- "For the Prince so hated the world."
- —An aphorism of Ashur-El’s devoted.
Bound to a terrible, twisted tree of antediluvian awe and primordial terror, Ashur-El Artashumara is an idol to untold millions. Languid and rarely stirring from his dreaming torpor, he nevertheless rules over a nomadic empire of nightmares in silence.
In M23 The ark of a private colonial venture arrived at OTO7-Achmet, an anomalous star at the northeastern rim of the galaxy. The architects of this venture were the Fourth Way Neo-Thelemic Objectivists (4WNTO): an extremely eccentric collective of unethical artists, occultists, and scientists along with their depraved and wealthy patrons; though the bulk of the colonists and crew were ignorant of their employers agenda or beliefs. They make for the star’s fourth world, a mostly barren terrestrial world dominated by a single, enormous tree of continental scale. The architects dub the planet New Ashvattha.
After an orbital survey, they land the ark as close to the base of the great tree as they can, using the vessel as the basis for their colony. Using their STC and the materials in their ark, they’re able to create a stable and self-sufficient city-state within the decade. Within the century, numerous smaller settlements spring up all around the base and surface roots of the mighty tree. Other than the impressive arboreal specimen, the colony seems to be a straightforward affair: agriculture, exploration, manufacturing, mining, prospecting, and all the other things humans occupy themselves with on a new world. For the elite of the 4WNTO however, the point of this endeavor that brought them to the edge of the galaxy was the great tree, which they learned of in a tome of esoteric lore of uncertain antiquity and origins. This tree, to the best of their ability to decode the tome, was Shemal-Lilitu. Relying on their loyal security forces to enforce a quarantine on exploration of the tree by regular colonists, the scientists of 4WNTO discovered assorted concealed passaged into the body of the trunk, revealing a labyrinthine interior of shaped wood, integrated with stone and metal, glass and plastic, flesh and bone.
As the colony slowly expanded over the course of centuries, successive generations of 4WNTO charted out the myriad corridors and chambers of Shemal-Lilitu, often opposed by gruesome mechanisms, horrible monstrous lifeforms and psychic, memetic assaults. These hazards never seemed to be intended to exterminate the intruders entirely, but rather had an almost didactic sensation, like a marvelously sadistic tutor who was quick to rap the knuckles of the pupil with a switch.
With their methodical approach and insistence on doing no damage to Shemal-Lilitu, it wasn’t until the latter half of M24 when at last the vast majority of Shemal-Lilitu had been charted. Throughout the great journey, the explorers were able to ferry out incredible technologies and refine strange elixirs from the myriad substances found within the tree: its sap, bark, and the diverse bioforms that had opposed their exploration. Despite their plundering, the centuries of interaction with Shemal-Lilitu left the descendants of 4WNTO had become reverent of the tree and its seemingly malign intelligence, treating the entire entity as the Source of Objective True Will, the Fourth Way made Manifest. Every generation of 4WNTO’s descendants had grown more secretive and diabolical than the last, by the time their exploration of Shemal-Lilitu stopped at 90% completion, they had no issue with sacrificing residents of the settlements to the tree to open paths and doorways that had been barred to them. The tree writhed with delight as her roots were bathed in the blood of hundreds of colonists, and opened the way to marvelous secrets and terrible arts and powers. The rulers of the colony took in this dark knowledge and were transformed, birthing three distinct but co-equal castes among them.
The Gesigners were endowed with vast biological knowledge and strange modes of perception: they could smell aqueous humor, blood, marrow, viscera or any other distinct portion of any creature’s anatomy or when they were in estrus at will, they could read and divine every intimate detail of a lifeform’s DNA simply by running their fingers across its form or tasting a drop of blood. They could engineer entirely new forms of life and clone or modify just about any lifeform, even reviving the dead by transmitting the memories of the deceased into new bodies, even if those bodies didn’t match their prior forms (opening exciting new avenues of torment or promotion).
The Imagineers gained sanity-shattering insights into physics, engineering and mathematics and often experienced vivid dreams that led to new inventions and breakthroughs. They truly believed that they could construct anything that they imagined, entering fugue states and allowing their bodies to move of their own accord and assemble intricate devices or scrawl hitherto unknown mathematical proofs and universal constants.
The Sorcerer-Kings were blessed with great favors by Shemal-Lilitu, imbued with tremendous physical prowess and the ability to manifest energies in a way that defied even the understanding of the Imagineers, and was thus dubbed “sorcery.” With their new powers, all pretense was discarded and these adherents of Shemal-Lilitu tyrannized the colonists relentlessly. As the rulers of New Ashvattha relied on specialty bioforms rather than robots, and their colony’s extreme isolation, they weathered Old Night with ease. Thousands of years were spent molding their new society, layering atrocity upon atrocity.
As M31 rolled on, things began to change for the tyrants of New Ashvattha. As the galaxy at large was thrown into new heights of turmoil between the fall of the Eldar and the Great Crusade, psychic reverberations reached even this lonely world on the edge. The populace that was once bound by generations of terror began to rebel against their rulers. Worse, their actions and deep yearning invited uncontrolled Chaos mutation and eventually daemonic infiltration. The further one got away from the base of Shemal-Lilitu, the more intense the revolt and presence of Chaos, the regime’s security forces and vat grown monsters were slowly being pushed back towards the heart of their power. Success breeds success, and indeed the psychic storm of the revolt grew and grew as they approached their hated tyrants.
As the frustration and desperation of the regime reached a fever pitch, the object of their devotion would provide once again. A dream came to the foremost members of the three castes, Gesigner Montauk, Imgaineer Gibborim, and Sorcerer-King She-Bel Ra'am; a flesh-forged champion of the Twisted Tree in human form.
Inspired by the influence of Shemal-Lilitu, the leaders of the castes collaborated to create the avatar. The Gesigner's created the delicate macro-molecules necessary for their ideal superhuman from scratch. The Imagineers fabricated new varieties of protein-based nanomachines that would serve to graft microscopic cybernetic and other foreign materials they intended to implants and grafts they would imbue upon the avatar. The Sorcerer-Kings created the mystic arrays and accounted for every arcane influence in the space that would be used to birth the avatar into the universe, consulting all known forms of divination, narrowing down the ideal astrological and numerological window, and accumulating adequate qi, orgone, and vril energies. Terrible bargains were struck with shadowy brokers to collect a bounty of live specimens of numerous xeno species, so that their souls could fuel their creation and gift it with the cultural memory of galactic civilization.
It took just over two years for the adult, humanoid form of the avatar to complete its gestation and for its integrated organic cybernetics to properly fuse. Eventually the appointed hour arrived, and the living but insensate form of the avatar were placed upon throne of twisting wood that Shemal-Lilitu had grown in pace with the avatar's creation. The Twisted Tree accepted the delicate labor of the prior twenty-four months, wrapping the body in a cocoon of vines and roots and infusing it with the ineffable essence of the Tree itself. Wan green light peeked through the tiny gaps between the roots, accompanied by the smell of ozone and a sinister hum that resonated behind the eyes and within the teeth of those assembled. As Montauk and Gibborim tracked spirals of exotic data on their computers; She-Bel Ra'am led her coterie of elite sorcerers in the ritual chant, walking a slow arc around the base of the throne. When the tendrils of the Tree withdrew, it left an ephemeral token upon its avatar: a delicate crown of pitch black laurels and thorns, which crumbled away to fine dust as the avatar opened its eyes for the first time.
- "Behold the stark rapture of his countenance, indeed the very face of Love!"
- —A worshiper of Ashur-El.
Ashur-El Artashumara possesses normal human proportions, appearing at first glance to be a tall and slender male with long black hair. Upon closer inspection it becomes clear that his skin resembles glossy, white porcelain more than any human complexion and never seems to sweat or twitch under any stimuli. His face is nearly always a serene mask of sleep, delicate and fine-boned, with eyes closed at rest and lips pursed. His eyes do not move behind the lids, nor do his nostrils flare or lips part, for all an observer might guess, he could be dead.
On the rare occasions where his ire cannot be contained, his apocalyptic rage tears apart his placid guise. The act of opening his eyes or mouth causes the skin on his face to crack and bleed, shards of stone-like skin peel and fall, revealing deep red muscle tissue as blood runs down his face from the wounds, it is only at times like this when his illuminated heliotrope colored pupils can be seen, their eerie light casting strange shadow on the contours and cracks of his splintering guise. When again he resumes his restful state, his devoted followers have the singular honor of reassembling his face to its beatific perfection.
He is attired in ornate, formal garments of a baroque style that would not be out of place in many courts within the Imperium. Though they are in good repair and generally clean, the prince’s stillness invites numerous spider-like offspring of Shemal-Lilitu to crawl and weave webs upon him, giving the impression of a neglected statue as he sits in his throne of living wood. Other than his clothes, he does not otherwise wear adornments or accessories.
- "Let a host of blades, awash in venom, be issued from the deep vaults of Shemal-Lilitu; send with them the lasguns and autocannons, with ordinance and tanks, and with armor of carapace black as the night, let the court carve into stone and slave, great praise to these heroes of the Prince!"
- —A quartermaster of Shemal-Lilitu.
Ashur-El Artashumara has no real need for weapons, armor or most other personal effects. He relies on his minions and the capabilities of Shemal-Lilitu to fulfill His aims. Nevertheless, his followers frequently engage in piracy and plunder, filling the vaults of the Twisted Tree. Most of these things are eventually cycled back out into the hands of his worshipers to aid them in their own works.
- "Timeless warp, brimming with fright, bursts on the billows of eldritch light. O'er the mad waves, this servant anon, shall plot a course to plunder at dawn."
- —Captain of the Folly of Hope.
When Shemal-Lilitu is un-anchored from a world, the fleet serves as an escort. Otherwise, they engage in piracy and planetary raids.
- Age of Conclusion: a battleship.
- Art of Atrocity: a frigate.
- Cremation of Care: a cruiser equipped with weaponry analogous to the Hecutor Plasma Macrocannon.
- Dark Oblation: a corvette.
- Folly of Hope: a light cruiser
- Mother of All Whores: an escort carrier.
- Older Than Music: a heavy frigate
- Pilgrim's Regress: a frigate.
- Pyre of Nations: a battleship, it serves as the flagship of Shemal-Lilitu's escort fleet. Compared to the other vessels which have a more recognizable human (if non-Imperial) aesthetic, the Pyre of Nations resembles a macabre work of art. It appears almost like a colossal blackthorn shillelagh, with sculptures of assorted humanoid figures in contorted poses clutching on for dear life.
- Rapture of the False: a frigate.
- Spare None: a corvette.
- Wages of Sin: a frigate.
- "Such joy! How manifold they are, that which we have destroyed and those we have lain low in His name! Greater still, what He shall create in destruction's wake; when He is the sole God, the Lord of every land, of every sky!"
- —A triumphant general in service to Ashur-El.
As Shemal-Lilitu flits through the void, it is accompanied by Ashur-El’s mighty fleet of ships, boasting many hundreds of thousands of worshipful servants and fabricated monsters. The vast majority of his mortal followers are humans or abhumans, but there are specimens from numerous other races. His particular psychic domination does not work on creatures possessed by any kind of Hive Mind or who have no real Psychic potential (such as Tyranids and Tau, respectively), but otherwise the gamut of potential followers is open. In addition to the fleet and armies that he keeps close to Him, there are several cults of Ashur-El on worlds, larger ones towards the galactic northeast, and smaller ones more intermittently correlating with his meandering course towards the galactic core. Taken together from his origin point to his present location, there are millions of these followers. Nothing compared to nearly any stellar power, but constantly creeping upwards.
- "A lesser God merely absolves sin, our glorious Prince relieves our guilt and shame, He
liberates us from the pain of the past and our fear of the future!"
- —A worshiper.
Ashur-El Artashumara usually affects the appearance of complete vacancy, but his mind is constantly in motion. His vast empathic abilities feed him a constant deluge of despair, fear, guilt, hatred, remorse, and uncertainty drawn from his followers. This psychic buffet creates constant ambivalence for Ashur-El, for while experiencing the mental and spiritual agony of millions of people on their behalf is a crushing burden, it is also a nearly orgasmic delight. He thus loves and hates his followers and enemies in equal measure. The maddening contradiction fuels his lucid dreams.
Ultimately, Ashur-El wishes to be relieved of this impossible conundrum. His solution is the universal extinction of life and the acceleration of entropy. He is opposed to Chaos in an extremely pure fashion, and might be considered a being of total Law or Order: intent on locking the universe in the unchanging stasis of conclusion.
- "Ia! We endow your soul with the majesty of Warp Calculus - so be it mot. We cultivate your meridians with the mystery of High Alchemy - so be it mot. We refine your blood with rivers of magic and night fear - so be it mot. We harden your heart with figments of twisted dream - so be it mot. We sharpen your thoughts with all the laws of Murder Science - so be it mot…"
- —A verse from the ritual of Ashur-El’s creation.
Ashur-El Artashumara possesses all the gifts Shemal-Lilitu bestowed upon his creators, and more. He is directly connected to the Twisted Tree and can utilize its myriad technologies through thought alone: its weapons, laboratories, flesh forges, nightmare vaults, everything that Shemal-Lilitu is and contains is at his disposal. His body was sturdily constructed, Gesigned down to the last chromosome and allele. His bones, musculature, organs and skin possess a durability that belie his relative light weight and are renewed on a constant basis owing to his connection to Shemal-Lilitu. Even if he left his sanctum, so long as his vast psychic prowess connected him to a single follower, he can transmit any trauma inflicted upon him to his followers, meaning he cannot die before every one of them does. Within the confines of the Twisted Tree, he is effectively a physical God. Outside, he is still a mighty Alpha-level Psyker.
- "He was made to dream for others, now His dreams shall find purchase in all hearts."
- —A worshiper of Ashur-El.
Ashur-El Artashumara was gifted with vast knowledge as part of his creation, and seems to pick up information from his followers through some manner of psychic osmosis. However as his personality developed he became extremely incurious about the universe around him and is largely consumed with his own mind, and the artistry of his dreams. His greatest skill is visualization, forming in his mind the form of that which his followers or Shemal-Lilitu are to create on his behalf. His instinctive grasp of anatomy, biology and physics allow his nightmarish creatures to be brought to life.
(Please do not add quotations without prior permission from OvaltinePatrol)
Ashur-El does not vocalize.
- "Say to Gruenweald, Governor of Perdition IV, 'Thus your true God Ashur-El Artashumara conveying: the people hath rejected thee and thine false god. Did they not cry out to you saying 'Yea, He is our King and our Shining God'? Yet thou defy Him and tell thine brigands to turn arms upon His warriors. The people call up to feel the warmth of His encompassing love, and yet following thine own judgement, thou would keep them from Him. Were you ignorant of their dire need? If thou art truly a steward of these people, why wouldst thou not renounce the false God? Why art thou at peace with the Corpse-God and partake of the poisoned bounty of his treacherous priests? Thou know well, our God does not fail when His rage touches all of Perdition's worlds. Write to this servant, His seneschal and beseech him thusly: 'May my King, my God, Ashur-El Artashumara giveth me leave to live this day and all the rest of the days He see fit to bequeath unto me'. Turn not from His light, that thine people might yet be saved."
- —An example of a typical demand for capitulation from Ashur-El's servants.
- "My lord, my king, my God, oh moon and sun, oh the unconquered stars, the serene void that spans between them; I beg you hearken to the tidings of your unworthiest servant, this piteous collective of meat you deign to permit life. I prostrate myself before you, seven times on the back and seven times on the stomach. I have indeed performed every task set before me by worthier servants, in your mighty name. I can accept no merits, no laurels, prizes or stately offices; for who am I, least among your slaves, unfit to gaze upon the shadow you cast upon the meanest dirt? And what could the Prince demand that his vassal should not complete constantly and without error?"
- —an obsequious officer kowtows before Ashur-El.