Aelthan plunged back his gaze through the window. He was contemplating Limos IV upper level, laying at his feet. The architect had taken care to give the governor the best view of the whole Hive. But it was also the most deceptive, Aelthan thought. He had given an inaccurate sight, partial, to Mestra mansion. Despite the height, no fragment of the iron wall, stifling the dreadful famine ravaging the population below, was visible from his position. For several weeks, all communication and trade routes in the world had been cutting off. No provisions were entering or leaving Limos, and unfortunately for its inhabitants, synthetic shoes were not very good rations. Some were talking about the warp, others about the upcoming arrival of some xenos. For the most devoted and the least touched, this famine was the outcome of the Emperor’s judgment. A trial in which the population will have to draw new strength. A force capable of piercing the wall strangling them.
“What are you thinking about, dear architect ?” said a voice, too sweet to be honest.
Aelthan gave back his fake smile to Senator Olgerfeld. The senator’s slender, slightly curved figure, with his elongated limbs, made him look like a mantis. His pitch-colored hair flowed down both sides of his face, framing features finely sculpted by many rejuvenations.
“I was just staring at the mansion view, nothing more,” Aelthan replied.
“Why don’t you join us? I’m sure the other council’s members would love to talk to you,” added the senator while escorting Aelthan with a hand gesture toward the salon’s center.
Among the finely ornate furniture, the council’s members looked like some grotesque statues. In the middle, there was Governor Gregar Plutus. His face was scarred by one too many rejuvenation cure. Grease dripped from his bald head, slaloming between the pipes gnawing at his head. It was the first time that Aelthan had been invited to one of the governor’s dinners. Since the famine started, dinners at Maestra Manor have grown quickly, in fame and number. Soon, the whole bourgeoisie wanted to participate in one of those dinners. As he approached, the governor said, “Aelthan, I would like to introduce someone to you. He is, if we can say so, the provider of the feast that awaits us.”
“Pardon me, my lord, but it’s a too great honor. It’s only thanks to you this meal can take place,” said a voice whistling like a whip and pleasant as a breeze of purified air.
Aelthan had never seen anyone similar. Surpassing the other council members, his shape was elegant and skeletal. His eyes were like two little jet stones. As its only mouth, the enigma bore a thin laceration, without lips, ripping his face from one part to the other.
“What are you ?” asked him Aelthan, whose mixture of fascination and fear had made lose the use of the protocol.
The lipless wound smiled.
“What a strange question. Sadly, I fear I could not answer it properly. However, you can call me the flesh merchant. This title suits me, on this day more than any other,” he said, smiling even more. “I think it’s time to go feed ourselves,” said the governor, turning toward the merchant like he was seeking his approbation. He nodded and the council headed toward the dining room.
A long table, in synthetic wood, was set. Aelthan felt an unhealthy curiosity, mixed with dread, overwhelming him as he looked toward the covered plates. Seeing his hesitation, Olgerfeld showed him his seat. “You wouldn’t want to miss the meal, architect.” Once seated, Aelthan noticed that the merchant was still up. The governor started to speak.
“Dear colleagues, this has been only a dream for far too long. Today, at last, we will reach the long-awaited revival. Our palate, once poor and mediocre, will now open themselves to new horizons. Thanks to our friend, our circle is entrusted with the keys to unknown worlds. Together, let us become the explorers to the unnamed and prohibited meal. Let the revival begin.”
The plates mechanically revealed themselves. A coppery and bloody smell gripped his throat while, before his eyes, the nameless food was taking shape. The nearest meal revealed a disgusting, sprawling shape, visibly still alive. Another, under his horrified eyes, exhibited a green-skinned xeno’s head. His cranium cut exposing a sickening mash.
“You seem shocked architect,” said the senator, laughing. “Could it be the unknown that frightens you this much?”
Olgerfeld stabbed the octopus with his knife. He started tearing it apart with his teeth as a blackish liquid spilled onto his chin, with a loud chewing sound. His gaze expressed heretical satisfaction. The council leaped on the dishes with unstoppable fury. Each bite made them abandon their humanity more and more. The governor, sweating like never, plunged his hand into the xeno’s head, snatched the organ inside, and started to devour it, drowning his robe under the blood. No one seemed to look at Aelthan, paralyzed by the butchery.
“Eat Aelthan. Enjoy those flavors that are vainly forbidden.”
The merchant was now behind him and visibly delighted by the scene.
“By the Emperor, what is happening to them ?”
“They gain consciousness. First their spirit then…”
A loud noise stopped his sentence. The senator had thrown himself on his neighbor as they fought for the same plate. The moment Olgerfeld raised his fist in the air, his hand was seized with convulsion. His flesh twisted, his skin turned purple, and his fingers stretched out like tentacles.
“…come their body’s turn,” finished the merchant.
Outfits ripped themselves. Skins swelled. The governor’s pipes were spat out from his face by the pressure. Soon not an ounce of humanity was left inside the council. The merchant, laying his skeletal hand on Aelthan’s shoulder, said:
“How about some dessert?”