the voice. She spoke with trepidation as her eyes inspected every shadow and foliage.
“Humans are not insects, I am an agent of The Emperor of Mankind. Insects are the filth I purge from this galaxy: The Mutant and the Xenos.”
At this, The Xenos cackled again. Her dark black hair weaving to a tune only she heard. She sang,
“The Two Thirteens makes one Thirteen, Five. Thirteen is Three, Thirteen is Five Hundred, Five Hundred is Two-Thousand, Two-Thousand is None. How many times does thirteen divide one?”
Lotara ignored the canticles of the crazed Eldar woman and gazed at The Tree speaking to her. The Great Tree had no human-like features, but seemed to somehow meet her gaze in recognition.
“Insects feed on decay, Insect. You destroy and level cities, unmake bloated peoples and let new life grow on top of their corpses. You organize decay for life to grow. Life is hostile to new life, you know this, and you fight it. My insects and creatures engage with life unwilling to accept its time.”
“You-” Lortara struggled to phrase the word, falling back on long forgotten superstition. “You are a god?”
She looked intensely at the tree - what she thought was merely mite-infested bark revealed itself to be an intricate net of symbols and runes she couldn’t hope to understand. Insects, fungus and foliage spread around the tree, colonies and microcivilizations all coalescing into a single organism.
“A god of death?... Am I dead?”
The swaying branches and rustling leaves let out a gentle laugh.. Lotara’s skin tingled with a foreign warmth encroaching on her body. It was unlike the heat produced by the temperature regulators ship, it was more...organic than that. Pollen and particles tickled the hairs on her neck. The xenos ignored the dialogue between the captain and The Tree, instead muttering to herself.
“A table will be set for devourers, but your children will starve. Food will be presented which you will not eat. But others will eat your fill. The Crows will plague the Gardens, and feast it barren.”
The Great Tree continued,
“I am life, Little Larva, not death. Life without death is exhaustion, death without life is no death at all. All lives in life must be allowed to rest, I protect life, for life must have its cycle. But there are those who exhaust life, force it to burn. Your Queen, he gives death without life, leaving planets barren and lifeless in his wake. Just as he gives life without death.The years your kind steal from life, they burn your body with exhaustion, and leave fledgling lives stillborn. The cells who serve your spirit have not been allowed their restYour body, The ragged vessel that anchors your lifes is not allowed its rightful rest. Each cell and organism cries out to me for their release. New life within your kind is still, you are little more than moving rocks. Life without death and death without life. Yours is a God of Death, Insect.”
“The Emperor is not a god! There are no gods!”
Lotara snapped back, though her disciplined response felt foreign to her as it escaped her lips.
“No gods,” it chortled.,
“Tell me little insect, what is a god? God is act, not being. Your Emperor takes command of your race, and acts as god. But in doing so he is god of death. Your queen knows he is god. He acts as a god of life, and in turns governs over death. His judgement dictates the death of your planets, of your crews, and… of your World Eaters.
His life demands that all die.”
Lotara was taken aback, the environment made her head spin, it was comfortingly nausiating. Hardly the place for a philosophical retort. “What are you speaking of? Cease your riddles and slanders.”
All the while xenos psaltered on, her words buzzing in Lotara's reeling mind:
“One hydra devours another, Heaven and Earth in war.
Malice everywhere. Beasts and Iron awaken.
Man’s two lights snuffed out.
A mad son prepares for sanity to die.
One hydra devours another, Heaven and Earth at war.”
The forest rumbled and gurgled, and Lotara felt a shift in the putrid air. The bog began to rise around her., Lotara struggled to move. The swamp and mud climbed up her knees and ankles. She was terrified but somehow the mud was comfortingly warm. As though a weary traveller had finally found a resting place. Perhaps she should just lay down and let the mud consume her.
The xenos woman cackled, sobbed, and cackled again. Laughing and weeping, she then stooped to drink from the mud. Lotara stood with her mouth agape, trying to process the circumstance around her. The bees that had strafed around her finally saw their opening. The swarm blitzed through her body. . Lortara choked, but the bees would not dislodge, nor could she shake the feeling of them inside her. Panicked and gasping for Air, she fell to her knees. The Tree continued unchanging.
“I have so much to teach and reveal to you about your Queen, pupae. Your Queen threatens your colony. I will feed you my knowledge to save your colony.”
The Mud continued to rise, now to her waist, the brown water crawling up her white tunic and Red Handprint. The xenos moved towards her.
“I will make you a queen, little larva, but you must escape your cocoon to grow. I can free you, I can help you grow.”
Lotara, was now up to her shoulders in mud, the towering xenos almost standing on top of her, walking on top of the mud somehow. Choking and gasping for breath, she reached out her hands to the Aeldari woman.
“Go back to your Queen. Ask him about ‘Molech.’ I was there, he was there, your World Eater was there. Your God of Death will reveal his true designs, and when he does, consider the gifts I have to give you.”
Lotara was sinking, the Xenos grabbed her desperate hands. The Xenos woman smiled as she bent down, her knees gracefully standing on top of the mud. She opened Lotara’s mouth and bending forward as though to kiss her, the xenos vomited. Whatever bile she had drunk was inside Lotara now; she could feel it caking and hardening both outside her skin and inside it.
The mud was now above her neck, her knees still planted in the mud. Lotara gagged and choked. The last she heard was the Great Tree before sinking in an ocean of peat.
“Save your colony, little queen.”
Lotara gasped for air, breathing in the sterile purified air of her ship. She awoke to a sweat-drenched cot in her spartan quarters. Lorgar’s Amulet gathered sweat and chilled her bare flesh. She clasped it with both hands, hoping to normalize the temperature - it didn't.
She looked around the Captain’s quarters, completely dark save the few emergency lights, and the soft glow of her dataslate. The plainness of her living space made the bottles of Lorgar’s concoction more apparent. The long-since healed scar that went down her face tingled as if it had reopened. She quickly snatched the mystic contraband to hideaway, sweat drenched hands nearly causing the vial to slip. The bottles, book, and other incriminating objects were stuffed away into the incinerator meant for politically sensitive or inconvenient information. Not even thinking of removing the amulet, she put her hands to her right eye, expecting to feel the pus and blood ooze out of an open festering wound.
The lights came on in her quarters, and she looked at herself in the mirror. The runes Lorgar had instructed her to inscribe around her heart and face had melted and smudged into unrecognizable pools and blurs. Her pale, clammy skin, with visible beads of sweat, and matted hair made her look sickly. However, she suspected, or perhaps hoped, this unflattering sickliness was from the harsh lighting. Other Flag Officers and even those of lesser stations had ornate, if not lavish quarters. She did not, and the cold shadowless lighting that illuminated her living space was the same used in work corridors. The only change she noticed was her scar: once travelling the right side of her face, it had completely vanished. Or at least it could no longer be seen., she could still feel it, and feel as if it was infected. She quickly cleaned herself and prepared for her duties as though nothing had happened, covering the amulet with her tunic.
Before leaving, she grabbed her dataslate and looked at an encrypted message. It was from one of the Emperor’s other sons, the taciturn “Alpharius.” The message held several files labeled with a simple message. “Sigilite:Autopsy_XII.” She thought of the dream, and the words of The Tree, “Molech.” She had to know, her crew’s life depended on it.