Short Fiction

Our Last Night

Our Last Night

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Zac Caslar
Reading Time: 10 minutes

As Isha dreams, she drools. When Isha drools, Kurnous cannot resist smiling.

This is something only a lover knows of their beloved. Not a detail found on any celebratory fresco of Isha’s Bounty or Isha’s Glory or—his personal favorite—Isha’s Ecstasy. In this small flaw she is immediate and perfect and real as only one lover can be to another.

He knows she’s not really dreaming any more then she’s actually sleeping. They’re not mortals; this is a divine pantomime. But all the same, his beloved is as gorgeous asleep as awake: her sun-golden hair is rumpled and unruly, her earth-brown skin rippling and sweaty beneath their shared furs. In her rest, she communes with their mortal children as they pass through her to their rebirth. And thus, he smiles again beneath his bushy brown beard; his love is a bit of drooler.

That she might sometimes even break wind is as utterly unimaginable as it is unspeakable. The Life-Mother of the Eldar, passing wind! Lives have been lost over more trivial accusations.

It is her concern over why lives are being lost that brings them together at the Twilight Bay, border of his demesne, the Immortal Forest and her own Gardens of Isha.

Lilleath had been dreaming again-

Kurnous glances to where their child laughs and sports in the water. As the divinity of dreams, what she imagines becomes the possible and in this place, saturated with the love and power of her family. When she imagines a great water beast surfacing beneath her to fling her skyward with it’s massive spade tail…

Her hysterical whooping is interrupted only by her crashing re-entry into the water.

Whatever she dreams, goes.

Lately, Lilleath has been dreaming of a glorious and terrible birth.

Forever the Maiden of Spring, Lilleath is unburdened by the implications of her predictions. So she spoke to her mother Isha.

And Isha asked her husband to meet.

Kurnous glances at Isha again, sees her roll onto her back and snort musically before falling deep into slumber again.

Let her rest; the Lord of the Hunt is hardly without patience.

He has some idea what troubles his love:

When an Eldar soul departs life, it is gathered to Isha’s womb. When they are killed, He knows they feel the primal death-horror of any prey as the predator’s jaws lock around its neck. Thus is a hunt completed, for weal or woe. When a hunt begins, Kurnous knows. So also when a hunt ends.

And recently, in terms of time as Warp gods would know it, many of those hunts have been …different.

Tainted, perhaps.

Some died in fits of ecstasy. Sometimes of ecstacy. 

Plachu, his most playful hound, had needed to be rendered down and reborn by Kurnous’s will. One feast was forbidden to all of His children: The flesh of any thinking-creature and especially of themselves. Yet, Plachu had come bounding back from a hunt, jowls dripping with profane meat.

That this happened ever was no surprise. That it had happened and one of his noble companions was made evil by such an act?

That was unthinkable.

That made him afraid.

At the thought, Plachu lopes carefully over, muzzle down and eyes on Kurnous’s feet, too-aware of the Pack Lord’s terrible displeasure yet too loyal to shirk judgement.

Kurnous reaches over and strokes Plachu’s dense, wooly fur. It was hardly Plachu’s fault to act according to his creator’s will.This prompts Plachu’s bushy tail to sweep gaily about and when stray hairs drift on to Isha’s face, her dreaming ends.

Kuronous shoos Plachu off, deftly catching a hair before it can be pulled into his beloved’s lips Isha would not be truly angry about such an indignity, but it was always wise to be respectful of the demeanor of a goddess possibly waking to a mouthful of dog hair.

Her eyes open, and Kurnous pauses. For a fleeting moment, he knows the stillness of wary prey at the gaze of the predator as her eyes open to focus on his face.

Green, green like the heart of the ideal blossom, green like the vibrant bud of the perfect seed. At his core, the Lord of the Hunt is a being of instinct; and when Isha’s eyes close to just slits and her lips meet and swell just so slightly his instincts are utterly without ambiguity. He cups her delicate jaw and strokes her swain’s neck as they kiss, his blood surging as her body rises to his touch.

Plachu barks eagerly, cheering the Pack Lord’s imminent conquest! Let there be pups again, let the great engine of conception be ignited anew!

Isha pulls back, frowns at Plachu, raking her fingers through her tangled mane as she props herself up on one elbow.

Already rising and turning, Kurnous’s ire is …wasted. 

Plachu has been distracted by Lilleath. Plachu is bounding into the surf, barking and splashing as he hurtles into the phantom tide of the imagined, mythic eldar ocean.

Kurnous sighs, scowls at his groin. Isha presses to his lean, muscular back to kiss his neck. This isn’t that kind of reunion after all.

Isha’s leashed anxieties radiate from her like the scent of her sleep-sweat, but she insists on ritual.

First, they eat. 

Eldar explorers have marked a new world: a sleeping, garden paradise its grunting apes call Urth. Isha’s faithful, secular though they’ve become, still honor her with the gathering of seeds and the husbanding of animal life. As her love knows the blood of every beast the eldar have ever sought and slain, so too does Isha know the seeds and flesh of every plant an eldar hand has ever touched.

From her fingers falls a seedling. With a flourish of her hand it’s bursting into bloom, vigorous limbs bobbing as large leathery red fruit bulge from their stems.

Kurnous is skeptical, brows raised in doubt. This plant’s fruits look like organs torn fresh from a body, and he would know.

“Like this, husband.” Isha slides her nail along her fruit’s seam and it parts with a pop to offer crimson seeds packed in tight profusion. She pushes the fruit inside out before gracefully leaning in to nibble the seeds one by one, savoring their tangy juice. “Take them each-“

Wolfish crunching interrupts her as her lover takes a full quarter of the bounty in a single hungry mouthful.

“Not as bloody as they look! Rather delicious, in truth” Kuronous opines before gorging onward.

Isha rolls her eyes and does as she knows is correct before setting a fruit aside for their daughter.

Hunger blunted, Kurnous produces slabs of beast meat taken by eldar hunters exploring Urth. This he has prepared. Any worthy hunter is prepared, and he would know. He also knows his wife finds being present of the butchering of well, anything, distasteful, and thus: steaks.

The meat to be cooked is not real in the mortal conception of the corporeal. Neither is the flame Kurnous strikes, nor that he must conjure sticks and stones and score them against one another. That Flame and it’s conjuring is not of Him, and is more true then the imaginary grass and hides he and Isha sit upon.

But that is not the point. Food nourishes, flame heartens. In it’s tiny way the fruit plant’s consumption fuels the cycles of death and rebirth. So too the hide, bones, meat, and death of the thick-pelted beast the hunters slew for their own survival.

In this firelight Isha is fortified, her delicate face set against the terrible task uniting them as a family again.

“Lilleath dreams of a great and terrible birth, and I am afraid.”

Now, he is the Pack Lord and when his mate speaks of fear his eyes have nothing else to see, as his ears care for nothing else but her voice. At his back the hounds gather -even Plachu, water soaked but too entranced to even shake dry.

“I would begin at the beginning, but I have no true sense of when that is. I could not speak the name of who was first, though I know my mortal children all in their fecund trillions.”

“But one of them was first. First of the… the diseased, the tainted. No, of the corrupted.”

“I feel them even now, not wondering at my presence nor drowsily musing of their lives to come- no, these twist and whimper and cackle. They have died terrible deaths and their souls thrash as they pass through me, ecstasy and terror melded in their torn minds. They have forgotten their names and so I lose them. And yet, like Khaine’s barbed chains pulled through my flesh, I feel them pass. Cut into their souls is another’s mark that I cannot read, but that I deeply fear.” Isha swallows, pauses, swallows again, and the Pack Lord’s mind is drowned in a hunting rage fed by terrible fear. What scares his mate is prey and prey will know, must know, the death-horror of his jaws crushing it’s bones!

Not for meat, not for blood, not for warmth of den and heat of kin, but because his mate is afraid and SHE IS PREY TO NOTHING!

She cannot be prey. She cannot be afraid. Everything he is—everything the Pack is—exists to protect Her; She is it’s continuation. Without the Life-Mother’s smile, what point is there to the hunt itself?

What remains is slaughter and ash, the wasteful scorn of the God of Murder. Death without purpose, destruction without restoration. Torn meat staring at the sky, life gushing out beneath the laughter of thirsting gods-

Kurnous blinks.

What?

“I feel them spill into this place, the palaces of the Asuryani, and… vanish. They cannot. They cannot! This is not possible! Lilleath inspires them, I birth them, Morai Heg measures their years! We three are the span of an eldar life!” Here Isha’s visage is the stone wrath of a mother’s anger, the waking fury of the planet’s bedrock; terrible enough to strangle skies, scatter oceans, and swallow entire cities into her molten iron blood.

The Pack Lord’s teeth bare. The Mate is not afraid now; roused to anger she is the match of any. Now, she is not prey!

“Yet, some are lost! Drawn from me deep into the Sea of Souls and lost.”

“Lost and forgotten. Transformed. Corrupted.”

“This cannot be. There is no truth greater than my love for them. I cannot lose them, I cannot forget them.”

Her head is on her arms, her arms around her knees.

“They are taken into some impossible place I cannot know, and there they vanish.”

The Pack’s ears are up. They whine at the Pack Lord’s mind “-let us run! Let us hunt! Nothing can escape us! We know the Mate’s scent and the scent of her pups! But wish it, Pack Lord, and our songs and fangs will drag the prey from it’s den!”

Kurnous does not answer. He is at his mate’s side, her face pressed to his beard, her tears hot down his chest. Her scent brings not whirling intoxication or primal lust, but worry: a husband’s worry, a father’s fear at the terrible and impossible.

Around them,  the pack has crowded in and Isha croaks a laugh as Plachu plops his soggy head on her leg, eyes raised to hers in doleful apology.

Kurnous kisses her hair.

“Whatever comes, you will not be alone. You will never be alone so long as a single one of us remains.”

Lilleath wades ashore, taking up a long cloth and briskly toweling dry. She is as she always is: skittish of her parents’ doting and enchanted by her own coltish energy.

Kurnous tosses her the last Urth-fruit and she tears up open and messily crunches into its sanguine innards, chin soon dripping with its sweet blood.

“Again our child takes after you, husband,” Isha observes dryly.

“She truly does,” Kuronous answers, unwilling to hide his grin.

After a time he asks, shooing the pack away, “why don’t we make more children? Blessed you, but they are the joy of life itself.”

Isha’s answer is whispered into the un-sky of the bay “Asuryan forbids it. Ever his court’s tangled politics rule his mind.” She turns her face up to his, eyes wide in need, “yet we are permitted to practice for more, my love. Be with me, if only for now.”

About the Author

Zac Caslar is a long-time Eldar fan and officer of the Myriad Shrines Troup. Not because the Eldar are Good, which they are not. Nor because they are Kind, which they also are not. But because the Eldar are Wise in a galaxy of smothering Ignorance. The Eldar guard the monstrous truths of their terrible future because Ignorance may masquerade as power but it always reveals itself as Death.