Liliedhe: Lacrimae faralis or Tears of the Dead
The world was alive. Dark, yes, strange, but alive. Ne’sat dug his fingers into the ground and let the moist, black earth smear against his armour. The sensation was… unfamiliar, disconcerting. It clung coolly to the joints, leaving dark-brown smears on the blue ceramite. With closed eyes, he savoured the smells of soil and plants, the faint trickling of gentle rain against his metal skin. More than anything, he wanted to take off his helmet and bury his face in the grass growing under his feet, each stalk thin and silken, topped by a rain drop.
How long had it been that he had done this? Not since he was child on Prospero. And this was so distant that he had trouble believing it had even happened. Slowly, he got up again, joints purring softly. His white tabard was drenched by now, and stained green where he had knelt on it. He tried to shake the loam from his fingers, but it clung. A tiny insect scuttled over his gauntlet and he followed its progress up his arm, legs scrabbling for purchase on the ceramite plates, pausing momentarily to dip a proboscis into a droplet and partake some liquid refreshment.
“Life…” His voice was low, husky, hoarse. A whisper, scraping over his senses with its painful unfamiliarity. “It still exists.” How long? How could he even ask? Time was a fleeting, treacherous concept, madness in the making if he’d tried to track it during his stays in the warp and the Eye, on ships and outposts, and daemon worlds, where all was fluid and despair could choke you with desiccated hands as real as your own. To look around and know that what he left behind was still there when he turned. To give a sigh and not see it scuttle away on a multitude of legs.
To feel, absorb sensation through the tissues in his nose, the retina of his eyes, specialised cells in his skin, not through whatever remained of his soul. And yet, he still asked himself inane questions like how long it had been since he had spoken, or felt the cool touch of rain on his skin. “It is more tenacious like vermin. I still think like I’m alive.”
His warp gate closed behind him and his brothers and he looked around again. Where had he ended up this time? A planet. A living planet with forests, and rain and insects and probably bigger animals, too. Once again, he shuddered under the weight of the memories this drove back into his mind.
How long? What did it matter? Ten years? Five hundred years? Five hundred thousand? Why was he obsessing over this? So many living things. He saw them, smelled them, heard them rustle through the underbrush. But most of all, he felt them, clean and bright, bouncing against his shields, their primitive minds fixated on biological needs. And he felt the void of his brothers’ presence behind him, still, dark, and dead. Their lights extinguished. Dead.
Yes, he was still alive. It was just so easy to forget. The brittle dust existence of his brothers around him, all he had to cling to in the unreality of the warp. What made him any different from them? As always, when the pain grew great inside his heart, he hoped. For Tianshat to put his hand on his shoulder, for Renakten to make a stupid joke, for Sementet to play around with his flamer and curse up a blue storm when he inevitably burned his hand. Ne’sat closed his stinging eyes, dust and death on his mind, as the rain gently fell on his armour like a thousand caresses. And then the hand was there, and Tianshat stood behind him, a gauntlet on his pauldron squeezing lightly. He did not speak, could not, of course. But he was there, and picked Ne’sat up from where he knelt, hauling him to his feet.
“Thank you, brother.” Ne’sat closed his eyes for a moment, and gently pried himself out of the sergeant’s grip. The moisture of the forest had pooled on his brother’s red armour, and his trembling fingers slipped, just a little, and the sound was hollow. Still, the familiarity of the motion was comforting. It grounded him, stopped him from feeling disembodied. Finally, he could reach up and take off his helmet.
He had braced himself for the intensity of the new contact with this world, outside of the shield of ceramite and the wards worked into the metal. Scents flooded his nose with new intensity. The rustle of leaves dimmed, and the perpetual murmur of the rain grew more pronounced. And there was the feel of the water on his skin, gently, softly, three cool droplets hitting his shaven head, his right cheek and the tip of his nose. They tickled, and warmed to his body temperature, as they rolled down the contours of his skull. Another two joined them, two tiny rivers of moisture on parched desert skin. Slowly, he raised his head, inviting them to come, to wash away the stench of the warp, the old blood from wounds long healed, and psychic exertions long forgotten.
He lifted his face to the sky, where it was visible through the canopy of leaves and branches, covered in black clouds and lit by an enormous silver moon that must account for the weird tone of the light down here, the silver glow that washed over everything and turned it into something magical and wondrous.
As if it felt his need, his desire, the rain intensified. More drops came down, the murmur changing to a rush. It was no longer possible to follow individual droplets meandering over his face. Caught in the moonlight, the rain became silver mist where it pattered off his armour, surrounding him and his brothers in a halo of shimmering light, when – unbelievably -, he saw them echo his gesture, raising their helmeted heads into the rain, welcoming a touch they should be unable to feel... And suddenly, hot droplets mingled with the cold ones running down his face, as his eyes that had seen every depravity imaginable poured forth moisture of their own.