The Emperor gazed out on the city surrounding the Bai-Heng hive, his hands clasped behind his back he considered the heart of his fledgling empire.

By the standards of humanity in this day and age, the view was magnificent, even with the sunlight limited by the dust and ashes that still polluted the atmosphere. The Himalayas still stood tall and proud despite the horrors that Terra had been through, a testament to the enduring power of nature. The Bai-heng hive, and the bustling golden city that extended from it were in turn a testament to the determination and enduring nature of mankind.

And yet...all the Emperor could see was all that had been lost. Despite it being early afternoon, there was less sunlight today than there would have been in the late evening of Terra during the 21st Millennium. The snow on the Himalayas was not pure white, but a sickly grey and pink, polluted by toxins and chemicals. The sky was darkened by clouds of ash and dust, rather than a soft blue. The air was as thick and polluted as the cities that had suffered the worst from humanity's first Industrial Revolution towards the end of Second Millennium, and that was despite the devices the Emperor and his engineers had crafted to clear the air and reduce pollution.

But if things went according to plan, all that would change soon.

Lowering his gaze, the Emperor down on the Thunder Warriors training in one of the distant fields below.

For a normal human, the enhanced soldiers were too far away to be anything more than specks in the distance, but the Emperor's enhanced senses allowed him to observe them as easily as he was standing next to them, even from a distance of several hundred metres.

And what he saw pleased him. The Thunder Warriors moved with a calm discipline and cohesion that would have been alien to them only a few short years ago as their Custodian trainers guided them through their drills.

The Emperor had never hoped to see such improvements in the Thunder Warriors, crude and barbaric as their enhancements had been. But they had improved all the same, and their efficiency had increased by leaps and bounds. They were true soldiers now, not just rampaging berserkers, and in turn, the unification of Terra was going far more smoothly than it had before.

The Tenth Legion was only the latest of the Legio Cataegis to be re-trained as such, and they would be ready for deployment soon. Only four more Legions had to be stabilized and retrained: the Second, the Sixth, the Seventeenth and the Twentieth.

And it was all thanks to his unique guest.

Isha was a conundrum, even to him, the Emperor acknowledged.

He had initially allowed her to live solely because he had wished to learn how a god-construct, even faded and diminished as she was, had materialized upon Terra with less effort and damage to the barrier between the Immaterium and Materium than the weakest and most pathetic daemons. Then, her offer of aid had intrigued him enough to allow her to live longer, if only to see what scraps of knowledge he could extract from her.

And now...he trusted her with his soldiers, to provide important resources for the Imperium, to heal Terra itself. Such a thing would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago, and yet...

Part of the Emperor still resented having to rely on a xeno, and especially a xeno god-construct, but he would have been a fool to not utilize Isha's knowledge and aid to the utmost limit. The benefits to both the Imperium's civilians and military had been beyond number, allowing him to both improve the quality of life for the people under his rule and increase the rate of his conquests.

And then there was the potential for what she could for Terra as a whole.

There were few things the Emperor held dearer to his heart than the desire to see humanity's homeworld bloom once more. With Isha's aid, that could be done in a mere century rather than thousands of years, and far more efficiently than it would have been otherwise.

Nevertheless, it still rankled to have to rely on Isha, to not be able to heal this world himself. Less than ten thousand years ago, he had possessed access to technology that could have restored Terra without needing to rely on an Eldar goddess. Not that Terra would have even needed to be restored at the time. If only the Eldar had not sunken into their crazed debauchery…

The Emperor sighed, dismissing the thought with a sigh. There was no point in dwelling on what might have happened. Isha was here and willing to help now, and refusing her aid simply because she was Eldar would have been both petty and selfish, a dereliction of his duties as humanity's guardian.

And it was not solely the fault of the Eldar that humanity had fallen so far, the Emperor admitted to himself. He would never hold the sins of his people to be in any way equal to that of the Eldar, but it would be a lie to claim that mankind's flaws had played no role in their own downfall. Humanity could have weathered the Age of Strife far better if not for the Iron War and the events that led up to it.

Some of the greatest obstacles to humanity's ascension would come from within, not without, and The Master of Mankind could not allow himself to forget that, not now and not ever.

"A penny for your thoughts, Revelation?"

"Malcador." The Emperor turned to look at the Sigillite, having sensed his approach some time ago, giving his old friend a faint smile. "Are you truly using archaisms from the Third Millennium? And in any case, I daresay my thoughts are worth far more than one penny."

Malcador chuckled as he stopped leaning on his staff and straightened to his full height, dropping the pretense of being a frail old man in the Emperor's private chambers. "That is what you claim, but I have seen little evidence to prove it." The Sigilitte fired back with a light-hearted jab.

"Yes, well, I am not convinced that you are the authority on the subject. In fact, I daresay my opinion far outweighs yours in this matter. I am far older than you are, after all, and that automatically makes my opinion worth more." The Emperor replied, chuckling. He and Malcador rarely spoke of things not involving their work these days, and little moments like these were to be treasured all the more for their rarity, especially since they were usually intersped between more serious talks.

Malcador scoffed. "Greater age does not equal greater wisdom. If it did, we would not be dealing with our current troubles."

"True." The Emperor acknowledged wryly. Though Malcador's words were spoken in jest, they were true nevertheless. There was a reason that Revelation prized Malcador and Alivia's advice so highly. They possessed insight and experiences that even he did not, and their relatively younger age and less power made it easier for them to empathize with mortals, something which the Emperor had found progressively more difficult and yet ever more necessary as he grew older.

Malcador smiled briefly, before the humor faded from his face and he adopted a more serious expression. "I take it you were thinking about our guest?"

"She was part of what was on my mind, yes." The Emperor admitted, crossing his arms. "She has been very useful to the Imperium so far."

Malcador hummed noncommittally, looking down at the Thunder Warriors. "She has." He said finally. "And yet, I still cannot bring myself to truly trust her."

"We do not have to." The Emperor responded. "We merely have to trust her to act in her own best interests."

"I know." Malcador replied with a sigh. "And yet, I fear that trusting her with so much is a mistake. I know that sabotaging any of the projects you have given her would be against Isha's own interests and the behavior she has demonstrated so far, but I cannot shake the feeling that this is a mistake."

"I understand, old friend." The Emperor told him. "I share your concerns, do not think that I do not. But we cannot allow our fear to hamper our effort to save humanity. And if we can convince Isha to truly trust us, to share the secrets she has withheld thus far..."

Malcador nodded. Both of them knew that what made Isha so valuable was not her incredible prowess in biomancy, the crops and medicines she had created for the Imperium, or even her healing of the Thunder Warriors.

No, Isha's ultimate value lay in the knowledge of what she had yet to share. The knowledge which had been so common among the Aeldari, one of the very cornerstones of their civilization, knowledge had eluded the Emperor for so long,

Bonesinging. The ability to purify raw Warp energy and shape it into a solid form, into programmable matter that could be used for virtually any purpose, which could serve as a shield from the dangers of the Immaterium. The Emperor had long attempted to recreate the art of bonesinging, but all his efforts had failed. The Aeldari had guarded their knowledge jealously, and no matter what he had done, the Emperor had never been able to unravel the secret of bonesinging. He could imbue his power in various objects and even people, but he could not purify raw Warp energy and shape it into programmable matter, not what he desperately needed for his most important project.

If Isha could be convinced to teach him how to craft wraithbone, it would change things tremendously. The technology he could develop with it would be an immense advantage for the Imperium. The galaxy had been changed by the Age of Strife and the birth of Slaanesh, with the Warp utterly infested with horrors, and the barrier between the Immaterium and Materium thinner than ever before. Humanity needed a way to shield its technology from the dangers of Chaos, and Wraithbone would be invaluable for that, even with the relatively small number of psychic humans that currently existed.

Above all, it would allow him to improve and accelerate the Webway Project by centuries, perhaps millennia. And within the Webway, his people would be safe, shielded from the horrors of the Warp until they had ascended beyond them. And if Isha could be convinced to share knowledge of not only bonesinging, but of the Webway itself, of its myriad pathways and how it had been built...

The Emperor had not yet pressed Isha for the knowledge. It would be better if she offered it to him willingly. Patience was the key here. And the Emperor admitted to himself that he did not actually trust Isha enough to believe that she would give up such a great advantage and potent bargaining chip if he simply demanded it of her. The odds that she might give him incomplete or flawed knowledge if he pressured her were far too high.

But if he could convince her to give him the knowledge he desired willingly, the benefits would outweigh what she had already done for the Imperium a thousand times over.

"I know." Malcador said with a sigh. "I will simply have to deal with it. Perhaps I should talk to her more. Learn to understand her and the threat she poses better."

"You should." The Emperor agreed. "Not today, I think. I do not intend to discuss anything with her that I think would provide you with much insight you do not already have. Perhaps after that upcoming test that we have planned?"

Malcador hummed thoughtfully. "Yes, I think that would be best. How she deals with the test and answers my questions afterwards should provide some insight."

"Indeed." The Emperor agreed. "Now, old friend, I'm afraid that work beckons. I must speak to Isha, and then attend to the rest of my work."

Malcador nodded. "Of course. You were planning to tell her of the Astartes Project today, were you not?"

"I am. I believe she already suspects that I have plans for a new generation of super soldiers, and there is no point in delaying any further, given how useful her aid will be…"

When the Emperor entered her chambers, Isha was sitting at the table, wearing a simple green dress and examining something on one of the dataslates she had been given. As it had been ever since Isha had inhabited these rooms, the room smelled fresh, pleasant and clean, reminding the Emperor of a peaceful forest on a sunny day. Not just because of the blooming plants arranged around the room, but Isha's mere presence, even with most of her power suppressed.

At the sight of him, she immediately stood and bowed briefly before straightening. Not a deep bow, but still enough to indicate a degree of respect and an acknowledgement of which of them was stronger.

"Your majesty." She said. "What can I do for you?"

"We have a new project to discuss." The Emperor replied, striding forward and taking a seat in front of her, sliding a fresh dataslate over to Isha, who took it with curious eyes. "Concerning the successors for the Thunder Warriors."

"These are your plans for your next generation of super soldiers, then?" Isha inquired, even as she scrolled through the dataslate. She didn't seem surprised, confirming the Emperor's suspicion that she had already guessed his plans.

"Yes." The Emperor responded. "The Thunder Warriors were only prototypes, and though you have improved them considerably, I believe it is time to begin the next step. Using geneseed derived from my sons before they were taken," Even now, the memory of what Chaos had done made him furious, even as he suppressed his rage. No one else would have noticed, between his psychic aura and supreme self-control, not even Malcador, but the Emperor suspected that Isha did, though she made no sign of it. "I plan to create the Legiones Astartes. There will be twenty legions, each one created from the geneseed of one my sons. And when my sons are found, they will take command of their legions."

Isha nodded slowly. "What will become of the Thunder Warriors, if I may ask?" She asked cautiously, clearly fearing that the answer would not be to her liking.

"They will continue to serve, and will aid in the training of the new Legions." The Emperor replied, steepling his fingers. While he had originally intended to terminate the Thunder Warriors once they fulfilled their original purpose, it would be foolish and counterproductive to do so now. "However, no new Thunder Warriors will be created once a sufficient number of Astartes have been produced. Even with your aid, there are limits to what can be done with them, especially with the level of technology available to me. Creating the Astartes will be more practical and cost-effective than using even your refined designs."

"I understand. Is there anything specific you wish for me to do to these designs?"

"I have mentioned my desire for Warp-resistant soldiers before, as well as the need to expand the pool of recipients."The Emperor responded. "Beyond that, make the process as cost-effective and simple as you can. The geneforging technology available to me is still limited, and truth be told, it will likely be several years until I have better facilities built and any significant number of Astartes are created." Even with the recent defectors from Luna and the technology they had brought, the Biotechnical Division's tools and personnel remained limited, and there was no point in delaying the Astartes until they had expanded sufficiently.

"Understood. However…" Isha hesitated briefly. "I will need an outline of what sort of technology you have available before I can do that. While I can roughly guess, I do not have a detailed understanding of exactly what geneforging technology you have available, and without that, my ability to make the designs as efficient as you desire will be hampered."

The Emperor had expected as much. "I have considered that." He said. "The dataslate contains a detailed overview of the Biotechnical Divison's facilities and tools. There is everything you should need to craft a process that they can use to create Astartes swiftly and efficiently."

Isha blinked, a faint look of surprise crossing her face, before she nodded again. While it was a relatively small gesture of trust compared to telling her about the Primarchs or requesting her aid in terraforming his world, every little bit counted. And he would need Isha to trust him if he was to ever obtain the knowledge he desired most from her.

Examining the dataslate once more, Isha spoke after a few minutes. "I should have a design viable for your needs done in a few days. The process will not be very fast or applicable on a large scale, however. The enhancement procedure is complex and with the technology you have available, I'm afraid I can't promise more than a hundred Astartes over the next three years."

"That is more than acceptable." The Emperor replied, pleased. "However, I have plans to obtain new resources for the Biotechnical Division and upgrade their existing facilities soon, so that should change things. Truth be told, I had expected things to take much longer before your arrival, and the Astartes Legions were not due to be created several more decades. A hundred Astartes over the next three years is still far ahead of schedule." He paused and after a moment of consideration, decided there was an opportunity here as he favoured Isha with a smile. "Not least due to your other efforts."

"Oh?" Isha asked curiously.

"Yes." The Emperor confirmed. "Your cures for Nurgle's plagues in particular have sped up the conquest of the nation in thrall by Chaos considerably, denying them their potent way to hamper the Imperium's logistics. And the benefits of your medicines and harvests serve as a powerful incentive to convince the petty kingdoms to swear fealty to the Imperium. Few nations can refuse the offer to be rid of all diseases and see starvation abolished. And even the people I already ruled are far happier and healthier thanks to your efforts."

Isha smiled, clearly pleased, as the Emperor had hoped. Isha's compassion meant that the more she knew of how her work was being used to help others, the more she would be inclined to work with him and share her knowledge.

"That is good." Isha said, visibly pausing to consider something before forging on. "What precisely is the timetable for your plans?" Isha asked. "I understand that my aid has increased the speed of your campaigns considerably, but I am curious by how much, especially given the current state of the galaxy and the looming threats such as the Orks and Rangdan."

The Emperor's eyes narrowed as he considered her question. A large part of him still recoiled at the idea of sharing any of his plans with a xeno warp-construct, but it was hardly as if she was asking for any particularly sensitive information, and the more he shared, the more likely she was to give him what he needed.

"My original projections were that establishing my empire and dealing with the major threats would take roughly three hundred years." The Emperor said eventually. "First, however, I need to conquer the solar system and begin preparing for the wars to come. While I had originally thought that the unification of Earth and the rest of Sol would take another fifty years before the Imperium could begin expanding beyond that, with your aid, I believe that I can cut down on that by at least a decade."

While the Emperor would have liked to set out sooner, he had to balance the need to build a functional empire with the need to crush the Orks and Rangdan. It would be foolish to move ahead too rapidly without laying the proper foundations for the Imperium.

"Ah, I see." Isha murmured, clearly considering her timetable and from what the Emperor could see, pleased by what she had been told. Clearly she had similar plans in mind.

"That said, my timetable is admittedly still in flux." The Emperor continued. "Chaos is unpredictable and desperate men are dangerous men. There are still many ways they could retaliate and hamper my progress." No matter how well things were going at the moment, underestimating those foul parasites was never a good idea. They had already stolen his sons, and the Emperor would not put it past them to attempt something similarly audacious again.

Isha inclined her head in understanding. There were, after all, very few people in the galaxy who understood the dangers of Chaos more than she did.

"Now, I will leave you to your work." The Emperor said, rising to his feet. "However, to let you know, I have a test prepared for you in a few days."

Isha blinked, a faintly puzzled expression crossing her face. "A test? Of what?"

"You will see." The Emperor replied, feeling slightly amused at the flicker of annoyance that crossed Isha's face at his cryptic response. "It is scheduled in four days. Can I expect you to be done with the design for the Astartes by then?"

"Of course." Isha said. From the look on her face, she clearly wanted to press him for what exactly the next test was supposed to be, but recognised that he was unlikely to give her an answer.

"Then I will take my leave." The Emperor told her. Isha nodded curtly, returning her attention to the dataslate as the Emperor departed.

The next test was quite important, the Emperor mused as he walked down the corridor. And though it might not have hurt to let Isha know, it would be better if she had little time to prepare and dealt with the test mostly on instinct, so that they could get the full measure of her abilities in that area.

After all, if Isha was going to help craft machines to help with the terraforming of Terra, they were going to need to test her control and influence over technology first.

Author's Note: Here we go, with the next chapter of Everqueen. I hope you all enjoy this look into the Emperor's mind. Shout out to theg*ddam*hoi2fan over on the AlternateHistory forums for agreeing to help me with the story and beta-ing the chapter.