The Immaterium raged, torn asunder by storms as it had been for millenia. Cosmic storms of insanity filled with daemons and monsters birthed by the nightmares of mortal minds swirled through the depths of the Othersea, fueled by the madness and debauchery of the Aeldari Dominion, and the suffering of the rest of the galaxy.
In the midst of this infinity of madness, one last bastion of sanity stood, a gleaming citadel shielded from the storms by divine might, where the Aeldari Pantheon had gathered to meet.
Asuryan, the great Phoenix King, Morai-Heg, the wise old crone, Khaine, the Bloody-Handed One, Cegorach the Grand Jester, the radiant maiden Lileath, the savage but noble Kurnous, Vaul the Smith, freed from his imprisonment at last, and of course, Isha, the Mother of Life. All of them had gathered to discuss the impending calamity.
(Of course, that is not what happened. Gods do not have bodies, they do not have citadels, and they do not communicate with each other with sound. They are beings of emotion and otherworldly power, concepts and ideas shaped by the dreams and beliefs of mortals. All this is merely a metaphor to describe events beyond mortal understanding. And yet, all metaphors are true in the Othersea, where the laws of reality mean nothing. So perhaps this did happen, and the gods truly did gather in avatars to speak to each other as mortals do. Who can say?)
The birth of a god was meant to be a momentous occasion, a call for celebration as the bundle of emotions and concepts drifting together in the warp fused into a new being. Isha could recall the day her daughter had been born - her eyes had opened so slowly, as if from a deep sleep, to reveal all the promise of the future to come.
Promises that were now as nothing, as the Pantheon continued to watch the Eldar gestate their newest god. Lileath had said long ago that the Eldar would be the downfall of the gods, and it seemed at last that they were making good on that dreamt prophecy. Isha wished she still had the energy to be angry, but she'd already spent it all on blaming Asuryan for not lowering the ban on speaking with the Eldar, Khaine on mandating the ban in the first place, Lileath for not thinking to come to her own mother or father first before uttering the words that had started all this, and herself for not speaking up when she'd seen the direction too many of her distant children were taking. All she had left was the grim determination that, even were it her time to die, at least it would be at the side of her husband and daughter.
Isha's gaze shifted to where Morai-Heg and Asuryan were deep in discussion. Though she couldn't see his face behind his mask, the heavy frown on her face said enough of what they could be talking about.
A bit further past them, standing silently with his last weapon at hand and the manacles he'd been bound with still dangling from his wrists, Vaul looked… well, her twin god looked about as good as Isha and Kurnous had before Vaul had gotten them away from Khaine. Which wasn't very. Isha considered whether he would accept her help, but… it had been so long, and she had done nothing to free him after he'd done so for her, the same way she'd done nothing about so many other injustices.
And Cegorach...the trickster god was nowhere to be seen. He hadn't responded to Asuryan's summons, and Isha doubted he was going to. And that might have been the wisest decision any of them had made in millions of years. Wherever he might be, it was well hidden enough that he might even stand a chance of surviving the aftermath of this disaster. She only hoped he looked after the Eldar in her absence.
"It's almost time," Lileath whispered, Isha turning to see her daughter with her head bowed, eyes closed and mouth twisted into a grimace. "Mother, I never wanted any of this..."
"I know, my dearest, and no one blames you for this. Your siblings…" Isha hesitated, knowing the comforting smile she was trying to maintain was flagging even as she made herself continue. "They made their own choices, in the end, and we made ours. We will all get through this in the end."
"You might," Lileath replied, almost too quiet to hear, and Isha found she had no answer.
Kurnous moved to stand next to their daughter, one hand resting against Lileath's cheek while he whispered the comfort Isha couldn't, and Isha found her forced smile softening into something a bit more heartfelt. If only they could be like this forever, just the three of them - the thought curled up in her chest, tight and burning, and for a moment she thought she was about to cry, only to reach up and feel dry cheeks. She frowned as the tension in her chest built, hands moving to clutch at the building phantom pain.
This feeling wasn't coming from her. This was-
The Warp buckled and screamed.
And Isha's universe was pain.
It was like someone had torn open her chest with both great haste and deliberate care, hands reaching in and plucking out her insides until she was nothing but a hollow simulacra of herself. She didn't even remember collapsing to her knees, just that one moment she had been fine and the next -
She distantly heard someone screaming, though it took her too long to recognize it was her own voice. Which was sort of funny, because she felt like she couldn't breathe, throat choking on tears for each and every last one of the quadrillions who had died and were dying and were doomed to die without protection, each one of their names barely registering in her conscious before they were drawn into the voracious maw of the youngest god to fuel their rampage. Their voices whispered in her ears and dragged along her skin, lighting up already frayed nerves as they begged for survival and mercy they wouldn't get.
"Your rampage ends here, whelpling."
She forced herself to look up, the youngest god a horrifically perfect fusion of all the other gods they'd consumed while she was unable to do anything in her agony, swinging Asuryan's own weapon with a careless ease against Khaine's bloody fury and holding their ground. The other gods' bodies were in various states of dismemberment, all their chests torn open literally where hers was still figurative.
Another claw brushed against her cheek, and Isha startled as she realized the voices she'd been hearing weren't just those of the dying, but the already damned as well. The parodies of her children giggled and mockingly cooed as they surrounded her, taking turns wiping her tears away and consuming them with great relish, or dragging their bodies along the increasingly visible scraps of skin as they almost tenderly tore her armor and clothing away to get to her naked flesh.
One nibbled and bit at her throat, and she screamed again, throwing all of them away with warp vines while she tried to find the energy to get to her feet. The daemonettes were unphased, laughing with glee as they scrambled to their feet and ran around or into her lacking defenses. Those grabbed by the vines looked excited to be sloppily strangled, while the rest pouted as they clung more tightly to her, claws tangling in her clothing and hair and making it obvious that she was going nowhere until their master was done with fighting Khaine.
How was she not dead yet? She knew how pathetic she must look, unable to even fight off lesser daemons from her prone position. She wouldn't have even noticed while she was blinded by the pain of the youngest's birth and the death of her children, and at least she wouldn't have to continue living with all this pain that refused to fade into blissful numbness. Compared to all the rest, who at least looked like they'd tried to fight, she would have been a laughably easy meal.
But they were dead, and she wasn't, and somewhere in her grief she felt the slow, cold grip of terror take hold as she considered what other uses this new god could have for her.
"Oh mother," the daemonettes whispered in her ears, voices riding the high of power as all the eldar souls that had served as spark and fuel gave them unbridled confidence. "Please mother, give us more, give us everything."
The warp shifted, and Khaine and his opponent barely hesitated a moment in their ongoing battle as three more slowly arrived from their domains in the untraversed reaches of the Warp.
First came the thousand whispering voices, a shifting mass that lowered itself to pick over the remains of Morai-Heg with interest. Eyes formed to stare at her and just as quickly shifted away, looking at all of them and none of them, and she almost felt relieved that it and its equally unconstrained minions seemed so disinterested in her continuing existence.
Then came the wave of rot, giggling rolling balls of unlife that squirmed into the area around her, striking back at the daemonettes that tried to swat them away. The vines withered in the presence of their master, the living infested carcass that made her want to gag as it stifled her and made the remaining daemonettes curl around her defensively.
And last was the dark mirror of Khaine, the taste of iron and blood and the clank of armor washing past her as the Chaos God of war and his army came to watch the battle unfold. Several daemonettes pulled themselves away from her, throwing themselves almost eagerly onto the blades and moaning with delight as they were cut apart and dissolved into warp stuff to rejoin their master. The Blood God strode towards Slaanesh and Khaine, his blade drawn and his intent clear.
"Enough of this," said Khorne, his voice containing the echo of a thousand thousand battlefields. "Khaine belongs to me, whelp, not you."
Khaine's looked even more enraged than before at Khorne's words even as he continued to duel with Slaanesh, but the latter's eyes turned cold as they turned to look Khorne, even as a smirk stayed in place.
"Yours?" replied Slaanesh, throwing their hair back as they parried another strike from Khaine, letting the latter's blade barely scrape across their cheeks and leave a dripping wound, daemonettes eagerly catching the drops even as the wound healed into unblemished skin. "He's an Eldar God and therefore he is mine. Mine by right, mine to devour and play with as I please."
"He is war and bloodshed." Khorne snarled "And so he belongs to me."
Slaanesh paused, groaning in pleasure when Khaine took the opportunity to stab through their shoulder. "Ohh, is that a challenge? If you want, you're welcome to try and take him."
"Your challenge is accepted," Khorne replied, stepping forward and drawing his own blade. "And your blood will decorate my domain."
"Ohh, I like you," Slaanesh said, smile stretching too wide for comfort even as their eyes remained utterly devoid of anything resembling true joy or happiness. "I'll enjoy playing with you and Khaine both."
Khaine snarled, clearly livid. "I belong to neither of you! I am the true god of war, and you are nothing more than parasites-
Khaine choked on his own words as Khorne's gauntled hand gripped one of his shoulders, and Slaanesh's claws sank into the other, both of them channeling their power into Khaine to claim him for their own. The Aeldari God of Murder writhed, struggling against the pain of two greater powers attempting to absorb him, even as glowing cracks spread across his body.
Isha's last ember of hope died as Khaine shattered with a final agonized scream, his essence scattered across the galaxy in the forms of shards, nothing more than the palest shadow of the War God's power.
The explosion knocked back both the quarreling gods, but Khorne only staggered back a few steps, while Slaanesh was sent flying backwards from the force, right past the now cackling Tzeentch.
"Having trouble there?" Tzeentch called out as Khorne chased after, delighted as Slaanesh scrambled to their feet in a panic just in time to dodge another heavy strike. "Perhaps you'd like some advice?"
"I don't need help, I have this completely under- eep- control!"
Tzeentch cackled again. Nurgle, still behind her, rumbled with humor as his minions scrambled over her and made faces at the low-key terrified daemonettes still remaining.
Isha's head lowered from the weight and from knowing there was no escape - even if Slaanesh were able to somehow win their fight against the older chaos god, they wouldn't have the strength to fight the other two, or the sense to avoid picking a fight, and then…
"It'll be alright, mother, just you see," one of the daemonettes said with more cheer than was warranted, but that wasn't what gave Isha sudden pause, her despair shuddering as something else started broiling in the middle of her numbing chest. "Once this is over, we'll all be able to go home, you and us and our beautiful palace of pleasures to live in for ever and ever in bliss and joy!"
Isha looked to the daemonette who had spoken, the one who had used her daughter's voice, and saw it wearing her daughter's face.
"How dare you."
An ember ignited, burning away at the creeping despair and apathy overwhelming her before then. Nurgle stepped back twice, no longer laughing.
"How dare you!"
The daemonette fell back and stared at her, along with all the others holding onto her as she slowly, painfully forced herself to one knee, and then to her feet, and realized how small it was compared to her and her stoked fury. Tzeentch had stopped laughing as well.
"You have no right to her memory!"
The daemonette screamed as Isha's life swept up and surrounded it, still having the gall to wear Lileath's face and voice as if it belonged to it, as if it was funny to dangle everything she'd lost in front of her face.
"You have no right to her face or her name!" Isha snarled, snapping it apart and taking vindictive satisfaction as it was dissolved into nothing, unable to return to its master.
Isha's satisfaction was short lived, however, when she turned to see all four Chaos gods watching her, various degrees of surprise and annoyance in their expressions. She swallowed, wishing abruptly that she hadn't snapped like that, because now she was interesting, and with four gods who could easily make her as nothing with a single backhand, interesting was the worst position to be in.
"Strong words," Tzeentch said, all its eyes now on her. "But not much in terms of execution."
"Certainly not words for such a delicate bloom," Nurgle said. "Come now, forget that anger and stay with me in my house, so your weary heart might know the peace of my family."
"Heh, the first time she's done anything interesting in her life, and you want to stop her immediately," Khorne said, something almost like admiration in his voice. "Let her fight awhile. I want to see the blood she spills before she falls."
Isha was trapped between the three while the fourth watched on. She had nowhere to run, nothing to fight with, and so few followers that she might as well be a joke to them. All it seemed she'd managed to do is add a third interested party into the mix of those fighting over her fate, possibly a fourth if she managed to dig herself into even more trouble in the next few moments.
"Of course you do, you barbarian," Tzeentch mocked, one temporary arm waving the war god away. "What's next, you whisk her away to gorge her little plant armies on your rivers of blood?"
"If it makes her worthy, then I see no reason not to," Khorne agreed.
What could she do? She couldn't choose Slaanesh, not with what they represented and her terrifying imaginings of just what they were saving her for. She refused to give in to Nurgle, knowing she would never escape his garden of rot without outside aide. To trust Khorne was akin to trusting Khaine, especially since she did not know how such an allegiance would twist her in the long term. And Tzeentch… the mere idea of trust was impossible to him, aside from how to exploit it.
"She's mine, Khorne," Nurgle rumbled, all his good humor gone. "It was agreed long ago. And last I checked, treachery was not your domain."
"Last I checked, she was too much a pacifist to even think to fight back. Funny how things change."
"You all seem to be forgetting something," Slaanesh spoke up, gaze sliding over her in incredibly uncomfortable ways that would have her shaking if she weren't already trembling in fear and anger. "She's Eldar, therefore she's mine."
To cling to life on her own in the warp, always one step ahead of the four… a short lived fantasy, doomed to soon fall into one of the fates she already knew awaited her. There was no safety in the warp, not anymore.
No safety in the Warp.
But there was another place, one which she knew the secrets of traversing and they did not. One which they would struggle to follow her to, at least for a while. All she had to do was find a place they couldn't touch her, and then rebuild her strength, until she reached the point where she could fight back.
"Stay out of this if you know what's good for you," Tzeentch said, continuing to watch all of them at once. "We'll probably be a while, so go play with those shards of Khaine or something."
"I am your equal!" Slaanesh snapped, raising Asuryan's blade and snarling. "I have every right to defend my property!"
She stepped back once, then twice, making herself look small and meek and afraid, which wasn't hard when much of her still felt that way. A few minions of the four gave her looks before their gazes were drawn back to the increasingly snappish argument over her fate, Khorne looking close to ready to start throwing Slaanesh around the Warp again, and Nurgle set to either join him or oppose him.
Where could she go, though? She needed a place they and their followers of the warp and materium could not go without consequence. A place where her strength could be recovered unchallenged. Her thoughts drifted to her still surviving children, a mix of grief, fury, and disappointment swirling in her chest as she considered her options.
The exodites were far scattered and had little manpower. If it wasn't enough that she might end up favoring one world's culture over others, or worse, snub her hosts by attempting to remain aloof in such dangerous times, the forces she would call upon herself… no, she would search them out only once she was sure she could convince and protect them.
The craftworlds were still reeling, trying to figure out what to do in the aftermath of this, and asking them to try and protect her when they didn't even know how to protect or define themselves yet... even if she could guarantee the first wave of Chaos could be fought off, what of the next, or the next? It was better to give them space to grieve what they'd lost and begin adjusting to their new circumstances.
The Webway…she would be safe there, especially if she could reach the Black Library. Her fallen children might be a problem, but while her knowledge might not be on par with Cegorach's, Isha knew the Webway better than any mortal alive and could easily avoid the Drukhari. But as she quietly cast her senses about, Isha found no Webway Gate nearby that hadn't been shattered and infested with daemons. Perhaps if she fled to a Craftworld or one of the Exodite planets, she might be able to get through their Webway portal, but Chaos would follow her and even if she escaped them, they would no doubt consume that world and it's inhabitants.
She took another three steps back, shaky and fearful and absolutely in line with the pathetic little toy they all saw her as. So she couldn't go to her children. She ignored the small amount of relief she felt at not having to look them in the face so soon after their fall, to smile while wishing she could yell at them and weep over what they'd done to themselves, to know that she could give them hope only to break them all over again if she went to them only to be killed the first time Chaos came to make their claim.
What was left, then?
...there was one option.
It could very well mean her end.
She wouldn't even blame him, really, not after everything done to him and his people by her own.
But anything he had to offer, whether refuge, imprisonment, or a clean death, was still vastly more merciful than what she could expect from Chaos.
She stopped, looking to the four one last time, feeling the warp around her writhe with their argument. Idly, she wished she could have grabbed her husband's spear or her daughter's staff, but they were at the feet of Slaanesh, and the Chaos god would not take kindly to her taking what they had already claimed as theirs.
In the end, she had no other choice.
She turned and ran like she never had in her life.
She heard the squawk of alarm behind her as someone noticed her flight, but she had no energy to waste on anything but pushing herself to her limits, instinct leading her along favorable currents and past snarly storms, all the while using her quickly dwindling essence to snare the armies of Chaos behind herself.
Isha could hear the shouts behind her, the four fighting each other as much as they were chasing her, which was the main thing keeping her ahead of their combined fury. It seemed they hadn't realized where she was running, or even they would have forgone their arguments to stop her, giving her a flutter of hope -
Isha screamed as a keeper of secrets swept in front of her, pleased to have cut her off for its master, and instincts had her flinging more brambles in its direction. Unlike its lesser kin, it wasn't killed, but it was hindered, giving her a chance to sweep past it and count her seconds until she was in place, even as she felt the four close in around her, a noose that would damn her to oblivion -
And then she was out of time. She looked to the armies around her, their masters to a one with murder and worse promised in their gazes for the sheer gall of defying them. Despite her fear, a smile flickered across her lips, some comfort in knowing she had one last trick up her sleeve.
She took a breath.
Reached into herself, pulling on all her remaining reserves.
And shoved nearly all of it into creating a jungle of pain and death, her dim core essence obscured among everything else.
Knowing she had but a few moments, she immediately focused everything she has left on her task, because this was the point where she succeeded or she died, and either way she wouldn't need all this essence, so there was no sense in preserving it anymore. Thought became reality, strands of sugars and molecules and warp stuff weaving into complex chains and then into diversified structures, and within moments she was looking at her own face on a material body she hadn't worn since she was young and the gods were still allowed among their people.
The four were tearing her jungle apart, sensing her on the cusp of victory, and she poured what she had left into herself even as she calculated just where and how quickly to throw it to cover the remaining distance in both the warp and the materium. If anything went wrong, she'd still hopefully be in the right system, her very presence announcing itself loudly enough that he could hardly miss it. Though whether he'd be able to get to her before They did if she landed on the wrong world...
The odds were still better than anything here, so she breathed the last of herself into her new body and cast it out into the materium, momentarily seeing double as she both dispersed in the warp and woke up in mortal form for the first time in almost forever. The screams of the four followed her as she shot up into the shallows of the warp, the sudden shift in the very way she thought and felt distracting her even as the drag of atmosphere slow her down, bleeding both momentum and the vestiges of the warp off of her.
Her first full thought, and her last before impact, was that this was going to hurt.
Oh warp, it hurt. Not the way it had before, but enough that moving was out of the question.
The air was dry. Why was it so dry? For some reason, she thought there should have been more water in it.
Had stars always been so bright? It had been so long…
She had to get up, had to make sure she was safe, but even digging her fingers into the grasses and ferns growing between them made her breathing shudder from the pain...
What was that noise? It sounded rather like footsteps…
...rest… yes, that sounded just… fine…
AN: Behold, a project probably well beyond my writing skills and knowledge of Warhammer. But hey, no one's ever accused me of a lack of ambition, so here we go.
I won't be doing much, if any shipping in the main story, since it won't really fit with the narrative I have planned. Besides, there's two Isha Flees to Terra threads for people who want all the Isha x Emps feels.
Anyways, updates every two weeks, depending on how quickly I get stuff written. I have a few more updates ready as a buffer, so yeah. Hope you all enjoy.