The Song of Esaiex
Heresy Online Fiction Competition 2012
World Spirits are difficult to understand, even for the Eldar that tend to them. They form the core of Exodite worlds- that much is certain; they are somehow linked to the souls of fallen Eldar. They are considered to be analogues of the Craftworld Eldar’s Infinity Circuits, but attuned to life in the way the latter are attuned to death- what that means is anyone’s guess.
Most incomprehensibly of all, they are sapient. And today, they are singing.
From hundreds of planets, scattered around what the humans call Segmentums Solar, Obscurus, and Ultima, something flows into the sphere named Xartassax. It is not light; it is a sort of psychic sound, traveling through both the Webway and the Warp, music that reverberates across Xartassax.
It is a sound; and Xartassax focuses it. With every moment- as time is measured for the timeless- new echoes arrive to the center. With every moment, the melody grows sharper, more defined. And Xartassax shakes with it.
* * *</div>
Armathra stood on a slight hill, watching the harvest begin.
She would join it soon; but it was not the duty of a Worldsinger to be the first to work. It was her duty to ensure those who were remained safe, and their work remained in touch with the World Spirit of Xartassax.
Armathra felt cool wind surround her, melodically howling. She felt its simplicity; this was no psychic gale, but merely the natural movement of air. It was no sign of the World Spirit’s displeasure, either. That was comforting; they were doing purifying work for the greater good, but the World Spirit was difficult to understand, and in recent days it was unquiet.
No, not exactly unquiet- in recent days, it was strong. Its winds were greater, its soil more potent, its totems tighter. Though that was not the complete cause, either; Xartassax was... probing. Inquiring. Curious.
Armathra considered this on the mound, gazing at a flat landscape of labor. Vyarras was the closest of the band; he was digging at some cethry, then swept his head up to face Armathra.
“Is there something in the wind?” he inquired.
“Not the wind,” Armathra answered. “The ground.”
Vyarras twisted his neck in agreement. “Perhaps. You should begin your labor, be purified.”
Vyarras was younger than Armathra, and his behavior showed that youth; but he was also Issetera’s chosen successor, and correct besides. Armathra wove her hands through the wind one last time to check for trouble-
And then her ears cried. An orange disk, screeching with some unfathomable truth, expanded around the still-digging Vyarras, slicing without injury through the Eldar nearby. Vyarras picked up a handful of rocky ground and stared at the plane of destruction. Wherever that disc touched plant, the tiny tubes within it would widen, sometimes splitting the growing stem, sometimes hyperinflating it.
Pure, burning anger engulfed Armathra for half a moment, only to be replaced by collapsing concern. She willed herself out of her emotion’s gravity well- if there was anything the Exodites had plenty of, it was will. A ring of static plants streamed from dancing hands into the disk, ringing it with statis. With density- collapsing density.
Armathra channeled her concern into the circle, pushing the orange disk back. It struggled, an accidental exercise of psychic talent gone too far, a conscious explosion. It screeched louder, too, and emitted the smell of burning plant-
And then it was fading, the color disappearing from the circle. Armathra saw Vyarras straining to keep it in, but succeeding- in that, Vyarras was unquestionably competent- and her concern faded, allowing the disk of fire to strain once more against the ring of green. But it was too faint to fight powerfully, and within moments the ring crumbled, unnecessary.
It revealed a circle of instability, spanning at least a third of the farm. Armathra saw many dying plants that had been unable to tolerate the influx of energy, inspiring poetic sadness; others, fewer in number, had taken advantage of the psychic explosion, channeled through Vyarras, to become eerily huge.
“What happened?” Issetera asked, running towards the Worldsinger.
Armathra indicatively stared at Vyarras.
“I- I was digging, and then…” Vyarras paused, delving into his emotions of the moment. “I felt myself digging- metaphorically, with my mind- and I… dug through a wall. The World Spirit filtered it, but….”
“So,” Issetera stated, “you forgot all of your training, nearly unleashed daemons on us?”
“It was not controllable,” Armathra interjected, “it was the humour of Xartassax, powerful sorcery and overwhelming curiosity.”
“Can you right it?” Issetera asked.
“I believe so,” Armathra said. It was the truth, though she was far from certain.
Without waiting for a response from Issetera, Armathra began the weave.
She pulled into Xartassax’ constancy- not the World Spirit, the planet, inasmuch as there was a difference. She pulled into the recent past, uniform equality, and the break. It was a wall, in a sense- a loss of control, ever close to Xartassax’ surface now. But there was also greatness, an enlightened nobility in the World Spirit’s mood.
Armathra blew, and the surface where the orange disk had spread was covered with lightning-blue sparks. It was a circle, with her off-center. She focused on the ideal, on the evolving yet static past, and massive stalks shrank, while split plant-flesh knit itself together.
It was a circle, but not only a circle. She gazed closer, confining the focus to her self as the main spell concluded its work; there was something in here, a hidden pattern.
And then she saw it. Two circles, now, intersecting, with the figure’s center being her location. An anti-disk had spread across it, and was now healing just as the main one had. And centered at her location, another cycle, inscribed in the other two, creating an eye- or The Eye? Rays, a sun, a blinding light, exploding from where she stood.
Everything else dimmed. Armathra capped her eyes, trying her best not to stare, consumed by the brightness and the glory and the-
“Armathra?” Issetera asked, but the chief was only a slight shadow in the universal light, and then nothing at all.
The world was white.
* * *
Issetera dug for the cethry that Vyarras had left behind. Her apprentice was disturbed, and it was in everyone’s best interest to distance him from the site of his collapse, especially while Armathra was indisposed.
The camp stretched around her, a huge, roughly oval meadow within a green forest. To the south, the sea splashed on organic sand, flowing through the Ranger Chimneys and creating eerie music that could, on a good day, be heard from the southern edge of camp.
Today was not a good day, and over the roiling wind, even speech could be difficult to hear if not reinforced with telepathy.
Issetera dug for the cethry, feeling the incomprehensible psychic compulsion to dig with her mind as well. She resisted it with controlled fear- fear of what would happen if her control failed, as Vyarras’ and Armathra’s already had. The Worldsinger had at least fixed Vyarras’ folly before delving too deep.
This was too difficult. The World Spirit was disturbed, and it was best not to risk everything, here at the brink of dusk.
“Cease work for the day,” Issetera sent. “Vyarras will direct tomorrow; I will leave to the Greater Council.”
She had made the decision some time ago. Whatever was going on with the World Spirit, it was too big to be covered by anything other than the effective governing body of Xartassax.
Concern gripped her, fear by another name, and she willed her psyche to expand- ever so slightly. There was another desire that erupted then- the desire to carry the light, to carry the torch of truth and banish the darkness, forever, forever….
Issetera ceased resistance, allowing the fear to conquer her mind. It was safer- she understood it. That heroic urge was of the World Spirit, something mortals were not meant to comprehend.
She pulled out the last clump of cethry, tossing it into her basket. It resounded as it fell in, almost filling the bowl. This was it- most likely, the last of this year’s harvest she would gather. It was mildly pathetic, and Issetera considered whether, by doing her duties as a chief, she was violating her duties as an Exodite.
But she had to be at the Council for any of the band to gain access. That final basket held in her left hand, she walked towards the camp center. The orange sun of Xartassax glided towards the horizon as she deposited her gathering, said personal goodbyes to a couple of friends, and turned towards the disaun pasture.
She came out of the woods as the sun Ildaresh touched the forest’s horizon. Its fainter rays illuminated a titanic field, several times larger than those the Serrated Stem tribe had occupied for its camp, occupied by a number of dark green reptiles.
They were humongous; Issetera didn’t even come up to one’s knees. They were also surprisingly controllable. Today, Issetera didn’t even have to push to get one to turn its endless neck left and down, towards her.
That neck, along with an equally long tail, was a disaun’s most prominent feature. More subtle were the granules embedded into its mid-body’s spine and ribs, or the horns that protruded over its tiny- but perfectly capable- eyes. Yet those formed part of an armor network, hidden under the disaun’s back, that formed the only known effective defense against dragons.
The disaun that had picked out Issetera- Augasuran- already had a saddle attached, so she simply leapt onto its sturdy neck and ran up it. She galloped, careful with each footstep- getting onto an uncontrolled disaun was in no way safe.
It did, however, possess a primal sort of fun. On the giant reptile’s back, Issetera couldn’t resist the urge to zigzag her way across the armor into the cabin. It was dead wood, orange-brown; it was linked to the disaun’s legs, unrestricting but capable of controlling the beast.
“Bring me Armathra,” she sent to Iyathlane, then pushed the disaun into a slow walk.
The humongous beast stepped, carefully, through the grass. Its brethren ignored it; disaun were not particularly social, and even the psychic tricks that tamed them- for, unlike plants, disaun could not be controlled with only hard work- did not change that. Then the reptile smashed into the trees; its neck stuck up above them, and Augasuran could see where it walked, but Issetera was stuck within the vibrant leaves.
She knew she was coming out by the diminished rustling, and excited, watched Augasuran crane its neck to note Iyathlane. Then the wind was once again shaking the wooden basket that carried Issetera, and she jerked at the controls- such as they were- to push the disaun’s neck downward.
Iyathlane ran up, more carefully than Issetera had, a sleeping Armathra in her arms.
“She still sleeps,” the advisor said, “but it won’t be long now.”
Issetera twisted in agreement. “I’ll make the journey alone with her- the Serrated Stem needs every hand it has for this mad harvest, but her knowledge will be important.”
Iyathlane descended, and then Isssetera was twisting Augasuran around, rearing the monster onto its hind legs, waiting for Iyathlane to get out of the way, and breaking the monster into a run through the windy twilight, towards the Top Obelisk and the Greater Council.
* * *
The white was shaking. Armathra felt it, even though she saw only the uniform blankness. But the light was fading, and a moment later, the Worldsinger could discern trees and poles.
“What happened?” Issetera asked. Somehow, Armathra was entirely unsurprised the chief was there.
“I don’t know,” she said, “but I saw something, a glimmer of what was going on; too strong a glimmer.”
“The painful light?”
“The blinding light, yes. It was geometric, somehow.” Armathra was back in her mind again, and curiosity swept over her as she examined her surroundings. “Where are we?”
“On a disaun.”
“I know that, where are we going?”
“The Greater Council. The matter of whatever you saw, and the rest of the oddness, is deeply serious, a problem for all Xartassax, it appears.”
“How do you know?”
Issetera raised her arms. “It’s the World Spirit, Armathra. Of course it’ll affect the entire world. Besides, I know you haven’t seen them yet, but the animals are behaving weirdly. Smartly.”
Armathra raised her head in comprehension- and then, suddenly, she saw another titan out of the holes in the basket.
It was a disaun as well, this one definitely wild. That was troubling- encountering a lone disaun while riding another one was bound to be unpleasant. The reptiles could decide to fight, mate, or play, none of which were convenient for the riders.
“Distract it,” Issetera said, “though are you strong enough?”
Armathra was. Her clarity had returned quickly, and her comprehension was solid now. She twisted her head to indicate this, even as she set up the first weave into the unknown disaun’s mind.
It was a large consciousness- large not only in the grandiose sense, which the disaun always were, but also in understanding. A disaun this smart would typically be a unique find; but today, Armathra knew, the beast on which they were riding was even more intelligent.
It was a large consciousness, and Armathra knew that her current weave would be as cobwebs in the corner of a space-house, a grand idea but uselessly tiny in practice.
Armathra knew this disaun would ignore an attempt to cloud its mind, unless Armathra put true power into the assault. But she formed a different weave, a bright arrow into a tree. It was a subtle overtone of hunger, not strong enough to incite dangerous predatory behavior, but sufficient to crane the wild reptile’s neck towards a large palm. Then the Eldar were past, the distraction being enough to let the disauns diverge.
“I understand now,” Armathra said, “the animals do not just appear smart, they are smart.”
Issetera’s eyes slightly bulged. “A severe disturbance.”
Suddenly, thunder from an empty sky rolled through them.
Augasuran shook with the sonic impact, though softly enough that Armathra’s and Issetera’s seats were unperturbed.
“Egandras,” Issetera noted.
Armathra simply peered left, in the direction where the thunder had originated. There were egandras indeed, but under the behemoth antelope’s legs….
“Egandras, in a river, with radns.”
“Radns, though egandras fear them greatly.”
Radns were far smaller than egandras, the size of half an Eldar’s leg. They were as elongated, too, with greenish whiskers the only protruding features on a seemingly cut face. Scales of brown fur covered their bodies.
“Radns, riding the egandras.”
Now Issetera couldn’t resist the temptation to stare as well. She wouldn’t see anything besides what Armathra had through the spaces between the multicolored trees- a river of purest water, up which the thundering egandras were charging, covered with radns.
“There’ll be a meadow soon,” Issetera stated, “the view will be clearer.”
Thunder rolled again. Augasuran ignored it; the sound was not meant for the disaun. Instead, it kept its course forward, exiting into the meadow Issetera had spoken of. It was only a relative meadow; feathergrass swept up Augasuran’s legs, tickling its belly. It was enough of a meadow, however, for Armathra to see the river.
The egandras were running up it, clothed in radns. Night was running away. Black, star-springled felids, tail-maned; they were zaugadrs. They were natural predators of radns, which they were as long as- but wider. Adult egandras had nothing to fear from them, but when not under stress, zaugadrs became transparent, preventing the egandras from avenging stolen young.
Radns had no weakness in seeing zaugadrs. It was a sensible symbiosis, but it would take centuries, at least, for it to evolve. Besides, how did the egandras know who was killing their children?
“The power of the World-Spirit,” Issetera said, “where we need to go.”
Armathra couldn’t agree more.
<div align="center">* * *
Issetera watched gray-ringed plants file by. Smoke-like circles constantly rose around every single ganeg tree. The trees were themselves spherical, perfectly arranged branches- perfectly arranged by nature, for no Eldar had ever touched them- ending in gray leaves with a hole in the center.
With a start, the chief recognized she was being consumed by awe, even though she had seen ganegs many times. Forcing it down, she turned to Armathra, who was still awaiting an answer. “The Council will not meet at the Obelisk itself, rather at a meadow we are almost at, the Obelisk can be seen from it.”
Armathra raised her head, understanding. “One we are almost at?”
“When Augasuran breaks these rings, when the light ahead is revealed, you will see the gathering.”
Light- light again. With the paranoia that had been gnawing at her for the entire journey, Issetera considered the possibility that the World Spirit’s affliction could be affecting her, too. Experience had suppressed her curiosity, and with further fear she wondered if the oddness was bringing that out as well, thus causing this journey in the first place.
She fought back against the fear, though with darkness and not light. This journey was for the betterment of her people- and immediately the fear shifted into self-doubt, for the other tribes could solve the issue by themselves.
Probably. Perhaps. Issetera turned the fear in against itself, twin vortices in opposite directions. She could yet do good, as well as evil; nothing was certain.
Not even, in truth, that this change was wrong.
“The gathering is revealed,” Armathra stated as Augasuran broke through the canopy’s outer edge.
It was- a massive plain, with the Top Obelisk visible on a rocky mountain far to the left. To the right there was a lake, its center permanently frozen in the vagaries of the World Spirit. In the center, a savannah’s dead end curled up between forest, lake, and hill. It was in this circle, to Augasuran’s left, that the Greater Council of Xartassax met this year.
Exodites migrated from camp to camp between years; the Greater Council took this tendency to its natural extreme. It remained in the same location for precisely a full year, then shattered, its members regathering soon after as much as halfway across the planet.
The Council was large today, three hundred and ninety-eight chiefs gathered to discuss the oddness. They stood, in rings, around a central podium, on which one of their number demonstrated earth-sorcery.
“We can all do this,” he said, “making the harvest much more successful. How can you complain, the storm enables us to dig-”
“Get Augasuran away, then come to the Council,” Issetera said, jumping up in the basket and running onto the disaun’s back.
She ran up Augasuran’s plated neck, feeling the armor bend below her legs. In the sky above, a red dragon circled; the disaun was somewhat disturbed, and so despite Armathra’s best efforts, it shook. Still, leap by leap, Issetera emerged onto Augasuran’s lowered head and then onto the grassy ground below.
“The goal of the harvest is to make us work, to make us unlike the Empire of decadence, not to practice psychic powers!” she screamed from behind the assembled Greater Council.
The speaker- Drothzan, the chief of the Pointed Horn band- growled as the audience swerved their heads to note Issetera. “I am not suggesting forgetting honest work, I am suggesting improving life for us all!”
“In this case, the same thing!” Faiel of the White-Black Cycle jeered from the crowd.
Debate broke out, a hundred arguments at once. Only an Eldar’s ears could catch all of them. Issetera was glad to see the Greater Council mostly recognized Drothzan’s folly as what it was, but there was no general agreement on the tint of the changes.
“The World Spirit’s mood is not good or evil, it is merely a season,” Faiel stated.
“We are not mon-keigh, denying our potential!”
“A season of storms!”
“My case is made, the Council can choose whatever it wants, the Pointed Horn will follow its own path!”
“You will endanger us all!”
“We will destroy danger itself!”
Issetera felt a hand on her shouting shoulders, and turned around to see Armathra. “This will not end well,” the Worldsinger said.
“The Greater Council is wiser than it appears, we will decide for the best.”
As if deaf, the assembled chiefs of Xartassax continued to argue.
“I will banish this light!” someone at last yelled out, a rare display of arrogance- or responsibility? Issetera was unsure, but a dozen cries of assent rang out as Xieva of the Cloudy Ganeg began a weave.
“No!” Armathra- the only Worldsinger at the assembly- cried out, but it was too late.
“Save your energy, flee!” Issetera said, pushing Armathra towards the nearby Faiel. The White-Black Cycle’s chief was staring at the weave in question, mutely comprehending. Issetera did not understand precisely what was occurring, but she trusted it was wrong.
The weave exploded.
Faiel thrust a psychic wave at Armathra, throwing her in the air, towards the Top Obelisk, and then Issetera felt the dark wildness of the shattered sorcery passing through her.
This is true of others, and of other yous.
And then there was only the hunt.
* * *
Armathra fluttered towards the Top Obelisk, but her eyes were chained backward as she watched the Greater Council of Xartassax fall.
It had been simple enough. In fear of the light, a group of chiefs had sent darkness into the World Spirit. Xartassax had responded by spitting it back out at the Greater Council.
The blast had been contained- it was not infectious, most likely. But it did regress the Eldar of the Council into animal parodies of themselves. The light was not psychic power, after all. Neither was it curiosity, though that was part of it.
The light was civilization. And no matter how agrarian the Exodites were, they were still Eldar, still the ashes of the greatest civilization the galaxy had ever seen. Without that, what had become of the chiefs?
Armathra didn’t know, but she had suspicions.
The Worldsinger drew further lines onto her path, keeping herself angled towards the Top Obelisk. There was wind, though not the simple sort left behind with the Serrated Stem. She felt, at this height, a sort of hurricane forming around the Top Obelisk, perhaps as feedback from the Greater Council’s ill-advised attempt to interfere.
Anger welled up, anger at Issetera for helping bring the Greater Council to the point where it had done… this; and filled with that fury, she drilled into the ground by the Obelisk.
Then she remembered what she had mind-heard at the moment of the explosion- a single word. Esaiex.
Curiosity flooded in, and the anger was gone, leaving a lone Eldar at the bottom of a pit.
She was still somewhat aware that her mental defenses were failing, that she was supposed to better resist those extremes of emotion; but that, like so much else, was distant as Armathra clambered up the dirt walls of the crater.
Armathra saw the Top Obelisk up close- for the first time in thirty-nine years- at the moment when the explosion of Xartassax’ cursing finally stopped echoing. It had very nearly reached Augasuran, but linking with the giant reptile, Armathra felt that it had been unaffected and was no more wild than normal. There was no telling what destruction it could have caused otherwise.
She saw the Top Obelisk then. It was a black pentagonal pyramid, engraved with the runes of the elements- one on each side. Its tip was crowned with gold, but the rest of it was obsidian-covered, with the core- and therefore the carvings- pink heartstone.
Warily, but with determination to fix the darkness over the Greater Council- she vaguely remembered there was supposed to be something else, but confusion clouded her thoughts now- Armathra climbed onto the surface and touched her hand to a middle rune.
The carving glowed. The name resounded.
“Esaiex!” her subconscious screamed, even as her conscious mind was on the verge of tears. Armathra recognized that this was too much, that she could be overwhelmed; but she could not break the contact.
She dove deeper.
The ocean stretched out below her body, and she realized with a shudder that she knew what Esaiex was. It was this burning ocean, so unlike that of Xartassax. It was the rest, too, the chitinous creatures crawling on the sediment, the hair-yellow sediment itself, the psychic drumbeat in the distance. It was the world- another world. Esaiex.
It was fading, she knew. Slowly, but definitively, the essence of Esaiex that penetrated everything around her was being replaced by the slightly less vivid- or perhaps simply greener- landscape of Xartassax. The fish had aspects of both, as did the sediment and the rhythm, of which every beat was slightly less than the previous. She understood it now, remained unblinded from the light by accepting it rather than simply observing it.
There was the counter, too, and as Armathra swam through the melded oceans towards a white pillar sticking out from the sand- once part of some great city- she recognized what it was. The curse, the one affecting the Greater Council, was still in force. She saw it as an oil mousse upon the waves.
She swam upwards, pushing with her legs to see the black. And, with a thought, she burned it.
The oil was in terrible agony, and Armathra dearly hoped the same wasn’t true of the Greater Council’s members. But it waned- burning far better than any cold seep would in reality, for this was the realm of the mind.
Reflected in the oil was something buried under the pillar; and covered with fear of being too slow, Armathra headed down once again, cutting the currents. There was a window frame; Armathra flew towards it, tossing the pillar aside with more ease than made sense. There was a window frame, and within it… something. Hands grasping the frame, legs bobbing above, in the current, Armathra gazed into the ancient window. And somehow, impossibly, she did not see. She heard….
* * *
Esaiex was an Eldar world, once. It was chosen by the Exodites as one of their new homes when they fled the Eldar Empire. Esaiex was settled for only a few decades, however, when its inhabitants recognized there was a flaw in its psyche- it was too closely attuned to the Immaterium, running the risk that the planet would become a Daemon World.
So the Eldar left, leaving the World Spirit behind. Humans replaced them- settlers fleeing persecution, creating a realm devoted to enlightenment. Esaiex was peacefully integrated into the Imperium of Man during the Great Crusade, but with time was sentenced to destruction.
Esaiex died, bombarded by the Space Marines. Through ten thousand years, the dust settled on its surface, and the World Spirit remained sleeping inside its core.
Today the World Spirits of the galaxy choose this statis to end. Esaiex did not become a Daemon World through twenty thousand years of settlement and desolation, and it will not become one now. And there are too few Exodite Worlds left to let Esaiex stay barren. Today, through a starless filament, empowered by its brethren around the Milky Way, Xartassax sings Esaiex back to life.