- "Trust not in their appearance for the Eldar are as utterly alien to good, honest men as the vile Tyranids and savage Orks. They are capricious and fickle, attacking without cause or warning. There is no understanding them for there is nothing to understand – they are a random force in the universe."
- —Imperial Commander Abriel Hum
The Eldar, or Aeldari as they were known in the Eldar Lexicon before the fall of their lost realm, or the Asuryani (followers of Asuryan) as they refer to themselves, are an ancient humanoid alien race whose vast empire once extended the width and breadth of the known galaxy. The Aeldari Empire was without equal, and they counted themselves masters of the stars. But millennia ago, the Aeldari's overweening pride and their fall into hedonistic practices led to a cataclysm that all but eradicated their kind and led to the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh. Despite their boundless power, the heart of their civilisation was torn out by this catastrophe of their own making, forcing the surviving Aeldari, now calling themselves "Eldar," to flee upon gigantic, continent-size starships called Craftworlds. Now they cling to survival by a thread, fighting the horrors of the galaxy with ritualised discipline and consummate skill.
The Eldar race has a long and complex spacefaring history, so long in fact that little is known for certain about the course of their physical evolution and early planet-bound existence. The original Eldar homeworld was destroyed during the catastrophic collapse of the Eldar civilisation known as the Fall of the Eldar. The remnants of Eldar culture that survived the cataclysm preserved much of their species' history in the form of traditional stories, songs and dance. Written records, monuments and visual records were almost completely destroyed except for a few instances where they were taken aboard voidcraft fleeing from the doomed worlds.
As a humanoid race, Eldar are physically similar to humans, although not entirely identical by any means. They possess longer and cleaner limbs, and fine ascetic features with penetrating and slightly slanted, almond-shaped eyes. Their ears are also slightly pointed, but otherwise they could pass as human at first glance. The most obvious difference between humans and Eldar can only be seen when they move, for the movements of an Eldar radiate a subtle grace which is impossible for a human to emulate. This can be seen in even their slightest gestures or the dexterity with which they manipulate small objects.
The Eldar mind, while similar in general to the human psyche, is far more inclined towards extremes. Because of this, Eldar are more intelligent but also far more intense than humans. Although an Eldar and a human can both feel grief or joy, the Eldar's experience is likely to be far more extreme.
This natural inclination towards emotional extremes is both a blessing and a curse to the Eldar. On the positive side, it gives them an unparalleled appreciation of life and an unrivalled ability to express themselves through music and other creative endeavours. A melody or gesture made with grace and skill can elicit an intensity of pleasure which is unimaginable to a human. But this potential for joy is paralleled by an equal capacity to feel despair, ambition and even hatred. Confronted by grief or other personal setbacks, an Eldar suffers mental torments which far exceed the boundaries of human anguish. The extreme nature of their temperament makes it very important that the Eldar maintain a measure of self-control at all times, for it is dangerously easy for them to become entranced by and ultimately dependent upon the experiences that their culture offers them. They must learn to control the darker side of their natures, which is no less an essential portion of the Eldar psyche – and the source of the catastrophe that nearly caused their extinction.
The Eldar are a naturally psychic race, and all Eldar possess the potential to become powerful psykers if they choose to pursue this path. The Eldar can use these innate abilities to shape matter, which lies at the foundation of their extraordinary command of technology.
Though highly advanced and feared across the galaxy, the Eldar are still a dying people – a shadow of their former glory – and their race teeters on the brink of final annihilation.
- "For the ancient Aeldari, life was a cycle of birth, the fulfilment of desire, and a comfortable death, safe in the knowledge the soul would live again. The birth of their nemesis, the Dark God Slaanesh, shattered that cycle forever. Now these once-great starfarers cower in the shadows, too afraid of their own lusts to embrace the full spectrum of sensation. It is a fate they justly deserve. In truth, there can be no escape from the doom they have brought upon themselves – not this side of the grave. Fate is a cruel mistress, and not to be courted lightly."
The ancient history of the Eldar, or Aeldari as they were known before their Fall, stretches back over the millennia to a time when they dominated the stars completely. Yet, for all their splendour and might, the Eldar brought a terrible curse upon themselves that sundered their empire forever, leaving the ravaged fragments of their race teetering on the brink of annihilation. All of the Eldar alive today are essentially a refugee population, the scattered remains of a formerly vast interstellar empire. Even in such straits, however, they are still a deadly and influential force in the galaxy. Once, over ten thousand years past, the Eldar were perhaps the most powerful race in existence, dominating a significant portion of the galaxy and secure in their prosperity. Although there were other intelligent races who possessed advanced technology and potent military power in the galaxy, none were in a position to seriously threaten the state of the Eldar empire. When it came, the disaster for the Eldar people was self-inflicted.
Lost in the vastness of space, the Craftworlds float in utter isolation like scattered jewels upon a pall of velvet. Distant from the warmth of sun or planet, their domes gaze into the darkness of empty space. Inner lights glisten like phosphorus through semi-transparent surfaces. Within them live the survivors of a civilisation abandoned aeons ago amidst terrifying destruction. These are the Eldar, a race that is all but extinct, the last remnants of a people whose mere dreams once overturned worlds and quenched suns. The starfaring history of the Eldar is long indeed, and encompasses glories and sorrows alike. When their empire was at its height, their homeworlds were paradises, their powers godlike and their armies unsurpassed. As the centuries slid past, their status as lords of the galaxy bred an arrogance that led to a cataclysmic end. A proportion of their race survived that dark time by fleeing from disaster upon the great vessels known as craftworlds. Others settled verdant planets far from the heart of their empire, and still more hid in private realms of their own making. Yet there was no real escape from what was to come.
Children of the Stars
Over a million standard years ago, the Eldar alone ruled the stars as the undisputed masters of their own destiny. Such a position was their right, they thought, and their preeminence was beyond doubt. In many ways, the Eldar had good reason for such hubris, for no other race had posed a serious threat to their wealth and stability for time immemorial. They were convinced that they no longer had anything to fear from the galaxy at large, and they may have been right, but the real danger came from within. The doom of the Eldar, when it came, took a form far more subtle and dangerous than that of alien invasion. At that point in Eldar history, nothing was beyond their reach and nothing was forbidden. The ancient race continued their glorious existence unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the dark fate that awaited them. They plied the stars at will, experiencing the wonders of the galaxy and immersing themselves completely in the endless sensations that it offered them. Such was the technological mastery of the Eldar that worlds were created specifically for their pleasure, and stars lived or died at their whim.
On hundreds of idyllic planets seeded across the stars, the Eldar pursued their inclinations as they willed, indulging every dream and investigating every curiosity. They mastered the Labyrinth Dimension of the Webway, expanded their realms into the furthest corners of reality and learned much about the universe that has since been forgotten. When their spirits eventually left their mortal bodies they dissolved peacefully back into the aether to be reborn again, for the Warp did not thirst for Eldar souls then as it does today. There were, of course, many wars. Even when the galaxy was young there were upstart races seeking to gouge out petty empires of their own, and the Eldar waged wars against the sprawling Necron dynasties that ravaged dozens of star systems and cost trillions of lives. Most of these conflicts, though, were so short-lived that the ease of their victory left the Eldar ever more sure of their ascendancy. Even the greatest of all their wars, known in the mythic cycles of the Craftworlds as the War in Heaven, did not humble them. In their hearts the Eldar reigned supreme, and no other power could end their dominance.
Descent into Decadence
The catalyst that brought about the Eldar race's fall came from the very depths of the Eldar's collective psyche, the innate need to fuel their passions and indulge in every extreme. The Eldar had long outgrown the need for labour or manual agriculture. Society provided all that was required without individual effort, leaving long Terran centuries for the Eldar to spend sating their every desire. Fuelled by an inexhaustible curiosity, many gave way to their most hedonistic impulses. Exotic cults sprang up across the Eldar domains that eclipsed the noble pursuits of old, each dedicated to esoteric knowledge or sensual excess. The core of the Eldar race began to look inwards, inexorably seeking new ways to explore the full range of emotion and sensation. With no need to perform substantial work or labour, the Eldar began to pursue their curiosities and desires with all the dedication that only their species could muster. In the later days of Eldar civilisation, cults devoted to exotic knowledge, physical pleasures, and ever-more outrageous forms of entertainment sprang up. It did not take long for many of the Eldar to pursue a darker path to achieve instant fulfillment as they came to revel in unbridled hedonism and violence. Such behaviour was perilously decadent and, in the end, corrosive to the soul of the race. The pursuit of excess gradually became a blight upon the whole society.
Many of the Eldar grew uneasy with the actions of their comrades, and the wisest of the Seers warned that this path could lead only to evil and suffering for the entire species. As the cults gained a tighter hold over their society, the Eldar became increasingly divided. Those who saw the foulness that corrupted their people for what it was became known as Exodites, fleeing to found colony worlds on the fringes of the Eldar Empire. As the civilisation slid further into anarchy, others repented of their ways and left the central worlds of their empire to settle in the outlying regions of the galaxy, where they built great worldships called Craftworlds. Other Eldar stayed on the homeworlds to try and alter the path their race had taken. Most continued to glut themselves on the pursuits of the depraved.
The heartfelt sorrow of those left who mourned the loss of innocence eventually turned to bitterness and spite. In time, brother fought brother, and sadistic killers stalked the shadows in search of victims for their vile lusts. No life was spared in the pursuit of pleasures both murderous and perverse. A sickness of vice overtook the Eldar race, and blood flowed through the streets amidst the bestial roar of the crowd. Their hidden realms within the webway became sprawling palaces of avarice and sadism, and entire worlds were bent to the pursuit of the darkest of sensations. As the moral corruption of the Eldar race tightened its stranglehold, echoes of ecstasy and agony began to ripple through time and space. In the parallel dimension of the Warp, the reflections of these intense experiences began to coalesce, for the shifting tides of the Empyrean can take form around intense emotion. Slowly, silently, a nascent god of excess grew strong in the depths of the Warp.
Birth of a Dark God
The torture cults eroded the future of the Eldar as a viable galactic empire. While this debauchery would have been destructive within any society, it was even more damaging for the Eldar because of their powerful psychic abilities. Within the parallel dimensional realm of the Warp, the psychic emanations of these perverse activities began to gather, strengthened by the souls of departed Eldar hedonists and cultists. As the Eldar's vices grew, this dark mass of negative psychic energy did as well, producing the terrible Warp Storms that defined humanity's Age of Strife and made all interstellar travel and communication impossible for the human colonies of this period. What an unimaginably foul and sickening thing it was that the Eldar unknowingly raised in the Warp; it was a dire shadow of themselves, of what they had become, of nobility and pride brought low by perversity and shamelessness. Worlds burned as the Eldar slew and laughed and feasted upon the corpses of the dead. Slowly, the Great Enemy stirred towards wakefulness. Too late, the Eldar realised that they had created a god in their own image, a god grown immense and potent by suckling upon the dark fodder of the Eldar spirit.
Eventually, this growing mass of negative psychic energy came into a life of its own and came to consciousness over ten thousand years ago at the end of the Age of Strife as the newborn Chaos God Slaanesh, the Devourer of Souls and the doom of the Eldar. When Slaanesh finally burst into divine consciousness, there was not one Eldar alive who did not feel its claws in his soul. With a howl of raw power, Slaanesh roared into supernatural life. A psychic implosion tore at the universe. The psychic scream of Slaanesh's birth tore the souls from all the Eldar within a thousand light years of it, sparing only those sheltered in the wraithbone hulls of the Craftworlds, the Exodite inhabitants of the farthest flung Maiden Worlds, and those members of the Pleasure Cults who had taken up residence in the protected sub-realms of the Webway like Commorragh. Countless billions of Aeldari screamed aloud and fell dead. In a heartbeat, the shining Aeldari civilisation that had lasted for aeons had its heart ripped out, leaving a pulsing afterbirth of pure chaos in its place. The spirits of the Aeldari were drawn from within them and consumed as their blasphemous creation took its first infernal breath. Intoxicated with this draught, Slaanesh laughed and looked upon a universe ripe for the taking.
The Death of an Empire
The epicentre of the psychic apocalypse lay within the gilded heart of the Aeldari realms. All Aeldari within thousands of light years were reduced to lifeless husks, their souls forever claimed. Even those who had foreseen the catastrophe and fled upon the Craftworlds were overwhelmed, with only those furthest from the devastation surviving. The remote Exodite worlds remained largely untouched, but within the space of a single moment, the Aeldari had become a doomed people. Their nemesis was born and would hunt them for the rest of eternity. Though the psychic shockwave focused upon the Aeldari, billions of humans, Orks and creatures from other races were obliterated as well. Warpspace convulsed as a cosmic hurricane raged across the galaxy. The fabric of reality was torn apart and the Warp spilled from the newborn dimensional rift into the material universe, turning hope into despair and paradise into hell. Psykers of all races howled with pain as their people died in storms of blood and madness. The roiling wound in realspace spread outward until it completely encompassed the Aeldari realms of old. This gaping lesion would come to be known as the Eye of Terror; the largest area in the galaxy where the Warp and the material universe overlap until the birth of the Great Rift in 999.M41. Within its reaches daemons bathe in the raw energy of the Warp, whilst Daemon Princes and the worshippers of Chaos rule over Aeldari planets turned into nightmare worlds of fire and darkness.
For ten thousand long Terran years before the Fall, the Warp had been riven with storm and tempest, making it almost impossible for the vessels of the lesser races to travel between the stars. With the birth of Slaanesh, the Warp was becalmed, its rage temporarily spent. A new equilibrium was reached as Slaanesh joined the ranks of the Chaos Gods. With the Warp Storms around ancient Terra dispersed, the Emperor of Mankind was able to launch his Great Crusade. A new power took its place in the galaxy as isolated human worlds from across the stars were united under the same banner. In this way, the Fall of the Eldar heralded the rise of the Imperium, and Mankind inherited the stars.
The Fight For Survival
In the aftermath of the Fall, the Eldar have faced a long and painful decline. On far-flung planets teeming with natural life, the Exodites have carved themselves a survivalist niche. Savage, primal places where everyday life was hard, these realms helped the Exodites to remain focussed on the ascetic lifestyle they had chosen. At first, many of their number fought and died against dangerous aliens such as the greenskinned Orks and even the soldiers of the nascent Imperium, but many others survived, reaching equilibrium and living in harmony with their adopted worlds. In the darkness of space, the remnants of the Eldar empire cling onto what was left of their once-mighty culture, preserving the art and architecture of their people within the craftworlds and passing their ancient history from generation to generation via song, dance and the recital of myths and parables. Aboard their continent-sized vessels, these fragments of the Eldar race sail the sea of stars, always seeking to stay one step ahead of She Who Thirsts and to somehow survive in a galaxy more hostile than ever.
Cloistered deep within the hidden city-realms of the webway, those survivors who concealed themselves in their palaces of depravity still revel in the debauched lifestyle that led to the Fall. In that twilight realm between the material universe and the Warp, the Dark Eldar mock and jeer those ravaged by the downfall of their race. Even though they would never admit it, they know in their hearts that, try as they might to allay their fate, Slaanesh will claim them in the end. The slow decline into powerlessness is what the Dark Eldar fear most of all, for in birthing Slaanesh from the endless tides of the Warp, the Eldar have created their greatest enemy. Slaanesh, in its dire awakening, has developed a taste for the souls of the Eldar. Where before, when an Eldar died, they would pass peacefully into the Warp in order to be reborn, now they face eternal torment, for Slaanesh has a perverse and twisted appetite that can never be sated. Unless extraordinary measures have been taken to prevent it, whenever an Eldar dies, Slaanesh will be waiting on the other side to consume him. She Who Thirsts will not rest until it has claimed every Eldar soul in the galaxy. The Eldar are doomed, and they know it well.
The Time of Ending
As if the unnatural hunger of a voracious and sinister god was not a dire enough threat, the Eldar must also contend with a galaxy no longer theirs. In the bloody wake of the Fall, the race of Mankind has grown to preeminence. The Imperium has ascended, conquering much of the galaxy in the name of the corpse-god it calls Emperor. The Eldar, whose maturation patterns span nearly a century, cannot compete in numbers with a race whose generations multiply with the frantic pace of vermin. Raw manpower is the Imperium's greatest strength, but also its weakness. The teeming armies of Mankind, carving up the galaxy with the enthusiasm of a demented butcher, have swept aside many dangers whilst stamping their mark upon the stars. In the process they have awoken many more. Now, more than ever, the gods of Chaos find the galaxy ripe for conquest, for weak-willed humans make easy playthings, and they are truly without number. The Eldar see in Humanity their own failings and fear the bitter destiny that they will reap, for the race of Man unknowingly feeds the Dark Gods with their constant wars and the rich fodder of emotion that results.
The Ork race has spread across the galaxy from end to end, fighting with insane vigour purely for the sake of violence itself. The greenskin race has become so prolific that many Eldar seers believe it has reached critical mass, their numbers too large for even the most protracted cull to have any real effect. Should the Ork hordes unite their efforts, all the artifice and cunning of the Eldar would not be enough to stop them from drowning the galaxy in blood.
As the 41st Millennium draws to a close, new foes and old emerge in force – foremost amongst them, the invasion fleets of the Tyranids. As hostile and inimicable to life as a plague made flesh, the Hive Mind has crossed the interstellar void purely to feed. Each Craftworld and Exodite planet represents a bounty of biomass the Hive Fleets covet greatly. They will expend billions of weapon-beasts in order to devour Eldar realms, fashioning ever deadlier creatures from the remains of their foes. However, at least the Tyranids are confined to the fringes of the galaxy. Not so the Eldar's oldest enemies. From their tombs the dread Necrons awake -- nigh-immortal foes from before the Fall, their lords eager to renew their timeless war against the Eldar race. For those Eldar who yet survive, war is their only hope. Their foes -- both new and old -- lack the technology, wisdom and skill of the Children of the Stars; in numbers alone are their enemies insurmountable. Even when staring extinction in the face, the Eldar will not flee nor yield. They are a proud race, determined that the flame of the Craftworlds blaze brightly once more rather than flicker and die out.
The Doom of the Eldar
The once-glorious history of the Eldar is preserved only in myth; most of the truths of ages past have long been lost. In the millennia since the Fall, the Craftworld Eldar have been locked in an endless struggle to survive, and they have no choice but to fight with every weapon at their disposal.
- An Empire Ascendant (ca. M15 - M20) - The Eldar Empire reaches its zenith in terms of territory acquired and cultural and technological achievement. The Eldar of this age refer to themselves as the "Aeldari."
- Darkness Rising (ca. M18 - M30) - Throughout the Eldar civilisation, a profound degradation in moral discipline sets in. Over the Terran millennia, there is a gradual slide into sensual excess. With the rise of the Cults of Pleasure, the worship of the Eldar gods declines. Slowly, the foundations of the once-great empire start to crumble. As the Aeldari's quest for excess crosses the line into outright evil, a perverse new god begins to form in the Warp.
- The Hidden Kin (ca. M18 - M20) - The Aeldari Cults of Pleasure slowly take over the lawless port-cities of the Webway. Many of the leaders of the Eldar Empire are among them. The largest and most influential, Commorragh, becomes synonymous with vice. The forefathers of the Dark Eldar are born.
- A Sickness of the Spirit (ca. M18 - M29) - The luxury of the Eldar Empire breeds a combination of curiosity and complacency amongst the Aeldari.
- The Great Exodus (ca. M30 - M31) - Those Aeldari able to see the rotten core of their empire for what it truly is flee. First to leave are the Exodites, followed not long after by the Craftworld Eldar.
- The Fall of the Eldar (ca. M30 - M31) - The core of the Eldar Empire is consumed by the cataclysmic birth-screams of the Chaos God Slaanesh. Trillions of sentient beings die as the centre of the empire collapses into the Immaterium, leaving the Eye of Terror in its place. The unified Aeldari civilisation shatters, and the psychic backlash of Slaanesh's ascendance curses the immortal souls of all those who survive to be subject to consumption by the Dark God upon death. The survivors of the Fall, regardless of faction, begin to refer to themselves as "Eldar" to mark the loss of their past. The Eldar race's long battle against extinction begins.
- The Rise of Humanity (ca. M30 - M31) - The Warp Storms isolating the human homeworld of Terra are swept away by the violence of Slaanesh's birth and the Emperor of Mankind unites Humanity in conquest during the Great Crusade under the aegis of the newborn Imperium of Man. Their stranglehold on space travel broken, the Eldar are powerless to stop it.
- The Pride of the Phoenix (ca. M31) - Farseer Eldrad Ulthran of Craftworld Ulthwé contrives a parley with Fulgrim, the Primarch of the Emperor's Children Legion, to warn him of the tendrils of Chaos already corrupting the Legiones Astartes. Tragically, the Eldar's warnings fall upon deaf ears. They remain largely uninvolved in the great slaughter of the Horus Heresy that ensues.
- The Shattering of Lugganath (764.M34) - The Emperor's Children Traitor Legion ravages Craftworld Lugganath in Slaanesh's name, killing thousands of Eldar before the hedonistic Chaos Space Marines are repelled.
- The Ghoul Star Supernova (818.M35)
- The Ghostly Harvest (334.M36) - Twelve Alaitoc Wraithknights plunder Waystones from the ruins of Belial IV. The cavorting daemon hosts of the Crone World in the Eye of Terror attack in force, but the Eldar are able to forge a path back to their Webway portal and escape unharmed.
- War in the Webway (514.M38) - The Craftworld Eldar of Ulthwé and the Dark Eldar Jade Knife Kabal of Commorragh battle for dominance within the shattered spars of the Webway. An uneasy truce is called only when the death toll becomes unbearable for both sides.
- A Cruel Thirst (487-492.M39)
- The Sons of Khaine (741.M41) - A conclave of Autarchs decide the "lesser races" of the galaxy must be shown their place, leading to a great surge of Eldar taking the Path of the Warrior.
- The Coming of the Great Devourer (745.M41) - The Seers of the Eldar lament as the true magnitude of the encroaching Tyranid Hive Fleets becomes horribly clear.
- Maedrax Stirs (783.M41) - Eldrad Ulthran brings about the destruction of the Necron Tomb World of Maedrax before Imperial Explorators awaken it fully. In doing so, the Eldar uncover a vast Necron Dynasty that spans the star system.
- The Death of Gnosis Prime (786.M41) - Autarch Zephyrblade's warhost sweeps down upon the Imperial world of Gnosis Prime, outmanoeuvring its lumbering human armies at every turn. In alliance with Dark Eldar raiders, the Autarch sees the world brought to the brink of destruction.
- The Hounds of Khorne (794.M41) - Caelec the Wanderer, a famed Eldar explorer, breaches a sealed runic portal, only to find it leads to Khorne's realm. A warband of hound-headed fiends, Flesh Hounds, slays Caelec and follows his scent to his home Craftworld of Yme-Loc, causing utter carnage before it is finally banished to the ether.
- Fist of the Machine God (801.M41) - When Craftworld Yme-Loc refuses to yield its technological secrets to an Adeptus Mechanicus war fleet, battle breaks out within the armouries of Vaul. Millions die before the Tech-priests seize enough advanced Eldar technology to sate their predatory curiosity for forbidden xenostech.
- The Doom of Malan'tai (812.M41) - The Craftworld Malan'tai was destroyed by a splinter of the Tyranid Hive Fleet Naga and was the location of the first known encounter with the potent Tyranid Zoanthrope later called the "Doom of Malan'tai" by the Eldar. The derelict Craftworld became nothing more than a drifting, lifeless husk floating through the void. In 994.M41, Craftworld Iyanden came to Malan'tai to see if its people could find anything of use to help with repairs of their home after their recent battle with Hive Fleet Kraken, but instead, they found the abandoned Craftworld swarming with vile Orks. When the Eldar finally regained control of Malan'tai, they discovered that the Orks had stolen or destroyed anything of use. With heavy hearts, they altered the abandoned Craftworld's course towards the nearest sun and headed home.
- The Twin Betrayals (845.M41)
- The Perfect War (891.M41) - Upon the sludge-planet of Yurk, an army of Orks is engaged and destroyed by Craftworld Iyanden without Eldar loss. The pinpoint precision of the Eldar assault prevents the Yurkoid WAAAGH! and saves a virgin Eldar colony from destruction.
- Scorpion's Sting (928.M41) - Karandras duels his predecessor as Phoenix Lord of the Striking Scorpions Aspect Warriors, Arhra, the Father of Scorpions, in the ruins of the lost Craftworld of Zandros.
- Roar of the Beast (941.M41) - Whilst preventing a WAAAGH! that would have strayed into the path of Craftworld Idharae, Eldrad Ulthran of Ulthwé raises the Ork Warlord Ghazghkull Thraka to prominence, capsizing a huge swathe of the Imperium in the process.
- Time of Ending (991.M41) - The Eldar mystic Kysaduras the Anchorite proclaims the End Times to have begun. After lengthy meditation alongside Eldrad Ulthran of Ulthwé, he preaches to the High Seers of that Craftworld that the Eldar's only hope of survival lies with the awakening of Ynnead, the nascent Eldar God of the Dead.
- The Doom of Iyanden (992.M41) - Craftworld Iyanden is locked in a death-struggle against Hive Fleet Kraken. As the Craftworld teeters on the brink, the infamous Eldar Corsair Prince Yriel rallies the desperate defenders and slays the monstrous Hive Tyrant leading the invasion, saving his people.
- Sanctity Breached (998.M41) - At great cost, the Eldar defend the sacred Black Library in the Webway from the Chaos Sorcerer Ahriman of the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion who seeks to claim its vast knowledge of Chaos for himself.
- The Bio-Purge (778.999.M41) - Using the Dark Eldar device known as the Fireheart that was capable of destroying the core of a planet, Craftworlds Biel-Tan and Iyanden unite in an uneasy alliance with their dark kin of Commorragh in the incineration of Dûriel and dozens of Imperial and Ork-held worlds within the Octarius System. In doing so, they deny Hive Fleet Leviathan precious biomass and bring about the destruction of one of its tendrils.
- Chaos Ascendant (999.M41) - Abaddon the Despoiler, the Warmaster of Chaos, launches the greatest invasion of realspace ever seen, his 13th Black Crusade. Ulthwé has waited long for this moment, and leads the Craftworlds to war. The Eldar cause horrific damage to the Chaos Space Marine Traitor Legions on dozens of worlds, suffering untenable casualties in their turn as the minions of the Great Enemy fight back. The death toll rises ever higher, with no end in sight.
- Rise of the Phoenix (999.M41) - The Eldar Phoenix Lords gather together for the first time in millennia.
- The Awakening of Ynnead (999.M41) - Ynnead, the Eldar God of the Dead, awakens within the Warp due to the actions of the Farseer Eldrad Ulthran on the crystal moon of Coheria at the Battle of Port Demesnus and chooses Yvraine, the Daughter of Shades, a child of both the Craftworlds and Commorragh, as his priestess and prophet. She founds a new Eldar faction, the Ynnari, the "Reborn," and for the first time since the Fall unites members of all the Eldar cultures under one banner. She calls on the Eldar to revive the legacy of the Aeldari and even to readopt the ancient name of the race for their own. For the first time in 10,000 Terran years, the Eldar dare to hope that the future offers more than extinction...
Fracture of Biel-Tan
Inexorable, unstoppable, the Time of Ending tightened its stranglehold upon the twilight years of the 41st Millennium. Amongst those caught in its grip are the Eldar, the race of psychically gifted humanoid aliens that once ruled the stars. Brought low by their own pride and blind hedonism, they now skirt the precipice of oblivion. Only through the most desperate ploys can they hope to survive.
Though the Eldar long ago learned how to stave off the awful, soul-sucking attention of "She Who Thirsts" -- known as Slaanesh in the tongues of men -- they have not fully escaped the curse of the deity their hubris spawned. The Eldar of the Craftworlds seek to avoid disaster through asceticism and self-control, using Spirit Stones and Infinity Circuits as a refuge from Slaanesh, whereas the Dark Eldar Commorrites, still given to the excesses that brought their race low, inﬂict suffering upon others in order to escape their own fate. The enigmatic Harlequins, having pledged their souls to the trickster god Cegorach, slip through Slaanesh's clawed grasp by always staying one step ahead. The Exodites, those puritans first to ﬂee the ancient Eldar worlds, turn their backs on change, instead seeking harmony with the World Spirits of their verdant paradises.
No matter the methods they use to escape the notice of the Dark God that haunts them, all Eldar sacrifice much in the process. None can claim to be the equal of their ancient forebears, the Aeldari -- they who married physical excellence with prodigious psychic ability, safe in the knowledge that upon their deaths they would rejoin the endless cycle and be reborn. There are those amongst the Eldar that seek a way back to those halcyon days. Their peers consider them dangerously deluded. To return to the glowing, incandescent existence of aeons past is to attract Slaanesh's gaze, and hence court the worst kind of disaster.
Some Eldar refuse to abandon the glorious dream of building the ancient stellar empire anew, or at least burning bright before the end. First amongst these ambitious few is Eldrad Ulthran, the High Farseer of Craftworld Ulthwé. This arch-manipulator has been plucking at the strings of fate since before the dawn of the Imperium of Man. His prescience is like a diamond blade, sharpened by the intensity of his conviction. By weaving the tangled skeins of destiny, the Farseer guides his people to the most favourable of futures.
Eldrad has long perceived a nascent presence in the Infinity Circuits of the Craftworlds, a distant heartbeat that pulses slow and steady behind the thrum of lost energies. It is comprised not of one life sign, but hundreds of billions -- the sum total of every dead Eldar's soul across the galaxy. Though individually these echoes are near insignifcant, together they form something so strong that – if it were brought to wakefulness -- it could prove potent enough to overcome the Eldar curse entirely. This is Ynnead, the slumbering God of the Dead. The prophecies of the fabled Seer Kysaduras tell that when every Eldar has passed from mortal existence, Ynnead will rise up and defeat Slaanesh forever more.
It was Eldrad Ulthran who put into motion a plan to bring forth Ynnead, a ploy of such conceited ambition it could buckle the fabric of space and time. Enlisting the aid of the Harlequin Masque of the Midnight Sorrow, he stole away the fossilised crystal statues of long-dead Farseers from their Craftworlds and gathered them upon Coheria, a moon of the Imperial word of Port Demesnus covered in sands of potent psychoactive crystal. With his Crystal Council acting as a hyperspatial link to each Craftworld, Eldrad channelled the spirits of the Infinity Circuits onto Coheria. This was to produce a ﬂare of psychic activity bright enough to wake even Ynnead, but the intervention of the xenos-hunting Astartes Deathwatch shattered Eldrad's plan at the last. Though Ynnead stirred in his slumber, he did not fully awaken -- not yet, at least.
- "For the ancient Aeldari, life was a cycle of birth, the fulfillment of desire, and a comfortable death, safe in the knowledge the soul would live again. The birth of their nemesis, the Dark God Slaanesh, shattered that cycle forever. Now these once-great starfarers cower in the shadows, too afraid of their own lusts to embrace the full spectrum of sensation. It is a fate they justly deserve. In truth, there can be no escape from the doom they have brought upon themselves -- not this side of the grave. Fate is a cruel mistress, and not to be courted lightly."
Blades of Commorragh
Screams filled the air, some of agony, some of ecstasy. Within the confines of the Crucibael arena, the Dark City of Commorragh's elite had gathered in great number to witness the finest spectacle that the Wych Cult of Strife could muster.
The Commorrite attendees of the mile-wide arena had paid handsomely for the privilege of being allowed through its statue-framed portals. Some had ceded large portions of their territory to secure their seats; others had handed over thousands of slaves. Still more had performed lethal errands on behalf of the arena's owners, or committed even darker atrocities to secure a few solar hours of precious attendance. It was worth every sacrifice, for they were there not merely to be entertained, but to feast.
The Dark Eldar take their sustenance from suffering. Their souls, long ago condemned by the coming of She Who Thirsts, are constantly drained away, ever so slowly but appreciably nonetheless. Only by witnessing the pain of others can they stave off the aching void that claims their spirits, and the older a Dark Eldar soul becomes, the more grievous the atrocities needed to sustain it.
Because of this unique blend of sadism and parasitism, the arenas in Commorragh's heartlands combine the role of twisted circus and gluttonous feast. The spectacles mounted there are increasingly outlandish; a seemingly endless supply of enslaved warriors and champions of the "lesser races" are hacked to pieces each night for the edification of the thirsting crowd. In the most prestigious arenas, the death toll rises ever higher as the Wych Cults strive to outdo each other in skill and imagination. Through such loathsome displays, the wealthiest Commorrites are reinvigorated -- for a time, at least.
The greatest of all Commorragh's arenas is the Crucibael, domain of the Wych Cult of Strife and sovereign territory of Her Excellence, Lelith Hesperax. This site has played host to countless legendary figures, even being treated to the consummate blade work of the Phoenix Lord Jain Zar, first of the Howling Banshees. With a capacity of well over a million, the nightly spectaculars staged there are stunning in their magnitude and lucrative beyond measure. No small amount of this tithe is given unto Lelith herself, for the Queen of Knives has ruled here for longer than even the longest-lived of her Succubi rivals remember. She feeds on countless souls every night, and would do anything to preserve her beauty.
Since the Cult of Strife's realspace raid upon the world of Valedor, the Crucibael has cultivated some very highly prized battle-fodder indeed. Once known as Dûriel, the planet Valedor had been corrupted by the infestations of Imperial culture. It was driven to the brink of disaster by not one, but two Tyranid Hive Fleets, and finally tipped into oblivion by an alliance of Craftworlders and Dark Eldar using the doomsday device known as the Fireheart. Before Valedor met its fiery end, the Wych Cult of Strife captured whole swarms of Tyranids, later interbreeding them to enliven their arenas.
It was that ravenous brood that Lelith Hesperax unleashed from her stasis prisons on what became known as the Night of Revelations. Even though the Tyranids were famous for being deadly in the extreme, utterly alien and all but impervious to pain, they were not the only attraction that had drawn so large a crowd that night.
There was one amongst the Succubi who had risen from the gutter to high favour under the patronage of the aristocratic Lady Malys. So far had this gladiatrix's fame spread that even a troupe of Harlequins had come to see her and her Bloodbrides fight. Some had touted her as ft to challenge Lelith Hesperax in personal combat. This claim was usually a death sentence for even the most skilled warrior, for Lady Hesperax was so immensely gifted in the art of combat that those who faced her usually died in solar seconds. Yet there was something special about this fashionable new challenger.
Known in Commorragh as the Daughter of Shades, as Amharoc to the Eldar Corsairs that once called her mistress, and as Yvraine to the Craftworlders that once called her kin, this tall and regal Succubus was a favourite in certain wealthy Dark Eldar circles. She was not a true Commorrite, and hence was interestingly controversial, famed for her lightning transformations from stately elegance to a whirlwind of violence. When roused to anger, she would shuck off her courtly regalia to slash open the throats of those who had earned her ire. This gory retribution had happened upon the bridge of the Corsair ﬂagship Lanathrialle, within the trophy galleries of the Archon Abrahak, and even on the Seer's Bridge of Biel-Tan. Yvraine's mercurial temperament had endeared her to those who respected decisive violence -- in essence, the vast majority of the Dark City's inhabitants.
The night Yvraine met Lelith in single combat, the Crucibael had already borne witness to several violent displays. An elite band of Sslyth, the serpentine mercenaries popular in the courts of Dark Eldar society, had shot, gouged and poisoned their way through a troop of Donorian Clawed Fiends amongst a constant barrage of whirring grav-blades. Only the gnarled patrician Sassarassen had survived the process. Three Covens of Haemonculi had then showcased their latest creations, sending their blank-faced horrors against the most agile gladiatrixes in classic pairings of beauty versus beast. Next, a battered combat squad of Space Marines in full Power Armour had been released from their vex-prisons to fight amongst the carnage. Though the Adeptus Astartes had been given only knives with which to fight, they survived a full three solar minutes, killing thirteen Wyches before the glaives of swooping Hellions cut them apart. By the evening's climactic finale, the arena was filled with the baying of a crowd that had started the evening feigning nonchalance.
The Tyranids had been released, an alchemical blend of specimens from Hive Fleet Kraken and Leviathan cloned at great cost in the laboratories of the Haemonculi. They darted from hidden tunnels to rampage across the bloody sands. The largest of their number, a blade-limbed Hive Tyrant, came straight for Yvraine with its guard-beasts at its ﬂank. She cast her gossamer skirts aside to reveal a skin-tight Wychsuit as her Bloodbride acolytes fanned out around her. Darting in, Yvraine killed three of the creature's hulking escorts in as many solar seconds -- her Huskblade whipped in and out, driven with a fencer's precision under the exoskeletons of the creatures to turn them into explosions of scattering ash. The Hive Tyrant stormed in, bladed cranium lowered and scything limbs stabbing. Yvraine bowed as if to a respected opponent before leaping, planting a foot upon one of the creature's sicklelimbs, and springing over its head in a somersault. She landed beyond it, ﬂicking up a fallen Wych's blade with her foot and hook-kicking it into the brain-like sac that protruded over the nape of the Tyranid's neck.
The creature shrieked an alien war cry, spinning with a speed that belied its immense size before storming forward once more. Yvraine ran to meet its charge, sliding underneath the beast at the last moment and stabbing her Huskblade up into its midsection. The desiccating curse of the blade went to work, and the Hive Tyrant crumbled away from the groin upwards. Reduced to scattering beige dust, it blew in the wind to land with titillating foulness upon the tongues of the spectators. The roar of approval was so loud it brought the attention of a new foe.
Slashing, maiming and decapitating came Lady Hesperax, the doyenne of the arenas. She danced through the carnage towards Yvraine, a deadly nonchalance in every fresh kill. The crowd sat bolt upright in their seats, some craning forward, others standing with expressions of rapt glee. Yvraine was preoccupied, duelling with a whip-fast Lictor that had crept from a mound of mangled bodies. She was unable to disengage without risking entanglement in the creature's lashing hooks.
Lelith pirouetted between the two combatants, cutting the front half of the Lictor's distended face from its head in a spray of squirting tentacles even as she thrust a blow towards her would-be rival's heart. Yvraine parried the blow, but only just. She stepped back as she did so, putting some space between her and the whirling dervish that even now took the Tyranid's head with a series of slashing blows. Lelith turned to Yvraine and sashayed forward, a contemptuous smile on her lips as she idly ﬂipped a dagger high. Yvraine waved her Bloodbrides back, springing forward before Lelith could catch the blade. She headed right into a riposte, and barely turned it aside.
Back and forth the darting combatants weaved, their blades moving with a precision and economy of effort that was enrapturing for the Dark Eldar -- even the Harlequins in the audience stood agog at the sight. Lelith fought with a cold and efficient detachment; she was the more skilled of the two, and both the duellists knew it. Conversely, Yvraine was fed by a focussed fury; her anger gave her blows surety and strength.
On went the fight, faster and faster, a blur of thrusts and parries, ﬂips and feints, pushes, dodges and kicks. Now and then an artful slap or jab into a nerve cluster showed that Lelith was playing with her opponent. Many felt their hearts sink as the close match they had hoped for was revealed as a sham -- and then Yvraine's knife slashed across Lelith's forearm.
The crowd screamed in approval, but as with much of Dark Eldar society, this too was duplicity. Lady Hesperax had purposefully left an opening and allowed her adversary's blade to land in order to draw the audience further in. Lelith was in no hurry to end the duel, for it would not do to disappoint her patron, Asdrubael Vect. The Supreme Overlord of Commorragh was watching from his pyramidal fortress ﬂoating high above, deigning to grace the arena with a portion of his attention.
The death shriek of a Tyranid giant echoed around the gladiatorial feld. Reading her opponent's next blow, Lelith spared a proprietary glance to the wider battle. In a ﬂash, Yvraine reversed her thrust and landed a hard punch right in her adversary's stomach. Lelith took two involuntary steps back, her eyes wide and her superior smile souring into a grimace of anger. The duel stepped up in speed and intensity once more, the chime of dagger upon Huskblade and Bladefan upon knife ringing loud. Yvraine soon found herself wrong-footed, and Lelith stamped hard on her instep, the humiliation of the strike bringing her anger to the boil. Lady Hesperax gave ground as Yvraine rained blows upon her, slowly drawing her adversary towards a pile of twitching Tyranid corpses. Nimble as a cat, Lelith danced from corpse to corpse to gain the high ground. Yvraine climbed the corpse-pile, her anger burning away all caution. Then the fallen Lictor she had duelled earlier spasmed, throwing her off-balance. Lelith leapt, and punched a dagger through her foe's sternum. Judging the irony of Yvraine's undoing a pleasing end to the dance, Lelith vaulted away in search of fresh prey. Yvraine stumbled but did not fall, hiding the deep wound in her chest with her opened Bladefan -- to show weakness would be to die.
It was her blood that betrayed her. Though she fought on, hacking a path through a stampede of Hormagaunts and leaving clouds of ﬂesh-dust in her wake, a slick of gore soon painted her abdomen and thighs. The sight of the blood, and the occasional falter in Yvraine's guard, drew a mob of opportunistic Hellions from above. The gladiatrix had no intention of falling to such low-life scum. She picked up a fallen Splinter Pistol and sent three of the Hellions to an agonising death in as many solar seconds, driving the rest off in a chorus of shrieks. But the youthful predators were not the only enemies drawn by Yvraine's spilt life-blood.
Stalking towards Yvraine came a stick-thin, elegant warrior with long needles in her hands. Her cadaverous body was bound up in a complex net of black silk, the icon of the long-dead Crone Goddess Morai-Heg emblazoned on her forehead. With a jolt of shock and contempt, Yvraine realised she had seen that ceremonial garb before, in the statue gardens of her native Biel-Tan. Her new challenger wore the raiment of an ancient priestess from before the ancient Eldar empire had fallen. The needles of the crone-priestess darted out, and for a few solar seconds, Yvraine was forced onto the defensive. It was as if she were being assailed by the rapiers of two master fencers at once -- small wonder this warrior had earned a place in the arena.
On any other night, Yvraine could have outclassed the priestess without breaking a sweat. But she was sorely wounded. Dismay took hold within her as she felt her strength draining away, her every blow weaker than the last. One of the twin needles pierced Yvraine at the wrist, forcing her to drop her Bladefan. She stepped in and viciously backhanded the priestess, intending to force her back. It was like striking marble. Her foe's other razored needle whipped in, slicing through Yvraine's other wrist entirely and sending her severed hand, still clutching her Huskblade, tumbling into the sands. In desperation, Yvraine lunged open-mouthed, and bit deep into the priestess' face.
Howls of derision and delight mingled in the arena as Yvraine struggled in close, teeth still in her enemy's ﬂesh. She wrapped her arms around the swordswoman's neck in a choke grip, and desperately struggled to suffocate her. Summoning the last of her strength, Yvraine squeezed. Her legs were numb, her wrists masses of hot pain, but as ever, anger and fear gave her strength. The priestess shook and spasmed, but could not break free, her struggles ebbing as her breath abandoned her. Yvraine was on the cusp too; she saw spots of black dance across her eyes, which then grew to obscure her vision entirely. Locked in a mutual death grip, the two combatants shuddered, sighed, and passed the threshold of mortality.
Then, as bright as a captive sun, a tiny star burst upwards from the sands of the arena and consumed them both. Yvraine's eyes ﬂew open, milk-white and glowing. She screamed as she felt a new dimension of awareness blossom in her pain-addled mind, obliterating the petty concerns of her previous life. Something vast had risen from below after the crone warrior's death, pressing into Yvraine's soul with the force of a tidal wave. It would not be denied.
In her mind's eye, Yvraine saw the God of the Dead, Ynnead. He was a shooting star from a crystal moon, then a shimmering constellation, a trillion points of light that glowed in the outline of a solemn face. The God of the Dead's immense eyes fell upon her, and even though the slitted orbs were all but closed, the thin sliver of awareness that he focussed upon her was excruciating. His merest scrutiny bared her soul, and in that moment she was claimed utterly and forever as his own. This was a legend made real, the most remote of possibilities wrought in starlight. The apparition was so bright that it seared itself into Yvraine's consciousness forever, making her blind to anything other than his glory. Then the godly star-mirage breathed a single word -- a whisper, yet deafening in its intensity.
Bow waves of mystical energy exploded outward from Yvraine's body as she was raised up by an invisible hand. Off-white, they crackled like an electromagnetic pulse across the arena's western quadrant and into the stands of the aghast spectators. Wherever they touched Eldar ﬂesh, the energies took hold of the unfortunate individuals and withered them away, turning the audience into nothing more than a horde of blood-slicked skeletons. The largest Tyranids, slowed but not slain, stormed into the crowd in a series of bloody rampages. Trueborn marksmen opened fire with Dark Lances and Splinter Cannons as the violence escalated. Some took shots at the calamitous Succubus that had laid low their masters, but every beam and projectile was deﬂected from Yvraine's cruciform body. She rose higher, aglow with an aura of unearthly power. Her wounds, alight with white fire, healed over – even her left hand, severed at the wrist, was restored, formed from blinding energy that coalesced into a stylised gauntlet of ancient design.
The Bane of Commorragh
High above the carnage, Asdrubael Vect's gigantic viewing pyramid rose on a thrumming cushion of sound. The bass note of its grav-engines squirmed in the guts of all present as it headed towards the heart of the Corespur district. The Tyrant of Commorragh had not ruled over his impossible domain for so long without developing a keen instinct for when to be elsewhere, and did not intend to linger. Instead, he sent his proxies to restore order. Sleek knife-craft peeled away from the titanic fuselage of Vect's pyramid, veering silently towards the arena's heart.
Some sixth sense woke Yvraine from her deathly apotheosis. The ground quaked beneath her feet as she gathered her wits. Though she did not realise it, the metaphysical explosion centred around her had a far graver effect on the Dark City than merely destroying part of the Crucibael. Her surviving Bloodbrides ran to join her as the crackling white energies of her transformation had dispersed. Nearby, armed warriors vaulted over the arena's bladed walls. They were heading directly for the reborn Succubus, guns and voices raised as they took their chance to pounce.
Instinct took over. Quick as a snake, Yvraine leaned out of the path of a volley of poison-tipped needles and cartwheeled one-handed over a searing dark lance beam. She vaulted into the shadow of a lumbering Tyrannofex sending swarms of ﬂesh-eating beetle-creatures into the crowd; the immense creature's ironhard bulk provided a better defensive position than any of the arena's elegantly appointed balustrades. Eyes darting, she forced her thoughts into focus, and braved a glance past the beast at her attackers.
It did not look good. Her assailants were Kabalite Trueborn, by their insignia, and they had whole shrines of Incubi with them. Those Klaive-wielding artisans of murder preferred not to fight in the arena, seeing it as a distasteful display that could only expose their strengths and weaknesses in the long term. Tonight, they were evidently prepared to make an exception.
Yvraine was slowly becoming aware of the extreme danger she was in. Not only had she effectively slain hundreds of the Dark City's finest, she had become possessed by an eldritch force, and judging by the shuddering sands beneath her feet, shaken the entire district to its foundations. The Incubi would be the least of her worries when the Haemonculi moved in. No doubt they planned to dissect her in agonising, drawn-out detail.
Yvraine's Bloodbrides ran in zigzagging, bounding packs towards the oncoming Incubi, meeting the mercenaries' two-handed Klaives with Shardnets, Razorﬂails and Impalers. Blood ﬂew in graceful arcs as a hurricane of blades erupted. For a while, neither side seemed to be able to gain the upper hand. The sculpted, dense metallo-fibres of the Incubi's armour protected them from the slashing blades of all but the nimblest Hekatarii, and the Incubi landed few blows in return, for the Bloodbrides moved with preternatural speed.
Then each shrine's Klaivex leader triggered his Bloodstone. Waves of pain wracked the Bloodbrides, sending them staggering backwards. The Incubi were close enough to capitalise, their movements so smooth it was obvious that they had practiced this manoeuvre a thousand times. A score of Bloodbrides died in just a few Terran seconds. With the Trueborn moving in to take their choice of kills, the stalemate became a slaughter.
Yvraine felt an intense pressure build up in her head, every fresh death intensifying the feeling. The incredible sensations swelling in her soul threatened to blind her, deafen her, or stun her into a coma. There was so much death, so many souls cut from their bodies, that she could not bear it. The ground itself swelled with power. Yvraine spat out six words that had arrived unbidden to her lips. The lights of the arena, almost painfully bright so the spectators could see every nuance of the fights, dimmed to low twilight. The bright designs of the Wyches' ritual outfits were leached of all colour. Even the splashes of blood that seemed to arc in slow motion through the air were rendered near-black by the sudden illusion of monochrome. Yvraine felt a great gale of pent-up energy escape her, a palpable force that left her feeling as clear-minded and eager as a youth at a rite of passage.
The gladiatrix vaulted from the cover of the Tyrannofex corpse, snatching up her Huskblade from its resting place on the sands. The sword, like Yvraine herself, had been transformed. The elegant blade resonated at her touch, and as she held it aloft in her newly-gauntleted hand, it was radiant with power. She whipped her head around to find the best route out, and saw a scene from a disturbing dream.
The corpses of several dozen Dark Eldar fanned out from her position, many of her Bloodbrides lying amongst scatterings of Incubi and Trueborn that had fallen dead without a single obvious wound. Yvraine felt her throat tighten at the sight, her eyes hurting with the intensity of the stark spectacle around her. The fairings and balustrades of the arena were still embattled, knots of Tyranids hacking and slicing their way into the city beyond. Yvraine shouted a quick order to her surviving Bloodbrides and ran towards the thinnest area of the crowd, Huskblade glowing in her left hand as she retrieved her Bladefan with her right.
Slashing, jumping, and darting left and right, Yvraine -- and the two dozen Bloodbrides still by her side -- broke as fast as they could for the edge of the arena. A wall of Kabalites barred her path, but as a great shout of anger forced itself from her lips, many of them were ripped from their feet as if by invisible ghosts. It was too much for their comrades. The morbid display had seemed too close to the psychic arts, strictly forbidden in Commorragh due to the likelihood of drawing the gaze of Slaanesh and hence dooming the entire city to a catastrophic Dysjunction.
Few amongst them realised that dire event was already unfolding, a full-blown daemonic invasion erupting beneath their feet.
As Yvraine ran, a Hellion in the gang colours of the Ghyrebats swooped in, desperate to make a name for himself by capturing or killing the focal point of the carnage. Stepping under the youth's outstretched glaive, Yvraine ﬂicked out her Huskblade and impaled him with its tip. The young warrior fell from his Skyboard, which came to a smooth halt as its rider fell apart -- not into arid dust, as was usual for the Huskblade's touch, but in a cascade of tiny, glowing embers.
Somehow, Yvraine heard the howl of the Hellion's soul as it departed its body. Although it dwindled, the scream did not recede altogether. The soul had not been drained, nor stolen away by the sucking pull of She Who Thirsts as with all other Dark Eldar. In an unlikely moment of contrition, Yvraine felt empathy with that dying soul. A heartbeat later, a new voice was in her head, mewling with fear.
Distracted as she was, only the sound of armoured footsteps on the sand saved Yvraine from a swift decapitation. She leaned back, an Incubus' Klaive whistling less than a finger's breadth from her nose as another of the weapons came in low. With her own blade, she turned the second Klaive aside and upwards, ensuring it crashed into the first hard enough to buy her some space. She levelled a solid kick to the midriff of one of the assailants and a hard elbow to the other, giving her time to recover. Yvraine snarled as she saw that six more Incubi were circling around her, and that her Bloodbrides were similarly beset.
The mercenary killers stepped in close, blades raised in ritualistic battle stances. They would attack as one, a pack of predators rather than a loose gathering of competitors like the Wych Cults. Against such disciplined strength, even a Succubus would find her life expectancy measured in Terran seconds. Yvraine raised her aberrant new Huskblade into a guard stance, and curled a finger to beckon them to their deaths -- or perhaps to hers.
She saw a ﬂash of crimson armour behind the Incubi, and two of their number were suddenly headless. Horned helms bounced away as another was halved at the waist. With a ﬂash of inspiration, Yvraine jumped sidelong and grabbed the Ghyrebat's hovering Skyboard, legs swinging out wide to kick the fourth Incubus in the head with neck-breaking force. She swung onto the delicate machine as if born to it; though she had never so much as touched a Skyboard, she was suddenly familiar with every nuance. Triggering its splinter pod, she shot down a fifth Incubus just as the sixth was cut in half from neck to groin by the crimson fghter. The last two shrine-warriors backed away and ran.
Disquieted and angry, Yvraine leapt from the skyboard and pointed her blade towards the newcomer as his own fghters rallied to him. He was armed and armoured in the style of Bel-Anshoc, a genius artisan whose style Yvraine recognised from sculptures and paintings of the Eldar's long-lost past. More than that, his guard stance was familiar. She had witnessed several of his looping blows in the fight, the very same moves she had used to great effect since her days as an Aspect Warrior. This mysterious swordsman was clearly not her enemy.
The newcomer saluted, offering his sword as a group of Incubi hurried to stand at his side. The mercenaries too made the sign of the proffered blade, their swords level with the horned helms of their battle armour.
"More sellswords," spat Yvraine. She shook her head dismissively, striding towards the grand arena's exit; if they were not here to kill her, at least they would not slow her down. The newcomer and his warriors kept pace, padding alongside her like wolves on the hunt. She glanced at their leader irritably as a group of Reavers -- Vect's pets, the Flesh Wraiths, by their colours -- zoomed in close.
"I do not need the protection of a male," snarled Yvraine, leaning backward to avoid a slashing bladevane before ﬂicking a stiletto from her Bladefan into the back of the rider's neck. He hit the crystalline sands hard, limbs twisted at odd angles. Nearby, the crimson warrior lunged, lancing his blade's tip into an oncoming Reaver's chest. The Jetbike rider spiralled out of control before crashing into the arena's balustrade. The bladesman span on his heel, ducked, and thrust his greatsword upward through another Reaver as he made a pass overhead.
Yvraine frowned. "You have copied my sword-form well," she said.
"Quite the contrary, girl," said the stranger. His tone had the crisp inﬂection of a noble house. Yvraine felt memory well up within her. Only one soul alive dared address her in that manner.
"You fight well, impostor," said Yvraine. "I may let you live. I will take your blade as tribute, in memory of the true Exarch Laarian."
"Although I have sought quite another since I strode Coheria's crystal sands, this mortal blade I shall not relinquish, not yet. Look to your own sword. It is Kha-vir, blessed by Ynnead. Just as you are blessed in turn, True Child of the Aeldari."
Gritting her teeth, Yvraine plunged the tip of her sword into a swerving Reaver, reducing the rider to embers. "Ynnead? So it truly was the Whispering God who appeared to me. Who are you, to have such knowledge? Was it Lady Malys that sent you?"
"I am simply called The Visarch, for I cast aside my name long ago," came the reply, "but it would be very familiar to you. Yvraine of the Biel-Tani, our paths join once more."
With their new allies close, Yvraine and her Bloodbrides emerged triumphant from the melee at the arena's heart. Like a ﬂowing river, the clique of warriors moved ﬂuidly to the nearest egress portal. They avoided the skirmishes between Tyranids and Dark Eldar and instead sought the streets of the Dark City proper. Yvraine headed for Sec Maegra, for that district of Commorragh was a teeming sub-metropolis famous for a dizzying variety of ne'er-do-wells -- sellswords of far lower repute than Incubi. There, she would find many of her old allies, from Corsair princes to disfgured Wyches and other outcasts. Should she stay one step ahead of her pursuers as the Dark City reeled from the night's events, she would in theory be able to reach the docks -- and with luck, enlist the Corsairs of her former capital ship, Lanathrialle, to her cause.
Yvraine's possession by the macabre god Ynnead had shaken the very fabric of the Dark City. Far away, a miscarried ritual conducted by Eldrad Ulthran on the crystal moon of Coheria had twisted Yvraine's fate -- chosen by forces unknown, she had died at the exact moment of the god's ascension. This conﬂuence of Empyrean energy and realspace ﬂesh was so severe it led to a hyperspatial quake known in Commorragh as a Dysjunction. Dozens of spires toppled and districts turned in on themselves, skyscraping statues and high towers shivered and fell apart. Millions died, but there were worse fates in store for those who still braved the streets.
Beneath Commorragh there is a sealed portal known as Khaine's Gate. This has existed for time immemorial, bound by arcane means against the daemon hosts on the other side. Desperate to break in, these hungry fiends have ever grown louder and more insistent, so much so that Asdrubael Vect himself had recently ceded this once-prized territory to his rivals.
As the Dysjunction shook the Dark City, the vaulted chambers around Khaine's Gate collapsed, killing the caged psychic Nulls that protected it from Warp breach. The gate glowed white hot, and then, with a cracking boom, burst open. Thousands of daemons poured through, cackling with cruel glee as they sank blades, claws and fangs into any unfortunate enough to cross their paths.
Urgent spates of conﬂict ﬂowed into one another as Kabals, Wych Cults, and even the Covens of the Haemonculi found themselves attacked by daemons of every conceivable kind. Vect and his Kabal had already made haste for safe havens long prepared in the shadowy recesses of the Webway. Commorragh was truly vast; it would survive even this. Knowing the daemons would bring disaster, he had left his rivals to suffer the brunt of the invasion. Once they had expended every resource in their struggle against the daemon invasion, Vect would return to the Dark City and bring it to heel once more.
Yvraine's ﬂight to Sec Maegra saw her fight through acquisitive Wracks, half-real Khymerae and even a bloodspattered cavalcade of Daemonettes, but eventually she reached the spinedock that held her allies' ship. The blade-wielding Visarch and his mercenary escort had intervened a dozen times on Yvraine's behalf, and each time their intervention had tipped the balance in the gladiatrix's favour. She had no time to share more than a few words of thanks with the warrior; for now, she was content that they both fought on the same side.
Though she did not fully comprehend it, Yvraine's fate was the fulcrum upon which the fate of trillions had turned. She had been resurrected in a form far stranger and more powerful than even that of the Haemonculi who sought her. The Daughter of Shades had been Reborn, her journey to demigodhood hastened by a profound bond forged with Ynnead upon the threshold of death. In the process, she had all but doomed the city of Commorragh to the long-feared daemonic invasion.
The Dance of Destiny
With Commorragh erupting into bedlam, Yvraine joined forces with the Eldar Corsairs that had once been hers to command. Their ship did not escape the spined ports unchallenged, however. None escaped the Supreme Overlord of the Dark City without paying a high cost.
As the Lanathrialle's sails caught the solar winds of Commorragh's stolen suns, a ﬂotilla of Vect's shard-craft peeled away from the Corespur dictrict's dock-spars. They came alongside Yvraine's voidship as the Corsair ﬂeet of those captains she had sought in Sec Maegra shimmered on the false horizon. They were tantalizingly close, but not close enough to intervene.
A communiqué was sent, ordering the Corsairs to turn Yvraine over to the Kabal of the Black Heart. The choice was stark -- either try to escape and be shot to pieces in the skies above, or hand Yvraine over and risk a return to the growing chaos below.
The Corsairs sought another path. It appeared by their progress they were heading for the arterial Webway portal yawning wide over Commorragh, but that route was soon barred by Vect's nimble interceptors. Instead, as they came close to one of the minor portals through which only small frigates could pass, they steered at the harshest angle they could execute.
Though Vect's blockade destroyed many of the ﬂeet's ships with pinpoint fire, they could not halt the momentum of its massive capital ship. The Corsairs slammed the Lanathrialle's prow -- bridge and all -- straight into the portal. The rest of the spacecraft would not even come close to fitting through, however, sticking out like a greatsword shoved into a scabbard made for a dagger. A dozen blinding explosions burst into dazzling profusion across the neck of the great ﬂagship as it ground into the spined crescent of the Webway gate. The metaphysical forces unleashed by the collision were so powerful they ravaged the Lanathrialle inside and out. Proud Corsairs were burned alive or sent ﬂailing from the torn sides of the ﬂagship, tumbling into the eternal night of the Dark City to be blasted to atoms by the disintegrator fire of Vect's hunters. A moment later, the stricken corpse of the Lanathrialle was caught in the crossing beams of the Corespur's tractor pincers, slowly hauled from the burning Webway gate to be cored, scoured of life as a lesson to those who would defy Vect.
With the Supreme Overlord's city shaking in the grip of a Warp Dysjunction, Vect wanted nothing more than to punish the perpetrator of the carnage. He watched from the observation galleries of his ﬂoating fortress, but swallowed down a scream of rage and frustration as the prow of the vast voidship was drawn backward from the Webway portal. It was all but intact, except for a perfectly circular hole cut in the vizier deck of the ship's elegantly tapering bridge. Vect did not need to wait for confirmation from his shadowy agents. Yvraine and her vanguard were gone, already lost in the Labyrinth Dimension's tunnels -- as sure as the rest of the Corsair ﬂagship's crew would soon suffer an agonising death in Rakarth's hellish dungeons.
In the Webway, translucent passageways stretched before Yvraine as she and her Bloodbrides darted from one vista of impossible architecture to another. The crimson stranger was close behind, his Incubi in tow. With the daemon invasion ravaging much of Commorragh, Vect would likely have a hundred contingencies put in motion, but would still be sending his agents to retrieve them. The sacrifice of the Corsair ﬂagship had bought them a few critical Terran hours, but that lead would be quickly eroded if their pursuers launched a mounted search party, or used esoteric means to cut them off. They had no option but to head deeper into the Webway.
The ribbed tunnels of the Labyrinth Dimension seemed to draw the trespassers onward, lambent pulses of light gliding alongside them with a hypnotic motion. Yvraine's vanguard, barely fifty strong, moved from wide arterial passageways to winding side passages and capillary tunnels that forced them to go in single file. The tunnels were dazzling and confusing to behold; every unnatural angle and rune-sealed door reminded the trespassers that they did not belong there. All too often they felt eyes upon them, something staring intently at their intrusion, but the source they never found. The travellers were conscious that to stray from the relative safety of the arterial passageways into the long-abandoned capillary tunnels was to invite disaster. Donorian Fiends, emotion-eating Medusae, Khymerae predators and nests of Psychneuein infested those forgotten reaches.
When the strains of a bizarre, lilting song ﬂoated through the tunnels, its tone mocking and unnatural, Yvraine feared something even worse. Much of the Webway had been shattered by the Fall of the Eldar, blasted apart by the devastating Warp energies that had consumed the Eldar empire of old. Those broken spars had been largely destroyed by Commorrite cauterisation raids or sealed off by the rune-portals of the Craftworlders, for most led to the hellish dimension of the Warp. In theory, the arterial passageways around Commorragh were safe, but since the Fall, the galactic labyrinth had been a ruined mockery of its former grandeur. Only the Laughing God Cegorach -- the only one of the original Eldar pantheon of gods to truly survive the rise of Slaanesh -- knew which parts were whole, and which led to the domain of the Great Enemy.
Several of Yvraine's Bloodbrides had begun to age, complaining of the hunger gnawing inside them and testing their blades as they looked slyly at one another. Without the psychic sustenance of suffering, the Dark Eldar would slowly shrink into themselves until they became Parched -- ravening ghouls desperate to feast on emanations of negative emotion. Even the most beautiful Wych would be reduced to a torrid hag over the course of a few empty solar nights. A voice in Yvraine's head laughed at their distress. It was that of a young male, quiet but cruel.
The gladiatrix wondered if she had somehow absorbed the soul of the Ghyrebat Hellion she had slain. If so, she had kept the warrior's essence safe from the all-consuming desire of Slaanesh. If she could somehow master that process -- or even teach it to others -- she would have made a miraculous stride forward in the long battle for her race's salvation. It could allay the plight of the Dark Eldar and their endless soul-hunger, but also the predicament of the Craftworlders, too -- should one individual be able to take the soul of another into themselves, he or she could act as a living refuge from She Who Thirsts. The Eldar would no longer need Waystones, nor the limbo of the Infinity Circuits. The more she dwelt on the idea, the more animated she became. Here was possibility; hope, perhaps. She strode purposefully on, possessed of such conviction that her fractious vanguard kept their peace.
Further into the misty reaches of the Webway they went, the unsettling song haunting their steps. As the time slid by, the cold and sterile tunnels gave way to utter anarchy of form. Yvraine's ragtag group ventured along spiralling paths that wound around the inside of the tunnels, with the travellers walking on the walls, on ceilings, and on stairs as insubstantial as shadow yet capable of bearing their combined weight. Twisting deltas of passageways opened and narrowed once more, some opaque and humid, others made of crystal so transparent that a cosmos of swirling clouds and distant stars could be seen stretching into the void. The truth of what lay out there, in the twilight between reality and the Warp, was so mindboggling even an Eldar could not comprehend it. In some places the mind's eye translated the scene into an analogue of the physical galaxy writ in a dizzying profusion of colours and lights. In others, the skyscape was a collage of laughing faces, all blending and ﬂowing one into another to form a grotesque tableau that could forever scar the memory. All the while that strange skirling song haunted their every step.
Yvraine had seen enough to know she was irrevocably lost. With no real destination in mind, she had bent her will to avoiding that which lay behind them, rather than that which was ahead. Her Bloodbrides were now openly quarrelling amongst themselves, their incendiary insults regarding each other's intimate practices giving way to spats of posturing and the rattling of blades. Epherea Naptha launched a tirade of invective concerning Vyllia the Talon's ancestry; so imaginative and surreal were Vyllia's counter-claims that even Yvraine found herself wide-eyed with amused surprise. Still, they were running out of time. With the Dark Eldar desperate to feed, it would not be long before their vicious bickering boiled over into a minor massacre.
About them, the walls of the Webway glistened wetly, like the ﬂayed ﬂanks of some living thing. They had come to a dead end. A portal lay at the cul-de-sac's centre, the runes of warding upon its oval circumference smoking as if burned out no more than a matter of solar minutes ago. The skirling song sounded closer than ever, putting Yvraine's nerves on edge. There was no other way forward. She pushed through the shimmering quicksilver of the gate, her Bloodbrides at her heels.
A demented scene greeted her, an image from some insane artist's nightmare. A hundred Daemonettes were dancing and frolicking with the corpses of Dark Eldar in the colours of Vect's own Kabal. The handmaidens of She Who Thirsts waltzed and span as if at a grand ball, each holding a deceased Kabalite in a lover's embrace. They were accompanied by a maddening ﬂautist's duet, the interweaving melodies played on the thigh bones of Eldar from before the Fall. As they danced, the Daemonettes ﬂayed the ﬂesh from their victims with their razored claws, each gesture a languid caress that left the corpses dripping with gore. At the heart of it all was an elegant dancer holding the masks of tragedy and comedy on a long haft -- the Masque of Slaanesh, told of Yvraine's ﬂight by her besotted Sslyth agent, the veteran Sassarassen.
Yvraine's stomach churned, the panicked screaming of the Hellion soul ringing loud in her mind. Outnumbered twice over, she was about to order the retreat when she saw a tall, stately Daemonette amongst the throng dancing ever swifter. Her spiralling pavane was somehow so entrancing Yvraine could not look away. She felt an unsettling peace settle over her, a suffocating blanket of apathy that made her eyelids droop. Around her, Bloodbrides and Incubi were slumping, sitting cross-legged, and lying on the oddly pulsing tunnel ﬂoor as they were taken by the unnatural malaise of slumber that washed over them like a wave. Vyllia the Talon gave a small cry of despair, as plaintive as that of a dying swan, before lying down in a heap. Soon they would all become corpse-puppets at a daemonic revel.
Suddenly, with jubilant cries, troupe after troupe of Harlequin warrior-dancers vaulted down from the tunnel's ceiling, tumbling from clouds of glittering mist one after another in sprays of luminescent diamonds. Yvraine felt a jolt of pure energy wake her from her trance. She had hoped that her vanguard's presence would pique the curiosity of Cegorach's warrior-dancers sooner or later, and their intervention could not have been better timed. She raised her Huskblade by way of greeting, then strode forward and took the head from the nearest Daemonette's neck.
The dancing doyenne at the heart of the Daemonette horde pirouetted faster, an expression of pure fury on her grotesque face. She sprang at unnatural speed towards the crimson Incubi nearby, her fellow daemons crooning and shrieking in her wake. The mercenary bladesmen, the Bloodbrides, and even some of the Harlequins were caught in the grip of her deathly slumber-curse; even The Visarch had succumbed, holding his head as if in the grip of a raging migraine. Yvraine was already fghting hard against the hissing she-fiends. There was no way she could get past to aid her imperilled allies.
As the Masque of Slaanesh dashed over the slumped corpse of an Incubus in the livery of the Kabal of the Black Heart, she found her legs hooked out from under her by the fallen warrior's Klaive. The Incubus rose to his feet, laughing hollowly, his form shimmering as if caught in a heat mirage. He sloughed off the illusion altogether to leave a lithe, hooded Harlequin in his place. A Solitaire, walker of the Path of the Damned.
The Masque of Slaanesh gave a cry of disbelief and angst, spinning to slash a claw at the Solitaire's midriff. Her adversary was already moving, punching a monofilament wire into the Masque's neck before cartwheeling away, greatcoat billowing, to land in a sprinter's crouch. A split second later, the Harlequin launched forward like a living missile into the ranks of the Daemonettes. The Solitaire shot from victim to victim so fast that it was impossible to trace him. The blur of his passage left explosions of purple ichor with every new kill.
Yvraine and her Bloodbrides, now free of the dancer's spellbinding curse, plunged into the ranks of the angered Daemonettes with blades ﬂashing. The fiendish handmaidens leered at the prospect of fresh meat, and charged to meet them. At first, the forces seemed evenly matched; blood was drawn on both sides. Even Yvraine took a shallow cut across the throat -- it stung like fury, but did not cut deep enough to do real harm. She spoke words of power, and thin tendrils of grey mist seeped from the gladiatrix's wound. Their touch sapped the strength from the Daemonettes nearby and turned their unreal ﬂesh a lifeless grey.
Yvraine frowned in consternation, but seeing opportunity, pressed her assault. The fiendish handmaidens found their sadistic joy replaced by panic at the sight of Yvraine's soul magic. The fugitives and their Harlequin allies were now fighting every bit as fast as the lithe, whip-thin daemons -- if not faster. Blood ﬂew, throats were slashed, and slain Daemons dissipated in clouds of sickly pink mist. On the left ﬂank, the Incubi were reaping bloody vengeance with their Klaives; on the right, the illusory glamours of a Harlequin Shadowseer turned Daemonettes upon one another instead of their intended foes. With the Dark Eldar counterassault on one side and the Harlequins' killing spree on the other, the Slaaneshi trap had been broken.
The Masque threw back her head and gave a horrendous scream. The sound was so loud it shattered a section of the Webway wall behind her. A gale of psychic emanations roared into the tunnels, swirling into a tornado that carried the Daemonettes and their queen away and out of sight in the space of a few terrifying moments. The Eldar fought to keep their footing, embedding their blades and fingernails in the psychoplastic crystal of the tunnel's walls. The Solitaire strode through the gale as if it were no more than a summer breeze, fingers outstretched to draw a complex rune of warding over the breach. With a sigh of relief, the troupe's Shadowseer turned the ebbing gale of energy into a harmless, sparkling mist.
Yvraine and her warriors regained their composure slowly, picking themselves up and regrouping. The entire altercation had taken no more than a Terran minute. They had lost several of their number in the fighting, but without the intervention of the Harlequins, they would almost certainly have died. Yvraine scanned the thinning mist for movement, intending to thank her enigmatic saviours. Only one of them, the Solitaire, could she see. That lone warrior had sensed something potent beyond measure in Yvraine. After a brief exchange with his fellows, he chose to remain as her guide. The others vanished into the depths of the Webway to meet with a living legend, a famed warrior matriarch whose part was yet to be played.
Dire Tidings for Biel-Tan
The Harlequins of the Midnight Sorrow were already leagues distant from Yvraine's vanguard by the time the Solitaire led the travellers on into the Labyrinth Dimension. Their intended destination was deep in the realm Mankind called the Ultima Segmentum, for there lay a jewel in the shattered crown of the Eldar's legacy. They made for Biel-Tan, a world-ship that seeks to unite its disparate race in what others consider a lost cause.
Craftworld Biel-Tan, whose name translates as the "Rebirth of Ancient Days" in the Eldar Lexicon known to the savants of the Imperium of Man, is the most militant and proud of all its kind. Violently xenophobic and mistrustful of the "lesser races," the vast world-ship protects its holdings with a vengeful fury. Biel-Tan casts itself as the guardian of the Maiden Worlds, those primeval planets where the Eldar Exodites live in harmony with their environments -- and upon their death, join with the World Spirit of the planet itself. The bellicose people of Biel-Tan believe the Exodite worlds will be the seeds that ﬂourish into a new order when the Eldar rise again to prominence.
Many of the other Craftworlds consider the Biel-Tani delusional -- the resources and manpower needed to successfully turn those paradise planets into an echo of the former Eldar empire were long ago consumed. Undeterred by these naysayers, the Biel-Tani cling to their convictions as a wounded warrior holds tightly onto his sword.
Though few in Commorragh realised it, Biel-Tan was the original home of the one the Dark Eldar called Daughter of Shades. Under the world-ship's glowing domes and elegant spires Yvraine was raised, nurtured, and taught the ways of the Craftworlds. At first she walked the Path of the Performer, her intricate acrobatics thrilling high society as well as her fellow wanderers of the Craftworld's abandoned zones. Her displays grew faster and more violent as she became more headstrong. When the Avatar of Khaine was roused within the Craftworld's heart during the invasion of Gnosis Prime, she took the Path of the Warrior, becoming a Dire Avenger under the tutelage of the famously deadly Laarian Starspeaker, Exarch of the Silvered Blade Shrine.
Long Terran years slid past. The blood Yvraine shed as part of Biel-Tan's famous Swordwind armed forces should have been enough to sate even the most savage spirit, but it was not enough. Restless, she sought a deeper connection to the infnite. For a time, the Path of the Warlock gave her the esoteric understanding she craved, honing her psychic skills whilst still giving her a chance to fight in Biel-Tan's armies. The witch path too she forsook, becoming an Outcast, then a famed Eldar Corsair admiral, and finally, after her hubris led to mutiny, an arena fighter in Commorragh. Yet Biel-Tan has always had a place in her heart, and vice versa. With the Solitaire she had encountered in the Webway guiding her, the prodigal daughter's homecoming was close at hand.
Biel-Tan's struggling ambition was well known. In Yvraine, the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow believed they had found a way to make that ambition a reality. The gladiatrix bore a peculiar aura, and the Shadowseer had marked it well. Her use of deathly powers in the battle against the Daemonettes had confirmed an eventuality foreseen by the troupe's patron, Eldrad Ulthran. The crux point of causality had been exactly where the High Farseer had said it would be, and Yvraine had manifested power from beyond the veil just as foreseen. Her safe arrival to a sympathetic audience was paramount. As Eldrad had said, the Harlequins must untangle the strands of fate that stretched before her if they were to be weaved into a greater thread -- and ultimately, become a silken noose strong enough to destroy Slaanesh.
Months previous, secreted in vaults of black Wraithbone within Craftworld Ulthwé, Eldrad had foreseen much of that which was coming to pass. Following the ripples in the fabric of the future that he himself had caused upon the crystal moon of Coheria, he saw a new force rising, embodied in one called the Daughter of Shades. She alone held the key to Ynnead's ascension, and the cosmic upheaval Eldrad and Kysaduras the Anchorite had long predicted.
Pursuing Yvraine's thread of fate in his meditations, Eldrad deemed that there was no haven more likely to take this living phenomenon into their heartlands than Biel-Tan. Even then, Eldrad had seen the Reborn gladiatrix and the ruling castes of the Craftworld bound together on an altogether deeper and more spiritual level. Another nexus point of destiny approached, the skein of fate knotted and tense around it. As he refined his divinations, Eldrad had seen the rune of the Night Maiden circled by the Fall from Grace, both in turn orbiting the heraldic rune of Biel-Tan itself. Ominously, the stylised heart that sat within the Craftworld's iconic rune had smouldered and turned black. Such was the price of progress.
The High Farseer had sent a psychic signal across the vastness of the Webway, in doing so despatching the only agents he could truly trust to work to a greater goal. So it was the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow had made haste through the Webway to Biel-Tan, their intent to pave the way for Yvraine's arrival.
Ildraesci Dreamspear performed an elaborate bow, his arms wide. The Autarch Meliniel replied with a stylised salute. Both gestures were remarkably tense for warriors of such grace. With the Biel-Tani Autarch were Dire Avengers, their weapons held lightly at their sides. Alongside Dreamspear, a dozen Harlequins stood in exaggerated postures of relaxation.
"Unusual, to arrive unheralded in such a fashion," said Meliniel casually. "Though it is perhaps the way of the Midnight Sorrow to embody the void-zephyr, taking or leaving as they please."
"Uncommon, for an armed escort to welcome ambassadors," said Dreamspear. "In these dark days, we all walk shadowed paths."
"As you say," nodded the Autarch. "Let us ensure they do not lead us astray. An act of provocation, such as Cegorach's theft of fair Isha's jewels, could be considered an act of open contempt."
"Provocation? Some say Cegorach's act was one of desperation, committed in pursuance of a greater victory," said Dreamspear.
"Of course. Though in times of war, lethal mistakes are made."
"Let us hope they do not lead to unnecessary tragedy in the final act. Only a fool is deaf to the words of a prophet."
"These words you speak of," said the Autarch, turning to pinch the stem of a crystal rose and move it to catch the light, "do they concern the God of the Dead, perchance? Lathriel believes so."
"Indirectly, they do. They concern all of the Aeldari, past, present and future. But you, most of all," he said. "Your people, and you."
"And so your troupe, known defilers of the Dome of Crystal Seers, choose to breach a latter-portal rather than obeying the unwritten codes." The Autarch shifted, his body language speaking volumes.
"We had little choice. Ichor still dries on our blades. The children of She Who Thirsts already know of the Daughter of Shades."
"So you risk doom to force our hand," said the Autarch. "You endanger only yourselves. They cannot penetrate the wards."
"No, no," laughed the Harlequin hollowly, his mask becoming the coal-eyed visage of Khaine's Avatar as he made the sign of the black key. "They seek not to attack Biel-Tan directly, but via a threshold world. From there, a new tapestry of fate will unfold."
"And have your divinations told you which world the she-daemons intend to breach?" said the Autarch.
By way of answer, the Harlequin reached out and opened the palm of his hand. The Autarch looked down at the rune held there for a long moment before gesturing to his Exarch. "Gather the Swordwind. Inform Lathriel. We strike at dawn." He turned on his heel and left the audience chamber without a sound.
Though the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow had lately garnered a reputation as self-centred thieves and bearers of ill-tidings, the message they brought to Biel-Tan was of such dire import it could not be ignored. The Autarch Meliniel consulted with the Craftworld's High Farseer, Lathriel, even as the Craftworld's Aspect Warrior warhost -- known as the Swordwind -- was mobilised for war.
Lathriel's own runic divinations, when carefully interpreted with the Harlequins' message in mind, spoke of a baleful truth. Much like Eldrad, she saw a fork in the destiny of her people, one route leading to blazing fire -- the sign of the Rhana Dandra, the End of Days -- whilst the other led to a darkened veil and the sound of a mourning bell. The implications were staggering. Perhaps the whispered notion of Ynnead's ascension could stave off the Eldar's destruction for a time, and maybe even calm the Warp Storms ravaging the galaxy. The newcomer the Harlequins spoke of was central to this concept, bound tightly to the runes of the Great Enemy and Biel-Tan itself. It was likely the agents of Slaanesh too were aware of the importance of the interloper, this Daughter of Shades, and intended to seize her themselves.
Until now, the runes of warding that protected the Craftworld had made the idea of a daemonic incursion the stuff of nightmares, not reality. With Empyrean tempests raging across the Segmentum, however, there was a chance of a Webway breach. Should a host of Warp-spawn set foot upon the Craftworld, the sheer magnitude of the disaster that would follow did not bear thinking about. A full daemonic invasion could see the Craftworld lying in ashes, never to recover.
The Masque of Slaanesh was well aware of this opportunity. She had learned of a route of ingress to Biel-Tan -- a long-sealed Webway tunnel that led from an abandoned extremity of the Craftworld to the gates of the Exodite Maiden World Ursulia.
Ursulia, named after a famously beautiful Eldar maiden of myth, was a small but verdant world, famous in Eldar society for its majestic thornwoods and towering arbor cities. It had been fashioned as a true paradise by the Aeldari, but it had now been twisted beyond recognition. To descend through the silver cloud banks of Ursulia's skies was to feel a great sadness of the soul. Roiling Warp Storms had lashed its surface in the last few Terran months, appearing from nowhere like a seismic eruption upon an unseen fault line. Ursulia's glorious waterfalls had been turned to swathes of crimson glass, and its rolling dales reduced to skull-strewn wastelands.
Amongst the planet's valleys was a moss-strewn henge known as the Obsidian Gate. This former Webway route was permanently closed many thousands of standard years ago as a precautionary measure against invasion, for it led straight to Biel-Tan. The decision to seal it had since been vindicated a dozen times over, for gentle Ursulia had known many wars over the millennia. Yet it was theoretically possible that the route could be re-opened by arcane force. It was a possibility the Biel-Tani would do anything to avoid.
For the warriors of Biel-Tan, to make planetfall upon Ursulia was much like looking upon the face of a once-beautiful dilettante badly burned by some horrific twist of fate. The Craftworlders did not take the loss well. Expressions had hardened to stony scowls under the hoods of those Rangers searching the twisted forests for Exodite survivors. They had found only death. In the space of time it had taken for Biel-Tan's outriders to arrive at Ursulia, the planet had already suffered beyond comprehension.
Under detailed instructions from Autarch Meliniel, the warriors of the Swordwind were en route to aerial ambush points in their Falcon and Wave Serpent skimmers. Underneath their helms, the faces of the Aspect Warriors remained cold and impassive. They had donned their war masks before leaving the Craftworld, embodying the aspects of the War God Khaine's inhumanly focussed killers. Only once the battle was over would they assume their fully emotive personas once more, allowing themselves to grieve.
Rain hammered down as the Swordwind's transports shot through the skies. The convoy of vehicles was all but invisible in their cloudstrike formation; this was common practice amongst the Biel-Tani, for they believe the blade unseen strikes truest of all. Around the grav-tanks, a tempest was brewing, the disturbing keening of the wind hinting at some unnatural energy beneath it. The tang of ozone hung heavy in the air, a sense of doom gathering like the closeness before a thunderstorm.
The Swordwind of Biel-Tan had sent a thousand fighters to Ursulia, yet in the heart of every Eldar warrior there was a sense they had already lost. They had watched over this hidden world for millennia, and in doing so had repelled Ork invasions, Hrud infestations, Imperial conquests and Dark Eldar raids. Against the raw power and sudden onset of a Chaos tempest, however, there was little they could do. Warp Storm Balamet had ﬂared into baleful existence so swiftly that even the Eldar could not counter it. What was intended as a mission of rescue had become one of vengeance -- and of preventing the same fate befalling Biel-Tan, should the unthinkable happen.
The Masque of Slaanesh was poised to achieve just that. Though it had cost her much to attain it, she had masterminded a full-scale daemonic invasion of Ursulia. Her intent was not to conquer the planet, but to use it as a staging post. Should she muster force enough to break through the Obsidian Gate, she would reach Biel-Tan before Yvraine, not only claiming a rich bounty of Eldar souls but also capturing or devouring the single greatest threat to Slaanesh's continued existence. The daemon herald had taken great pains to arrange the conquest to come, and ensure that it had a semblance of focus -- no mean feat, considering the rival forces involved. The Masque had marshalled not only her own great promenade of excess -- a gathering of Daemonettes, Seekers, Seeker charioteers and half-mortal Hellﬂayers -- but also seduced a grand battalion of Khornate daemons into fighting for the same cause.
The rivalries between the Chaos Gods had raged across reality and the Warp for time immemorial. Though the brothers in darkness were each locked in their Great Game, and though they sought the same destructive ends more often than not, they were such bitter rivals that they held an open contempt for each other. This ire often boiled over into outright war. Slaanesh, the Master of Excess, was considered a self-indulgent, preening impostor by the Blood God Khorne. Conversely, Slaanesh saw the Blood God as an unimaginative boor with all the grace of a starving hound. Their daemon minions harboured much the same attitudes, for in essence a daemon is but a fragment of its Chaos God patron's psyche made manifest.
The Masque of Slaanesh was nothing if not persuasive, however, and her repertoire went far beyond the pleasures of the ﬂesh. She knew well how to exploit the compulsions of others, for she was obsession given form. The strongest souls were often the easiest to fool -- hubris and overconfidence was the downfall of champions and wise men alike. The daemon lords of Khorne were prideful indeed. It was that ﬂaw that the Masque sought to play upon, thereby binding them to her cause.
With the powers of Chaos ascendant in the galaxy and Warp tempests raging across the breadth of Mankind's realm, daemons found moving from the Empyrean to the Warp Storm-wracked domains of realspace easier than ever -- especially for one as adroit as the Masque. Still, there was no way she had the strength to break open the psychic Runes of Warding that sealed the portal to Biel-Tan. She knew of but one daemon strong enough to break the arcane defences -- Skarbrand the Exiled One, the most terrible Bloodthirster of them all. Even then his power might not suffice.
Skarbrand was a daemon whose arrogance was so immense that he sought to slay his own parent deity in single combat. He was hurled across reality as a result, broken in body and mind. All that was left of Skarbrand was rage, raw and all-consuming. Seeing in the infamous daemon an instrument of pure brute force, the Masque had sought the Bloodthirster out, dancing her way through the Realm of Chaos to speak to him face to disfigured face.
At first, Skarbrand sought to cut the Masque to pieces with his twin axes, Slaughter and Carnage. However, the Daemonette swayed and dodged from the Bloodthirster's blows with such sublime passivity that Skarbrand stopped viewing her as a martial opponent and instead saw her as more of an inconvenience, just as a rampaging stallion might see a gadﬂy upon its ﬂank. When he had all but lost interest, the Masque told her foe of her own exile, for she had been banished by her god just as Skarbrand had been banished by his. This won the raging daemon's ear, for a time.
She spoke to him of a great wager, a contest between the daemon hosts of Slaanesh and those of Khorne. The competition would be held upon the Maiden World of Ursulia -- whosoever claimed the most Eldar lives in the name of their patron before nightfall would be proved the most powerful in the service of their respective gods.
The daemon herald's words were expertly delivered. Her beguilements were clever enough to stoke Skarbrand's eternal rage, but not to trigger a killing spree -- not yet, at least. The Greater Daemon spat, snarled and roared with contempt, for the disciples of Khorne do not idly ignore a challenge to their strength. With her greater plans set in motion, the Masque smiled from ear to ear, waltzing away to amass her followers even as the mighty Bloodthirster stomped off on his own warpath.
Within a Terran week of that incongruous pact, the daemon hosts of the Masque and Skarbrand trod the peaty loam of Ursulia's twisted forests. Their Warp-born followers numbered in the hundreds of thousands, for word of the wager had brought a great many daemonic champions together, each determined to outclass their god's rivals with impressive acts of slaughter.
As the daemons burst from within the eye of Ursulia's fiercest psychic storm, the invasion had begun in earnest. The Exodites defending their world had used every weapon, trick and trap at their disposal, unleashing hordes of roaring megasaurs and mounting mass cavalry charges that saw whole households of Dragon Knights charge into echelons of daemonic foot soldiers. Theirs was a noble act of defiance, but ultimately it was doomed. The invading daemonic host outnumbered them twice over, and with the Masque and Skarbrand at the fore, the Exodite defenders were overwhelmed in a matter of Terran days.
When the Swordwind of Biel-Tan arrived, the Exodites had been all but eradicated. Daemons already cavorted and guzzled hot blood amongst the twisted ruins, many counting the dead or arguing amongst themselves as to which of their number was the deadliest. The Masque was still on the hunt, coordinating her plans with a choreographer's artistry. Her Seeker parties had located the Obsidian Gate on a ridge overlooking the Greenlush Valley not a moment too soon. She knew the Eldar well, and suspected that not only would the Exodites' Craftworld cousins attack soon, but that in their haste to defend the portal, they would give her the chance she needed to break through it. It has long been said by the gossips of the Slaaneshi courts that Skarbrand's bitterness and frustration at his fall from grace lent him strength. When the Biel-Tani sought to bring him down, his mounting anger -- bolstered by the eldritch power of the Warp Storm that still lashed Ursulia -- should give him might enough to break through any barrier.
This evil contest of daemons was about to escalate massively, for the slaughter was by no means at an end. By the time the storm abated, the death toll on both sides would have reached truly shocking heights.
"Why did you not foresee this sister?" hissed Meliniel, jabbing a slender finger at the ghostly apparition in his Wave Serpent. "Did the runes not show it?"
"I know your fallibility well. In our youth, it never carried quite so high a cost."
"None of us saw this, brother. A psychic event of galactic magnitude has taken place. It bears down on us even now. The skein of fate is unravelling and reknitting so fast that none of us can predict it, not even the High Farseer of Ulthwé."
"You speak of the Whispering God, sister, as do our uninvited guests. Salvation perhaps, but it comes too late. Too late for the people of Ursulia, and too late for us."
"Though it withers my heart to admit it, yes. Biel-Tan may yet pay in blood too."
The Wave Serpent shot over a vast jade lake. On the far-gazing hologram at the front of the passenger bay, Meliniel saw that the edges of the lake were tinged with red. "Now," he said, his voice distant, "we will punish those who dare to risk our wrath."
The Autarch's tone was as clipped as an Exarch's battle stanzas. "The time is here. Engines of Vaul to the northwest of the portal, eight leagues close. Windriders mirror northeast. Falcons form the tip of the pyramid. Aspect Warriors form the coils of the serpent. Enact."
"We must turn Chaos upon itself, Meliniel," said Lathriel. "We cannot win this alone."
Howling, crying, and screaming they came, blades gripped tight and snarling smiles displaying pointed teeth. The daemon hordes of Slaanesh and Khorne scoured the twisted forests of Ursulia for more heads to claim. A cruel frenzy was upon them, their jibes and imprecations cast aside in their desperate need to prove their supremacy. With the psychic tempest raging all around, the daemons paid little heed to the Craftworld forces descending through the clouds.
Only the Masque watched the heavens from the corner of her coal-black eyes. She knew full well that Biel-Tan could not help but take the bait she had laid so carefully before them. They would attack with pitiless fury, as they always did -- and in doing so, would not drive off their foes, but trigger a devastating counterattack. Slaanesh revels in every kind of excess, especially that which involves the spilling of vital ﬂuids; Khorne, for his part, is empowered just as much by the slaughter of his own armies as he is those of his enemies. The same could be said of his minions. Blood was blood, no matter its provenance.
The Eldar attack was sudden and devastatingly effective. At a single word from the Autarch Meliniel, the Swordwind dived from the skies, pulse lasers and plasma weapons ﬂickering in such profusion it seemed a hail of killing light slanted down from the heavens alongside the squalls of ectoplasmic liquid. Explosions blossomed through the canopies of the forest, blasting grotesque anatomies high into the air. Each fusillade was aimed not at the larger throngs of Warp creatures darting through the twisted foliage, but the largest and most elaborately ornamented of their number. The Swordwind had long practiced the strategy of assassination as a way to even the odds for their small but elite forces. Despite the ethereal nature of the daemon hosts, the same strategy worked on the immortal legions of the Great Enemy. Within Terran seconds, the Eldar had slain dozens of the heralds that had given a semblance of leadership to the daemon hordes.
It was then that the Eldar launched a multi-faceted assault, devised by Autarch Meliniel in the space of a few intense minutes once he had ascertained the disposition of the daemonic hordes. Marshalling his troops into several warhosts, his layered attack saw the cloud-borne Eldar encircle the daemon war bands closest to the Obsidian Gate.
First to press home the assault were the Edruth Enfaolchú, the Flight of Falcons. Tight squadrons of grav-tanks veered through the splashing rain to engage the Soul Grinders smashing aside corrupted foliage in their haste to close with their attackers. The Daemon Engines spat a hideous amount of firepower into the skies, their Harvester Cannons sending dirty chain explosions into the oncoming warhost's path, but their fire was largely ineffective. The sheer speed of the surprise attack had robbed their fire of any real accuracy.
At the fore of the airborne assault came the Crimson Death. Two squadrons of Nightshade Interceptors shone like wedges of polished ruby in the sky, weaving to and fro with the grace of raptors on the hunt. One of the elegant aircraft was torn from the sky by a lucky shot, its wreckage spiralling knives of psychoplastic that stabbed into the jungle below. The others evaded the fusillades with barrel rolls and steep dives.
At the last moment, the scarlet craft crisscrossed one another in a series of interlocking attack runs, their Bright Lances stabbing pinpoint death into the ranks of the enraged Soul Grinders. The attack was intended to blind the giant Daemon Engines, just as Khaine's hurled blades took the eyes from the White Wyrm, Oghanothir, in the cycles of Eldar myth. In practice, their laser beams were so vicious they took the heads from most of the iron-skinned monstrosities they struck. The clanking, piston-legged advance of the war engines slowly came to a halt as their daemonic animas were violently unbound from their ﬂeshmetal bodies and ripped away into the eldritch storm. The Crimson Death was already gone, the clouds spiralling in their wake.
Seeing their anti-air firepower snatched away, the daemons of the greater host gave a roar of frustration so loud it caused the foliage all about to shake and shiver. Their bellows and shrieks were answered by the sizzling hisses of laser beams from the gravtanks that descended by the dozen in the Crimson Death's wake.
With their holo-fields blending them into the cloud banks behind and a canopy of weird organic foliage covering much of the sky, Meliniel's Cloudstrike Squadrons were all but invisible. Only when the killing began did the daemons realise the doom that was upon them. Fire Prisms sent lancing beams of killing energy into daemonic riders that were crashing through the forest atop brass-bound Juggernauts. The laser shots, concentrated by exotic crystal focusing arrays, blasted great craters in the enemy host, their edges steaming with boiling daemonic remains. The brazen corpse-stuff left over from each strike bubbled away into little more than the stench of brimstone and hot brass.
Roaring down from the skies came Skarbrand himself, plummeting from the Warp into reality in a trailing ball of ﬂame. The carnage had drawn him as surely as a sky-shark is drawn to magic in the air. With a thunderous boom he smashed through a squadron of grav-tanks, sending their mangled hulls spinning, and landed hard in the valley. Elder trees were blasted to splinters at the impact, and scarlet fires burned in his wake. Skarbrand stormed out of his impact crater, axes swinging to lay low the Lesser Daemons scrambling out of the way. The giant daemon made a choice target for the gunners of the Eldar grav-tanks. Many a blinding beam lanced into Skarbrand, but they just made him all the angrier.
As the grav-tanks hit from above, the Windrider Jetbikes of the Biel-Tan host were riding into the wide mouth of the Greenlush Valley. Taking aim at the greater host, they levelled such a fierce hurricane of razor-edged shuriken that they sliced down plant and daemon both. The war for Ursulia was raging once more.
The Tempest of Blades
The Windrider host, well used to striking their enemies at speed, made ready to peel off and attack further down the line. Against a mortal enemy, they would no doubt have proven swift enough. The daemons of Slaanesh, however, were no normal foes. Out from the massed ranks of Daemonettes darted a ﬂock of Seekers, long-limbed, bipedal Steeds of Slaanesh with bejewelled Daemonette riders atop them. Shrilling and hooting, the beasts ran at impossible speed alongside the racing Jetbikes before they could pull away, lashing them with long, ropy tongues and pulling the Eldar from their saddles. Close behind were Seeker Chariots festooned with spinning, scything blades. Those Windriders still lying dazed on the forest ﬂoor were unceremoniously slashed to ribbons, their violated body parts strewn across the loam.
Monitoring the counterattack from the passenger bay of his grav-craft, Autarch Meliniel ordered his elite troops into the fray. The warhost known as the Coiled Serpent, translated in the Eldar tongue as Thiellan Aq Saim, drove forward into the enemy ﬂank. Its massed Wave Serpents disgorged hundreds of Aspect Warriors. Every colour and shape of the god Khaine's war aspect was suddenly on the attack, their armour vibrant and strong amongst the sickly hues of Ursulia's corrupted forests.
First came the Swooping Hawks, darting from blue-grey clouds so similar in hue to their armour the winged warriors seemed no more than ﬂickers at the limit of vision. From their thigh holsters they dispensed small but powerful grenades, falling like acorns from a gale-tossed oak. They landed within the mass of Khornate daemons at the edge of the cliff. Where they struck home, spheres of crackling white plasma appeared, each string of explosions hurling mutilated, red-skinned bodies into one another before they discorporated entirely. Lasblaster fire stabbed down to reap the tally anew. By the time the Khornate daemon cannons had ground their way up a nearby ridge to retaliate, the Swooping Hawks were gone. In their place came Warp Spiders, materialising behind the cannon batteries without a sound. They fired tangles of monofilament wire so sharp they cut through daemon ﬂesh and hell-forged brass alike. Then, in a crackle of unlight, the Warp Spiders too were gone.
Down in the valley, the Slaaneshi counterattack was fierce. A crowd of lithe Daemonettes charged the Aspect Warrior host, hissing with glee at the prospect of a rich banquet of souls. The first wave pressed towards the rematerialised Warp Spiders that had taken such a toll on the Khornate daemons on the ridge, the Slaaneshi host screaming loudly to draw the focus of their enemies. The Aspect Warriors opened fire once more, a fusillade of monofilament wire engulfing the fiends to carve them to disturbingly bloodless chunks. But the distraction had played its part. A second war band of she-Daemons, having slunk close and climbed into a copse of spiked trees, dropped shrieking on the Warp Spiders from above. Several of the fearless Eldar were ripped apart, their severed limbs cast with abandon into the air. The rest simply vanished, triggering their Warp jump generators to reappear with a ﬂicker of light some hundred Terran feet distant.
The celebrating Daemonettes were left confused and wrong-footed. They hissed blame at one another as they cast about for more victims, only to be greeted by a devastating fusillade from the Dark Reapers stationed within the walkway of an arboreal palace. Reaper Missiles detonated in the daemons' midst, a chain of explosions so fierce it blew apart the iron-hard fungi of the valley even as it tore through dozens of the Daemonettes taking shelter amongst them. The thumping boom had barely faded from the valley walls before another Slaaneshi attack raced in -- a wave of daemonic cavalry with daemon chariots racing close behind.
Another squadron of Wave Serpents closed in as Meliniel reacted to this new assault by directing the mounted counterattack known as Fedhein Saim Zarakhain. Whilst the daemon cavalry sprinted on, a shrine of Dire Avengers disembarked with smooth swiftness to unleash a storm of shuriken at the Seekers racing past. Monomolecular discs slashed out by the thousand, even as the enemy cavaliers rode the lithe Steeds of Slaanesh close. Not even the preternaturally nimble daemons of the Dark Prince of Chaos could avoid a salvo delivered with such expertise. The daemons were sliced to ribbons much as their charioteer sisters had cut apart the Windrider Guardians mere moments before, ﬂesh ﬂying from their bodies.
Whilst the Dire Avengers were reloading, those Seekers that made it through the hurricane of firepower darted in to lash and slice, laying high-crested warriors low. The shrine's Exarch stepped in to duel the riders at close quarters, taking the snake-fast blows of their opponents with shimmering force shields before ending the threat with thrusts of their swords and Power Spears. The chariots in the Seekers' wake burst through the ectoplasmic mist that was all that remained of their vanguard, blades whickering and riders hunkered down so as to avoid another shuriken assault. A trio of Wave Serpents glided smoothly from a natural boulevard, spinning to reveal their hull doors. The Fire Dragons inside stepped out and formed a line, forcing their zen-like focus into lethal accuracy as the daemon machines careened in close. Their Exarch spoke a single word. A moment later, chariots and riders were vaporised in hissing streams of ichor, molten metal spattering and hissing from the bright orange plates of the Fire Dragons.
One lone Slaaneshi daemon made it past the newly formed battle line to engage the Dark Reapers in the arbor behind, leaping from the burning remains of her chariot to swing from a low bough and vault into the midst of the heavy weapon team. With their cumbersome missile launchers and reinforced armour, the Dark Reapers were easy prey for the slashing, spinning alluress. Claws darting, she claimed the lives of four Aspect Warriors before a heavy kick sent her tumbling into the fires below.
At the Obsidian Gate on the shoulders of the valley, the daemons of Khorne had run down and decapitated every Eldar Ranger sent to keep them from the greater fight. First one, then three, then eight Bloodletter war bands charged down the forested slope towards the battle. It was an eventuality Autarch Meliniel had foreseen, and his warriors fell back with ﬂuid grace to the transports waiting nearby. Watching from the valley's edge, the Masque hissed in frustration. She shrieked a hunt-and-retrieve order to her chariots -- for her plan to work, the Eldar had to contest the henge itself.
Nearby, Skarbrand was hacking his way through a war band of Daemonettes in a ball of ﬂame and white-hot anger. He loped past the Obsidian Gate to look with longing at the explosive carnage in the valley. The Masque had lured him there by insisting that the fighting would be fiercest outside the portal, and the brute had taken the bait. Now that ploy might come to naught, for the Eldar were falling back. Something had to be done, or the Bloodthirster was likely to dive into the fight half a Terran mile from the location where the Masque needed him most.
In less than a solar minute, the Masque's chosen charioteers had returned, the mangled bodies of three fallen Warlocks laid across their yokes. The vehicles slewed to a halt as the Masque leapt nimbly atop the mossy capstone of the Obsidian Gate, and the riders tossed the psykers' corpses up to their mistress as if they were little more than straw-stuffed effgies. The Masque gave a piercing cry of delight, plucking the glowing Spirit Stones from the breastplate of each psyker's armour and sliding them down her throat one after another as a greedy human gourmet might guzzle a dish of oysters.
The herald's grandstanding did not go unnoticed. Three squadrons of speeding grav-tanks changed direction, spearing in with their guns spitting death. The Masque danced and dodged, cackling with glee as the skimmers came in low.
Skarbrand leapt high, his axes arcing in a tremendous overhead blow. They smashed into the first grav-tank so hard it came apart in a double fireball of burning wreckage that smashed into the cliff beyond. Aspect Warriors tumbled out, stunned and broken, to land on the alien foliage below. The daemons of Slaanesh and Khorne alike fell upon them, thrashing and slicing, desperate to claim their heads. Nearby, Jetbike-riding Shining Spears charged in, opened fire and withdrew, expertly drawing the daemons away with bait-and-switch manoeuvres.
Autarch Meliniel had watched the violation of his kin's spirits upon the Obsidian Gate with utmost horror. With the thunder of Khaine's fury in his blood, he issued another series of curt orders to his Exarchs. His wise and careful plan to draw the daemons into his guns piecemeal was all but abandoned. Now his strategy became one of all-out assault.
In his haste to make the Daemonette herald pay for her heinous acts, the Autarch ordered his own squadron to close upon the Obsidian Gate. The leaders of the enemy armies had gathered there; not only the Slaaneshi daemon, but a heavily scarred Bloodthirster that glowed with ruddy light every time the storm's screaming winds billowed past it. With enough concentration of force, Meliniel reasoned, the Swordwind could deal a death blow to the enemy's cohesion and take revenge for those souls torn away from the salvation of the Infinity Circuit. The daemon hordes would be far easier to stymie without direction -- and perhaps even turn upon themselves, as his sister Lathriel had intimated they would.
The Autarch commanded his Sunstorm Squadrons to combine their fire, highlighting Skarbrand as their target whilst designating the Masque as the priority kill for his remaining Outcast snipers. Ranger fire spat from the high hills in response, each needle-thin burst of laser fire met with puffs of ichor from the dancing Daemonette's ﬂesh. Glutted with Eldar soulstuff after her dark feast, however, the Masque was proving resilient.
The Fire Prisms coming around for another attack run along the valley glowed bright, the complex laser cannons of the rear grav-tanks channelling their fire into the giant crystals of the skimmers at the fore. Beams of coherent directed energy blasted out; each was so thick it could have punched through a Craftworld's Wraithbone superstructure, yet they were delivered with pinpoint precision. Three, four, five of the macro-beams burned into Skarbrand, their energies so bright they hurt to behold even from several Terran leagues distant.
The Bloodthirster paused in his slaughter of the nearby Aspect Warriors, gritting his fang-like teeth as more and more energy poured into him. Glowing like a red sun, Skarbrand roared. His skin sizzled away as light poured out from his ﬂesh. Every nearby daemon save the Masque had been burned away by the terrible firestorm, Bloodletters and Daemonettes alike blasted into nothingness. Skarbrand staggered away, but the pitiless laser barrage followed his every step. The Greater Daemon's rage grew incandescent, stoked to the heights of apoplexy by the unwelcome thought that he might be slain so early on in the bloodshed, with a meagre skull-tally of less than a hundred to his name. Incensed, he cast his monstrous gaze around for something to kill. All he could see was the Masque, laughing cruelly at him from atop the lintel of the Obsidian Gate.
Skarbrand lashed out with all his strength, the Daemon Axes Slaughter and Carnage arcing towards the Masque. At the last moment she leapt in a backwards somersault, evading the blow. The axes smashed through the lintel of the Obsidian Gate with force enough to shatter it, runes and all, to red-hot cinders.
In an instant, the long-sealed Webway portal was ripped wide, a swirling tunnel of amber light stretching impossibly into the cliff face. Into the portal dived the Masque, her Daemonette hosts pouring through the gate behind her in a river of milk white ﬂesh.
Autarch Meliniel felt panic rise in his throat. His impassioned insistence that the daemons would not breach that ancient Webway gate now seemed the folly of a proud youth. Even as he watched, the daemon infection of Chaos bled into the Webway, no doubt already making speed for the very heart of Biel-Tan. He felt the mind's eye of his sister Lathriel play across his thoughts -- seizing the opportunity, he sent a pulse of alarm through the aether towards her. Biel-Tan was in dire peril. Its protectors must be readied, for within a matter of Terran hours, the Craftworld would be invaded by its worst nemeses.
Though the Masque had accomplished her goal, the battle for Ursulia raged on. The Aspect Warriors, under orders from their Autarch, concentrated their efforts on the Obsidian Gate -- the ruses they had used to draw the daemons away from that critical location were now abandoned, and now all they could do was limit the number of daemons that broke through into the Webway beyond. Again and again they launched their assaults upon Skarbrand, but the monstrous Bloodthirster only grew more invigorated as the fires of his anger were stoked ever higher. He ripped through battle lines of Dire Avengers, burned through shimmering webs of monoflament coil, and smashed grav-tanks left and right whenever they passed within reach of his cruel axes.
Before long, though, it was not the Eldar that Skarbrand sought to slay, but the daemons of Slaanesh. He now realised that he had been tricked into acting as the Masque's pawn, and that she had no intention of comparing kill-tallies at the end of the day's slaughter. He plunged through the Obsidian Gate into the Webway beyond, intent on revenge.
The sheer unbridled mayhem that Skarbrand left in his wake drew hundreds, then thousands of daemons towards the circle of standing stones. A horde of Bloodletters and Bloodcrushers charged up towards the Webway portal from the ground below, a trio of Greater Daemons storming in their midst. The steep slope gave no pause to creatures that had no notion of tiredness or exhaustion, and even though opportunistic attacks from Windriders, Aspect Warriors and grav-tanks hurled Daemons back down the cliff by the dozen, the Eldar were soon outnumbered five to one.
With a heavy heart, Autarch Meliniel realised the battle could not be won without blunting the Swordwind for Terran decades to come. The Obsidian Gate was still in the hands of their enemies, and more and more Slaaneshi daemons were using the cover of the fresh Khornate assault as a chance to slip into the Webway unhindered.
Such a tremendous inﬂux of daemons could not be allowed to pass through the Obsidian Gate, or the Masque's incursion would turn from a few hundred daemons to a mass invasion. There was only one course of action left. With a curt order, the Autarch commanded his Sunstorm Squadrons to concentrate their fire upon the Obsidian Gate itself; with its protective runes shattered by Skarbrand's mighty blow, it was vulnerable to conventional attack. One after another the macro-beams shot out. Daemons died by the score as the backwash of tremendous energies rushed outwards, the psychoreactive runes that had previously sealed the portal aglow once more as the stone burned from within. Then, with a titanic boom, the Obsidian Gate exploded.
The Eldar were already withdrawing, running hard to their grav-tanks and escaping away into the skies. Meliniel had ordered an immediate retreat -- though the Swordwind valued the Exodite Maiden Worlds highly, the Craftworld itself was in dire peril. Biel-Tan was running out of time.
The Coming of Elder Souls
Upon Craftworld Biel-Tan, the air thrummed with aggression. Every soul upon the continent-sized starship had a rising need to kill. The Craftworld's Avatar of Khaine was stirring, and the Biel-Tani felt his awakening within their veins. Meliniel's message, delivered via the psychic link he shared with his Farseer sister Lathriel, had put into motion a chain of events that had galvanised the entire Craftworld. Somewhere in the Webway that led from the Craftworld was a host of Slaaneshi daemons. Biel-Tan could be mere moments from invasion, not only from the Great Enemy, but also the Blood God Khorne's minions, a baying host of killers hungry for war.
Though there was only one swift pathway to Ursulia, dozens of small offshoots led from the mazes of the Webway to portals upon Biel-Tan. Should any one of these gates be destroyed or corrupted, it could buckle the fabric of the world-ship itself, damning the entire structure to a slow metaphysical death. Though it seemed drastic beyond measure, and though many expressed concerns, Lathriel and the Biel-Tani Seer Council reacted to Meliniel's warning by runically sealing every Webway gate upon the Craftworld, save the giant portal that glowed in the darkness of space at the Craftworld's stern. That vast arterial gateway, the vector through which Biel-Tan launched its mightiest invasions, was left under heavy guard; a full third of the Craftworld's armada stood ready to destroy the gate, along with any daemonic force that used it as a route of ingress. Better to cauterise a gangrenous limb, said the Seers, than risk losing the body entire.
When the Masque's attack came, it was far more insidious than a straightforward invasion. A band of Rangers in a sleek outrigger ship, sent through the Webway by Autarch Meliniel with orders to monitor the daemonic incursion's progress at a distance, ﬂickered into being through the stern portal and drifted down to the Craftworld's docks. It made port through the irising roof of the gateway dome below. Unbeknownst to the Eldar, the Masque herself clung to the underside -- daemons need no air to breathe, nor do they feel the cold of the interstellar void, and with the Empyrean raging strong with Abaddon the Despoiler's 13th Black Crusade nigh, she could exist in realspace for some time before being called back into the Warp. Once past the port's armed cordon, the herald dropped from the underside of the message-ship and drifted gracefully down like a pearl diver in search of undersea treasure. Before long, the Masque had found her way inside the Craftworld. Any who set eyes upon her found their darkest obsessions consuming them. Like some baleful hypnotist she bound one warrior after another into her wake. As her dance went on, the troubled expressions of those in her thrall began to twitch, then to turn to rictuses of horrid glee. The Masque caressed them with her claws, crooning an infernal ritualistic summons. One by one the captured Eldar were possessed by the Daemonettes that answered the Masque's call through the Immaterium, ﬂesh transmuting, painfully, ecstatically, to become that of the daemon queen's own handmaidens.
On the eighth shattering impact, the Ursulian Runegate of Biel-Tan gave way in a roaring backdraught of psychic flame. The explosion was so loud it shook Farseer Lathriel to her core. With a tremendous crash, a heavily scarred Bloodthirster leapt from the billowing blue fires and stamped down onto the craftworld’s mosaic ﬂoor. Psychoplastic shattered for half a mile in every direction. Skarbrand the Exiled One had broken through, a hundred red-skinned daemons at his heels.
Farseer Lathriel felt her blood grow hot, but forced her anger to subside under her practiced calm. ++Now++, she sent telepathically, and at her psychic signal six shrines of Aspect Warriors darted from concealed positions amongst a forest of tall pillars. The leading edge of the daemon host discorporated explosively as lasers, shuriken volleys and Melta beams blasted into it. The raging daemonic giant was struck a dozen times, but the impacts only seemed to make it grow larger. It waded into the Striking Scorpions that spat death from their Mandiblasters, its axes hewing them as if they were kindling.
Chiming impacts rang out from behind Lathriel like the clanging of a bell. Lathriel turned to see Biel-Tan's Avatar running towards the daemonic monstrosity, cinders trailing in its wake. It hurled its spear-like Suin Daellae -- the Wailing Doom -- with killing force. Simultaneously, Lathriel psychokinetically sent a bolt of mind-killing force at the daemon. Her attack did little more than distract the beast; the Bloodthirster turned and roared, the psychic force of its anger and contempt knocking the Farseer from her feet.
At that same moment, it was hit full in the chest by the Wailing Doom. Daemon ﬂesh sizzled as the Eldar relic weapon's tip sank deep. Any creature of ﬂesh and blood, no matter how monstrous, would have been slain in an instant, but the Bloodthirster kept fighting, axes hacking down the Howling Banshees and Striking Scorpions fighting the daemon horde. The Avatar of Khaine ran in close, palming aside an axe blow to deliver a thunderous uppercut from its blood-drizzling gauntlet. The living statue then moved in close, ducked a wild axe swing and, grasping the embedded spear, hefted the Bloodthirster bodily from the Craftworld's ﬂoor. The Greater Daemon's own weight drove it down the Suin Daellae’s haft, impaling it through. Still the Bloodthirster fought on, hacking at the Avatar's metallic body with its ﬂaming axes. Each blow caused a grievous wound, but it did not fall. Flames of pure rage roared around the duelling giants. The conﬂagration grew so fierce it consumed them completely. The Lesser Daemons rallying for a last stand around their leader were burned away to nothing, and those Aspect Warriors that did not scramble clear were turned to ashen corpses.
Lathriel ran, faster than she had ever run before, into the fight. Fighting against the heat, she hurled three psychic runes of warding at the shattered gate to the daemon-haunted Webway beyond. The protective psychic symbols were pulled into place as if by hidden magnets, sealing the tunnel from further invasion. Before beginning the arduous and soul-draining work of sealing the gate in earnest, Lathriel glanced back, hoping against hope to see the Avatar standing triumphant. She saw only ﬂames, and a pool of molten metal.
Elsewhere, slowly, but unstoppably, the Masque's enrapturing dance took her to the very heart of the Craftworld. None were able to resist her lure, for all Eldar have within them a seed of the obsessive spirit that led to Slaanesh's birth so long ago. Unhindered, she reached the iron chamber where the Avatar slumbered when the Craftworld was not at war -- the throne at its heart was empty, for the titanic living statue was elsewhere, already locked in battle with Skarbrand. The Masque chuckled to herself, skipped over to the great iron throne, and sat, legs folded like those of a prim maiden, to summon more of her kind.
A shrine of Howling Banshees came upon the parasitic impostor at the heart of the Craftworld. Led by the Farseer H'daei after her rune-casting revealed the gruesome truth, the Aspect Warriors charged screaming into the open throne room, blades raised. The first few Howling Banshees to charge the Masque and her daemon cohort made the mistake of meeting her gaze -- and fell to her hypnotic swaying dance immediately, stumbling to their knees in supplication. H'daei found her protective Ghosthelm burning so hot with clashing psychic energies she was forced to take it off -- one glance from the Masque, and she too fell under the daemon's spell.
The Avatar's chamber was suddenly split by a deafening shriek. It was not the mocking cry of a daemon, but a clear and piercing scream that grew to mind-numbing volume. A towering warrior charged into the fray, long-hafted blade whipping left and right to decapitate a Daemonette with every stride. The Masque, finding her spell ineffectual on the newcomer, jumped high with claws outstretched. Up came the polearm of the newcomer, fast as thought, impaling the daemon against the iron ceiling of the throne room.
Her intervention was too late. By digging her rune-inscribed claws into the Wraithbone roots of the Avatar's throne room, the Masque had already psychically breached the sanctity of Biel-Tan's Infinity Circuit, infecting it from within. Her Daemonette handmaidens had followed suit, leaving their physical forms behind to pass their psychic essences into the Infinity Circuit in such numbers its innate defences could not repel them. Biel-Tan had been taken to the brink of disaster.
A World-Ship Fractured
The most integral part of any Eldar Craftworld is its Infinity Circuit -- that Wraithbone core that runs like a skeleton throughout the immense structure, forming a limbo-like haven for the souls of the Craftworld's dead. This is usually protected by the teleporting, psycho-crystalline creatures known as Warp Spiders from whom the Aspect Warriors took their own name, yet the daemon infestation spread by the Masque was so severe even they could not hold it at bay. The Craftworld groaned like the living thing that it was, a terrible screaming haunting the cusp of hearing as the Daemonette host devoured the spirits of Biel-Tan's ancient dead from within.
As battles broke out between daemon invaders and Eldar defenders, rivers of hot blood ran between the spires and colonnades of the world-ship's many domes. With Meliniel's forewarning and the Phoenix Lord Jain Zar leading the counterattack, the daemons of Khorne and Slaanesh had been efficiently quarantined, then banished to the Warp with ruthless efficiency. There was no celebration, no voices raised in jubilation as each new section of the Craftworld was declared clear. The world-ship had been infested, and the most dire consequences would likely follow.
It was into this unfolding tragedy that Yvraine and her companions arrived. Led by the Solitaire from the Webway gate that Farseer Lathriel had begun to seal once more, they were held at spearpoint by an Aspect Shrine of Shining Spears before being led to the Craftworld's Seer Council. The newcomers were Eldar, that much was obvious, but they had with them those who wore the armour of Commorragh, seat of the Craftworld Eldar's ancient foes. In the wake of a daemonic invasion, the Biel-Tani were loath to welcome more potential enemies into their domain.
Only when a knot of Daemonettes sprinted from the shadows of a ruined theatre did the fates show their true hand. Lathriel's warriors scythed down the first wave of daemon invaders, but the Slaaneshi creatures were fast, and hell-bent on reaching Yvraine. Many Biel-Tani fell to slashing talons and gouging blades before the Daughter of Shades stretched out her arms, her body glowing with the power of souls from beyond. She gave a great sigh, grey mist pouring from her mouth to wind around every fiend in the great chamber. There came a horrible keening, as if a thousand ghosts gave voice to their anguish at once -- and when the mist had cleared, the daemons were gone.
The resultant parley was strained, but welcome on both sides. Lathriel dimly remembered watching Yvraine dance during her childhood; she was taken aback to recognise her after the passing of so many cycles. And yet, she was unsettling now -- not only in the strange company she kept, but in her eyes and manner of speech. There was no time to investigate further, however, for the Craftworld was upon the brink of calamity.
Under Lathriel's stewardship, Yvraine and her vanguard were hurried to the Dome of Seeing. They were to take part in an emergency council.
The debate was already raging. With the daemons defeated, the Spiritseers were doing everything in their power to siphon untainted souls from the catastrophically-damaged Infinity Circuit and install them into wraith-constructs by way of salvation. But they were few, and the daemon intruders many. Even as they worked, the Wraithbone skeleton of the Craftworld was crumbling and turning to grey ash. If this hideous metaphysical transformation continued, the Craftworld itself would slowly fall apart. Something had to be done -- something drastic.
When Yvraine spoke up unheralded, there was a great clamour amongst the great and the good of the Craftworld. Who was she to return to Biel-Tan unannounced after forsaking their ways? Why did she bring the murderous warriors of the Dark City to their door, claiming to know the truth of their mutual destiny? The Autarchs had little time for Yvraine, no matter her pedigree. When Lathriel spoke in her defence, however, all ears turned to listen. Perhaps, said the Farseer, the returned wanderer was more than she seemed. She had banished the daemons of Slaanesh with the same ease that another Eldar might exhale a weary sigh. Perhaps she was the Opener of the Seventh Way, as spoken of in prophecy by Kysaduras the Anchorite -- nemesis of She Who Thirsts, who weaves the skeins at the dawn of the Rhana Dandra. The hush that fell over the assembled masses at Lathriel's words was intense. The atmosphere held in equal parts hatred, fear, confusion and hope. Only a few of those present dared to believe that perhaps their dying Craftworld could travel that thin strand of fate that led to the true rebirth of the Eldar race.
Then came Jain Zar, her blade still dripping with daemonic ichor. Armoured boots clacking on Wraithbone, she strode to the centre of the dome, and held court in a voice both clear and true.
"This one speaks with many voices. She is our salvation. Listen well."
The Fracture of Biel-Tan
Flanked by statues of the Eldar's mythological heroes and with the Visarch standing silently beside her, Yvraine spoke long and well to the assembled masses. At first her voice seemed that of a wise mother giving stern guidance. As her speech continued and her passion came through, her tone changed to that of a youth caught up in the first ﬂush of strength and determination. When challenged by a disbelieving elder, her voice changed once more, to the acid tones of a crone who had no time to suffer fools. Her presence was strong -- not in the way that Jain Zar's stoic warrior soul lit a fire in the soul of every Eldar who saw her, but in the manner of storms to come; cold, close, and with the promise of destruction on the horizon.
There was only one way for the Eldar of Biel-Tan to survive the daemonic curse that the Masque had brought upon them. Be they living or dead, the Biel-Tani risked oblivion anew with every Terran hour that slid past. She was the emissary of a deity that had never truly been born, yet whose power eclipsed the stars. She could guide them to a new future if they would allow it. All those present had heard the name that fell from her lips, yet when she spoke it, every Eldar there felt a grave-cold claw of trepidation settle upon the heart.
Ynnead, the God of the Dead, had finally awakened.
The susurrus of voices that swelled in response to Yvraine's unexpected declaration swiftly ebbed away as Jain Zar stepped forward, her imperious gaze sweeping around the assembly. Yvraine waited until even her most strident detractors had grown silent, then continued. She spoke of the nascent god's power, and of revelations to come. The accepted wisdom was that for Ynnead to manifest fully and defeat Slaanesh forever, every Eldar in the galaxy had to die, giving the composite god-spirit strength enough to prevail in the Warp. Many nodded in agreement; that was the myth, often recounted. Yet to wait for that final fate meant for the fires of the Eldar race to gutter and die out altogether. That could not be allowed to happen. Yvraine proposed another way -- the Seventh Path, which wound between the darkness and the light.
Yvraine relayed the vision she had witnessed in the Crucibael of Commorragh, and the secret knowledge that had come with it. Ynnead's sentience would be focussed upon five enchanted bones, cast across the sovereign domain of the Eldar. These took the form of swords entrusted to the agents of the Eldar gods in aeons past. Legend had it they were carved by the Smith God Vaul, each fashioned from a finger of the Crone Goddess Morai-Heg's severed hand. Together, these blades had the power to awaken a god; if wielded in the right hands, they had dominion over life as well as death. At this, Yvraine raised Kha-vir, the Sword of Sorrows, by way of demonstration. Power shone from its elegant edge, both dark and light at the same time. There were four more such blades, said Yvraine, two of which were lost amongst the ruins of the Crone Worlds of the lost Eldar empire. Should all five be drawn and blooded together, Ynnead should have a strong enough psychic focus in realspace to awaken fully and manifest his potential as the downfall of Slaanesh.
One of these so-called Croneswords, Asu-var, the Sword of Silent Screams, lay within the heart of Craftworld Biel-Tan itself. It was that blade which Yvraine intended to claim -- and in doing so, put the ailing Craftworld out of its misery.
This time the uproar that greeted Yvraine's proclamation was so clamourous that no word could be made out against another. The Exarch Taralath Shadowheart darted forward, his biting blade revving, only to be knocked from his feet by the ﬂat of Jain Zar's polearm. Others started forward, their faces masks of aggression and despair. Yvraine kept calm, but the Visarch moved to guard her, powered sword held in wordless challenge.
The time for words was over. The emissary of Ynnead closed her eyes, channelled her inner light into the blood red gauntlet that formed her left hand, and plunged a fist deep into the infected Wraithbone core of the Craftworld.
A breathless moment passed, and there was a thunderous boom as Yvraine suddenly pulled Asu-var from the Wraithbone spine of Craftworld Biel-Tan. She drew it forth as if the iron-hard ground was no more solid than a pool of water. Dripping psychic by-product, the greatblade burned with such fell light it seared the eye to witness it. Yvraine screamed in a mixture of triumph and pain as incredible psychic energies seared through her. She did not let the blade fall, for to do so was to damn her race to a slow extinction. This was a key as much as a sword -- one of five such keys that unlocked the last true hope of the Eldar, hidden long ago by the prescient goddess Morai-Heg in case the doorway to death itself needed to be ﬂung wide at the end of days.
Underfoot, the Craftworld shook as if in the throes of an earthquake. High pillars split, cracked along their length, and toppled to crash amidst billowing clouds of dust into the forests below. A million departed souls cried out, released from their bondage in the Infinity Circuit, where the ravenous daemons of Slaanesh roamed on their gluttonous hunt. The seismic shivers of the world-ship intensified, becoming an eruption.
"Arise!" cried Yvraine. "Arise and live!"
Something terrible burst forth from the shattered Wraithbone of the world-ship. Swathed in ectoplasm, it was a towering monstrosity of twisted bone and shimmering souls, both terrible and beautiful all at once. The gathered Biel-Tani clutched at their eyes, their hearts, their ears. They staggered and fell, clinging to the rubble of their beloved home even as it turned black and broke apart before their eyes. Amongst them stood Yvraine, glowing bright as she rose up into the air with a cry of fierce joy. The apparition before her spoke a word of deafening silence, and the void itself shook in response.
The Yncarne, godly avatar of Ynnead, last hope of the Eldar, had risen.
Descent Into the Past
- "These Ynnari are a curse upon our fractured race, a mockery of our Aeldari forebears. How can we return to those days, united behind the false glamour of a lost supremacy, when the follies of that age were so profound they scarred the universe? We have forged a path that leads away from damnation, tried and true. Those that would lead us back at the behest of a fanatic, a mute and a daemon are so deluded they should be sent to embrace the macabre shadow-god they serve."
The Guardians on the Threshold
The cataclysm that Yvraine had brought unto Biel-Tan was not a sudden shattering, like that of broken crystal, but rather an eruption followed by a rippling spread, like that of a boulder dropped in a lake. By harnessing the death of the Craftworld's Infinity Circuit, the newcomers had brought into being the Yncarne, Avatar of Ynnead. In doing so, Yvraine had signalled the awakening of the Whispering God, and opened a new path for the entire Eldar race. With so many departed souls concentrated in one place in realspace, and his chosen followers gathered as one, Ynnead had many of the focal points he needed to manifest his power. Yvraine had brought to Biel-Tan the consciousness that Eldrad Ulthran had failed to summon upon Coheria -- though at a high cost. For light years in every direction from the dying Craftworld the Warp seethed, buckled and raged, a hundred psychic vortexes whirling through the stars at once.
The Yncarne's creation was a violent birth, and it had spread disaster near and far. The Wraithbone skeleton of Biel-Tan was already rotting as a result of the daemonic invasion; rocked to its foundations by Yvraine's retrieval of the hidden Cronesword, it was shaken apart. Whole sections of the Craftworld withered, split and fell away from the central mass like petals falling from a frozen ﬂower. The Craftworld, originally built from ancient Eldar starships to be an ark of salvation, shed its constituent parts to reveal a living mega-structure shuddering in seismic upheaval.
The slow but disastrous fragmentation was not confined to the physical realm. With the Infinity Circuit suddenly ﬂooded with the psychic energy of death, the daemons that had invaded it were banished utterly, repelled from its reaches by the sheer trauma of the Yncarne's manifestation. The ancestral Eldar souls who had once dwelt in that timeless limbo found themselves stranded on the brink of the abyss, with eternal darkness on one side and the seething soul-hunger of Slaanesh on the other.
The upheaval was so profound that many Eldar cast about for revenge. The potent emotions of the warlike Biel-Tani had always run hot, and initial shock soon became open hostility. To some, the cause of the Craftworld's demise was ascribed to a Commorrite invasion. To others, the spectre that had appeared in their midst was tainted by the energies of Chaos, perhaps even a daemon of Slaanesh in a cruel disguise.
Were it not for the power and morbid beauty of the dread being that hovered above her, Yvraine would likely have been slain a dozen times over. Her Commorrite vanguard found itself fighting for its life more than once, but once Yvraine had entrusted the Visarch with the Sword of Silent Screams, none stood against them for long. Pockets of violence broke out wherever confusion outweighed solidarity. The spectre of kin-strife was kept from consuming the Biel-Tani only by urgent psychic messages from their Farseers. The Seers worked harder than ever to save their home, and the spirits of their ancestors that dwelt within it. All the while, the void above resounded to distant laughter. The Craftworld was infected; now the Biel-Tani fought for survival.
At Lathriel's command, every Eldar on the Path of the Seer took Waystones from the Spectral Gardens and pressed them to stretches of naked Wraithbone, beckoning the lost spirits of the dead into the safety of the psychoactive gems. Once the transfer was complete, the Seers handed them reverently to Jetbike-mounted couriers that bore them swiftly to Biel-Tan's ghost halls. There, the Spiritseers incorporated them into Ghost Warrior constructs in order to save them, for the Wraithbone shells of the unliving warriors were separate from the infected material of the Infinity Circuit. The Eldar of that proud world-ship viewed the creation of such wraith warriors as a kind of necromancy, but they had little choice if they wanted to preserve the legacy of their ancestors. The mass installation of stranded spirits into bipedal shells was an act of soulcraft on a grand scale. Even as the Craftworld broke apart, the ghost halls were emptied until thousands of wraith constructs stood upon Biel-Tan's cracking landscapes.
A strange phenomenon occurred wherever Yvraine and her allies passed through the wreckage and ruin. Following the lead of their mistress, Bloodbrides and Incubi darted, leapt and vaulted to those sections of the Infinity Circuit that could not be reached by the Seers. They pressed empty Waystones to those areas where the will o'the wisp revealed ancient souls clustered within broken Wraithbone. Even though they had not the psychic mastery of the Spiritseer, the lambent lights of departed spirits seemed to ﬂow out of the Infinity Circuit and pass straight into those Waystones. Some of the Biel-Tani that witnessed this act saw it as soul-theft, and drew their weapons to lay low the Dark Eldar warriors they saw as parasites in their midst. In every instance, a Harlequin interposed his blade, shaking his head solemnly by way of warning. These were the Ynnari, they said, the Reborn faithful of Ynnead -- Eldar so in tune with death that long-dead ancestors would join them willingly.
Through it all, the Bonesingers of Biel-Tan practiced their uncanny art. Some resculpted the Wraithbone of the shrine-craft and dome-ships that had split away from the Craftworld. Others raised healing chansons and plainsongs that saw the ash-black skeleton of Biel-Tan slowly reform, a cadaverous shadow of its former incarnation, but a mighty world-ship nonetheless. It would take Terran decades, if not centuries, for the world-ship to be rebuilt. The Craftworld's solar sails were eaten away, and at its rear, the Webway gate ﬂickered and pulsed as if in pain. Warp Storms raged in a vast corona around the Craftworld as the psychic shock wave of the Yncarne's birth bled out into the wider universe.
Yvraine felt uncertainty settle upon her for the frst time in solar months, her absolute faith wavering. With the fabric of the material realm torn to shreds around the Ynnari, there would be no escape from the ailing Craftworld, be it through realspace or the Labyrinthine Dimension.
It was no agent of Biel-Tan that saved them from the doldrums of stasis, nor even that of Ynnead -- but those of Ulthwé, Craftworld of the Damned.
The ripples of Ynnead's awakening spread through the cosmos. For those with the gift of the psychic witch sight, it was a discolouration of the sky that was impossible to ignore. Even the humblest soothsayers saw deathly omens. Across the galaxy, scattered bones fell in the shape of Ynnead's crosspiece-and-crucible rune, eyes glowed with white fire in prophetic dreams, and jagged crone's claws shimmered in bloody scrying bowls.
For the expert psykers of the Eldar race, the effect was far starker. Many were seized with waking nightmares, crying out in fear and clutching their hearts as visions of a deathly revenant burned in their mind's eye. The Infinity Circuit of every Craftworld besides Biel-Tan glowed white hot with ﬂaring anticipation, each world-ship lit brightly and given a burst of acceleration by this spiritual renaissance. The Eldar people looked to their Seers for explanation. Those who had mastered the psychic wave of fear and hope led their people in meditation on the nature of this twist in the skein of fate.
Everywhere the Seers cast their minds, the tapestries of fate were unravelling and taking new shape. Every strand of causality led ultimately to the darkness of the Rhana Dandra, just as they had since the birth of the Great Enemy. But that darkness, it seemed, was far more distant than before.
The members of the Seer Council of Craftworld Ulthwé were the most skilled of all their kind. They saw clearly the revelation that Yvraine had engineered upon Biel-Tan. The most senior of their number, Eldrad Ulthran, demanded that Yvraine and her Reborn kin be brought to Ulthwé as swiftly as possible. In public, the rest of the Seer Council agreed his reasoning was sound. In private, when the High Farseer was deep in his meditations, they made subtle inferences that Eldrad had overstepped his bounds, and their agendas were no longer the same.
The elders of Ulthwé conducted a great runic ritual at Eldrad's behest, using the spiritual link between the crystal Seers that populated the great dome and those of Biel-Tan's recently devastated equivalent. The ritual was a gamble, despite the fact the hyperspatial link through the Warp was strong between the two Craftworlds. Though the Warp Storms that raged near Ulthwé and Biel-Tan could theoretically be psychically channelled into a tunnel leading through the Warp from one Craftworld to the other, the process might well consume the souls of the travellers that walked it -- and those that had conducted the ritual too.
To use the crystal Seers as conduits for psychic energy instead of revering them as honoured ancestors was a gross breach of Craftworld culture. It was considered even worse than taking a spirit into a Waystone and transferring it to a wraith construct. The Farseers that had undergone their kind's peculiar transformation into psychocrystal, before later joining with their Craftworld's Infinity Circuit, had earned their long rest a dozen times over.
To break the departed Seers from that connection, and to use them as mere tools for sorcery, was a heinous crime indeed -- but one Eldrad Ulthran had already committed, through his Harlequin proxies, on every Craftworld across the galaxy. Such was the urgency of the hour that the Farseer showed no compunction in doing so again.
The Seers gambled much, if the ritual went awry -- in theory, a single lapse of concentration could see the portal open a tunnel into the Empyrean itself, allowing a daemonic incursion to spill into Ulthwé just as it had into Biel-Tan. If the Seers of Ulthwé had not been confdent in their psychic supremacy, and had the mental might to back that confidence up, they may well have capsized the entire world-ship into the Warp. As it was, their skills proved equal to the task.
The Seer Council had gathered in Ulthwé's fabled dome, answering Eldrad's summons. Their rune-emblazoned robes waved gently in the same warm zephyrs that caressed the branches of Wraithbone trees in the distance. One of the undisputed wonders of the Craftworlds, the Dome of Crystal Seers was dotted with staircases of spiralling wraithbone that stretched up to nowhere. All bar the highest steps harboured the fossilised remnants of an ancient seer. Atop these staircases stood the luminaries of the Craftworld, their voices joined in the Song of Ulthanash.
Abruptly, the song ended. "Here we stand," spoke Eldrad from his position atop the tallest staircase, "ready to usher in a new age for Ulthwé and the Aeldari race."
"Aeldari?" said Yemshon Il’foire. "That name has no place this side of the Fall."
"Until now," said Eldrad. "Our guests-to-be resurrect it with good reason." Several of the Seers raised eyebrows by a fraction of an inch, but did not speak out. "We summon the bridge of stars," continued Eldrad, his fabled staff describing the Rune of the Infinite Stride. "This night we have need of it, no matter the cost."
"As you say," said Aralie Coppermane, a strange edge to her voice, "we have no choice."
The Farseers and Warlocks assembled atop the dome's stairways chanted once more, casting runes of star-striding and storm-walking into the air. The psychic runes rose, glowing, to describe a wide circle in the casters' midst. Glittering motes of light span around the symbols, faster and faster, as the dome's gentle breeze became a gale, then a hurricane. The periphery of the Warp Storm raging outside the Craftworld curdled into the funnel of a tornado in space-time, the tip both remaining still and stretching untold light years into the aether.
By the time the ritual was complete, three of Ulthwé's finest Farseers had turned to psychoreactive crystal from head to toe. In their midst, a portal shone -- within it, destiny made ﬂesh.
With Eldrad Ulthran leading the runic rite, an unstable Warp portal opened up under Ulthwé's Dome of Crystal Seers. Uncounted light years away, Yvraine walked as if in a daze to the shattered equivalent upon Biel-Tan. What she found in that dome was all but invisible to the naked eye, but the Yncarne was drawn towards it as driftwood is drawn to a whirlpool. The Reborn -- the Ynnari -- for that was the name Yvraine's followers had adopted for themselves, passed through the Warp portal and vanished from Biel-Tan altogether.
The howling, screaming vortex through which the Reborn passed was the embodiment of utter Chaos. So fierce and baleful was this passageway it would have robbed the sanity of a lesser being in a matter of moments. Yet the Reborn found themselves ﬂoating through a tunnel cut in the Warp unhindered, as if borne by an underwater current. At their fore was the Yncarne, a revenant creature so inimical to Chaos that the psychic stuff of the Empyrean could not slow it. Even the Gods of Chaos did not look upon the creature directly; the incarnation of Ynnead's essence was so anathema to them they could not truly perceive it, even had they known where to look.
The ripples of the Avatar's passage ﬂowed outward nonetheless. Causing a great ruction in the Warp, the bow wave of its translocation cast Imperial voidships aside hundreds of light years away, ripping open Gellar Fields and distorting the light of the Astronomican. Thousands of human lives were lost with every solar second of the Reborn's passage. It was a price the Eldar would gladly pay a million times over if it gave them even the slightest chance of turning the tables upon their nemesis, Slaanesh.
With Yvraine came her Commorrite allies, but also a detachment of warriors from Biel-Tan. Even as the Craftworld fell apart around her, there had been those that had believed her claims of rejuvenation and salvation. Across every stratum of Craftworld Eldar society there were those who had thrown in their lot with Ynnead's disciples, declaring themselves Reborn.
Foremost amongst those converted to Yvraine’s cause were Dire Avengers from the Silvered Blade, the Aspect Shrine in which the Visarch, in his former life, had taught Yvraine the Path of the Warrior. Near three-score of the tall-crested warriors had forsaken their traditional colours and, with a few simple minutes of concentration, altered the psychically-attuned metafabrics of their Aspect Armour until it bore the same colouration as Yvraine's regal panoply and the deep scarlet plate of the Visarch at her side.
The Dire Avengers were far from alone. Biel-Tan was once a highly populated Craftworld, and the appearance of the God of the Dead's Avatar had been a compelling sign that Yvraine spoke the truth about a new order coming into existence for the Eldar. With the Dire Avengers came warriors from every Aspect, Guardian citizens in the garb of the Craftworld's militia, whole squadrons of grav-tank pilots and rank upon rank of silent Ghost Warriors. These wraithlike converts had been given a chance to truly live again, for their transfer from Biel-Tan's shattered Infinity Circuit had been more complete than any Spiritseer or Waystone could ever achieve.
Yvraine did not disappoint her new followers. All those who had joined the Ynnari cause had heard her speak about the hope she brought to their race, and many inﬂuential Biel-Tani were soon devoted to it, body and soul. For too long the Eldar -- be they Craftworlder, Exodite, Harlequin, Outcast or Commorrite -- had skulked in the darkness, afraid to burn too brightly lest they catch the attention of She Who Thirsts. To have a force amongst them that could take the fight back to Slaanesh, even one as disturbing as the Yncarne, was freeing, a call to action that no Aeldari had felt for ten thousand Terran years.
Trail of the Seers
The tunnel through reality known as the Bridge of Stars yawned, spasmed and pulsed. Through that secret aperture came the Ynnari, the favoured of Ynnead. The combination of the Seer Council's runic powers and the powerful psyche of the Yncarne had brought the Reborn safely to the crystal havens of Ulthwé, one step closer to securing the two lost Croneswords that Yvraine sought from the husk of the lost Eldar empire. Though the manner of their coming had cost the lives of several Farseers and driven some of the Ynnari half-mad with fear, the stillness that descended upon Ulthwé's Dome of Crystal Seers after their safe passage was a balm to the soul.
First to emerge was the Yncarne, hissing and whispering in the voices of the dead. The Ulthwéan Council felt the cold mantle of terror upon them at the sight. The creature came forward like a ghost, slow and ethereal, the energies of the otherworld swirling around it. It was slender and androgynous, yet far larger and more fearsome than any Eldar warrior save perhaps the Avatar of the Bloody-Handed God. Where the living statue of Khaela Mensha Khaine was a creature of fire, iron and blood, the Yncarne manifested a shuddering chill that was both invigorating and shocking, like a deluge of ice water.
In the revenant's wake came Yvraine and the Visarch, leading the Reborn to gather beneath crystal stairways. The crested helms of the Ulthwé Seers turned to look down at the newcomers with the unwavering gaze of raptors. There was an electrifying tension, a sense of history in the making. To the relief of all those nearby, the Yncarne drifted from the dome's heart and circulated around the periphery, staring at each of the crystal Seers in turn as if hunting for something.
It was Yvraine who spoke first, formally thanking the Seers of Craftworld Ulthwé for their aid. To cross the galaxy in a matter of solar hours was a feat worthy of the Aeldari at the apex of their power. It was a status they could achieve once more, now that Ynnead had shown them the Seventh Way, the path between darkness and light. First, though, they had to ensure the physical conduits of the God of the Dead were brought together. The Croneswords, when united, could act as a focal point for Ynnead's ascension, thereby restoring the broken cycle of life and death. The Visarch claimed that two of these blades were buried in the heart of the Eldar's former empire. They were somewhere upon the Crone World known as Belial IV, caught between realspace and the Warp in the Eye of Terror. With Ulthwé having kept vigil over that vast tempest for so long, they were the logical choice of allies.
Eldrad Ulthran nodded quietly in satisfaction as the Openers of the Seventh Way made their case.
"You ask the impossible," sneered Yemshon Il'foire of the Seer Council, shaking his head before putting on his Ghosthelm. "Pray be still, Daughter of Shades, and keep your people in silence. Your presence is desired, of course, but we have matters of the past to attend to before we consider the future."
"There is no matter of more import than this," said Eldrad Ulthran, his tone grave. "I have foreseen it."
"You have foreseen much," answered one of his peers, Aralie Coppermane, donning her own helm with ceremonial formality. "And yet ultimately, it seems you are blind."
"I see further than all others, and act accordingly," said Eldrad indignantly, "which is why our kindred now stand here, on the threshold of a lasting victory over She Who Thirsts."
"An impressive claim," said Yemshon, inclining his helmed head. "But a victory at what cost? The destruction of Craftworld Biel-Tan? The loss of thousands of Eldar ancestors? The dissolution of harmony itself?"
"There will always be those whose vision is clouded by fear," said Eldrad. "Now we proceed. Muster the Black Guardians."
"No," said Aralie. The word resounded through the Dome of Crystal Seers like a dropped tombstone.
"Eldrad Ulthran," said Hijeroc the Blind from the crystal stairs opposite, "We, the Seer Council of Ulthanesh Shelwé, accuse you of misappropriation of our mutual destiny. In conjunction with the Midnight Sorrow, who exist outside our cultural jurisdiction, you engaged in the theft of the crystal seers." At this, Hijeroc motioned towards a stairway step where the lack of a fossilised Farseer was like a missing tile in a sacred mosaic. "After taking the remains of these long-serving heroes, you formed a hyperspatial link with the crystal sands of Coheria, thereby endangering every departed Eldar soul in every Craftworld."
"The death blow to Slaanesh was levelled, and near dealt," protested Eldrad. "Were it not for the intervention of the crass warriors of Humanity..."
"And yet they did intervene, and your ritual fell apart like Khaine's castle of bone," said Yemshon, "risking billions of souls, and all but handing She Who Thirsts the chance to consume every Craftworlder who has died since the Fall."
"In seeking to keep the Rhana Dandra at bay," said Hijeroc the Blind, "you may well have hastened its onset."
"Your behaviour is intolerable," said Aralie. "It is not for you to decide the fate of our race by yourself, nor to dabble in the affairs of gods. You are no god, Eldrad Ulthran. You are barely even an Eldar, for you should have joined the ranks of your crystal brethren long ago. Your time is long past. It is the will of the Seer Council that you be exiled to the void."
At this, Eldrad stumbled as if he had been struck.
"Act once more on the behalf of the Eldar race," said Yemshon, "and you will be put to death."
The judgement of the Seer Council saw Eldrad slump to the ﬂoor, his grandeur evaporated in the heat of their ire. Every one of his ten thousand Terran years and more weighed heavy upon him, and his bones -- already half-crystal -- felt like jagged knives within his sparse frame. To have his inﬂuence over the fate of his race eradicated was worse than death to the ancient Farseer, for he had striven for nothing else since the Fall.
Yvraine spoke eloquently in Eldrad's defence, only to find herself verbally attacked in turn. Who was she to demand the Seer Council lend her aid, and to request they follow her lead into the stronghold of the Great Enemy? By her direct action, Ulthwé's martial ally, the ancient and proud Craftworld Biel-Tan, had been reduced to a skeletal shadow upon the brink of extinction. What was to prevent the same fate from happening to Ulthwé? Was it not enough that they stood sentinel over the Eye of Terror, thwarting the Chaos-tainted armies that emerged from within it and sending their citizen soldiers against the worst terrors in the universe?
Many of Yvraine's Biel-Tani followers reacted strongly to the hostility of Ulthwé's seers. They held forth with great passion, saying that though their Craftworld had indeed suffered after the apotheosis of Yncarne -- and though they could never truly forgive her -- they truly believed the damage could be healed. More importantly, there was a greater battle being fought, worth more than life itself.
With a way to escape Slaanesh's curse, there was a slim chance that Biel-Tan might succeed in its quest to restore the former glory of the Eldar. It was a crusade once seen as futile by many of the Biel-Tani present, but admitted to by none amongst them, for to do so was unthinkable stigma within their militant culture. Now there was a real hope of success. Their argument was persuasive, but many elder Seers remained unconvinced. When asked by the Ulthwé Farseers if they spoke on behalf of their Craftworld, or as a rogue splinter faction, the Biel-Tani Reborn had no answer. That in itself was telling enough.
On and on the debate raged, the usual allusions to well-trodden Eldar myths and social mores giving way to veiled insults and outright displays of anger. The Ulthwé Seer Council believed that Eldrad, Yvraine and their fellow revolutionaries represented the worst of all disruptive inﬂuences. Though they had reknitted the skein of possible futures, they had done so at so great a cost, and in so reckless a manner, they could not be trusted.
It was during this scathing assessment that Yemshon Il'foire suddenly paused mid-rhetoric, the heat of his anger still radiating as he glanced sharply at his fellow elders. A psychic impulse passed through the ranks of the Seer Council in that moment, the urgency of the missive bringing the debate to a pause. Word had arrived of yet more visitors to Ulthwé; via the great Webway gate at the world-ship's rear, a delegation from another Craftworld had arrived. A diplomatic corps was already inbound, making for the Dome of Crystal Seers with all haste.
When the tall-helmed warriors made their way into the dome and approached the impromptu war council that raged there, a smile came once more to Eldrad Ulthran’s features. These mysterious warriors were clad in the colours of the fabled Craftworld Altansar.
Within Craftworld society, the Eldar of Altansar have long dwelt in the twilight of mistrust. Much speculation surrounds them. They speak only in whispers, and never remove their helmets, no matter the situation.
During the calamitous times of the Fall, Altansar was on the periphery of the Eye of Terror, the cosmic wound resulting from Slaanesh's birth. At first, the populace believed themselves safe, but the gravitic pull of that immense Warp Storm gradually drew the Craftworld and its attendant voidships into its reaches over the course of five hundred Terran years.
The only Eldar to escape Altansar's doom was the Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra, first of the Dark Reapers. Towards the end of the 41st Millennium of the Imperial Calendar, that legendary warrior sought his Craftworld in the depths of the Eye. After a gruelling series of trials he managed to locate Altansar and guide it through the insanity of that aetheric tempest. It re-emerged through the Cadian Gate, bringing the Altansari into the material dimension once more after their impossibly long incarceration.
Since that day, the Altansar Eldar have used the symbol of the Broken Chain to represent their Craftworld. Set free from their eternal bondage, they have fought tirelessly against the forces of She Who Thirsts. Yet despite their proven loyalty to the Eldar cause, the matter of how the Altansari survived their millennial imprisonment in the dark heart of Chaos has proved persistent.
The Altansari are unwelcome on many Craftworlds, even forbidden, amid fears they are not as closely aligned to Craftworld culture as they claim and secretly serve Slaanesh, despite the evidence to the contrary. The question is asked time and again -- have they not been tainted by their ordeal, changed by the Ruinous Powers that roam the Eye at will?
Usually such questions are put aside, but with the appearance of an Altansar delegation at this critical time upon Ulthwé, they arose in greater measure than ever before. A furor broke out almost immediately. To add fuel to the fires of controversy, the Altansari were moving to side with Yvraine.
It was the Warlock Guentilian Onyxblade who stepped forward to represent Altansar. Her low whisper was unheard at first amongst the raised voices of the Ulthwé Seers, but when she reached up and unclasped her helm with a dual puff of escaping air, the dome's interior fell silent once more. Only the Yncarne could be heard, its unnerving hiss turning from the sibilance of a questing serpent to something like a sigh of relief.
Tall even for an Eldar, Guentilian was a striking sight. Her skin was so pale and waxen it was as if she had died long ago. Many of those gathered could not shake the notion they were looking upon a well-preserved corpse. The Warlock held her long black Witchblade as if it were a rod of office, proof that though she was one of a forgotten kindred, she still walked the Path. At her side was one of the rare feline creatures known as gyrinxes, those psychic Familiars that bolstered the mental and spiritual power of those they took as masters.
The dome's atmosphere grew thick as the Warlock climbed atop a nearby spiral of crystal stairs to speak.
"Autarch Orensae extended you welcome after all, then," said Yemshon, nodding in greeting. "The gates of Asuryan's halls open, and cleanse those who enter."
"There are those who call Ulthwé damned," interjected Zuar'lias the Wise, addressing his fellow council member, "purely for our proximity to the Eye. We would be the worst kinds of hypocrites if we were to refuse those of Altansar for the same reasons."
"And we thank you for it," said Guentilian. Disturbingly, her soft whisper was echoed by every one of her kindred.
"You came to speak in defence of Eldrad Ulthran and the Ynnari," said Yemshon. "Have you a vested interest in this matter?"
"We must return to the Eye," said the Altansar Warlock, her gyrinx prowling around her legs. "The blade that the Daughter of Shades speaks of must be reclaimed from our enemies, if our race is to transcend. I know in which city it lies. We failed once, and only escaped She Who Thirsts thanks to the shroud Ynnead cast over us. We cannot fail again." At her words, many of the Altansari shifted uncomfortably, looking through the translucent dome walls to the Eye of Terror's purple bruise amongst the stars.
"I cannot ask my people to return to the Eye," said Guentilian, "but neither can I stand idle. So I give my soul to Yvraine, and to Ynnead himself." Raising her sword, she slashed her own throat wide open. Black blood spurted outward as she gasped her last.
Yvraine darted forward, grabbing Guentilian's body. The Ynnari priestess seemed to inhale deeply even as the Warlock's body slumped, lifeless and pale. A moment later the gyrinx, purring in recognition, rubbed itself against Yvraine's legs.
"And so we must act," said Yvraine, staring unfocussed into the middle distance. "We must leave now to retrieve the Croneswords of Belial IV, lest the handmaidens of Slaanesh reach it first."
"Surely the risk of snuffing out this ﬂicker of hope is too great," replied Yemshon. He twitched a finger, and a trio of Ulthwé Warlocks drew their own Witchblades. "We cannot allow you to take the fate of so many into your hands. The wise do not pin their hopes upon a life unborn. Would this journey not be better made by the warriors of Craftworld Il-Kaithe? They profess to know the Crone Worlds better than any other."
"None know the Eye as well as the Altansari," said Yvraine. "They have navigated its tides for thousands of cycles, avoiding the claws of the daemon with each new day. Guentilian's sacrifice will not be in vain." There were whispers of assent from the Altansari behind her, building to a hissing chorus.
"No," said Yemshon. He raised his arms, and ethereal winds raced around the dome, knocking several of the Altansari Eldar from their feet. "You and your followers will stay until the Seer Councils decide your fate." The psychic hurricane blew harder still, and the Craftworld erupted into utter bedlam.
Courtly negotiations turned to veiled threats, then to open hostility as the Ulthwé psykers threw up barriers of psychic force and sent strength-sapping curses into the ranks of the Ynnari. The Visarch fought through the psychic tempest, his blade raised as he made for Yemshon. The Yncarne loomed from the shadows, a storm of glittering spirits whirling around it as it bore down on the chanting Seers.
Then a clarion shout rang out. The Harlequins of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow stepped out one by one from behind the darkest of the crystal statues, each striking a pose as if parrying a blow. With them was an elderly Farseer clad in a simple black robe. The Seer Council looked on in wonder; the newcomer was Kysaduras the Anchorite, wisest of all Ulthwé's visionaries. He had emerged from his self-imposed imprisonment to speak to his people.
The psychic hurricane that raged around the dome ebbed away, becalmed in an instant as Kysaduras raised his staff above his head. He spoke in a croaking baritone, a voice that had clearly not been used for solar decades, but yet carried immense weight. They stood at the crux point of fate, he said. Whether the Seers wished it so or not, the Ynnari had to leave -- or else another Craftworld would die, never to be reborn.
As one, the Seer Council turned away. The Ynnari -- their ranks now bolstered not only by the Biel-Tani, but also by a few bold Altansari, the Harlequins of the Midnight Sorrow, and a swathe of Ulthwé sympathisers -- made for the dome's primary gates. With them went the Yncarne, the ground crackling with hoarfrost at its passage. Eldrad Ulthran followed the creature, bent under the weight of his peers' censure. Kysaduras, using his staff as a support, went with him.
Before the Craftworld's diurnal cycle ended, the Ynnari had left for the Eye of Terror. They embarked upon a journey of supreme peril, for their journey was to Slaanesh's own birthplace. Not one of them looked back.
Empire of Ash
The journey into the depths of the Eye of Terror was fraught. The purplish swirl of that vast Warp Storm had the presence of a living, predatory thing. The weight and saturation of its evil pulled at the soul as a black hole devours light. Without the thought of Ynnead's ascension to inspire an icy determination in the Ulthwé pilots carrying the Ynnari into the Eye, those at the helm would likely have turned back a dozen times over. On they went, each soul resolved to live as boldly and fully as the ancient Aeldari rather than to look away or hide in the manner of their present-day kin.
The graceful starships moved under the cover of gigantic Holo-Fields, bypassing the embattled Imperial war zones of the Cadian Gate and venturing into the unstable overlap between realspace and the Warp. The Eldar expedition evaded fang-toothed space-time tornadoes, ﬂed from hungry ghost suns, rode out hailstorms of bloody skulls and negotiated crashing tsunamis of raw Warp energy. They did not falter. Whenever the resolve of the Ynnari began to waver in the face of these trials, Yvraine was there to inspire them and lead them on. It was this bravery that came to typify the Ynnari over the Terran months to come, securing their reputation as a force for change from one side of the galaxy to the other.
Already the shock waves the Ynnari had sent throughout the Eldar civilisations were causing ripples of causality in their turn. The transformation of Yvraine in the Crucibael had triggered the invasion and Dysjunction of Commorragh, and Asdrubael Vect himself had abandoned the Dark City as a result. Though the damage to his reign had been cataclysmic, the Supreme Overlord had already set in motion hundreds of plots and schemes that would reaffirm his stranglehold upon Dark Eldar society. It was the metaphysical danger of the Ynnari's rise that concerned Vect most of all.
Almost as soon as Yvraine had escaped the Dark City, wheels had been put in motion that had seen a host of Vect's Haemonculi allies depart for the most dangerous reaches of the Webway -- and from there to the same daemon-haunted planet sought by the Reborn. In many ways it was a dark homecoming. Amongst the Haemonculi Covens' founders were the self-same Eldar whose wanton indulgence had led to the Fall.
After a series of maddening and surreal trials, the Ynnari expedition reached its destination with most of their number still alive. There were those that maintained it was the spirit of the Altansari Warlock Guentilian guiding the Ynnari through the Eye of Terror's hellish reaches that allowed them to reach their destination all but intact. Others said it was the presence of the Yncarne. It may even have been Ynnead himself that held back the infernal tides; certainly that was what Yvraine had claimed since they had passed the Cadian Gate.
Though many of the Reborn were slain during daemonic attacks or driven irrevocably insane en route, the core of the Ynnari's expedition was still intact when the convoy of Eldar starships came into orbit around the giant, milk-white orb of Belial IV.
When an Ulthwé warhost's grav-tanks bore the Ynnari low into the Crone World's atmosphere, and from there to the surface of the planet, there was not a soul to be seen. Dunes of off-white dust had accumulated everywhere, the residue of a once-mighty civilisation mingled with the remains of its people. The planet's ruin-dotted surface had the stale and unwelcoming atmosphere of a place that had not felt the footfall of a living creature for hundreds of Terran years. Just occasionally, however, the Ynnari saw ﬂickers of movement in their peripheral vision, as if something half-real was watching.
As the Ulthwéan contingent split off in a spiralling search pattern, the Harlequins of the Midnight Sorrow too fanned out, making exaggerated gestures of stealth. So swift was their progress than many Ynnari asked themselves if they had visited these ill-fated lands before. It was their Shadowseer that brought their suspicions to Yvraine first, drawing a thin and shimmering veil of darkness behind her as she came. They were not alone amongst the ruins. The creatures that pursued them were not ghosts, nor daemons, but creatures that were very much ﬂesh and blood.
No sooner had the Shadowseer confided in Yvraine than a howling menagerie of abhorrent terrors charged headlong from the ruins ahead. They were coming straight for the Ynnari, hungry and focussed on their prey despite the Harlequin psyker's illusory veils. At their fore were eyeless Ur-Ghuls, multiple nostrils twitching as they bounded on all fours towards their prey. Behind the creatures came all manner of twisted anatomies, from musclebound hulks whose spines bristled with steroid injectors to whip-limbed hunchbacks who scuttled on bare feet with the speed of hunting spiders. Floating amongst them were the Haemonculi sent on a mission of murder by the ﬂeshmaster Urien Rakarth, most feared of the Dark City's Haemonucli.
Eyes wide, the Haemonculi grinned like ﬂayed skulls as they came, many licking their lips in anticipation of the gruesome experiments they would enact upon the Ynnari. It was as if the vilest elements of the ancient Aeldari society had been resurrected amongst their shattered holdings, and given forms that better mirrored their inner personas -- not those of elegant and athletic paragons, but of ravening monsters, whose surpassing ugliness revealed the parasitic souls beneath. The Ynnari were under attack from the hidden architects of the Fall, an echo of the torrid past come to rip away the brightest hope for the future.
As a silver moon glimmered upon the parched surface of Belial IV, the echoes of Aeldari long dead ﬂitted and moaned amongst the ruins, crying out as the darkest incarnation of their ancient society fell upon their would-be saviours. Even the Bloodbrides and Incubi amongst the Ynnari ranks were under no illusions as to what their Commorrite brethren intended for them, and so dived into the fray alongside the Black Guardians of Ulthwé and the Harlequins of the Midnight Sorrow.
The razored blades of mercenary and gladiatrix cut away heavily thewed limbs, bisected leaping Ur-Ghuls and decapitated masked monstrosities wherever they came forward. Incredibly, many of the Haemonculi's minions kept fghting even after sustaining grievous wounds, limb-stumps spraying nameless ﬂuids as they thrashed and ﬂailed. Their violence was indiscriminate, but the unnatural strength behind it made it dangerous. Many an Ynnari was hurled broken across the wasteland to skid like a rag doll into the drifts of bluish-white dust.
In the centre of it all, a clutch of Talos Pain Engines drifted towards Yvraine, claws and tentacles twitching. The Shuriken Catapults of the Biel-Tani Dire Avengers slashed a hundred wounds in the ﬂeshy war machines, black liquid ﬂying from their ironhard carapaces. The pulsing energies of nearby Cronos Parasite Engines spurred them on regardless.
A double rank of Wraithblades loped through the dust to intercept them before they reached Yvraine, elegant Ghostswords gleaming as they sliced and cut. The spirit constructs fought with courage and strength, but the Pain Engines were true masterpieces of the ﬂeshcrafter's art -- one by one the Wraithblades were caught by clacking claws and wrenched apart. Suddenly the Visarch was there, stepping nimbly around the Pain Engines as he ducked, slashed and moved away once more, avoiding whirring chain-ﬂails and jabbing ichor injectors with impressive grace. Soon, all that was left were hovering carapaces that drizzled foul blood.
The eldest of the Haemonculi, his mouth twisted in a moue of irritation at the sight of his pets being dismembered, brought forth a rune-engraved box from his robes and opened it. Sickly light ﬂooded out as captive djinn-spirits shrieked towards the Visarch. His long blade whirled and slashed, but no physical foes were these, and they could not be cut. They lifted him bodily into the air and stretched his limbs taut; grinding and snapping sounds were clearly audible as the Ynnari warrior was slowly stretched to breaking point.
A moment before the Visarch came apart, the Yncarne burst from the morass of dead Pain Engines with a deafening roar of triumph. With nothing more than its bare hands, the avatar ripped the djinn-spirits to dissipating wisps of ectoplasm. It ﬂexed a slender claw, and the djinn's Haemonculus master withered away to a puff of dust. In far Commorragh, those samples of the Coven-lord's anatomy that were kept for regrowth turned to dust at the same instant. There could be no proof nor safeguard against the death brought by the Yncarne, for it was the God of the Dead given physical form.
Seeing their comrade's demise, and fearing that he had died a true death at the hands of a daemon, the rest of the Haemonculi withdrew. No prize was valuable enough to risk their carefully maintained and treasured immortality. Within solar minutes they were gone entirely, their fleshwarped servants vanishing with them.
The Ynnari had barely regrouped amongst the ruins when a ululating shriek pierced the air.
The Soul Hunt of Belial IV
The screams in the middle distance were painful to hear. These were not shrieks of agony, but of savage joy, the cries of lunatic killers on the hunt. They were not of mortals, nor even the playthings of the Haemonculi, but of entities borne from the Warp and attracted to the psychic spoor of carnage. Every one of the Ynnari that heard them felt trepidation; these were the daemons of Slaanesh, birthed from the catastrophe that had laid this wretched place low. To fall into their clutches here was to know an eternity of torment, and to be consumed utterly by She Who Thirsts. They told themselves that their souls would be saved from that direst of fates by Yvraine and their fellow Ynnari, but ancestral fear still clutched at their hearts.
Darting up to elevated positions, Yvraine's Bloodbride handmaidens peered into the gloom. Through the ivory mists came whole armies of blade-wheeled chariots, striking sparks from the tumbled ruins as they came. In their wake was a tide of sprinting Daemonettes.
Realisation broke across the Eldar like a cold wind -- this was a hunt, and they were the quarry. Yvraine cursed loud and long. The souls she kept safe within her had aided her in finding signs of the ancient Croneswords she sought; one of the artefacts was near, but not likely near enough.
Shortly before the Haemonculus ambush was sprung, Yvraine had found a trail of dead Waystones -- the psychocrystal gems known as Isha's Tears. Highly prized as havens from Slaanesh's unquenchable thirst for Eldar souls, they were formed by the shearing of realspace and the Warp during the Fall. The particular Waystones Yvraine had found did not glitter with psychic potential, like those typically sought out by the Rangers and Wraithknights of the Craftworlds. Instead they exuded a leaden absence of life. Yvraine had followed the trail of dead stones to find it converging with another, then another. It was a sign, a hint that one of the morbid artefacts she sought was close -- though with the daemons of Slaanesh hunting her, there was no time to investigate.
It occurred to her that might be precisely why the Daemons had chosen this time to strike, though it was just as likely they had waited for the Haemonculi and the Ynnari to bleed each other white before attacking the survivors.
With her inherited gyrinx growling at her heels, Yvraine took up her own Cronesword once more and made for the charging daemon host. She was unsurprised to see the Visarch leading the Eldar from the front, darting through the densest ruins so the chariots of the Slaaneshi could not attack him without dashing themselves to pieces. Their Ulthwé allies were no more than a few Terran miles distant -- though they had split off from Yvraine's vanguard in a search pattern in order to find the Cronesword they sought, Eldrad Ulthran had insisted there be a strike force close to the Ynnari at all times in case of ambush.
As she saw the daemonic chariots racing pellmell around their ﬂanks, Yvraine's hope that they could reach their Ulthwé allies ebbed away. The Slaaneshi were moving along what had once been the widest boulevards of the Crone World's capital city, bouncing and skidding at breakneck pace as they encircled their prey entirely. With them came Daemonettes riding long-necked, bipedal Steeds of Slaanesh, and freakish, scorpion-tailed Fiends of Slaanesh whose pincers clacked a percussive accompaniment to the chorus of delighted screams.
Within solar minutes, the Ynnari were trapped. They had been expertly driven into a dead end, a sinkhole pit before them and Slaaneshi daemons on all sides. Yvraine and her vanguard exchanged doleful glances, preparing for a last stand. As they drew close, they saw the sinkhole before them was no natural well at all, but a vast gullet that pulsed and growled in hunger. The hordes of Daemonettes came within range of the Ynnari's Shuriken Weaponry, and a blizzard of razored discs hurtled out. Their slicing kiss only served to drive the Slaaneshi hunters further into an ecstatic frenzy. On the lithe daemons came, hissing and hungry. Bounding lightly through the ruins came the Harlequins of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow, diving and somersaulting to intercept. They joined in battle with the daemons with such grace and speed the skirmish seemed as if it were choreographed -- the clash between daemon and Harlequin had long been a subject of their dances.
Where the Eldar fell in greatest number, there was Yvraine, drawing the souls of the lost into herself even as their bodies died. The ghosts were made visible by the eerie halfreality of the Eye of Terror; to those around her it seemed that Yvraine was physically breathing them in. With each release of deathly energies, the Ynnari around her found themselves inexplicably invigorated. They pressed the attack with such quicksilver speed even the daemonettes looked sluggish by comparison.
As the battle reached a crescendo, a moan of longing came from the throat of every Daemonette, Steed and Fiend of Slaanesh. From the gullet-pit blocking the Eldar's path emerged a vast claw-tipped tongue as large as a human hive city transmotive. Many Ynnari screamed at the sight, fearing She Who Thirsts herself was emerging to gorge upon them, and perhaps they were right. Riding upon this grotesque appendage, their claws hooked into cairn-sized taste buds, were three Greater Daemons of Slaanesh. The largest of them, the incarnation of dark bliss known as the Queen of Suffering, howled with ecstasy as the titanic tongue slashed down, crushing hundreds of Eldar to death.
Flanked by two of its disturbingly alluring kin, the Keeper of Secrets swept a jewel-studded claw through the air, backhanding two leaping Harlequins into the scissoring pincers of its fellows. Their end was swift, at least. Blood glittered like ruby rain as they came bodily apart.
From nowhere the Yncarne loomed upward through the mist, its hissing whisper growing to a waterfall's roar. It darted towards the Greater Daemons with blurring swiftness, and grabbed the Queen of Suffering by the throat. The she-Daemon gave a strangled cry of surprise as the Yncarne ripped open her neck in a welter of blood. But in coming within arm's reach, the Avatar of Ynnead had risked much. A jagged pincer caught the Yncarne by the ankle -- then another, and another as the Queen's courtiers closed in. The Yncarne was yanked down and dashed to the ﬂoor. A moment later it was stamped into the saliva-sodden earth by a ﬂurry of cloven hooves.
Yvraine gave a cry of anguish. She summoned the energies of her god, a storm of whispers hissing out to consume the Daemonettes around her. They turned to cold grey statues, then fell apart, but there were more to take their place. Nearby, Eldrad Ulthran and Kysaduras were striking at the ﬂanks of one of the Keepers of Secrets, their Witch Weapons ﬂaring as they tore it one grievous wound after another. Harlequins vaulted around them, ﬂip belts keeping them one step ahead. The spectacle was so rich in splendour, so steeped in ancestral hatred, it was all the Harlequins could do not to fall into their ritual roles and reenact their famed performance of the Fall in reality.
Even as she fought for her life, Yvraine had a strong feeling that she had seen this all before. At first, she could not place where; the rescued souls within her did not number any Harlequins, for the Laughing God took them unto himself instead. Then it came to her -- this dance of Harlequin and Slaaneshi Daemon was an echo of the Final Act, as portrayed by the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow in the theatres of Commorragh. Inspiration struck Yvraine. She knew this performance well, as she had danced a similar waltz in her youth. She dived, rolled and span, for by recalling the dance forms that had fascinated her as a child, she found she could predict the Harlequin's battle dance all but perfectly -- and therefore that of the Daemonettes that faced them.
On she danced, vaulting and somersaulting, following the scatterings of dead Waystones to a nexus of the crystal ovals only a few dozen feet from the Greater Daemons of Slaanesh rampaging through the Ynnari lines. Underfoot, she could feel the pulsing energy of one of the Croneswords they had come to claim, a reservoir of deathly psychic power so strong it had stolen even the potential life from the Waystones nearby. Smiling grimly, she placed both hands upon the ground and cried out.
A heartbeat later the Yncarne burst like a phoenix from the ground beneath the Queen of Suffering, reborn in a fountain of ice-blue energies. It held a long and shining Cronesword in both hands, and as it soared into the sky, it cut the daemon queen in half from groin to neck. The deathly energies around it lent it speed; in a blur of purple-white motion, it hacked and slashed at the Greater Daemons until they had discorporated altogether. The weapon wielded by the Avatar of Ynnead was Vilith-zhar, the Sword of Souls, largest and most powerful of the Croneswords. After millennia of slumber, its edge was hungry for the blood of the Eldar's persecutors. Like a bladed whirlwind, the Yncarne plunged into the Slaaneshi horde. Its every breath was a killing mist, its every thrust the final death of a shrieking Daemon. The Yncarne slashed at the giant claw-tongue grasping for it, and the hideous appendage withdrew back into its sinkhole lair as if stung by the great Murekh Wasp itself. Inspired by the Final Act made real, the Harlequins renewed their attack, and within solar minutes, the encircling daemonic horde was in utter disarray. Better still, through the ruins could be seen the colours of Ulthwé. With the trap broken, salvation was at hand.
The Last Hope of the Eldar
- "The Reborn are the only hope left to our people. They seek to unite the Aeldari entire -- to bring together not only the Craftworlds, but every scattered shard of our race, be they Outcast, Exodite, or soul-hungry Drukhari. With the Whispering God's net gathering us together away from the sight of evil, we shall be reforged. We shall be a people that look forwards in hope, not backwards in despair. Follow them, cast aside your Waystone and the crippling fear it represents, and we shall soar on the winds of fate once more.""
- —Lathriel, High Farseer of Biel-Tan
Light in the Darkness
With the Ynnari and their Ulthwé allies fighting together as one, the Eldar tore apart the tightening noose the Slaaneshi daemons had cast around them. Their strike forces ﬂowed like fast-running streams through the ruins and dust dunes of the shattered Aeldari city, capitalising on their gains before the daemonic hosts could cut them off. Yvraine led the charge, her regalia billowing behind her in the etherial winds as she sprinted through shattered arches and under statues of fallen heroes. Towards the giant Memorial Hall of Atransis she ran, a vast museum-like structure where the works of the pre-Fall Eldar were once displayed as the foremost treasures of the universe. With Ulthwé’s close assault specialists forming a wall of blades on either ﬂank, the Ynnari vanguard plunged inside the enormous hall, seeking a defensible position from which they could repel the Slaaneshi soul hunt from a narrow frontage. Within those walls, they were to find far more than simple tactical advantage.
As the Reborn took up positions on the sweeping ramps and daises of the hall's interior, the building was gradually ﬂooded with golden yellow light. Two immense structures at the back of the hallway shook dust from their slab-like facias as they opened, unfurling jerkily like the wings of a butterﬂy fresh from its chrysalis. A glowing yellow rune-portal was revealed within, immense yet visible only to the dead -- or those that bore their blessing. Massive as the secret portal was, the figure that emerged from within was so tall it still had to stoop to fit through.
A rune-emblazoned Wraithknight in proud yellow and blue heraldry glided out from the ancient portal, two more of the immense Ghost Warriors in its wake. Long-barrelled Suncannons thrummed loudly in the stillness. A shout of triumph rose up from the Ynnari as the giants opened fre, blast after blast of intense plasma energy shooting from the entranceway of the hall. Wherever they struck, the daemons tumbling through the hall's entrance to capture the escaping Eldar were annihilated. Everywhere a new hunting pack of Slaaneshi creatures appeared, a killing volley of energy scoured them from existence. When a knot of Seeker Chariots of Saanesh careened through the ranks of the Ulthwé Eldar, blood ﬂying from bladed wheels, one of the Wraithknights stepped forward and smashed them to scattering shrapnel with a sweeping blow from its massive blade. Yvraine was the first to notice the smaller figures at the giants' feet. The fabled constructs of Craftworld Iyanden had arrived, already spreading out to form a protective wall around the Ynnari. Amongst them was none other than Iyanna Arienal, the Angel of Iyanden.
At the Spiritseer's instruction, the Ghost Warriors formed a loose circle that spread out through their living comrades, then locked in tight. The Wraithbone bulwark allowed every living Eldar through without resistance, yet hurled back their daemon pursuers with volleys of firepower and methodical bladework. Many of the faceless warriors gave their lives to ensure their living kin could escape. Iyanna beckoned the Ynnari into the golden portal. Realising that to stay was to die, Yvraine ordered the retreat. Group by group the Reborn dashed into the secret spar of the Webway beyond.
Perilous indeed were the hidden paths that the Iyandeni used to reach the Crone Worlds and gather their Waystone bounty. The Ynnari were led by not only the most gifted Spiritseer of her generation, however, but also the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow. Though it took long solar weeks of arduous travel, they found the second of the golden portals without serious incident -- a gateway that led them to a hidden Webway portal of Craftworld Iyanden within its Vaidh Wayport. Iyanna Arienal presented the Bonesinger's seal of her dynasty to a dozen runic locks, sang in a lilting soprano the lineage of Eldanesh, and projected her psyche into the spirit reservoirs beyond each gate until they opened soundlessly one by one.
The expedition passed through into the chilly, mist-wreathed catacombs of the Craftworld's Ghost Halls. Each alcove, once occupied by the inert shell of an inactive Ghost Warrior, was empty. There were sounds of distant thunder high above -- the Visarch cocked his head, and loosened his great blade in its knotted scabbard. These were not the sounds of a tempest, but the din of ongoing battle. Yvraine felt hope and despair in equal measure. They had found safety, just as it looked like they would be overwhelmed completely, and better yet, their rescuers were numbered amongst those Craftworlders they sought to bring to Ynnead's cause. In dying and being Reborn within the domain of the ancient Aeldari, the Yncarne had claimed the shape-changing Sword of Souls from within the soil of Belial IV. Yet the Ynnari had found only one of the two blades of power they sought from Belial IV before they had been forced to ﬂee. Without all five of the Croneswords, Ynnead's power would be significantly lessened. Worse still, the sword Yvraine had expected to find upon Iyanden was missing, its psychic spoor nowhere to be found.
The Angel of Iyanden, the Spiritseer Iyanna, had a series of impassioned exchanges with Yvraine as they gained the winding steps to the Craftworld's well-lit interior. The world-ship was under siege once more. As it had passed through the Endregan Sector, a Warp Storm that had seemed distant one night was alarmingly close the next. From within that empyric tempest had come a pair of vast rotten Space Hulks, each a cadaverous mass of metal and rock so pitted with age it had not a single straight line nor smooth contour upon it. The runic divinations of the Farseers had shown the immense composite ships to be infested with daemonic life-forms, just as a bloated corpse is infested with maggots. Vast swarms of Rot Flies, each led by a pinioned Daemon Prince, had ﬂown from the repulsive space detritus towards Iyanden upon membranous wings. With the Warp Storm propelling them, and with no need to breathe, they had descended upon Iyanden in their thousands. Yvraine had a hollow feeling it was no accident that Iyanden was assailed by daemon invaders just as she and her Ynnari had sought safe haven there, but she kept her peace on the matter. To a Craftworld that counted the dead as the most numerous of its defenders, the message of Ynnead's awakening was a delicate enough matter already.
"Our fate is that of Omethrian, it seems," said Iyanna Arienal, as she and Yvaine strode across the Bridge of Endless Night. "To be torn apart anew by carrion crows each time our wounds begin to heal." Overhead, just visible through the thin crystal of the Aldanari Dome, the explosions of fleet warfare lit the void.
"Did Omethrian not wish to die under the Red Moon," said Yvraine, "thereby ending his torment, and being reborn anew?"
"If you seek to extinguish what is left of Iyanden's ﬂame, you will find your welcome short indeed," said Iyanna. "I have sung the songs of Ynnead myself, for many long years. Truly I believe all our destinies are held within his net. But first we will take a grievous toll upon those who wish to hound us to our deaths. That does not involve succumbing to some horrid infestation, nor wasting away in apathy and despair."
"Well said," murmured the Visarch as he walked behind them. Yvraine started in surprise at her companion breaking his silence, but said nothing. As the Eldar reached the end of the bridge and made for the war council beyond, a dozen Wraithguard blocked their path, a robed Farseer in their midst.
"Dhentiln Firesight," Iyanna whispered. "He will not risk the Ghost Halls coming to our side, not now." She turned to Yvraine, eyes alight. "Whatever happens, we shall make Ynnead proud to call us his daughters." Yvraine nodded, emotions thick in her throat.
"I bid you welcome," called out Dhentiln, "but sadly your timing is more that of crippled Vaul than deft Asuryan. With the armada fully engaged, Iyanden cannot afford distraction, lest we inadvertently open our gates to the enemy once more. You and your followers have travelled far -- even Faolchú the Messenger folded its wings at day's end. You must rest." At this he gestured at a distant quarter of the great dome, ill-lit and still. "We will escort you and your fellow Commorrites to a guarded haven, to ensure minimum disruption. Those of your host that wear Craftworld colours, or the motley of Cegorach, will be dispersed to fight upon the front line. We dearly need their blades."
"That measure is not necessary,’ said Yvraine, her tone ice cold. "My people will stay and fight as one."
"But I insist," said the Farseer. Behind him, the Wraithguard lifted their weapons. In the middle distance, bipedal war walkers emerged from behind the curving architecture of the War Council's chambers, their guns reinforcing the deadly message.
"Very well," said Yvraine. "We will not raise our blades against you on this dark day. If you wish to snuff out the ﬂame your people once held so dear, we shall be there to light it once more."
The Wraithguard closed around the Ynnari commanders, and led them away into the gloom. High above, the thunder of war rumbled ever louder like the laughter of distant gods.
Within minutes of leaving the Bridge of Endless Night, Yvraine, the Visarch, the core of the Ynnari, and Iyanna Arienal were involuntary guests in Iyanden's most sumptuous halls. Their every need was catered for, white-robed Eldar adolescents on the Path of the Servant offering refreshment and even cleaning their war gear of the Crone World's dust. Still the truth was obvious to all. The Reborn, those who believed Ynnead to be the saviour the Eldar so desperately needed, had been incarcerated against their will. Battle in the stars high above still raged between Iyanden's armada and the daemon-infested Space Hulks that drifted, slow but unstoppable, towards them.
Yvraine felt a slow-burning rage build within her breast, but she tamped it down. The way of Khaine would not release her from this; neither the Ynnari nor the Iyandeni could afford a civil war. Instead, she had to reach inside herself, deeper than ever before, and let the conduit between all living things channel her soul. Outward she cast her essence, ever outward, her mind's eye reaching towards one star after another.
That which she sought was not there.
On the outer surface of Iyanden, elephantine Rot Flies buzzed and swarmed, their pot-bellied plague riders smearing filth upon crystal domes that had felt only the kiss of solar winds. A trio of Nurgle Daemon Princes alighted nearby, talons screeching gouges in the transparent domes. With rusted maces and wrought-iron blades they hammered the crystal over and over until they had forced open an entrance. The thin bubbles of atmosphere that surrounded the dome-like nodes, fashioned to prevent the insides of the world-ships being sucked out into space in the event of a meteor swarm or other cosmic accident, gave the daemons the shelter they needed to wriggle and crawl within.
Through these apertures the winged Plague Drones of Nurgle gained entry into the Craftworld, descending upon the elegant forests and sculpture gardens in a hideous greenish-brown cloud. They were swiftly intercepted by several shrines of Swooping Hawks that ﬂitted, lasers blasting, just out of reach. The winged Aspect Warriors were swiftly joined by squadrons of Crimson Hunters, streaks of deep red scarring the air as they hunted the fat-bellied Daemon Princes that befouled their home. The Bright Lances of their Nightwing Interceptors struck over and over, each unerringly accurate shot blasting streams of viscera from the chests and abdomens of the ﬂeshy intruders. Garulgor the Virulent plummeted lifeless from the skies, but both Duke Oglorr and Maleathrus of the Foetid Claw descended towards the Eldar homelands below as if unconcerned by their injuries, chortling with glee as their innards drizzled filth across the lands below. The Crimson Hunters performed tight loop the loops and came in again, this time aiming for the heads of their prey. With the Swooping Hawks thickening their fire, even the daemon lords could not shrug off the intensity of their punishment. Oglorr and Maleathrus fell like stones to explode in showers of filth upon the alabaster ﬂagstones below.
The daemon riders assailing Iyanden's forests did not get far, for they were contained and quarantined by unliving hosts of Ghost Warriors. Yet the invasion was really only just beginning. In the firmament high above, the twin Space Hulks that had emerged from the Warp Storm drifted ever closer.
Though the daemons embattled upon Iyanden's surface were outmatched ten times over, the same could be said of Iyanden's armada. Each of the Space Hulks that faced them was truly immense, a composite monstrosity formed of abandoned spaceships, space debris and asteroids the size of small moons. Many of the voidcraft that jutted from the Space Hulks' ﬂanks had active gun batteries that sent punishing broadsides towards the Eldar craft that harassed them from afar. The spacecraft of the armada were nimble enough to simply evade any solid munitions, but not every weapon used by the Hulks was so conventional.
When thousands of winged drones ﬂew silently across the dark reaches of space to latch on to the solar sails of the Eldar ships, gnawing away at them like moths devouring silken finery, the Eldar vessels found themselves slowing to a crawl. Again the Hulks opened fire, this time to full effect. So widespread and devastating were their volleys that they caught several Iyanden voidcraft amidships and destroyed them completely.
Sequestered in her guest quarters, Yvraine reached out once more with her psychic powers. She could feel the deathly energies of the Iyanden armada's demise even in her confinement. This time she was rewarded. Beyond it was a thin ﬂare of intent, a soul-sign coming from the allies she had sent ahead when Ynnead frst arose. It was the psyspoor of Thraelle Longblade, Captain of the Mansbane. She peered through the crystal skylights of her quarters, hoping to see a glint in the stars, and gave the psychic signal.
The Eldar Corsairs who knew Yvraine as Amharoc in Commorragh emerged from a field of stellar debris, their ships hidden from plain sight by Holo-Fields and Mimic Engines. Pulsar Lance batteries, Keel Torpedoes, Phantom Lances and Leech Engines took their toll on the nearby Hulk. Under sustained barrage, the engine bay Plasma Reactors at the Hulk's rear detonated with spectacular force. As a new star burned in the firmament, Yvraine allowed herself a tight smile.
The Fated Prince
As Yvraine's old comrades took their toll, Iyanden's own Corsair allies joined the fight. With the smaller of the two Nurgle-infested Space Hulks destroyed by Amharoc's Corsairs, both the armada of Iyanden and the warships of the Eldritch Raiders concentrated their firepower upon the larger vessel -- codified by Prince Yriel himself as Spawn of Oghanothir. Like nimble star-sharks tearing chunks from a void whale, the Corsair ships closed in, levelled their devastating attacks, and slipped away. The crater-pitted behemoth's main defence was not guns, however, but its sheer bulk. It could be hammered by the guns of the Eldar for solar days and still have enough mass to destroy Iyanden should it collide.
The Hulk had drifted long in the haunted tides of the Warp, even passing through the sickly green-grey skies of Nurgle's Garden in the Realm of Chaos for a time. The daemon infestation that had claimed it riddled its labyrinthine innards right to the core, and thousands of winged daemons wound from every new crater like ribbons of smoke. The truth was becoming clear. If the Hulk's exterior was inviolable, it would have to be destroyed from the inside out by a strike force of Eldar -- who would be risking the most hideous deaths imaginable.
Prince Yriel, as ever, was quick to answer the call to action. In collusion with his fellow Corsair princes in Yvraine's ﬂeet, he organised a three-stage assault on the Spawn of Oghanothir. The plan was ambitious in the extreme, but necessarily so, for to approach the Hulk in a boarding craft would be to become swamped by daemonic Rot Flies before ever reaching its sides. The gamble was so daring that it appealed to Yriel's fellow captains’ sense of pride and bravado, and within a matter of solar hours, it was well underway.
Virtually unnoticed by the combatants at large, Yriel and his captains left their starships aboard sleek Assault Craft and made for the Webway portal at the rear of Craftworld Iyanden. En route, Yriel used his rank as the Craftworld's High Admiral to convince the world-ship's steersmen to adopt a specific course. Slowly, the beleaguered Craftworld came about upon the designated coordinates. Prince Yriel's insertion craft were nimble and swift enough to bypass the daemon invaders that harassed Iyanden's exterior, and they passed through the stern Webway portal with acceptable losses. Using Yriel's uncanny hunter's instincts in conjunction with ancient Ulthanashi maps of the nearspace Webway labyrinth, they located the spar of that insane dimension that corresponded to the Spawn of Oghanothir’s course. It was a heading Yriel had all but dictated by offering Iyanden as the bait. As the Spawn drifted through space towards the Craftworld, intent on ramming its prey, Yriel and his captains activated their personal Webway portal devices and walked through the shimmering discs, crossing from the Labyrinthine Dimension into the foetid heart of the enemy Space Hulk.
The Eldar strike force stepped cautiously from the emerald portals they had opened into the cavernous interior of the infested enemy ﬂagship. It was near pitch black inside, and a drizzle of foul ﬂuids spotted down from a vaulted ceiling high above. The Corsairs, anxious to avoid the patter of stinking liquids, darted to the cover of the nearest corridors and gingerly made their way further in. The faint sound of engines, pulsing regular as a heartbeat, could be heard in the distance. Having come this far, the Corsairs were not keen to turn back without completing their mission, even if the slime-slicked innards they were forced to navigate were more like the winding insides of a diseased sea monster than the ordered corridors of a spacecraft. Yriel and his fellow captains took comfort from the fact they wore sophisticated air reservoirs and hermetically sealed armour, the finest that Terran centuries of reaving could afford. It was well they did. Puffy balls of fungus, each formerly the head of an earlier trespasser, wheezed spores in billowing streams. For the intruders to breathe even a single lungful of that blighted air would have resulted in a truly disgusting death.
Though the Corsair princes had to cut their way through thickets of grasping, tentacle-like cilia and leap over bubbling pools of acidic slime, they proved dextrous enough to penetrate to the thrumming heart of the foul ship's enginarium. Thus far they had encountered little fiercer a foe than giggling daemon mites, for their vector of attack had bypassed the daemon hordes on the warpath at the outer edge of the Hulk. When they reached the engines, however, they found a more daunting sight -- the slime-slicked cocoons of sulking Beasts of Nurgle that had sought a warm place in which to make their vile metamorphoses.
Perhaps the Corsairs would have swiftly disabled the Hulk's mighty plasma engines and escaped without hindrance had the swamp-like inner chamber not also been home to a squatting, sedentary terror. Gurgling at the chamber's heart was the vastly obese Daemon Prince Gara'gugul'gor, whose name can only be pronounced correctly with a throat full of phlegm. Though the monstrosity's tentacle-like arms were whip-thin and dextrous, his abdomen was so engorged that it was impossible for him to move further than a few Terran feet. Still, he laughed with good reason -- for this day the prey had come to him.
Whipping tendrils lashed out as Yriel jumped nimbly from one island of solid ground to another, the fabled Spear of Twilight blazing in his hand. One of them brushed the impeccably dressed Corsair Prince Lumino on the heel and immediately hauled him screaming into the air, dangling him within biting range. A gristly snap, and the Eldar pirate was halved at the waist; his severed legs kicked spasmodically as Gara'gugul'gor finished his snack. Yriel grimaced as he leapt closer still, polearm blade slashing at the tentacles whipping towards him to force them back.
The damage was already done. Lumino's death scream had disturbed the pupae all around the room, and now many were beginning to shiver and shake, glistening wings and questing proboscises pushing from the foetid sacs. One by one, a swarm of ﬂuid-drizzling Rot Flies emerged prematurely from their transformations, hissing and half-formed as they stirred from their slumber to malevolent wakefulness.
Another Corsair prince cried out as something grabbed his ankle. Spurred into action, the Rot Flies took wing as best they could, buzzing angrily as they lurched through the air towards the intruders. The horrifed Eldar abandoned all attempts at stealth, opening fire in all directions. With that, the vaulted Space Hulk engine room erupted into violence from end to end.
The battle that followed saw some of the most inspired displays of swordsmanship, agile footwork and acrobatic poise outside of the troupes of Cegorach's favoured Harlequins. The Corsair princes unleashed every weapon they could bring to bear. Jokaero Digital Weapons, Aeldari Soulknives, Commorrite Slasherprisms and contraband elixirs that tripled the imbiber's physical reaction speed were all employed to ensure the daemonic denizens could not lay a single talon upon the intruders. And for a while, they were enough.
At the heart of the battle Yriel fought hardest of all, his spear glittering with killing energies as it slashed, whirled and stabbed at anything foolish enough to come within reach. Running up the wall opposite Gara'gugul'gor, Yriel pushed backwards and away over a grasping tentacle, backﬂipping to spring once more off a gantry with High Admiral's greatcoat billowing. His spear was raised for a killing thrust. Gara'gugul'gor heaved a spray of stringy vomit from the gills in his wattled throat, and though Yriel twisted and arched his spine to avoid it, he turned his back on the black pseudopods that reached out to pluck him from the air. In an instant, Yriel was caught like a ﬂy in a spider's web, sticky tentacles wrapping around him to bind his arms to his sides. The Daemon Prince brought Yriel close, his jaws yawning wide.
Suddenly the chamber was lit by a stark white brilliance. Yriel's ocular implant, the Eye of Twilight, ﬂared bright as it released a storm of killing electricity. The energies were so fierce they burned away the daemon's tentacles -- the Corsair prince was free once more. Down came the deadly Spear of Twilight that had claimed so much of Yriel's life, its blade gouging deep -- not into the Daemon Prince, but into the beating heart of the enginarium itself.
A hideous shriek was wrenched from the daemon overlord's throat as the unearthly energies of that baleful artefact went to work. Black veins spread out across the Hulk's core machinery, necrotising once-living metal into shuddering black rust wherever they spread. Though it had taken every iota of his skill and ingenuity, Yriel had achieved his goal. He smiled momentarily as the spear's deathly energies slew its true target -- the heart of the spacefaring juggernaut itself.
A whipping tentacle came around, a broken girder in its grip. Yriel was too exhausted to dodge. The heavy iron bar smashed the life from the Eldar prince with a single blow.
Gara'gugul'gor, once he had fnished killing the last of the interlopers in as gruesome a fashion as he could devise, slurped and shufﬂed his way to Prince Yriel's cooling corpse. Before his death, the Autarch of Iyanden had effectively becalmed the Hulk's only intact enginarium with a single stabbing blow of his eldritch weapon. Without the ability to correct the behemoth's course, the Space Hulk was reliant on momentum alone, and could likely be avoided by the Eldar Craftworld. How could a mere mortal defy the will of Nurgle?
Gara'gugul'gor was still high in the favour of Grandfather Nurgle, for he had diligently spread disease for countless standard centuries, and his particularly inventive brand of gallows humour was most amusing to the Plague God. But with his plan to break the necromantic Eldar of Iyanden in tatters, the Daemon Prince would have to find another way to rise in his patron's estimation.
Stirring a pool of blood-laced slime with one of his tentacles and reciting the Seven Sickening Psalms, the daemon lord reached out with his psychic abilities into the depths of the Warp. There he had an epiphany. If his theory held true, and this warrior's blade was that which it appeared to be, there was still a chance to help Nurgle's power wax high -- not of its own slow but steady accord, but because one of his chief rivals in the Great Game of Chaos would suddenly find his own star waning fast. At the very least, Gara'gugul'gor could deliver a little gift to the Eldar world-ship, one that would reduce it to ruin as surely as a direct collision from a Space Hulk.
The Daemon Prince frowned once more at Prince Yriel's spear, clutched in its owner's death grip and still glowing gently with baleful energies. Then, as shuddering waves of mirth wobbled Gara'gugul'gor's seven great chins, his consternation turned into a belly laugh that shook rust from the rafters high above.
It was not long after Iyanden had left the grotesque Space Hulk behind that Prince Yriel's body, frozen in a strange milky resin with the Spear of Twilight laid across his chest, was found ﬂoating in space. The entombed corpse was recovered by a team of Hemlock Wraithfighters that had sensed its presence in the stars; by using a remote wraith-construct Familiar on a silver tether, they were able to retrieve the corpse and take it back in safety to the Craftworld itself.
A great sadness rippled throughout the world-ship at the news, for Yriel was their brightest star, a once-wayward genius who had proven to be Iyanden's saviour more than once. His loss was so profound that many Eldar were seen weeping openly in the Craftworld's streets. What must Iyanden do, they wailed, to escape the cursed fate that haunted its every turn?
To Weave the Skein
Yvraine had called upon old debts from her former life as the Corsair Amharoc, and in doing so aided Iyanden. With that, the Reborn were vindicated in the eyes of the Craftworld's Seers, and were allowed to fight as one against the creatures invading the world-ship. The Ynnari banished not only swathes of plague daemons, but also the infections they spread. All forms of life are hastened to their end when Ynnead's ire is raised -- even microbes.
Prince Yriel's body was quarantined after its recovery -- after the grisly fate of the Seers of CraftworldLugganath, who unwisely projected their souls into Nurgle's Garden -- all Eldar have feared the Plague God's gifts. The resinous shell that contained Yriel was broken open by wraith constructs in the Barren Chamber, a sealed oval room isolated from the wider Infinity Circuit by the Spiritseer's art. That caution was well exercised. The prince's corpse yielded a cloud of plague spores that would have turned living, breathing Eldar to walking hotbeds of contagion.
News of the corpse's infection was psychically conveyed to a Spiritseer, and from there to Iyanna Arienal. Yvraine was soon escorted to the antechamber outside Yriel's resting place. She called out to the Ghost Warriors inside, bidding them retreat into the airlock-style vestibule on the far side of the chamber, and then drew her blade. Holding it aloft, she summoned forth the spirit magic in her soul and, by moulding the necromantic energies with her psyche, sent waves of lethal energy into the chamber beyond. Though they had no effect on Yriel -- by this point he was beyond harm -- they killed every single spore and microorganism that Gara'gugul'gor's filthy curse had unleashed upon the Craftworld.
It was then that a true miracle took place. Yvraine ran three fngers down the length of the Barren Chamber's doors, and they opened soundlessly before her. Two of her Iyanden Wraithblade escort crossed their curving blades to bar her passage to the sacred space, but Iyanna Arienal waved them aside. Yvraine sketched a curtsey to her ally before striding inside with a contented smile on her features. She took up the Spear of Twilight, reversed it in her grip, and plunged it into Yriel's chest.
With a great heaving exhalation, the Corsair Prince of Iyanden suddenly sat bolt upright. His pallid ﬂesh was restored to a vigour it had not seen since before he took up his fabled spear. The blade, having returned the stolen life force it had siphoned from its wielder over the cycles, turned to quicksilver in Yvraine's grip. It took a new shape, revealing its true form as the fifth of the Croneswords. She passed it back to Yriel, and in his grip, it became a spear once more. The pirate prince stood unsteadily, then straightened to his full height, a new power glowing from his eyes. Prince Yriel of Iyanden had been Reborn. Soon, he would be far from alone.
The Hall of Truths was so massive that mist gathered under its vast dome. The voices of Iyanden's greatest heroes, living and dead, echoed from the frozen waterfalls of Wraithbone that stretched from ﬂoor to ceiling. Some of those present were still mortals, their lifespan measured in mere Terran centuries. Others had served the Craftworld for standard millennia, their statuesque war-forms towering over the Eldar that gave them a reason to fight on beyond the gates of mortality.
"Take heed, children of Asuryan," said Farseer Dhentiln, "for this is a day of fates." There was a murmur amongst the assemblage. With the initiation phrase spoken, the audience would have to begin, despite Yvraine and Iyanna still absent.
"We must act," said Eldrad Ulthran. "We must find a way to change the fate of the galaxy." Silence stretched out until Dhentiln gestured to continue. "The red moon rises, for the Great Enemy is ascendant," continued Eldrad. "The veil is torn in a thousand new places each night. We cannot prevail alone."
"Then who would you use as sword and shield alike?" said Sylandri Veilwalker, one of the high-ranking Harlequins in attendance. "The Tau are still too young, the Orks too unpredictable and the Tyranids out of the question. Humans are too easily corrupted, this we know. They walk the same path we once followed, blindly walking into the abyss."
"Not with faith," said Dhentiln, nodding. "With faith, they still have power."
There was a slamming impact as the doors at the end of the hall were ﬂung open. "No," said Yvraine as she strode in, Iyanna Arienal at her side and a shadowed figure in their wake. "They must have a new leader. Only then will they serve our interests."
"Impossible," said the Corsair Lord Aracleo. "They are entrenched."
"They worship their past," said Iyanna. "If we raise a hero that reminds them of it, they will follow him. Do we not also cling to our myths, finding comfort in the glories of yesteryear?"
"She is right," said Eldrad, "and I have already found a way through the skein to that end, and a leader the humans will follow like sheep. The fulcrum of destiny is the moon of Klaisus, that we once called Ulthanash's Rest."
"You do not steer our course, Ulthwéan," said Dhentiln. "We need not the guidance of the Damned, but the counsel of our own kin." The uncomfortable silence was broken by Prince Yriel, stepping from the shadows to the incredulity of all present. As one, the wraith constructs kneeled, the ground shivering beneath.
"We shall give the humans a demigod," said Yriel, his tone as chill as if coming from the other side of the grave. "A king reborn, with a deathly blade. And the hosts of Iyanden shall go with us."
The harrowing odyssey of Yvraine and the Reborn had been the subject of much interest in the Kabal of the Black Heart. The Supreme Overlord Asdrubael Vect had far more pressing matters to attend to, for Commorragh was wracked by the most severe of Dysjunctions and his aeons-old power base was literally falling apart. Yet he could not shake the desire for vengeance upon the upstart gladiatrix that had triggered this turbulent uprising that night in the Crucibael arena, and causing division amongst the Commorrites -- a sentiment shared by a great many of the Haemonculi who had long considered themselves the true masters of Dark Eldar society.
The Dysjunction of Commorragh was an eventuality Vect had long planned for. He was a past master at ensuring that when misfortune befell the Dark Eldar, his rivals suffered the worst; often it transpired that it was Vect's hidden hand behind the disaster in the first place. Though he implied to his servants that he had deliberately triggered the cataclysm to relieve his immortal ennui, Vect was secretly livid that his personal fiefdom had been defiled, and his contingency plans forced into sudden reality.
Whilst his rivals scrambled to salvage the remnants of their once-glorious holdings amidst the spreading Warp quake, Vect was already well-established elsewhere, populating the ruins of ancient port cities and turning them into sprawling fortresses. He offered safe haven to those who sought his protection -- at a price, of course -- and prepared for his long campaign of counterattack.
Meanwhile, the cataclysm of the Dark City occurred in a series of chain reactions. The underground River Khaïdes burst its banks as a slough of Nurgle daemons ﬂopped into its acrid reaches, surging into the streets above to trigger waves of necrotising plague. With the midspires largely unguarded, Tzeentchian sky-sharks and the fiery chariots of daemon sorcerers roared into the skies, ﬂame spiralling as they clashed with the murder-packs that populate Commorragh's starscrapers. When the daemons of Khorne poured through empty streets to invade the sprawl of Sec Maegra, the most nefarious, hardened mercenaries and pirates of the galaxy united as a single army in the face of swarming Bloodletters and rampaging Greater Daemons. The hordes of Slaanesh, beside themselves with ecstasy, sated themselves with orgies of violence unbound as they massacred Commorrite Kabals spire by spire.
That immense and complex Dark Eldar metropolis had power enough to swallow even a major daemon incursion and cauterise the areas deemed irretrievable, but it was far too fractious a domain for a unified defence. Many of the Dark City's Archons tried to slay their rivals under the pretence of fighting back the daemon hordes, their actions adding to the mayhem. Skirmishes and gang wars broke out in the streets in escalating measure, for this time there was no Kabal of the Black Heart to bring the hyperdimensional city to bloody order.
Like a palace made of dominoes given a single push, Commorragh suffered a chain reaction of disasters. Around the Crucibael, the escaped Tyranids that would once have been put down with relative ease carved a red path through the domains of the Wych Cults. Archon Sythrac, counterattacked after a vicious but costly coup staged against the Lords of the Iron Thorn, was beheaded by Kheradruakh the Decapitator, one of the living shadows known as Mandrakes.
With this singular and grisly kill, the Decapitator fnally claimed the last "perfect’ skull he needed for his dark work. Flaying it and licking his trophy clean, he used it to complete the underground ritual he had been obsessively fashioning from the stolen heads of his prey over the last eight Terran millennia. The gaze of a thousand perfect skulls met in the middle of his lair and bored a hole in the wall between worlds, opening a gateway to the midnight dimension of the Mandrakes. A morass of shadowy assassins and tenebrous monsters spilled like an inky ﬂood through the streets, and slew every soul within a dozen Terran miles. In the space of a single night, that region became the shadow kingdom of the Decapitator, long-lost monarch of the Mandrakes. His was a new reign of terror, his throne set within a sea of living shadow that consumed even the daemon invaders that strayed within its grasp.
On the third night that shadow army combined its strength with the ﬂeshy hordes of the Haemonculi Covens. Endless menageries of twisted ﬂesh-things and shadow daemons surged up from the Dark City's underworld, and the mayhem of the daemon incursion begin to lose momentum. The Kabals and Wych Cults regrouped somewhat, using their knowledge of the Dark City to fight back against the Warp-born invaders. As the stolen dark suns burned overhead, Commorragh's fate hung in the balance.
In Vect's presence, the topic of the Dysjunction's cause was already taboo. The Supreme Overlord had already claimed he had Yvraine in his power, and that he and his Haemonculus allies were painstakingly extracting every ounce of the power she had shown in the Crucibael. Though there had been no proof of it, none were foolish enough to call him a liar to his face. Vect had publicly tortured the steersmen and Corsair warriors Yvraine had abandoned in her ﬂight from the city, but of the gladiatrix herself, there was no sign. Rumours were circulating that Vect's claim was hollow, and his rivals -- his former paramour, Lady Malys of the Poisoned Tongue, foremost amongst them -- were doing everything in their power to ensure that Vect's authority and dominance was undermined.
In secret, Vect was sparing no expense in the search for Yvraine, and the Haemonculi Ancient Urien Rakarth's Prophets of Flesh Coven were pulling every string they could in order to track down the Ynnari. Without the aid of their Harlequin allies, the Ynnari would likely already be captured, but for now they had slipped the net.
To Rakarth, the rumours of soul magic were both intoxicating and horrifying. They hinted at a prize worth any cost to the nigh-immortal Coven-lords, whilst also representing a manner of death that even a Haemonculus Ancient would not be able to escape. Word had already reached the master ﬂeshcrafters of the embodiment of Ynnead that had fought the coven sent to Belial IV. Upon their return to Commorragh, the Haemonculi had ascertained that their worst fears were true; their slain fellows had been entirely reduced to dust by the powerful revenant magic of the Yncarne. Every vat-clone, phylactery-hidden remnant and secret skin sample had been desiccated to nothingness. Somewhere out there was the power to wield both inescapable death, and life eternal. And they wanted to claim it like nothing before.
War in the Labyrinth
With a galactic cataclysm unfolding around them, the Ynnari made haste to the ghost halls as soon as the Iyanden Seer Council had reached its decision. Using her inﬂuence over the spirits of the dead, Yvraine worked every available moment to transfer the consciousness of ancient heroes from the Iyanden Infinity Circuit directly into the Wraithbone bodies they had previously only controlled via the use of Spirit Stones. These Ghost Warriors were not trapped in a waking dream, but given new life by Yvraine and her kin, able to see, feel and hear the material world around them with all the clarity they had possessed as mortals. Though mute, their gratitude was obvious in their deference -- the stiffness and uncertainty of the typical wraith construct was replaced by a ﬂuid grace as the statuesque spirit warriors adjusted to their new forms. Before long these newly realised Ghost Warriors had taken up the artefacts and heraldry of their mortal incarnations. They were truly Reborn. With their senses singing and their thirst for vengeance undiminished, the Ghost Warriors of Iyanden were more formidable than ever.
In conjunction with Iyanna Arienal and her Spiritseer brethren, the High Priestess of Ynnead brought entire Ghost Halls to full wakefulness. The Wraithbone constructs were filled with purpose -- they felt the presence of Ynnead calling them to war, for if any could command them from beyond the veil, it was the God of the Dead.
Within a matter of solar days, the Ynnari made for the Webway once more. This time they went with not only elements of the Biel-Tani Swordwind, ghostly emissaries from Altansar and strike forces from the Craftworlds amongst their ranks, but also with a mighty host of Reborn Ghost Warriors. Many of the Iyandeni traditionalists objected vociferously to what they saw as a crippling blow to the world-ship's defences, but the newly realised constructs would not listen to even the most compelling argument, and would not allow themselves to be stopped. Few had the nerve to stand before the ancient heroes of the Eldar race and tell them to stand down in the name of passivity and caution. The future of their entire species was at stake, and the dead would do everything in their power to ensure that their living brethren were beyond the reach of She Who Thirsts.
From the sternmost portal of Iyanden, the swollen ranks of the Reborn made for the depths of the Webway once more. To use those esoteric pathways often carries a cost -- even with the Harlequins of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow to guide them, the Ynnari found their progress painfully slow. Fractal complexities haunted their peripheral vision, surreal dreams assailed their minds, and false turns confounded them every night. Half-real, half of the Warp, that twilit Labyrinth Dimension was in places as much the domain of the Dark Gods as that of the Eldar -- or rather the Old Ones that had come before them.
The Chaos-tainted wilderness of the Webway, long abandoned even by the Harlequins, had become the stalking grounds of Ahriman, Arch-Sorcerer of the Thousand Sons Legion. A devotee of Tzeentch, Ahriman had once been a mystical warrior of the Imperium, noble and just. In the millennia-long search to save his cursed Legion, he walked such dark paths he became consumed by ambition and revenge.
Ahriman's former master, the Daemon Primarch Magnus the Red, had wrought a great doom for the Space Wolves Chapter of Astartes, those executioners that had hounded his Legion to near-extinction at the dawn of the Horus Heresy 10,000 standard years before. In doing so he had not only brought utter devastation to the Fenris System, but also used the tremendous magical forces he had unleashed to force his own power base, the Daemon World known as the Planet of the Sorcerers, through the veil between the Warp and realspace. That cataclysmic act of metaphysical manipulation had seen a dozen new Warp Storms spiral into being across the galaxy. Empowered, the Legion of the Thousand Sons had risen again in power and prominence.
The Thousand Sons were a force like no other. In the name of enlightenment, they had dabbled with the energies of the Warp so deeply that a ﬂaw in their transhuman gene-seed had mutated out of control, with some of their number turned into ﬂeshy monsters called Chaos Spawn who were robbed of all sanity. Ahriman had cast a great spell, the Rubric, to preserve what was left of his fellows, but in doing so had been too successful. He had turned his kin from mutable ﬂesh to unliving dust sealed inside baroque suits of ancient Power Armour. Since that day, the Arch-Sorcerer had sought a way to rescue his fellows from their deathly and soulless half-life. He had needed little spurring to seek out the Ynnari. In their travails within the Webway, the Reborn had come to the notice of many a baleful eye.
Through the whispered cant of daemons, word had reached Ahriman of a new force in the galaxy that could defy death -- and even resurrect those whose spirit still lingered. With all haste, he gathered his daemonic servants and sent them into the twilight between worlds to serve as his eyes and ears. Here was a chance to save his Legion in earnest, and possibly restore them body and soul. He had sent several thrallbands of his servants alongside Abaddon the Despoiler's Black Legion to the ice moon Klaisus in the besieged Cadia System, for he had foreseen that planet as a nexus of fate in the greater schemes of Tzeentch. Yet that was a distraction from his own self-imposed mission -- a task he still considered selﬂess, but which was more truthfully yet another quest for personal power and vindication entwined. If his agents in the Webway spoke even a whisper of possible redemption for his Legion, he would snatch it up with both hands. Then, once he had wrung the Ynnari's secrets from their pain-wracked bodies, he would use their power over life and death as he saw fit.
When they had first ventured into the Webway from Commorragh, the relatively small size of the Ynnari expedition had lent them stealth. They had evaded the notice of Ahriman's diminutive spies, for the Webway is impossibly convoluted and beyond the ken of all but Cegorach, the Laughing God himself. Yet bolstered by warriors from Biel-Tan, Ulthwé, Iyanden, Altansar, and several other Craftworlds that had been drawn to their banner during their travels, the Ynnari had become a force that could no longer hide.
Ahriman, having stolen passages of the fabled Tome Labyrinthus from the Black Library and deciphered their mind-bending secrets, knew many of those shattered spars that had been claimed by Chaos. He had even learned to scry regions of the Webway at will, the better to catch his prey unawares. The sorcerer waited for his moment to strike with the attentiveness of a serpent; ten millennia of pursuing his arcane agendas had given him a terrible patience.
When the Ynnari strayed into the Psychedelta, a many-tunnelled region where the walls of the Webway were thin, the Chaos Sorcerer conducted a great ritual of translocation, sacrificing nine hundred and ninety nine captives to the glory of Tzeentch. The Changer of the Ways was pleased, and a few moments later, Ahriman burst from the aether to attack the Ynnari with a host of Thousand Sons and gibbering daemons at his back.
The battle that ensued scorched the still air of the Webway delta. It was a pyrotechnic display of raw Tzeentchian magic pitted against the expert skill and spiritual conjurations of the Reborn. Initially, the battle was fought on a narrow frontage, every Thousand Sons thrallband and daemonic host pushing with relentless, tireless strength into the ranks of the Ynnari. The Eldar reacted instinctively, ﬂowing and darting around every push and thrust with the expertise of master duellists. Then, as the Ynnari were forced to give ground by the sheer power and suddenness of the Chaos assault, the battle ﬂowed back to the neck of that section of the Webway, spreading into every one of the contributory capillaries of the Psychedelta. Before long, a half-dozen battles were being fought in parallel or in tunnels one atop another, each force giving everything it had to break past the other -- and in doing so, win a critical advantage by attacking on two fronts in the neighbouring engagement.
High on a crystal bridge that seemed open to the void of space, a host of Iyanden's Guardians and Ghost Warriors were led into battle by the Wraithknight Soulseeker. A phalanx of Thousand Sons Chaos Terminators barred their path across the apex of the bridge, but the wraith-led host slowed not at the sight. Where they had once moved in ponderous strides, the blank-helmed constructs now ran with the easy grace of the living Eldar that loped behind them, their complex Warp-tech guns held tightly to their broad chests. Guardian heavy weapon platforms sent a steady hail of Shuriken Cannon fire into the ornately armoured Terminators, the shredding discs shattering or ricocheting from ensorcelled ceramite without visible effect. The Scarab Occult returned fire, their Combi-bolters stitching thunderous explosions across the oncoming Eldar constructs, but in turn did little more than scorch their inviolable forms.
The Thousand Sons swiftly switched targets, picking out the Guardians behind with uncanny marksmanship to take a gory toll. The Sorcerers in their midst sent vivid helixes of light shooting out to trap the Wraithguard in cages of azure luminescence -- these then contracted to slice through Wraithbone as if it were raw meat, until only chunks of ivory anatomy were left behind. Those Terminators armed with rotary Assault Cannons and Hellfyre Missile Racks poured in enough Warp-cursed firepower to dismember two of the leading ghost warriors. The irresistible force of the Thousand Sons' firepower had met the immovable object of the wraith host, and found their edge not in technology, but psychic magic.
Soulseeker loomed over the front line, his ﬂickering shield generator casting a pale aegis of light across the leading elements that prevented the worst of the magical storm from taking a greater toll. The Wraithguard, so protected from the Chaos Terminators' salvoes, seized the moment, running in close to open fire with their Distortion Cannons. Howling vortexes of Warp energy simply snatched away their heavily armoured targets as if they had been sucked from an open airlock into space.
Soulseeker charged through the Thousand Sons ranks, braving salvoes of mutagenic fire that would have turned a mortal target inside out, and swept his immense Ghostblade across the span of the enemy battle line. The dolorous blow cut several of the Scarab Occult in half at the waist, breaking the Thousand Sons's cohesion. Suddenly, the Iyanden Wraithblades were in amongst them, fighting with grace and efficiency of movement as their axes hewed apart suits of Prosperine battle-plate.
Tortured by so many arcane forces clashing at once, the crystal bridge shuddered, shook and cracked along its length. Some of the wraith constructs were fast enough to leap from one cracking ﬂoe of crystal to another until they reached the safety of the far side. Others were not so lucky, and tumbled away into nameless, fractal oblivion.
Nearby, the daemon-choked tunnels of the Psychedelta's rightmost spar were lit brightly with Warpﬂame. Cackling Pink Horrors and Flamers drizzled fire with manic glee as they lurched and bounded towards their quarry. Amongst them were towering Lords of Change, each hurling their own devastating spells at the oncoming Eldar. The Biel-Tani spearhead that faced that ﬂaming host suffered a thousand deaths in the space of a few terrifying solar minutes.
Wherever the mutagenic ﬂames touched an Eldar warrior, manifest insanity was left behind. A squad of Howling Banshees were turned to infants in outsized armour that looked at their blades in fascination. A trio of winged Swooping Hawks were transformed to a scintillating rain of scaled serpents. A shrine of Dire Avengers, having released a hurricane of razored shuriken, found their projectiles reversing course to attack them with the avidity of starving piranhas. Each inventive demise brought great merriment to the Horrors that massed around the Lords of Change. For a while, the Webway echoed with skirling hilarity.
The laughter stopped when figures of legend strode forth, brought together once more by the mighty Jain Zar.
Majestic as the War God Khaine himself, the Phoenix Lords emerged from the darkness of the Webway one by one. It was not Asurmen at their fore, but his foremost student -- she who had taken Ynnead into herself, and found her way back to the Reborn.
Baharroth dived low, blinding beams searing from his multi-barrelled riﬂe to burn the eyes from a Lord of Change as he passed. His sword took its head with contemptuous ease as he shot past in a sapphire blur. Faced with a horde of assailants, Jain Zar span, polearm blade carving a deadly spiral around her. Her Triskele shot outward; it cleaved pink-skinned daemons in twain on the way out, then slashed through their blue-skinned replicas on the way back as it returned to her hand. The Brimstone Horrors that scattered the ground in their place shrieked at the sight of Fuegan, the Burning Lance, striding swathed in the heat of a thousand fiery deaths. They ran back howling to set fires amongst the Thousand Sons that came behind. Hissing in impatience, the Lord of Change Zarzapt the Ineffable strode forward to bathe Fuegan in Warpfire, but its mutagenic curse could not touch the Phoenix Lord's scaled armour. A moment later he blasted the creature into discorporating mist with a pinpoint beam from his Firepike.
Asurmen ran a beaked Herald of Tzeentch through with the Blade of Asur, hoisting its wriggling body high so his Dire Avenger acolytes could shred it to nothingness with shuriken fire. Maugan Ra, standing legs braced atop a fallen Wraithknight, methodically shot every blade-winged Screamer from the sky with such impeccable skill that not a single one of the Maugetar's shuriken failed to hit its mark. His bio-explosive rounds he saved for the Burning Chariots trailing ﬂame through the skies; each turned to a fiery meteor as they were sent crackling into the hordes below. The Greater Daemon Vexwing teleported into being behind him, stave raised to lay him low. Before the blow could land, Karandras struck from below, melting from the shadows to hack the avian horror into shimmering nothingness with biting blade and scorpion’s claw.
The Phoenix Lords' skill at arms outmatched the daemon host to such a degree that not one of the Horrors or their ﬂame-hurling, bestial brethren could lay a single claw upon them. Here, amongst the tight press of battle, the First Exarchs were lethality personified.
In the next spar, at the foremost tip of the Ynnari advance, the warriors of Ulthwé raced to close quarters with the tightly packed Rubricae. The Black Guardians had felt the sting of the Thousand Sons' ensorcelled fusillades before. They knew from experience that a single inferno bolt could blast an Eldar limb from limb. Yet they faltered not, for they knew the God of the Dead was watching over them. In rushing the enemy lines they invited decimation, and indeed many irreplaceable lives were lost. It would likely have been a massacre but for the presence of Eldrad Ulthran.
The High Farseer cast the runes of war to lend uncanny fortune to his kin, whilst his close ally, Kysaduras the Anchorite, sent storms of crackling lightning within the ranks of the Thousand Sons to disrupt their firing lines. Ahriman parted the sea of his warriors with a wall of psychic force before replying with his own volley of psychic magic. Transmutive ﬂames struck out, turning the elder Farseer Kysaduras into a crude wooden statue that was caught eternally in a pose of desperate anguish.
With the Ulthwéans came the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow, their Shadowseer casting a veil of mist over the Dire Avengers that sprinted alongside them. Where a volley of blazing bolts roared in, the mists saw the fiery bolts pass through the Aspect Warriors as if they were made of no more than shadow. The blitzing attack had gained the Ulthwéan warhost a good deal of ground, however. As their Harlequin allies ﬂipped and danced through the air around them, the Eldar hit the Thousand Sons line like a bladed tornado.
The armoured automata suddenly found themselves hard pressed. The heirloom blades and energised swords of the Reborn slashed open ancient Power Armour at the waist, the shoulder, and the neck, each blow aimed with pinpoint precision to ensure as telling a cut as possible. The tactic worked well, and for a triumphant few solar seconds the Eldar advanced over dismembered suits of battle-plate that lay gently steaming in the mist.
Then Ahriman pointed his staff, and geysers of pink fire roared out to consume the Harlequins vaulting towards him. Three graceful warrior-dancers were caught mid-leap; they landed as scatterings of dust. At the same time, the ranks of beleaguered Thousand Sons seemed to wake from their dreamlike torpor and attack with sudden speed, shoulder-barging, punching and clubbing the Eldar to the ground with the stocks of their Bolters before stamping down to mangle ﬂesh and crush bone.
In a crackle of Warp-light, Eldrad materialised amongst the Thousand Sons, the glowing Staff of Ulthamar spinning to shatter their armour as if their ancient battle-plate were made of no more than fine china. The fight in the tunnel descended into anarchy around him as the Ulthwéans pressed in again and again, their morbid black and bone armour lit by the neon-bright, mind-searing hues of the raging psychic battle.
In anarchy and mayhem, the forces of Tzeentch thrived.
Riding upon aetheric winds came the Exiles, gathered over the millennia to Ahriman's side. Nine was their number, each a Sorcerer of incredible power who had, alongside their master, transformed the Thousand Sons to their unliving state. Some strode through the air itself, footsteps blazing in their wake; others came on bladed discs that soared through the air, or rode fiery chariots pulled by swift sky-ray daemons. The Triumvirate of Ynnead had been sighted on the front line, and the psychic signal had been sent -- the Reborn were fighting hard to break through the Thousand Sons ambush with Yvraine at their head. It was time to close the trap.
The bird-headed Azhtar Manutec stretched his feathered fingers into claws, grabbing and ripping the air. Fifty metres distant, Incubi bladesmen were torn bodily apart by invisible forces. The skull-mantled biomancer, Naratt of the Broken Troth, stunned a knot of Eldar with a blast of kaleidoscopic light before casting knucklebones at their feet like a farmer scattering grain. Each osseous seed grew swiftly into a ﬂeshless corpse, the unliving warriors clattering forward to lock bony fingers around the limbs of the nearest Eldar. Ahriman himself tied an invisible noose and pulled it taut, a score of those Eldar closest to him clutching at their throats as all breath was sucked from their bodies. Each new spell took a terrible toll. Here, so close to the Warp from which they drew their power, the millennia-old Sorcerers of the Thousand Sons could mould reality to their desires with the twitch of a finger.
Towards them came Yvraine, her face twisted in a snarl. Her proud strut turned into a purposeful run, her expression that of a lioness who has seen her cubs cut down by a cruel assailant. Kha-vir, the Sword of Sorrows, sang at her side, the edge of its blade glowing white with psychic corposant. With her came the Visarch, his own Cronesword held poised to strike, and the Yncarne, howling with the voice of a thousand departed souls. Empowered by the psychic energies of death all around them, they moved faster than any mortal creatures should. Whispering potent curses, Yvraine cut the air with her fan, and six scalpel-sharp dirks ﬂew on deathly winds to impale a chanting Sorcerer. Another found his spell cut short as the Visarch ran in close, the Sword of Silent Screams casting a pall of soundless twilight around him as the great blade sheared off the front half of the Exile's helmet -- and bisected his head with it. Nearby, the Yncarne rose high like a bird of prey on a hot thermal, only to swoop down forcefully. The quicksilver Sword of Souls ﬂowed to become two daggers that slashed and stabbed at the Thousand Sons, each striking with a demigod's strength behind them. A circle of Rubricae turned their guns on the creature, but although their explosive salvo tore bloodless chunks from the Yncarne's torso, they could not shift the cruel smile from its face.
A spiralling vortex of spiritual energy whirled out from the creature's opening maw, and the Thousand Sons froze like statues. The mystical animating forces within the undead Traitor Marines had been reduced to nothing more dangerous than echoes.
Yvraine felt her hatred flare hot, her gyrinx growling at her side. There was their leader, commanding the throng from his perch on a disc of fiery metal. Casting aside her finery, she shot towards him like a living missile, her companions close on her heels. Calmly putting his staff aside, the Champion of Tzeentch cupped his hands as if trapping a winged insect, and hurled a handful of nothingness upwards with a roar.
Along with the Visarch and the Yncarne, Yvraine suddenly found herself adrift -- not within the Webway, but without. They were stranded in a near-silent limbo, trapped on the top of the psychocrystal walls. The sounds of battle were mufﬂed beneath them, and the cool void sucked in its breath at their backs. Yvraine did not look around, for she felt something there, in the darkness. A voice in her mind said should she do so, she would behold the Changer of the Ways himself, and learn the meaning of madness. That voice was not Eldar, but human; it belonged not to a salvaged soul, but to the Arch-Sorcerer below. Another joined it; that of Elierrogh the Sage, one of the Eldar spirit passengers within her. She had studied this one at length.
A ﬂash of insight struck Yvraine. "Ahzek Ahriman!" she shouted, "I have that which you seek. I can restore your brethren!"
A stone's throw away, the Visarch cut at the Webway's exterior with the Sword of Silent Screams, but he could not scratch it. The Yncarne hissed in pain to her ﬂank, trailers of purple mist unwinding from its body as it was dissolved by the aether behind.
"And why should I believe that?" came the sorcerous voice in Yvraine's head. "You have no power here, in my new domain." She felt white heat as something loomed behind, the fell gaze of godly eyes burning down upon her with terrible, inhuman focus.
"Open your eyes!" she cried, secretly praying to Ynnead that her desperate gambit would work. She pressed her hands upon the psychocrystal of the Webway's exterior, focussed on the armoured Legionaries within, and reversed the cycles of their existence.
A dozen of the Thousand Sons Rubric Marines, previously levelling firepower into the Reborn with the emotionless efficiency of automatons, staggered backwards as if struck. They looked at one another, clutched their hearts, and fell back, rallying around Ahriman before taking up the defensive stances of the Emperor of Mankind's ancient Legiones Astartes. Yvraine could just make out their words as they frantically sought to make sense of their situation.
"Ahzek? Is that you, brother?"
"Where are the Athenaeans? These are Eldar we face this day!"
"In the name of Magnus, what is going on?"
Ahriman shook his head as if stunned, his wide shoulders shaking uncontrollably with mirth, grief, or a mixture of the two. He brought his cupped hands together once more and yanked Ynnead's luminaries downward with a shout of pure exultation.
A lurch of the stomach, and Yvraine suddenly found herself in the swirling tide of battle once more, the Visarch and the Yncarne quickly taking up positions behind her.
"Do it," she said to her companions, siphoning the rich reservoir of Eldar life force that ﬂooded the tunnels into a single burst of invigorating energy. In a ﬂash, the Iyandeni giant Soulseeker was there, trailing white ﬂame as his Wraithblade carved a chasm through the crystal of the Webway's superstructure with an ear-splitting scream. Stepping to the edge of the fissure, the Yncarne opened its maw impossibly wide. It inhaled so mightily the resurrected Thousand Sons were drawn towards it, stumbling over the edge of the chasm to fall away into the void beneath. Ahriman screamed in denial, riding his disc after them on a trail of fire.
"The Whispering God gives new life," said Yvraine as her Reborn surged forward around her for the kill, "just as he takes life away."
Clash on the Ice Moon of Klaisus
With Ahriman defeated and the majority of his Thousand Sons thrallbands trapped on the far side of a metaphysical chasm, the battle for the Psychedelta swiftly turned in favour of the Reborn. Yvraine and her fellows were initially forced to backtrack, joining their rearguard at the mouth of the Webway delta and taking the two spars that led to the relative safety of the arterial tunnels beyond. Though perhaps only half of the Ynnari's number had made it to the other side alive, those that had died had their Spirit Stones secured by the living. They would fight on, just as scores of departed Eldar already fought on within Yvraine. Of the Yncarne and the Phoenix Lords, there was no sign, but for a tunnel packed with the swiftly discorporating remains of a thousand daemons.
The Harlequins of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow once more took their place as guides for the greater mass of the Ynnari, following the laughter of Cegorach as a ship on the sea follows a lighthouse's beam. The Laughing God had been most amused by Yvraine's gambit, and was of a mind to help her to her destination. Twisting the fabric of fate to confound the Dark Gods had long been Cegorach's way, but he yearned for a brother-in-arms, for his fellow Eldar gods were long ago devoured by She Who Thirsts. Though awakened Ynnead was sombre and sinister in comparison to Cegorach's riotous, colourful demeanour, any force in the galaxy that could deny Slaanesh was worth fghting for. To rebuild a trinity of Eldar deities, with Khaine as the fell-handed destroyer, Ynnead as the giver of life after death and the Laughing God to balance the two -- that was a truly worthy goal. Indeed, some amongst the Ynnari had already begun to talk of these Eldar gods as a small pantheon -- and even pay homage to them in thought, deed, and sumptuous regalia, becoming an echo of the ancient Aeldari in microcosm. One of the Spiritseers, upon seeing this, asked if the equivalent female trinity was to set Iyanna Arienal as the maiden, Yvraine as the mother and Lelith Hesperax as the crone -- though a sharp glance from a Crucibael Bloodbride cut short her mirth.
With the Harlequins's divine patron guiding them out of the Webway, the Ynnari made good speed for the icelocked moon of Klaisus. Orbiting the planet of Kasr Holn in the Cadia System, it was as pallid as a corpse's skin, its surface swirling with blizzards. Eldrad had seen the white orb clear in his visions. Indeed, he had been dreading its coming, for in his glimpses of the future he had seen its snows stained by blood. To the Eldar, such an omen was truly feared; it symbolised the spilt blood of Eldanesh at the hands of the war god Khaine, and a severing of the peaceful accord between the Eldar and their deities. The High Farseer still had hopes that omen was inverted -- a sign of imminent disaster not for the Reborn Aeldari, but for their enemies. They approached a conﬂuence of fate where they would join forces with Humanity, and in doing so strike a blow against the Dark Gods that could yet prevent the fabric of the universe from unravelling.
Unbeknownst to Eldrad and the Ynnari, the omen spoke true for every kindred that set foot upon the cursed moon of Klaisus. The murderous hordes of Abaddon the Despoiler's Black Legion were already on the attack upon that ice-locked orb, waging war on the Imperials that followed the vision of the Living Saint, Celestine. As the Ynnari came to the spherical Webway portal that led to the Crone's Claw Mountains, they gathered one final time to commune in the name of Ynnead. A swathe of Aspect Warriors from Biel-Tan were the first to wholly entrust their souls to the Whispering God. Inspired, they finally found the inner steel to put aside their helms and their war personas, in doing so honouring not just Khaine in one of his aspects, but also Ynnead, trusting to an existence beyond the grave. Should they die, their souls would find salvation in those Ynnari nearby. In doing so the Reborn would deny Slaanesh her feast, join with Ynnead in the afterlife, and continue the fight against Chaos forever more.
Massing for battle alongside Eldrad and the Black Guardians of Ulthwé was a faction from the Wych Cult of Strife. Lelith Hesperax had agents of her own; in hearing of Yvraine's intended destination from her Harlequin contacts, she had sent a force of skilled arena fighters to take up arms alongside the Ynnari. If these Wyches reported back that the Ynnari truly were able to allay the soul-curse that afﬂicted the Dark Eldar, then Lelith herself would seek them out and fight for Ynnead's cause. Yvraine suspected that Lelith's motivations were purely selfish -- the belladonna of the arenas would give almost anything for an immortality of adoration without having to pay a constant cost in souls. Still, with her forces badly depleted by Ahriman's strike, Yvraine welcomed her kin from the Dark City with open arms.
Nearing the Webway gate, Yvraine traced lines of psychic fire around the tiny triggersphere that hung in mid-air before it, setting in motion the opening of the portal. A thin hint of icy wind became a gust, then a gale of freezing cold as the Webway gate unravelled the quantum barrier between the Labyrinth Dimension and the ice-locked mountaintop of the Crone's Claw in the Materium. The Ynnari plunged through the fractal portal, only to behold a vision of utter carnage.
The precipice-ringed hollow of the portal's site was almost hemispherical, its lip ridged with sharp rocks. Beyond it was a wasteland stained with blood. A trail of corpses led for several Terran miles into the middle distance, many of the wounded and the dying pulling themselves through the gory slush in search of safety.
Here were the Imperials that Eldrad had spoken of, their strength all but destroyed by the ravagers of Chaos. They had clearly been forcedmarching through the snow, assailed by the infamous Black Legion as they presumably sought the same Webway gate from which the Ynnari emerged. It was here they had decided to make their last stand, unaware of just how close they had come to the ancient xenos structure.
Too stubborn or stupid to realise they had no chance of victory, the Imperials fought back with a desperate ferocity. A disarrayed assortment of Black Templars Space Marines, Sisters of Battle, Imperial Guardsmen and Adeptus Mechanicus forces fought at the feet of battle-ravaged Imperial Knights, guns barking as they gave their lives to defend three warriors in their midst -- Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax of the Ordo Hereticus, the Mechanicus Archmagos Dominus known as Belisarius Cawl, and the Living Saint herself, Celestine of the Order of the Martyred Lady.
All of this the Ynnari took in at a glance, for the Eldar have senses so sharp even a howling blizzard is little hindrance to them. The Windriders of the Black Guardians were first into the fray, the Wyches of the Cult of Strife close on their heels. The Imperials, pushed beyond breaking point, could only stare in disbelief and wonderment as Ynnari warriors ﬂowed like a river around them to crash against the Black Legion. The Chaos Space Marines had hounded their quarry across Klaisus, only to find themselves denied at the last. Now it was the blood of the Black Legion that turned the moon's snows crimson, the smoking corpses of mutant Traitors to Humanity that lay thick upon the ground.
Seeing the large force of Eldar suddenly appear to repel his assault was enough to give even Abaddon pause, but he drove forward nonetheless. Twice he assailed the ridge of the Crone's Claw, and twice he was hurled back, his numbers sorely reduced. After the third time, he angrily ordered a tactical withdrawal. The bedraggled Imperials had reached safety -- of a sort.
The Road to Salvation
In the dubious safety of the Crone's Claw, that natural bowl housing the Klaisus Wraithgate, humans and Eldar watched each other warily. The ragtag Imperial warriors were exhausted, wounded, or dying, barely a hundred of them huddled around the giant Triaros Conveyor that the Archmagos in their midst clearly valued more than life itself. Incredibly, the light of battle still burned in every warrior's eyes -- that, and the certainty of absolute faith. The Ynnari, knowing well the horrors that the Black Legion would have unleashed upon these hapless humans, took note of that determination, and looked with admiration upon the stubborn resolve of the survivors. To stand against the infamous Abaddon the Despoiler in person and remain unbowed ... it was a feat worthy of the Dark Muses. Though it ran against the grain of their souls, even the Wyches of the Cult of Strife felt a kind of respect.
The Eldar, upon seeing the winged figure of the Living Saint, parted their ranks so a clear corridor led from the Ynnari leaders to Celestine. To her left stood Inquisitor Greyfax, as suspicious of the saint as she was of the xenos. To Celestine's right was the Priest of Mars; his servo-eyes followed a lithe figure -- the Shadowseer Sylandri Veilwalker -- who moved unnoticed into the ranks of the Eldar host before vanishing entirely from sight.
First came Meliniel, Autarch of Biel-Tan, followed by Yvraine, the Visarch and Eldrad. Swathed in ethereal energies, the Eldar seemed like ancient monarchs stepping from the world of myth. As they approached, Greyfax's hand went to the hilt of her Power Sword. The Visarch mirrored the gesture, grasping the Cronesword Asu-var in a graceful motion. These small acts of aggression rippled outward to the warriors of each side, escalating as they did so until it seemed as if conﬂict were inevitable. Were it not for the strident words of Autarch Meliniel ringing out over the cries of alarm, perhaps the Imperium of Man would have lost its best chance to ride out the coming tempest, and perhaps the Eldar would have faded into obscurity forever.
With Meliniel's entreaty delivered, he had bought a few valuable moments -- and in those seconds, chose to bow low before the Living Saint. His mastery of the human custom -- and of the Low Gothic tongue -- was impeccable. As Celestine moved forward to talk to him, she purposefully cleaned her silvered blade of blood and sheathed it behind her, motioning her Geminae Superia to hang back with Archmagos Cawl and his Conveyor as she did so.
The few remaining Astra Militarum still alive averted their aim, but did not stand at ease. As Inquisitor Greyfax stepped forward to join the negotiations, the Black Templars stood on a knife edge of action and inaction, casting baleful glances to one another as if daring their Battle-Brothers to make the first move. A brief binharic blurt of the Lingua Technis from Archmagos Cawl, and the Skitarii marksmen aiming their long-barrelled riﬂes from the mouth of the valley took aim at the Autarch striding confidently towards the Living Saint.
Autarch Meliniel was the first to act. The Seers were known to the humans as manipulators and liars, and the Drukhari -- the Dark Eldar -- as evil incarnate. A warrior, however, they might just listen to.
"I know you feel hatred for our kind," the Biel-Tani commander said to the human leaders. "You have good reason for it. But just as your million far-ﬂung worlds each has its own culture, we too are a fractured people. You look upon that element that would see Humanity and Eldar both escape their doom."
"We look upon pampered peacocks and depraved fiends," spat Inquisitor Greyfax. Saint Celestine cast her a reprimanding glance, but the statement hung in the air, unretracted.
Meliniel cast his gaze at the strange acolytes of Ynnead beside him before turning to regard Greyfax. "I thought so too, at first. My people have reason to fear the unknown more than most. But these visionaries are agents of destiny and hope."
"Your Saint and I share the same goals," said Yvraine. Her voice was quiet, but steady and sure. "Even if she is yet to fully understand exactly what they are."
"We would see your pilgrimage to completion," agreed Meliniel.
"You Eldar twist fate," said Greyfax, "and only ever in your own selfish interests."
"Perhaps," said Meliniel, nodding. "But there is only one thread that leads to salvation. And it is tenuous indeed. Our mutual enemies are in the ascendant as we speak. Look above you."
None of the Imperials took their eyes from the Eldar.
"I know the sight well enough," said Celestine. "The Warp rift is an ugly and infected wound. We must prevent it growing any worse."
"Enough of your riddles and platitudes," said Greyfax, her upper lip curled. "Why are you here, xenos?"
"Because your wish to deny the end of all things outweighs your unreasoning hatred," said Meliniel. "This is a crux point of fate. We believe that here, by casting a stone amongst the snows, we can start an avalanche that will quench the ﬂames of Chaos."
"The Dark Gods rise," said Yvraine sombrely. "We must rise higher, the better to cast them down. This lumpen thing," at this she gestured at the Triaros Conveyor, "this contains hope. The lord it belongs to will be a powerful symbol for your people; he will oppose the Ruinous Powers, and turn back the encroaching darkness."
The Visarch stepped forward to stand at Yvraine's shoulder. "And he will not be alone in that fight."
"You have won yourselves an hour," said Greyfax. "Convince us, or die."
The first solar hour of the parley slid past, and then the second, and the third, the atmosphere thick with a sense of history in the making. By the time the cold light of Kasr Holn's sun disappeared behind the curling talons of the Crone's Claw Mountains, the Eldar and the humans had come as close to an understanding as their races had ever attained.
After the Eldar had said their piece, the Imperial leaders had consulted amongst themselves. The Living Saint stressed that her visions had led her here, and that the xenos rescue could not have been happenstance. It was then Celestine chose to name where they must go next -- a place that struck a chord with every soul present. It was imperative, she said, that the cargo the Tech-priest carried reached its destination. Such was her conviction that she did not need to see Cawl nodding in confirmation to know the truth of her words. Given that the only route ahead was through a semi-mythical domain that the Eldar alone knew how to navigate, Celestine argued, they had little choice but to join forces. If the xenos had wished the Imperials dead, they had but to watch the Black Legion go about their red work, yet they had interceded in order to save the lives of human warriors.
Greyfax counselled caution at all times, but agreed that their mutual task was more important than the immediate gratifcation of the kill -- the Eldar could always be put down once their mission was complete. Though he still suspected trickery, and vowed to remain vigilant at all times, even Marshal Amalrich of the Black Templars eventually sheathed his weapons, giving the order for his xenos-hating Battle-Brothers to do the same.
It was agreed. The Imperials would accept the aid of the Eldar, placing themselves in their total trust -- in actuality, they had little option, for to stray into the endless maze of the Webway unguided is amongst the worst of follies. The Ynnari delegation had promised they would make good speed, outdistancing the Chaos Space Marines that pursued them and ensuring that Archmagos Dominus' precious ward remained intact.
So the two crusades became one, crunching through fresh snow to reach the giant glittering orb of the fractal Webway gate. Their procession was lit by the swirling Warp Storms that blighted the heavens high above, the splitting seam that threatened to disgorge the riotous unreality of the Warp into the order of the material universe. The Eldar fled through frst, rejoining their Craftworlder kin on the far side with solemn nods. The Imperials ventured through last, every one of them shocked at the size of the warhost beyond, and looked upon a world of marvels.
As incredible as the Webway's lambent architecture was, it was a mere precursor to the glory that would follow -- the vector by which the newfound allies would strike out for their true destination.
The realm of hope...
Anatomy and Physiology
Superficially, the Eldar appear very similar to humans in their anatomy, although the comparison can only be made on a superficial basis, for in their minds and souls the Eldar are truly alien. The Eldar stand taller than a man, with longer, cleaner limbs and handsome, striking features. Their skin is pale and unblemished as polished marble, yet with a surprisingly supple strength hiding beneath it. Their keen ears are pointed and their slanted eyes possess a penetrating quality more akin to that of a hunting cat than a man. The most fundamental difference can be seen when the Eldar move, for they each radiate an inhuman elegance and poise. This is especially evident in the sinuous grace with which they fight and the dexterity with which they field their weaponry. Every gesture is laden with subtle intent, and their reflexes are dazzlingly fast. A casual, languid gesture can end in a pinpoint thrust should the necessity arise. On closer inspection, every aspect of the Eldar physiology betrays their alien nature. Their hearts beat at twice the speed of a human's, and their minds race through possibilities and process emotions so fast that even the so-called geniuses of human history appear dull by comparison. Even their lives are greater in span -- the Eldar enjoy lives of rich sensation and wonder that can stretch over a millennium, unsullied by illness, frailty or disease. All Eldar can manipulate mental energies to a degree. Each is psychic to one extent or another; it is said the ancient Eldar could read thoughts at a glance, whilst those who trained their minds for war could crush a foe's weapon with a simple narrowing of their eyes. Even the complex technology of their race is based upon psychic engineering, the manipulation of and even creation of matter using mental energies alone. But such raw power has its price.
The Eldar mind is far more inclined towards extremes than that of a human. To an Eldar, all of life's experiences are available on a far grander scale: the individual rewards of study, the exhilaration of battle, and every imaginable pleasure or sensation in-between. An Eldar will at some point climb the most noble peaks of accomplishment, just as he will plunge into the darkest abyss of doubt. Their capacity to experience emotion enables them to attain transcendent bliss or, in contrast, experience soul-wracking sorrow. This spiritual intensity is writ large throughout their culture, manifesting in sublime works of art and music, but also giving rise to a darkness that threatens to engulf them all. No creature, not even an Eldar, can taste such rich fruits in an uncontrolled way without consequence; for an Eldar to yield absolutely to his desires would destroy him. Such was the fate of their ancient empire, whose depravities brought about the Fall of the Eldar race itself.
The Eldar are quite long-lived by human standards, and most will live for more than a thousand standard years unless they die from accident or disease. As a species, the Eldar have a universally high level of psychic ability, which also serves as the foundation of their technology, though a side-effect of this neurological make-up is that an Eldar experiences emotion, both pleasant and painful, far more intensely than any human being. The Eldar that actively cultivate their psychic potential seem to exhibit a much-extended lifespan as well, one proportional to their prowess. In this way the leaders and Seers of the Eldar may live for several thousand standard years. One matter of note is that the Eldar have sometimes referred to humans as "mammals" typically with a derogatory label in the Eldar Lexicon like "the Mon-Keigh", implying that for their part, the Eldar evolved from something else, something more advanced than the primates that are the ancestors of Mankind.
The Eldar's physical attributes and physiology indicate that they are descended from a wide range of potential ancestors that include aquatic organisms or avian creatures, although some type of reptile seems most likely (despite their current humanoid appearance, the Eldar's ancestors may not have had a head with two eyes, or an upright body with two arms and two legs at all considering they were genetically altered by the Old Ones!) However, given the Eldar's legendary arrogance, this may also simply be a way for them to put themselves above the other intelligent races of the galaxy, particularly the humans who are currently the most dominant intelligent species, much to the Eldar's disdain. The Eldar likely see themselves as completely separate from the normal classifications of animal groups. Indeed, they may not even have naturally evolved at all, as they are actually the genetic creations of the Old Ones, much like the Orks, created to defend the galaxy and the Old Ones' civilisation from the depredations of the Necrons and their C'tan masters.
No other intelligent race has ever replicated the Eldar's unique approach to technology, nor have the Eldar applied knowledge from the "primitive" races that have inherited the galaxy in the wake of the fall of their empire. The brutality and ignorance of Mankind appalls the Eldar, whilst the aloof arrogance of the Eldar race fosters little trust in others. Eldar technology adheres closely to natural biological shapes and structures. This is quite understandable, as there is no real difference between technology and nature in the Eldar mind -- they are a single process by which the Eldar imbue living things with function and functional things with life. The materials the Eldar use in their engineering are complex and varied ectoplastics that can be formed into solid shapes under psychic pressure. In some respects they are more like living tissue than inert substances, growing and reacting to their environment in a similar way to plants. The completed device or artefact may work in a conventional manner, but is operated by psychic means. The greatest of the materials the Eldar employ is called Wraithbone: an immensely resilient substance that is grown rather than made, more resilient than Adamantium and far more flexible. When a Wraithbone construct is damaged, it will gradually repair itself, a process that can be accelerated by the psychic chanting of a Bonesinger. Because of this, the greatest war-constructs are made almost entirely from Wraithbone, giving them extreme durability and strength.
As part of their potent psychic inheritance, one ability common to many Eldar is called psychomorphism by the human Magi Biologis of the Adeptus Mechanicus. In crude terms, this gives the Eldar the ability to shape matter and create simple artefacts from basic raw materials. More complex items can be made by several individuals with the ability working together or with the aid of forging machines that enhance the creative process. Eldar can also move small objects using a form of psychokinesis and it is by this means that they build their most sophisticated devices.
Some Eldar can influence the structure of growing matter by a form of empathic telepathy. This empathic ability may have been particularly important during the early development of the Eldar race, enabling them to promote the fertility and fruitfulness of edible crops and reshape the growth of trees to make simple shelters. During their primitive evolutionary stage, the Eldar undoubtedly benefitted greatly from these abilities. The first Eldar villages and towns are supposed to have been living structures grown from trees, often covering many square Terran miles and reaching high into the air. Structures like this can still be found on worlds colonised by the Eldar Exodites in later times and on the Crone Worlds of the Eldar empire in the Eye of Terror.
Because of their natural psychic abilities, the Eldar learned how to make and shape raw materials at a very early stage of cultural development. By means of their mental abilities they were able to refine materials and shape the resulting metals and stone into whatever they desired. Eldar technology has a very ancient history and the pace of its progress was closely tied to the slow overall evolutionary and cultural development of the species.
There was never a sharply defined industrial phase of Eldar history, as there was for the humans of Old Earth, but rather a steady growth in competence and knowledge over a very long period of time. A particularly Eldar aspect of all their technology is that its forms often adhere closely to natural biological shapes and structures found in the living world, as noted above. This is quite understandable, as there is no real difference between inorganic technology and nature in the Eldar mind -- they amalgamate into a single process by which the Eldar imbue living things with function and functional things with life.
Unique Eldar Technology
- Shuriken Weapons - The standard weapon of the Eldar military forces are Shuriken guns, weapons that use gravitic forces to fire thin discs only a single molecule thick at the enemy.These discs are so thin that they are usually fired in bursts. The Eldar use these weapons in the form of pistols, cannons, and a light carbine known as a Shuriken Catapult.
- Spirit Stone - When the Eldar die, their souls are in danger of being devoured in the Warp by the Chaos God Slaanesh. To prevent this, the Eldar created special Spirit Stones, which capture and contain the psychic energy that comprises their souls at the moment of death. These stones are then collected and inserted into a Craftworld's "Infinity Circuit", where they may rest along with the spirits of their ancestors. In times of need, the soul stones of the Craftworld's strongest warriors may be taken from the Infinity Circuit and placed inside Wraithbone automatons such as the Wraithguard, Wraithlord and Wraithknight, to once again fight in defence of the Craftworld.
- Webway - The Eldar cannot travel through Warpspace in the same way the starships of the Imperium do, because they lack the equivalent of Navigators, making the trip extremely dangerous for a journey of any more than a few light years at a time. Instead they rely on a system of transportation through the Warp known as the Webway. The Webway is best imagined as a vast and tangled network of doorways connected through the Warp between fixed points in real space, by which the Eldar can travel far more rapidly than most races.The Webway's technology is based on that of the Old Ones, who first developed a very similar system of transportation using Warp Gates and imparted the technology to the Eldar after their creation. However, if there is not a Warp Gate near an Eldar's destination, or the one present is not big enough to permit the necessary forces to pass through, they are at a disadvantage. Much of the Webway has fallen into obscurity and disrepair, with tunnels and doorways sealed or broken. This often forces the Eldar to make connecting stops on their way to their destination. Finally, it is said that the fabled Black Library, a storehouse for all the accumulated knowledge of the Eldar about Chaos, resides somewhere within the Webway, though only the Harlequins know exactly where.
- Wraithbone - This is the main construction material of the Eldar, and the staple of their psycho-technic engineering. It is brought forth into the physical world from the Warp and shaped by Bonesingers through the use of their psychic power. It is used to create the Craftworlds of the Eldar, their tanks and other vehicles, constructs such as the Wraithguard and Wraithlords, as well as their weapons, tools and armor. Wraithbone is a psychically conductive material and so not only provides the structure for things built of it, but also can be used for power distribution and communications. Wraithbone is a highly resilient material, and capable of limited self-repair when exposed to psychic energy. It, and the other building materials of the Eldar, will grow and react more like organic tissue and plants than the inorganic building materials of other races.
- Blackstone Fortress - The Blackstone Fortresses were originally created by the Old Ones as weapons in the first war against the C'tan, and were known to the ancient Eldar as the Talismans of Vaul. To capitalise on the C'tan's vulnerability to psychic attacks using Warp energy, the Fortresses were equipped with a Warp-cannon that could create a devastating rip in physical space and an eruption of psychic energy out of the Immaterium. The fortresses have since fallen into the hands of the Imperium and the Chaos Space Marines, and have influenced two of the most recent major wars of the Imperium of Man, during the Gothic War and the 13th Black Crusade.
Remnants of Glory
Remnants of Glory are items of incredible rarity and power, each one an echo of the ancient Eldar empire's might:
- Kurnous' Bow - Eldar myth recounts how Kurnous hunted across the stars and fashioned an arrow specific to each prey he sought. When loosed from his bow, these slaying missiles would seek out the weakness in their target, finding gaps in defences to reach the soft flesh beneath. Kurnous' Bow is a Shuriken Pistol created long ago in honour of these ancient tales. Its psycho-sympathetic ammunition reacts to the vulnerabilities of the foe, turning a shot that should have merely wounded into a killing blow.
- Shard of Anaris - When Kaela Mensha Khaine slew Eldanesh, he took the sword Anaris and claimed it as his own. When Khaine was shattered in battle with Slaanesh, Anaris too was splintered, the fragments of both blade and wielder coming to rest within the Craftworlds. Legend tells that the Shard of Anaris was then crafted into a blade to be borne by the Eldar's mightiest warriors.
- Uldranorethi Long Rifle - Uldanoreth was an outcast whose wanderlust drove him to tread the stars. He braved the dangers of a thousand worlds, surviving only on his wits and ingenuity. Whilst on his long journeys, Uldanoreth perfected the art of the long-range attack, and crafted a formidable weapon capable of sniping enemies from incredible distances.
- Faolchú's Wing - When Eldanesh fell battling Khaine, the great falcon Faolchú was disconsolate. Faolchú gifted a single golden pinfeather to Eldanesh’s heirs, that perhaps its swiftness might aid them where her own had failed. Legend tells that this artefact Jump Pack is that selfsame token of grief, handed down through generations of Eldar, and surviving even the tumult of the Fall.
- Firesabre - Many legends speak of Draoch-var, the great drake whose ethereal fires reduced the great forests of Velorn to inert ash, and whose wrathful strength toppled the pillars of the Temple of Isha. Reputedly, this Power Sword was forged from Draoch's razored fang in celebration of Ulthanesh's victory. It burns with a fury that can never be quenched, and its fire spreads like a living thing.
- The Phoenix Gem - At the height of the War in Heaven, Asuryan himself was laid low by the chill blades of his foes. To save her beloved, Isha drew down the heat of a hundred stars into a glittering gem. The light and heat that had once nurtured countless planets drove the unnatural chill from the Phoenix King's bones and returned him to his people and his consort. It is said that the Phoenix Gem is the only surviving fragment of this ancient stone. Even now, millions of years hence, it can still return life to the fallen...
- The Spirit Stone of Anath'lan - Anath'lan was once one of Craftworld Biel-Tan's most skilled Farseers. Alas, pride caused him to misread the runes, dooming a Maiden World to a bitter demise. Unable to forgive himself, Anath'lan died of grief. His Spirit Stone refused to bond with the Infinity Circuit, and to this day guides other Eldar away from error.
The Eldar Path
As protection against the lure of excess, and to guard against any recurrence of the Fall, the people of the craftworlds adhere to a set of strictures known as the Path. Through the rigid emotional discipline of the Path they master their inclination towards sensation-seeking, instead focussing their prodigious intellects and energies upon the pursuit of one specific goal. Since the Fall, those Eldar who fled upon the Craftworlds have faced their inescapable doom. The battles they have fought in the name of survival have been many and violent. Yet their most important struggle is a spiritual one, for the nature of their psyche remains fundamentally unchanged. As ever they were, the Eldar are prone to emotional extremes. Perhaps the greatest difference between the ancient Eldar and their descendants is that the Craftworlders have learned to fear wanton experience, shunning the indulgences of the past. To ensure temptation is put behind them, the philosophy often called Ai'elethra, or the Path, governs every aspect of Craftworld life, enabling the Eldar to harness their emotional and intellectual intensity safely, without jeopardising themselves or those around them.
In adult life, every Eldar chooses for himself a discipline that he then makes his task to master to the exclusion of all else. Each discipline is a Path unto itself, and each Path may necessitate further choices and specialisations. Once an Eldar has walked a Path for long enough, he chooses another, then another. Though he forsakes each Path in turn, his soul is nourished by the experiences upon it. An Eldar may tread many different Paths in his life, and the skills he learns on each journey serve to enrich further accomplishments. To the Eldar, all avenues of experience are strewn with dangers, for their minds are capable of depth and understanding that goes beyond the concept of mere human obsession. Such dangers are often likened to traps or nets, waiting to catch the unwary and hold him fast in the chains of compulsion. When an Eldar's mind becomes so completely focused upon one thing that he can no longer make the change to another discipline, he is said to be lost upon the Path. This is a frightening and final fate for all Eldar, and it can befall any of their kind despite the discipline and training that they receive. In the case of the Warrior Path, these individuals are called Exarchs, though there are examples that correspond to other Paths, such as the Crystal Seers and the doomed Bards of Twilight.
There are innumerable Paths open for an Eldar to explore; some as common as the Path of the Artisan, others as rare and dangerous as the Path of the Seer. Each offers its followers a complete way of life. Those Eldar who have mastered the less esoteric Paths are no less respected than their brethren. After all, the artisans are those who create the Craftworlds themselves and their contents, calling masterpieces into being with the care a musician lavishes upon his harp or a warrior upon his sword. It is from the ranks of those upon "civilian" Paths such as these that the Guardian militia are mustered in times of need.
The Path of the Warrior
The Eldar are a race beset on all sides by warfare. Would that it were not this way, for Eldar generations are few and far between, and they can ill afford to lose their numbers. Young Eldar often believe they can rebuild the glory of their empire with fire and passion, but their elders know well that their shattered civilisation is locked in a struggle for simple survival. Because of this unavoidable truth, more and more Eldar walk the Warrior Path with every passing year. The Path of the Warrior teaches the arts of death and destruction. Such is the dark nature of the Eldar psyche that the Warrior Path draws most of them onto it at some point in their long lives. In aeons past, the ancient Phoenix Lords taught the arts of war to both males and females, and as a result Eldar warriors are as likely to come from either sex.
As with many of the more complex Paths, the Warrior Path is divided into many separate branches. Each of these is known as a Warrior Aspect, representing a different facet of the war god Khaine, and bringing with it unique fighting techniques, weapons and abilities. The Aspects differ greatly in their methods of warfare, and offer specialist skills for specific battlefield roles. Each Aspect upon a Craftworld keeps at least one shrine in which to practice the mastery of their Warrior Path. When the Eldar go to war, the Warrior Aspects fight in a predetermined role associated with their shrine. They have their own warrior garb, a form of ritual battle suit, and distinctive weaponry, ranging from the fusion guns of the Fire Dragons to the sleek Nightshade Jetfighters of the Crimson Hunters. Their minds and bodies are honed with endless exercise, both physical and spiritual, until they become suffused with the Aspect of Kaela Mensha Khaine that their shrine represents. The Aspect Warriors do not all live in the shrines, and when they put aside their ritual masks and uniforms, they can walk at peace through their Craftworld. Only the keepers of each shrine, the Exarchs, live within them, unable and unwilling to escape. Some Aspects, such as the Slicing Orbs of Zandros, are unique to a specific Craftworld. Others are common to most, with the most famous and well-established being the Dire Avengers, the Howling Banshees, the Striking Scorpions, the Fire Dragons, the Swooping Hawks, and the Dark Reapers. In battle, each unit plays its own part with the skill of a virtuoso, their singular abilities combining in a symphony of destruction that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
From the most numerous horde to the mightiest enemy war machine, there is a cadre of the Craftworld's warriors with skills and weapons suited to its annihilation. Combined with the prescience of the Farseers and the strategic genius of the Autarchs who command the warhost, even a small strike force can devastate its opponents with little fear of reprisal. The Eldar ideal is to eradicate those who oppose them without a single loss from their own ranks, for the usurpers are many and the Eldar few. They cannot afford to throw away their lives in the manner of the cruder races they face. Every Eldar lost in battle will have been sacrificed because there was no other choice, and at great cost to the enemy, for in comparison the lives of other races are worthless.
The Path Abandoned
Sometimes the rigid constraints of the Path are intolerable even for an Eldar to bear. Such individuals leave their Craftworlds and voluntarily become Outcasts. Many Eldar spend Terran years or decades in exile before they return to the Path. During this time, they must bear the terrible burden of their heightened consciousness without the protection of rigid self-discipline. Their psychically-sensitive minds are a beacon to predatory daemons and in particular to the Great Enemy Slaanesh, so only Eldar of especially strong character can survive for long. After years of adventure, wandering, and sailing the seas of space, most Eldar eventually return to the sanctuary of the Path.
There are many kinds of Outcast, each with a varying degree of dissociation from their kin. They leave their craftworlds to carve out lives elsewhere, often wandering the galaxy and visiting the worlds of Men or the Exodites of the Maiden Worlds. These inscrutable nomads are welcome aboard Craftworlds only briefly, for their minds are dangerously unguarded and can attract predators from the psychic realms of the Warp. Outcasts are also disruptive in another sense, for simply by their presence they can distract the young and inexperienced from the Path, as romantic tales of travel and freedom follow in their wake. Some Eldar yearn for the undiscovered vistas of open space. They join fleets of exploration and disappear into the untrammelled warp space tunnels of the webway. Most do not return, though a few come home laden with alien treasures. They bring tales of new worlds, fabulous discoveries, and battles on the edges of the galaxy.
The wildest of all the spacefaring Eldar become Corsairs and raiders. They often continue to trade with and visit their craftworld whilst plundering the ships of humans, Orks and even other Eldar. These mavericks may even sometimes hire out their services to alien races, while many a voyage of exploration has turned into a military venture. As home -- and the Eldar Path -- become increasingly remote, the naturally wild and amoral character of the Eldar resurfaces. Eldar pirates are quick-tempered and unpredictable, equally inclined to magnanimity and wanton slaughter. Fleets such as the Eldritch Raiders, the Steeleye Reavers and the Sunblitz Brotherhood are greatly feared as a result.
To the ignorant, there is little to distinguish between the ships of the Craftworlds, the Corsair fleets of Outcasts and those of Dark Eldar pirates. All are seen as a constant, elusive menace that bring sudden death to the unwary. On occasion, Corsair fleets will join with the ships of a Craftworld in response to a common threat, while at other times a Craftworld may aid its Corsair cousins on a mission of war, all of which adds to the illusion that the Eldar as a whole are little more than a race of piratical raiders hell-bent on indiscriminate slaughter.
While the Seer and the Warrior are two of the most visible Paths of the Eldar, there are hundreds of others. Many Eldar will choose the study of an instrument or art form as their Path, while others might devote themselves to the development of a science or the refinement of some technology. These Paths, while equally important to the survival of the Eldar, tend to be far more varied and far less all-consuming than those of the Seer and the Warrior. Notable among the other Paths is that of the Bonesinger; the title given to those that maintain and repair the psycho-active Wraithbone components of the Eldar Craftworlds. Also notable is the Path of the Mariner, the Path followed by those who devote themselves to crewing spacecraft.
Like the shimmering blade of Khaine, Eldar warhosts carve through the ranks of their enemies. Guided by the military genius of their Autarchs and the prescience of their Farseers, they turn their minds to war with a single deadly purpose, dispatching their foes with blistering speed and masterful skill. Grace in battle and merciless efficiency are prized virtues of Craftworld Eldar armies. Eldar warhosts are led by those who epitomise such traits: the Autarchs. These are Eldar who have walked the Path of the Warrior for decades or even centuries, yet resisted the taint of Khaine’s red madness. Theirs is a vital role, for the Autarchs alone tread the esteemed Path of Command. If the Autarchs are the hand that grips the blade, then it is the Farseers who guide its aim. The bond between Autarch and Farseer can shape a warhost, and even if neither takes to the field directly, it is their combined vision that will be the difference between victory and defeat.
Though some Eldar warhosts still comprise only Aspect Warriors, the millennia have taken their toll, and it is now all too common for warhosts to rely upon a core of Eldar Guardians, those who through necessity have donned the mask of the killer despite their Path being one of peace. It is a testament to the Eldars' skill at war that even their citizen militia can overcome the armies of the lesser races. Well motivated and expertly led, even a modest warhost of Guardians can outclass an army many times its size. If in need of a stalwart defence, an Autarch can order Guardian-crewed weapon platforms and eldritch artillery to swathe the battlefield in ash and fire, while Windriders, Storm Guardians and grav-tank squadrons dart in at his behest, providing lightning-swift spears with which to spit his foes. Driven by the peerless skill and obsessive focus of their Exarchs, the warriors of the Aspect Shrines form their own strike forces within the Eldar armies. These are the most adept of all their kin, and Autarchs must use their talents wisely. Like razor-tipped arrows, each one is loosed into the enemy where it might do the most harm. In times of great need, Autarchs can also call upon ghostly legions of wraith-constructs, keen-eyed Rangers, and even the Avatar of the Bloody-Handed God itself. As the 41st Millennium draws to a close, such warriors are forced take the field with disturbing frequency, knowing they must fight, or fade away forever.
Forces of the Eldar
Avatar of Khaine
An Avatar of Khaine is the term normally applied to the physical form that the spirit of an Eldar God has managed to possess and animate. This term is most often applied to the physical body possessed by a fragment of the spirit of the Eldar God of War Kaela Mensha Khaine, though the term can actually apply to any divine entity of the Warp that has found some way to take on a corporeal form within realspace. During the Fall of the Eldar, Khaine fought with the newborn Chaos God Slaanesh shortly after "She Who Thirsts" birth, following the destruction of the other Eldar Gods by the newly emergent Prince of Chaos. During the battle, Khaine's essence was shattered and scattered across the universe, ultimately coming to reside in the psychically-reactive Wraithbone hearts of the remaining Eldar Craftworlds. Wherever his essence landed, a wraith artefact was created, allowing future Eldar to be able to summon the spirit of Khaine back into the Materium to defend his race when a Craftworld faces a particularly dire crisis. The Avatar of Khaine is an ancient god incarnate, and his massive form is fearsome to behold. His eyes glow red as bubbles of fiery ichor burst and solidify upon his incandescent skin. Tendrils of acrid smoke and flying cinders enwreathe him like a dark crown, and thick red gore drips from the fingers of his left hand. Clasped in his right hand is the Wailing Doom, the sacred weapon of the Bloody-Handed God. Summoned to war through arcane rituals, the Avatar marches at the forefront of his army, and the Eldar who march in his wake are galvanised by his sheer bloodlust. Their fear and hesitation is burned away in an instant, replaced by an unholy joy in the anticipation of battle, and a murder-thirst that must be slaked. In those precious moments, the Eldar reach the pinnacle of greatness, transformed from survivors to conquerors once more. A cry of pure exultation echoes across the battlefield. It is then that the killing begins.
An Autarch is one of those few members of the Eldar species who have mastered many of the Eldar Paths over the centuries, including one or more facets of the Path of the Warrior. They possess a consummate understanding of the art of war and serve as the supreme commanders of an Eldar Craftworld's warhost. This Eldar Path, known as the Path of Command, is pursued by highly skilled individuals who believe martial excellence can be achieved by gaining a wider perspective of battle that allows the Eldar warhost to achieve victory in the most efficient and lethal way possible. When an Eldar leaves an Aspect shrine, he abandons its teachings and disciplines, forsakes its weapons and wargear, and absolutely disassociates himself from it in the pursuit of a completely new Path. Not so the Autarch, whose duty it is to learn about each Aspect in turn so that he might better guide them in defence of the craftworld. To this end, the Autarch will join each of his Craftworld's most prevalent shrines for a time, learning all that he can of the rituals, skills and battle doctrines of that Aspect. Once he has taken the teachings of that shrine into himself, he will leave, though he will first participate in a ceremony with the shrine's Exarch known as the Rhaan Lona, or the Covenant of Wargift. In this secretive rite, a selection of weapons, armour and wargear of the shrine are laid out before the Autarch, from which he chooses a single item to take with him on his ritual journey. The Autarch retains this wargear throughout his life, using it -- and the knowledge that it represents -- for the betterment of his craftworld. The Autarch possesses an unparalleled strategic ability which far outshines an Exarch's obsession with only a singular facet of war. This enables an Autarch to lead a warhost that operates in perfect unison, with each component of the Eldar war machine functioning in perfect synchronicity. It is not only at the aspect of command that an Autarch excels, for they are consummate warriors as well, and often spearhead assaults, fighting an enemy army's leader in personal combat or contemptuously destroying war machines with ease. Autarchs are considered integral parts of Eldar culture due to their versatility and ability to lead the Eldar on the myriad paths of life and death.
A Farseer is the most potent and respected form of Eldar psyker or Seer. The Path of the Seer is the most dangerous and convoluted journey of all, for all psykers are intimately connected to that heinous mirror of reality, the Warp. To proceed along the Witch Path without caution would be to invite damnation, for the minions of the Great Enemy lurk within the Warp ready to rend the souls of overambitious Seers. Even when used wisely, the Path itself can claim an adherent for the rest of his life. Just as Eldar who are trapped on the Warrior Path become Exarchs, so Seers who progress too far along their own Path become Farseers. Masters of prediction, the Farseers are the strangest and most visionary of a Craftworld's advisors. Even in battle they can perform their divinations, casting the complex wraithbone runes of the Eldar into the air and interpreting changes as the glowing icons orbit around them. In this way, the Farseers explore the myriad skeins of present and future, studying the consequences of the smallest decision, the better to guide their people to victory. A council of the most powerful Farseers generally governs a Craftworld. Farseers possess a wide diversity of psychic specialities with divination being the most common skill. They are most often known for using their vast psychic powers to see the possibilities of the future to be able to manipulate events to better ensure the survival of the Eldar species in the wake of the Fall. Unsurprisingly, the primary role of the Farseers is to look into the future and try and discern the best path for the Eldar to take. This is done through the casting of Seer Stones, fragments of Wraithbone and other psycho-sensitive materials that react to the convoluted, probabilistic skeins of space-time. By reading the throw of these stones, the Seers can often determine what will be the most beneficial course of action, though it is rare that they can discern true results any great distance into the future. On occasion a powerful Seer will receive a portent of some calamitous event, and be able to steer the Eldar away from disaster and doom.
A Warlock is an Eldar Seer or psyker who previously walked the Path of the Warrior as an Aspect Warrior of the Eldar Craftworlds and now uses his potent psychic powers to help lead Eldar warhosts. Perahps because of some hidden mark that Khaine has left on their soul, those Seers who have trained as Aspect Warriors find it easier to develop destructive psychic powers. These individuals become their warrior-seer selves by returning to their old shrines. If his blood sings with the need to fight, a Warlock accepts his mask, and recreates the two-fold division of the mind into self and warrior. Warlocks who lose themselves upon this Path ultimately become Farseers. The most aggressive and warlike of all the potential variants of the Path of the Seer is that of the Warlock. Since Warlocks are Seers who once trod the Path of the Warrior, their previous experience as Aspect Warriors allows them to harness their more destructive impulses when using their psychic powers in combat. In battle, Warlocks often lead from the front, splitting off from their Seer Councils and casting the runes of battle to bolster the warhost and to bring havoc to their enemies. Few can match the arcane might of an Eldar Warlock in the midst of a battle trance, his destructive aura crackling outward to destroy those foes beyond his reach. The ornate helmets worn by Warlocks in the field are kept in the shrines of the Warrior Aspects as a sign of the close link between Warlocks and their former status as Warriors. A Warlock can only attain that status by returning to the Aspect Shrine that he once belonged to and receiving his helmet from the shrine's Exarch as part of the same blood-ritual undergone by Aspect Warriors.
A Phoenix Lord is one of the greatest warriors of the Eldar and the leaders of their particular group of Aspect Warriors. Each Phoenix Lord founded one of the Aspect Shrines of the Eldar, and is the embodiment of that aspect of the Eldar War God Khaine. They have transcended the bounds of normal mortality, in a fashion. The spirit of the original Phoenix Lords was infused into a Spirit Stone within their armour, and merges with the current personality of the wearer of that armour, who is always chosen from among the mightiest of the Exarchs of that particular Aspect Shrine. When the Phoenix Lord falls in combat, another Exarch will don the armour and assume the memories and abilities of the Phoenix Lord. However, many believe that the Phoenix Lords are animated suits of armour possessed by the spirits of the dead Exarchs of that Aspect. This theory, however, is contradicted by the existence of Soul Stone technology, which all Eldar make use of to protect their souls from being consumed by Slaanesh within the Warp when they die.
- Asurmen - Asurmen, whose name means the Hand of Asuryan, is the first and oldest of the legendary Eldar Phoenix Lord, those most ancient of Exarchs from whom the Aspect Warriors themselves were created and who are the absolute masters of their Aspect's form of combat. Each is a demigod of battle whose legend spans the stars, imbued with supernatural powers that grant them the ability to cheat death. Asurmen himself is the living embodiment of the warrior, just as the Avatar is the incarnation of the Bloody-handed God himself. Asurmen acts as Asuryan's immortal scion since that Eldar God was devoured by Slaanesh during the Fall. Asurmen led his people into exile, abandoning his homeworld in the Eldar empire to the horrors of the Eye of Terror's birth. It was Asurmen who founded the first of the Aspect Shrines, the Shrine of Asur, the forerunner of the Dire Avengers Aspect. Asurmen is the forefather of the Dire Avengers, most noble and vengeful of all the Aspects. Today, this Warrior Aspect is the most common amongst the Eldar, and their shrines are the largest amongst all the Craftworlds.
- Karandras - Karandras, "the Shadow Hunter," is the Eldar Phoenix Lord of the Striking Scorpions Aspect Warriors. Legends of Karandras the Shadow Hunter tell of one of the most mysterious of all the Phoenix Lords. Unlike his fellow Phoenix Lords, Karandras was not the first of the Exarchs of the Striking Scorpions. It is said that this singular honour belongs to the one that came before him, Arhra, the Father of Scorpions, the most sinister of all the Phoenix Lords. Arhra was lured to darkness and betrayed Asurmen and the other Asurya, the first Phoenix Lords, by bringing daemons into the First Shrine to wage war upon his fellows. Those loyal to Asurmen were defeated and scattered across the stars, but Arhra himself would eventually flee into the Webway, becoming "the Fallen Phoenix who burns with the dark light of Chaos."
- Jain Zar - Jain Zar, "The Storm of Silence," is the Phoenix Lord and founder of the Eldar's Howling Banshees Aspect Warriors. Jain Zar was the first warrior chosen to serve at the side of the first Phoenix Lord, Asurmen, and the first of her race to become an Exarch, those Eldar who can never leave the path of the Warrior for they can never take off the war mask of Khaine.
- Fuegan - Fuegan, "the Burning Lance," is the Phoenix Lord of the Fire Dragons Aspect Warriors, who schooled the first of them in the art of war with fire and flame. He learned the arts of war in the Shrine of Asur, under the eyes of Asurmen in the distant time many millennia ago when the first Aspect Warriors of the Eldar were trained. Fuegan was thought lost when the Shrine of Asur was destroyed by Arhra, the Fallen Phoenix. Fuegan disappeared for many centuries, before reappearing during the final battle at Haranshemash, "The World of Blood and Tears" in the Eldar Lexicon, to fight alongside the Eldar. The eventual fate of Fuegan is foretold in the last stanza of the Asuryata, the legend of the Phoenix Lords, known in full only to the Bards of Twilight. This passage says that it will be Fuegan who calls all of the Eldar Phoenix Lords for the Last Battle, the Rhana Dandra, and the Burning Lance will be the last of his brethren to die in that conflict, when the footsteps of Daemon kings and demigods shake the earth, resulting in the final death of the Eldar race, and their Gods alike as the price for the elimination of Chaos within the Immaterium.
- Baharroth - Baharroth, "the Cry of the Wind," is the Winged Phoenix, the oldest of the Swooping Hawks and the first Exarch of those winged Aspect Warriors. Baharroth is the founder of the Eldar Warrior Path that is represented today by the Swooping Hawks Aspect Shrines. Baharroth is also known for his speed and is said to be the fastest of all the Eldar who have ever lived, a formidable claim that would make him a deadly opponent indeed. Though he moves with the subtlety and grace of a zephyr, he attacks with the force of a hurricane.
- Maugan Ra - Maugan Ra, "the Harvester of Souls," is the founder and Phoenix Lord of the Eldar's Dark Reaper Aspect Warriors. He was the lone survivor of the once-lost Craftworld of Altansar, which was swallowed by the Eye of Terror five hundred Terran years after the Fall. During the 13th Black Crusade, Maugan Ra led a daring raid into the Eye and rescued the remnants of his long-lost home Craftworld, guiding them out of the Eye of Terror and denying Abaddon the Despoiler his ultimate victory over the Imperium of Man.
- Irillyth - Irillyth, "the Shade of Twilight," is the Eldar Phoenix Lord of the long-extinct Shadow Spectres Aspect Warriors. Lost for millennia, the Shadow Spectres were long forgotten and Irillyth's Aspect Shrines were abandoned. During the Betalis III Campaign in 894.M41, the Shadow Spectres of the Mymeara Craftworld returned from the mists of legend and managed to recover the armour of Irillyth, giving the Eldar new hope that other portions of their lost patrimony and culture might one day be recovered.
Striking Scorpions are Eldar Aspect Warriors who epitomise the deadly attributes of their namesake, and they are the most skilled of all the close-assault Warrior Aspects on the Eldar Path of the Warrior. They are merciless killers without exception, reveling in the hunt and the kill, using stealth and shadow to cloak themselves from sight until the moment of attack. The Striking Scorpions represent the wrath of the War God Kaela Mensha Khaine, which can fall without warning and with extraordinary savagery upon his foes. The Striking Scorpions are one of the Eldar Warrior Aspects dedicated to close combat, particularly close combat during infiltration missions in which they must first close with the enemy undetected before unleashing their wrath. Many Striking Scorpions are physically more powerful than standard Eldar, and can match their Dark Eldar counterparts for sheer physical power. The signature attack of the Striking Scorpion is made by the weapon pods housed on either side of the warrior's helmet, known as Mandiblasters. These are small, short-ranged laser weapons used to deliver a deadly energy sting in close combat that can be psychically triggered.
The Fire Dragons are Eldar Aspect Warriors who seek to embody the writhing, sinewy dragons of Eldar Mythology. No Eldar Aspect Warriors revel more in destruction than those who serve the Shrine of the Fire Dragons. Taking as their totem the fierce, fire-breathing creatures of Eldar legend, they epitomise the brutal, wanton destruction of war. When called to arms their goal is the total annihilation of their foes, to the exclusion of all else. Fire Dragons are aggressive and warlike close combat fighters who utilise heat-based weaponry to destroy enemy armoured vehicles and drive the foe from his fortified strongpoints. They have an unsurpassed mastery of their chosen and highly dangerous weapons, and take savage delight in the devastation they create. For this reason, the Eldar believe that the Fire Dragons are the embodiment of the Eldar War God Kaela Mensha Khaine's penchant for pure destruction. It is said that Fire Dragon Exarchs generate a corona of lambent flame around themselves when the battle lust is upon them.
The Howling Banshees are the all-female Eldar Aspect Warriors who specialise in highly mobile melee combat and represent the Eldar War God Khaela Mensha Khaine's ability to instill fear in his foes. The banshee is a harbinger of woe and death in Eldar Mythology. Their cry is said to herald ill fate and can even wrench a soul from its Spirit Stone. It is fitting that these most feared of all the Eldar Aspect Warriors draw their inspiration from this creature. These lightly-equipped warrior-women are fearsome melee combat specialists who draw their inspiration from the unearthly creature with which they share a name. What the Howling Banshees lack in brute strength they make up for with their uncanny and inhuman precision and efficiency. The piercing warcry of these Aspect Warriors has heralded the coming doom of countless enemies of the Eldar people.
A Harlequin, known in the Eldar Lexicon as a Rillietann, is a member of a very distinct sub-group of the Eldar race that belongs to none of the existing Eldar sub-races, including the Craftworld Eldar, the Exodites or the Dark Eldar. They are the keepers of the Black Library and serve the enigmatic Eldar deity called the Laughing God. They are welcomed by all of the other Eldar factions, including the Dark Eldar of Commorragh and the Webway, and are known for their brightly coloured clothing, incredible agility (even for an Eldar), and use of unusually powerful weapons. Harlequins always organise themselves into groups they call Troupes, which are led by a Troupe Master. The Harlequin lifestyle is very like the life of a roaming mime or troubadour of the medieval times. They wander the Webway and occasionally appear at Eldar settlements: on a Craftworld, on Commorragh, an Exodite Maiden World, or even a human world in the Imperium of Man. They perform frenetic, acrobatic dances for the spectators there which are called Masques. Their artistic works portray the Fall, the legendary decline that destroyed the Eldar empire, the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh, and many other tales from the long history and ancient mythology of the Eldar people.
The Dire Avengers were the first amongst the Aspect Warriors of the Eldar. They represent the Eldar War God Khaela Mensha Khaine in his aspect as the noblest and yet most merciless of warriors. The Dire Avengers show no mercy to their foes and are unwavering in their devotion to their people. These warriors are the least specialised and the most tactically flexible of all the Warrior Aspects, as they serve Eldar armies as elite ranged infantry. The Dire Avengers are also the most common of the Warrior Aspects amongst the Eldar, and their shrines are the largest to be found on all the Craftworlds.
Rangers are the scouts of the Eldar Craftworlds, well-trained survivalists and marksmen able to find the eye sockets and neck joints of even the most heavily armoured enemy troops with their Long Rifles. The most skilled of the Eldar Rangers are known as Pathfinders. In order to defeat the constant claim of the Chaos God Slaanesh on their souls, the Craftworld Eldar practice a form of deprivation, narrowing their entire focus onto a single craft, perfecting it and then moving on to another, a system known as the Paths of the Eldar. Many Rangers remain loyal to their Craftworlds and the kin who live upon them even if they do not feel the need to live there, so when the Craftworld goes to war, they almost always provide their aid, offering to conduct reconnaissance of enemy forces and wield their expert marksmanship to harry and cripple enemy forces and eliminate select targets like commanding officers that will cripple the foe's command and control. While some Rangers never return to their Craftworlds, their lives claimed by the alien dangers of some unknown world or consumed by their own passions and ultimate fall into the embrace of Slaanesh, many others do, scarred and finally ready to settle into another Path, their experiences as a Ranger having granted them both a better understanding of themselves and their place in the Eldar society of their Craftworld.
Guardians are the militia troops of the Eldar Craftworlds. In times of peace the Guardians pursue their normal civilian roles. All adult Eldar, however, are trained in the arts of warfare and can be called to arms if their Craftworld is threatened. It is a painful irony that, in the Eldar race's endless quest for survival, the very civilians the warhosts fight to protect are all too often forced to take up arms. Every Eldar is trained and ready to fight as a Guardian if need be. In some Craftworlds, Ulthwé foremost amongst them, the Guardians are the most common of all Eldar warriors. As the number of dedicated, professional Eldar troops -- the Aspect Warriors -- in a Craftworld are simply too few to meet all threats, those Eldar dedicated to a civilian path serve as Guardians in battle, forming the bulk of the Eldar armies. Guardians are also called upon to pilot and crew the majority of the Eldar’s many war machines, providing vital armoured support and transportation for the warhost in battle. Guardian forces consist of two main types; the tactically flexible Defenders, and the more assault-oriented Storm Guardians. Both are equipped with Eldar Mesh Armour.
Those Guardians who pilot Eldar jetbikes into battle are known as Windriders. So carefully wrought are the incredible machines they ride that a skilled pilot can cross leagues in the space of a few heartbeats before shredding his awed foes with the paired shuriken catapults that allow the jetbike its famously deadly rate of fire. The Windriders are rightfully proud of their mastery of flight. Upon the cowling of each jetbike, the heraldry of the craftworld and sometimes the specific Windrider squadron are emblazoned in pride of place. These colours are invariably bold and defiant, for the Windriders have no fear of the foe, for their steeds mock gravity itself.
The Shining Spears are one of the rarest and most specialised of the Eldar Aspect Warriors. The Shining Spears possess a bright and clear virtue that marks each one out as a warrior hero and a champion of the Eldar race. Eldar mythology is replete with examples of noble heroes at one with their steed and in the Shining Spears, the glories of legend are made manifest once more. In battle, they fight as the Spear of Kaela Mensha Khaine, the invincible weapon of the Eldar God of War that struck like lightning and killed any foe with a single blow. Shining Spears can be distinguished from all of the other Eldar Warrior Aspects for they are the only Aspect Warriors to make use of anti-gravity Jetbikes. The identity of the Shining Spears Aspect's Phoenix Lord Drastanta is not known to Imperial scholars.
The Swooping Hawks are the aerial Aspect Warriors of the Eldar. They wear cunningly constructed anti-gravitic wings that enable them to launch high into the air at a moment's notice. They are able to launch lightning-fast aerial assaults against their foes, cutting them down with the deadly energy weapons known as Lasblasters in a blur of colour. The Swooping Hawks take their name from the wild hunting birds of Eldar Mythology, who symbolise revenge and retribution. Just as these birds of legend contained the spirit of a murdered Eldar, hovering over their killers as a mark of guilt, so too do the Swooping Hawks fly across the battlefield, dealing swift death as retribution to the enemies of the Eldar.
The Warp Spiders are Eldar Aspect Warriors who specialise in the use of a personal teleportation device built into their Aspect Armour to make a series of rapid jumps through the Immaterium that make them nearly impossible to target and allow them to attack the enemy suddenly and disappear before he can strike back. Taking their name from the same creatures who protect the Infinity Circuits of their Craftworlds, the Warp Spiders epitomise the concept of an aggressive defence.
The Crimson Hunters are amongst the most unusual of the Eldar Aspect Warriors. Their ritual wargear is not blade or sidearm, but instead a sleek aerial fighter that represents the pinnacle of Eldar aeronautics. These formidable aircraft, known as Nightshade Interceptors, are just as much a part of the Crimson Hunter's battlegear as the Howling Banshees' Power Sword or the Dire Avengers' Shuriken Catapult. Their lethality, however, is measured on a different scale altogether. The Crimson Hunters are few in number, though their Aspect Shrines are becoming ever more widespread amongst the Eldar Craftworlds. These temples to Khaela Mensha Khaine, the Eldar God of War, are unlike any other. They are not buildings or landscapes at all but tunnel-linked collections of transparent atriums that float around the periphery of their Craftworlds like archipelagos at the edge of a vast landmass.
The Hemlock Wraithfighter is a weapon of utmost terror and is the subject of much controversy among the Craftworlds. To use such a device is to teeter on the brink of atrocity. Only the most dire circumstances could force the Eldar to employ such an abhorrent device, and those who do so have a stain upon their soul that is not easily erased. Yet the Autarchs know that they have little option -- they must use every weapon in their quest for survival. The Hemlock blends the psychic abilities of is Spiritseer pilot with the sinister gestalt energies of the Eldar dead, their co-pilots -- Spirit Stones -- whose psychically reactive wraithbone core functions like a miniature infinity circuit. Each Spiritseer pilot risks being driven slowly insane by the whispering voices within his Hemlock, or, after communing with his co-pilots one too many times, having his spirit forever join the ghosts within the craft and leaving behind nothing more than an empty husk.
Vyper Squadrons fly the sleek skimmer known as the Vyper Jetbike, fighting in the midst of the Eldar's fearsome Windrider hosts, offering a perfect compromise between the speed of a jetbike and the heavier armament of a grav-tank. A military innovation initially pioneered by the artisans of Saim-Hann, Vypers are two-seater attack craft capable of mounting a variety of heavy weapons. Their relatively small size means that they can travel through all but the thinnest arterials of the Webway, and their prodigious armament enables them to rival many tanks in terms of firepower. Their sheer speed provides more surety against incoming fire than any amound of armour plating -- it is rare for a Vyper squadron to move at anything less than breakneck pace while a battle rages.
Heavy Support Troops
The Dark Reapers are the most menacing of the Eldar Aspect Warriors. They exemplify the Eldar War God Kaela Mensha Khaine in his aspect as the Destroyer, and their skull-masked costume echoes that of their founder and Phoenix Lord, the "Harvester of Souls," Maugan Ra. Although the Dark Reapers are comparatively slow-moving compared to other Eldar warriors as a result of their heavy armour, this is of little consequence, for their role on the battlefield is to serve as long-ranged heavy weapons fire support for the more mobile Eldar units. They are perhaps the most sinister and lethal of all the Aspect Warriors and their dark armour is adorned with symbols of death and destruction.
Vaul's Wrath Support Batteries
Whilst the artillery of most races can be considered crude and brutal, the Eldar employ support weapon platforms that are as silent as they are lethal. Known to the Eldar as Vaul's Wrath in honour of their smith-god's deadly skills, these large yet graceful war machines are crewed by two experienced Eldar Guardians. Each platform mounts a huge gun with which to slaughter the enemy -- but where the artillery of man or Ork employs blunt explosions and weight of fire, Eldar support weapons utilise a varity of dazzling technology to slay their foes. When Vaul's Wrath support weapons combine their firepower, they hammer the foe just as their namesake hammers the fates of mortal men upon his anvil. The following are the support weapons batteries often employed by the Eldar in battle:
- D-Cannon - An Eldar Distort Cannon, or D-Cannon, uses the Eldar's advanced knowledge of Warp technology to unleash a miniature sphere of Warp energy onto the battlefield, tearing apart its targets. The weapon emits a low droning noise which builds in pitch until it fires with a high-pitched shriek, spewing a beam of impenetrable blackness towards its target -- a momentary rift between Realspace and the Warp. The target is enmeshed in blackness and wrenched momentarily between warp space and reality. The massive internal distortion this causes tears the target apart, and usually destroys it. D-Cannons are often mounted upon anti-grav platforms or Eldar Titans.
- Vibro Cannon - A Vibro Cannon is a uniquely Eldar weapon which uses resonant sonic waves to shake its targets apart and fling troops to the ground. A vehicle hit by a Vibro-Cannon shakes violently and may fall apart, troops are thrown to the ground and quiver uncontrollably, and even the ground itself is ripped asunder by shock waves. The weapon can be directed against a specific point on the battlefield, but is forces are transmitted at ground level, and targets between the weapon and its aiming point can be affected. It is as if a huge plow were cutting a mighty furrow deep into the earth, casting aside rocks and soil, and scattering troops and tanks to either side. A particularly frightening aspect of the Vibro-Cannon is revealed when two weapons cross their line of fire over the same target. When this happens the results are often very spectacular as the ground is torn apart explosively. This particular weapon is often mounted upon an anti-grav platform.
- Shadow Weaver - The Shadow Weaver is a heavy monofilament weapon. It creates a dense monofilament mesh from an organo-polymer compound, which is kept in a liquid state within a magnetic reservoir. This mesh is released through thousands of microscopic firing ducts and woven into a web-like cloud by spinning gravity clamps. When fired, it unleashes a cloud of razor-sharp monofilament wire high into the air, which drifts down onto the enemy, slicing through the flesh and bones of the targets as they struggle to free themselves.
The Cobra is an Eldar super-heavy grav-tank that supports Eldar heavy armour assaults. This huge vehicle carries heavy firepower, and is broadly comparable to Imperial Guard super-heavy tanks. The Cobra is an Engine of Vaul, much like it's counterpart, the Scorpion, but re-armed with a large Distortion Cannon (D-Cannon). This weapon is known as a Warp Cannon or Vortex Cannon. There are two versions of the Cobra. Type I has a turret-mounted D-Cannon, while the Type II has a fixed forward firing D-Cannon. The Cobra is designed to find and destroy enemy war machines, as their protective force fields are little defence against the D-Cannon's heinous energies. As with all Eldar vehicles, crew numbers are kept to a minimum. The dwindling civilisation of the Eldar means they must rely upon sophisticated technology and the Wraithbone construction of their vehicles, freeing more warriors from crewman duties to fill the ranks of Guardian and Aspect Warriors squads.
Known as "Engines of Vaul", Eldar grav-tanks are immaculate beyond the ken of the lesser races -- aeronautical triumphs that combine ethereal grace with a deceptive lethality. Not for them the ground-churning rumble of Imperial tanks or the oil-drizzling incontinence of the vehicles cobbled together by Ork Mekboyz. Instead, the sleek battle craft of the Eldar guide through the smoke-filled skies, the nimble Falcon as silent as the deadly Fire Prism and the giant Cobra. The only signs of their passage are the blasted bodies left in their wake; regardless of type, they mount weaponry capable of breaking open a battleline.
The Falcon is the primary main battle tank of the Eldar. It an anti-gravitic tank that is named for the mythical figure who delivered one of the Swords of Vaul to the hero Eldanesh so he could continue fighting Khaine, the Eldar War God. The Falcon's graceful curved silhouette is a familiar but much dreaded sight to their enemies. The Falcon has a twin role upon the field of battle. It has a passenger compartment enabling it to carry a small squad of infantry to the battle front, or rescue a beleaguered unit when resistance proves too fierce. The Falcon is armed with a Pulse Laser and twin-linked Shuriken Catapults. An additional mount is provided on its turret, capable of accepting almost all heavy weaponry used by the Eldar. It is also fitted with an advanced targeting system to make the best of this armament. However, like most Eldar vehicles, the Falcon has light armor. Its impressive speed compensates for this, as it can cruise at speeds exceeding 800 km/h, and at high altitudes.
The Fire Prism is an Eldar anti-armour gravity tank based on the design of the Falcon. It replaces the Falcon's infantry-carrying capacity and turret weapons with a massive crystal array, known to Imperial forces as the Prism Cannon. It can fire a dispersed beam that damages targets over a wide area rather than concentrating its fire on a single target but this drastically reduces the weapon's damage. However, two or more Fire Prisms can pool their firepower by combining their Fire Prism beams to geometrically increase their Prism Cannons' firepower. This ability makes Fire Prisms extremely dangerous units when deployed in squadron strength against other armoured vehicles.
The Firestorm is a variant of Eldar Falcon grav-tank. Utilised as the Eldar's standard land-based anti-aircraft defence vehicle, the Firestorm mounts a complex triple-barrelled array of Scatter Lasers in a single-seater turret that fills the sky with streaking laser bolts above an Eldar grav-tank formation. Highly accurate and capable of sustained bursts, the Firestorm is also a potent anti-infantry weapon, particularly effective when used against hordes such as Ork warbands and Tyranid swarms. The Firestorm is also armed with a hull-mounted twin-linked Shuriken Catapults and/or a Shuriken Cannon, and can be further equipped with Vectored Engines, Star Engines, Holo-Fields and Spirit Stones. With a crew of two, the Firestorm retains its troop transport capacity and can assist Eldar attacks by delivering a squad of Aspect Warriors to the battlefield before withdrawing to its usual anti-aircraft role.
The Night Spinner is an Eldar anti-gravity combat vehicle. It is based on the Eldar Falcon grav tank chassis and is designed to provide indirect mobile fire support to fast-moving Eldar offensives. It is armed with a Shadow Weaver and Shuriken Catapults or a Shuriken Cannon. The Shadow Weaver creates a dense monofilament mesh from an organic polymer compound. The compound is kept in a liquid state within a magnetic reservoir and when released through the thousands of microscopic firing ducts, is woven into a web-like cloud by spinning gravity clamps. The clouds are forces high into the air before they drift down, making them ideal for disrupting an attack and causing the Eldar's enemies to seek shelter. A Night Spinner may also be outfitted with Vectored Engines, Star Engines, Holo-fields and Eldar Spirit Stones.
The Scorpion is an Eldar super-heavy grav-tank utilised exclusively by the Eldar, and is amongst the largest vehicles recorded capable of anti-gravitic movement in the galaxy. Known to the Eldar as one of the Engines of Vaul, it combines sophisticated and powerful weaponry with the grace and speed that have come to be associated with the Eldar's vehicles. Protected by a Holo-Field and armed with twin-linked Pulsars, the Scorpion has earned nicknames like the "Grave-maker" and "Deathsled" from the Imperium's tank crews. The Eldar regard the huge machines of the Imperium or Orks as crude and ungainly when compared with the grace of a Scorpion as it skims into battle.
War Walker Squadron
A War Walker is a one person, lightly armoured, bipedal combat walker used by the Eldar. They are manned by a standard Eldar Guardian. The War Walker plays an essential role for Eldar military forces very similar to that of an Imperial Guard Sentinel. Both are nimble, lightly armoured scouting units, though the War Walker is closer in size to the Wraithlord. War Walker pilots often become emotionally attached to their mounts, and a union of the pilot's mind with their machine ensues. This union is aided by the presence of an Eldar Spirit Stone, containing the spirit of a deceased Eldar that has been melded with the walker. The conjoined minds of the pilot and the individual personality within the Spirit Stone provides a much sharper focus and a deadlier concentration in combat that enhances the mission effectiveness of the walker.
The Eldar Wraithguard are not living warriors; they are artificial robotic constructs created from the complex psycho-plastic material, crafted by the Eldar of the Craftworlds, known as Wraithbone. Each Wraithguard has a Spirit Stone containing the soul of an elite Eldar warrior that was drawn out of the Infinity Circuit of a Craftworld. Wraithguard are smaller in size than Wraithlords, and carry a weapon known as a Wraithcannon which is a short-range, but potent weapon capable of opening a small rift into the Warp which sucks the target, or pieces of the target, within the Immaterium. When used against infantrymen, the result is invariably fatal. Due to their Wraithbone construction, Wraithguards can suffer damage that would cripple, or even kill, a living Eldar warrior and still continue to fight, making them useful in situations that would be suicide for living soldiers. They see through the Warp using what is known as "Wraithsight" but as the Warp is a tumultuous place, Wraithguards often have trouble discerning the true nature of realspace and so can find themselves blinded and unable to function effectively. Because of this tendency Wraithguard are often led into battle by Warlocks who help to guide them.
The most feared of all the Wraithguard are usually referred to as Wraithblades -- a few Eldar will speak their true name, Klaivaulch, for fear of inciting the wrath of Khaine. Tradition has it that each craftworld keeps these vengeful constructs apart from other ghost warriors so that the immortal anger that pervades their wraithbone shells does not taint those who might one day attain peace. When the call to war is heard, these beings are awakened by the most gifted Seers. Their spirit stones glow hot as the slow-burning anger of the dead flows through their cores. Once kindled, the wrath that animates their wraithbone bodies becomes an unstoppable fury that can only be quenched in the blood of their foe. Wielding twin ghostswords that leave glowing traces in the air, the Wraithblades cut down their foes with both merciless precision and the great might afforded by their long-limbed forearms.
A Wraithlord is a lithe but mighty noble robotic combat walker that contains no living warrior; rather, it is merely a robotic shell, a repository of the animating soul of a dead Eldar hero. Wraithlords are graceful but mighty giants that dwarf their Wraithguard cousins. These large constructs are extremely precious to their Eldar Craftworlds and have a supernatural toughness due to being made from the psychically-active substance called wraithbone. Summoned into being by the necromantic processes of the Eldar Spiritseers, only a true hero of the Eldar race has psychic power enough to animate the gigantic wraithbone shell of a Wraithlord.
Looming ghost warriors many times larger than even the might Wraithlords, the war machines known as Wraithknights are still dextrous enough to run through the ruin of a shattered city, leaping from pillar to spar as their arcane weapons bring oblivion to the enemies of the Eldar. Each carries either a pair of heavy Wraithcannons, their lengthy forms capable of sending their targets straight into the hell-dimension of the Warp; a suncannon, powerful enough to obliterate a platoon of human soldiers in a single blast of roiling plasma; or a great ghostglaive and scattershield with which to engage even the Daemon Lords of Chaos in single combat. Their contoured shells house the spirits of the wakeful dead in much the same way as lesser ghost warriors, though their armoured chests each hold a living Eldar pilot within. These pilots are not normal steersmen such as those at the helm of grav-tanks and Eldar aircraft, but rare and unusual warriors who were each born a twin.
The Wave Serpent is an armored personnel carrier based on the same design as the Falcon. It is the standard transport vehicle of the Craftworld Eldar. Armed with twin-linked shuriken catapults and a set of twin-linked heavy weapons, the Wave Serpent is capable of carrying up to twelve Eldar passengers in the expanded passenger compartment. In addition, the prow of the Wave Serpent is protected by an advanced energy shield, reducing the effectiveness of enemy weapons and ordnance.
Eldar voidships, when compared to the massive Cruisers and Battleships of the Imperium, seem almost fragile. Their voidships lack the thick plating, heavy prows, and bristling towers of Imperial Navy vessels, instead sporting long masts which support the vessel's sail-like solar collectors. Eldar starships also have a sleeker shape, generally possessing rounded, almost oval hulls, and an "organic" look, although nowhere near the quasi-insectoid appearance of Tyranid vessels. Naval officers sighting Eldar voidships for the first time often dismiss them as easy prey for Imperial Macrocannons and Lances. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
The Eldar are perhaps the most accomplished starfarers in the galaxy. Their ships are significantly more advanced than those of the Imperium, and are equipped with technologies far beyond the abilities of the Adeptus Mechanicus to understand, much less duplicate. The hull of an Eldar ship is made not from adamantium plating, but from a material called "Wraithbone." Molded by Eldar craftsmen known as Bonesingers, Wraithbone is literally grown into what ever shape is needed, be it armour, weapons, buildings, or kilometres-long voidships. Durable, difficult to damage, and even capable to a certain degree of self-repair, Wraithbone is psychically active and on Eldar ships replaces the Vox units and Cogitators found on Imperial vessels. Wraithbone also manifests innate psychic shielding, partially protecting the vessel (and its crew) against certain manifestations from the Warp.
Instead of crude Plasma Drives, the Eldar use vast solar sails to collect the light of the stars. These sails allow Eldar ships to move swiftly and securely, and are one of the reasons behind their impressive and unparalleled manoeuvrability. Small craft may only have a single solar sail, while larger voidcraft may have two or three, giving the ships the appearance of winged creatures.
Defensively, Eldar forego the use of Void Shields and instead rely on their Holo-Fields for protection. A Holo-Field confuses an enemy voidship's targetting sensors by creating multiple "ghost ships" randomly across an area of space. These sensor ghosts mask the actual location of the Eldar ship. While this means an Eldar voidship can be nigh-impossible to hit, their lack of Void Shields renders them vulnerable to those shots that do find their target. While immensely sophisticated, even Eldar construction is not as durable as multi-metre thick adamantium armour layers and thousands of redundant components and replacement crew.
The Eldar Nations
Following the Fall, the Eldar were socially and culturally divided into several broad groups. While there are divisions within each of these, they are the most obvious and clearly defined groups of the existing race (the Dark Eldar are obviously excluded here and are considered a separate species all together by most Eldar):
In the time leading up to the Great Fall, not all the Eldar that remained on their empire's homeworlds fell to the lure of perversity and hedonism that birthed Slaanesh. Many remained behind, struggling to turn their species from its doomed path. Unable to do so, many of the greatest Seers caught glimpses of the darkness to come, and undertook a titanic effort to save their people. For each Eldar homeworld of the empire a gigantic starship was created, sung from Wraithbone and so massive as to be nearly a planetoid in itself. The last uncorrupted individuals from each world were loaded onto these ships, along with works of art, plant life and animals, all that could be saved. In these Craftworlds (as they came be known) the final Eldar Exodus began, and only barely in time. The psychic shockwave of Slaanesh's birth in the 30th Millennium caught some of the Craftworlds and destroyed them, while others were pulled into orbit against their will around the Eye of Terror, to be forever assaulted by the Forces of Chaos until they are destroyed or corrupted. The rest drift through the galaxy, their exact number uncertain, as contact can be difficult and intermittent. There are several Craftworlds of particular fame known to the Imperium.
The Craftworlds' populations probably compose the majority of the surviving Eldar race, although it is impossible to say just how many individuals this is. The Craftworlds are certainly the seat of the remaining Eldar industry, technology, and culture, as they contain the only vestiges of their original homeworlds' civilisation. Most of the Craftworlds contain special biodomes that house plants and wildlife from the original homeworld of the Craftworld's people, and these are carefully tended. Although each Craftworld is essentially independent in its actions and governance, they will generally offer and accept aid and advice from one another. Although not common, sometimes Craftworld disagreements will cause two to clash on the field of battle, though this is always a last resort.
Every Craftworld contains an Infinity Circuit, which is essentially the Wraithbone skeleton of the Craftworld itself. Within this crystalline matrix of solidified psychic power, the souls of all the Craftworld's dead reside in a form of group consciousness, providing both a well of potent psychic power that can be harnessed by the ship during times of distress and a massive ancestral mind to advise and guide the living. With the rise of Slaanesh, the Infinity Circuit is the closest thing that the Eldar have to an afterlife; if their souls are not caught and integrated into it, they will be lost into the Warp and devoured by the Great Enemy, whose resonant Chaotic energies draw Eldar souls into itself, much as moths are drawn to a flame. For this reason the Eldar will defend their Craftworlds with a fury and tenacity almost unrivalled by other races; they risk losing not only their home but their very souls as well.
- Alaitoc - Far out on the frontiers of the galaxy, on the edge of explored space, lies the Alaitoc Craftworld. The Alaitoc Eldar are zealous in their vigilance against the touch of Slaanesh, even more so than other Eldar. Alaitoc is an unusually strict Craftworld in making sure its citizens follow the Eldar Paths and Eldar traditions; in response, many of the more freedom-loving individuals from this Craftworld choose instead the Eldar Path of the Outcast, becoming Rangers or even Eldar Pirates who roam the galaxy and make their living raiding primarily Imperial commerce. While all Craftworlds make use of the Rangers, who are the most highly accurate snipers amongst the Eldar, none field or produce more than Alaitoc. Though Alaitoc Rangers do not reside upon the Craftworld and prefer to travel the galaxy, these Rangers retain their loyalty to Alaitoc and will return to their Craftworld on occasion to visit family and friends. Aside from deploying large numbers of standard Rangers, Alaitoc is also the only Craftworld to field the highly skilled Rangers known as Pathfinders. These snipers without compare can cause havoc amongst even the most powerful and numerous of enemy forces. In times of extreme need, such as during the Imperium of Man's recent invasion of Alaitoc, the Craftworld sometimes recalls its Rangers to contribute to Alaitoc's defence forces. Whereas their kin have forgotten their people's duty to watch for the return of their ancient enemies the Necrons, the Eldar of Alaitoc have not. When the Necrons first began to awaken Alaitoc was quick to respond, sabotaging the systems of awakening Tomb Worlds, and lending aid to Exodites threatened by their reemerging enemies. Alaitoc uses a sword rune which represents the Sword of Vaul, the weapon forged in Eldar myth for the Smith God's desperate battle against the War God Khaela Mensha Khaine. It represents the defiance and determination of its people. Alaitoc and its forces are associated with the colours blue and yellow. The Craftworld is known to be located in the Ultima Segmentum that was the heart of the ancient Eldar empire.
- Black Library - The Black Library of Chaos, better known simply as the Black Library, is the secret Eldar Craftworld that serves as the Eldar's repository of forbidden lore concerning the Ruinous Powers that exists somewhere within the labyrinthine passages of the Webway. The Eldar Craftworlds became the only surviving sources of their ancient knowledge of sorcery and the Ruinous Powers of Chaos after the Fall of that race to the birth of Slaanesh. As the Craftwords have drifted apart, this knowledge has consequently become fragmented, and as some Craftworlds have become lost over the millennia, more precious Eldar knowledge has been lost with them. The Black Library is governed by a body of the wisest Eldar Farseers drawn from all of the Craftworlds known as the Black Council. The Black Council is the closet the fractious Eldar race has come to an advisory body that looks after the interests of the entire race. The Eldar know more of Chaos than Mankind ever will, and still more was lost during the Fall. A single source of Eldar knowledge has remained untouched and inviolate since the Fall. In a hidden location, some say at the very centre of the Webway -- the Eldar's network of stable warp tunnels that crosses the galaxy -- rests the tomes, books, scrolls, and codices describing the Eldar’s complete and extensive knowledge of the Warp. The forbidden lore of the Black Library describes the blandishments, influences, forms, creatures, perils, promises, and horrors of Chaos. The existence of the Black Library is known to only a few and entry is allowed to even fewer individuals. The library defends itself against the weak and those who would misuse its knowledge by refusing entry to all except those who have acknowledged and tempered the Chaos within themselves. The immature, who are still vulnerable to the promises and seductions of Chaos, find that they are unable to pass through its gateway. As a result, only the Solitaires of the Eldar Harlequin troupes are allowed to come and go freely, although some say that a human, perhaps an Inquisitor, has also been allowed to do so.
- Biel-Tan - The most martial of the Craftworlds, constantly strive to return the ancient Eldar empire to its former glory. For the Eldar of Biel-Tan the Way of the Warrior, the life-stage that encompasses the Aspect Warriors, is considered the first step upon the Path of the Eldar. Upon reaching physical maturity a Biel-Tan Eldar becomes an Aspect Warrior, and only once he has fulfilled this role can he continue along the Path of the Eldar. The Eldar of Biel-Tan have a strong honour code and believe that the best way to die is in battle fighting the enemies of Biel-Tan. Consumed with bitterness, they wage an endless campaign of xenocide against those foolish enough to cross their path. Its armies contain the highest percentages of elite troops of all the Craftworlds, and few of the staple citizen-militia called Guardians that most Craftworlds call upon in times of war. Their highly-trained forces are known as the Swordwind, and they often come to the aid of Exodite worlds beset by Orks, Dark Eldar or other xenos dangers. As the Eldar of Biel-Tan see it, when the time comes for the Eldar to reclaim what is rightfully theirs, the paradise Maiden Worlds and the planets of the Exodites will be the first staging points for their conquest. The symbol of Biel-Tan is the Eldar rune of rebirth and its name actually means the "Rebirth of Ancient Days".
- Iyanden - The Iyanden Craftworld was once one of the largest and most prosperous of all the remaining Eldar Craftworlds. They barely survived an attack by the Tyranid Hive Fleet Kraken, which nearly destroyed the Craftworld and killed four-fifths of its population. On the verge of total annihilation, Iyanden was saved from complete destruction by the exiled Prince Yriel, who had formerly been the High Admiral of the Iyanden fleet. Yriel and his exile Eldar pirate raiders, even though previously vowing never to return to Iyanden, could not bear to have their Craftworld destroyed and launched an attack on the Tyranid fleet. The subsequent battles destroyed much of the craftworlds infrastructure. Today many of its sections are still in ruins and the population is spread thinly across its ruined sections. This forces Iyanden to often call upon the spirits of its fallen in its Infinity Circuit, raising more than the typical numbers of Wraithguard and Wraithlords to aid their dwindling warriors in battle. Asuryan is the oldest and greatest of the ancient Eldar deities. He is the father of the gods, the ancestor of all living things. The world-rune of the Iyanden craftworld means "Light in the Darkness," a reference to the ever-burning shrine that honours Asuryan and the flame of hope for the Eldar of Iyanden
- Saim-Hann - The Eldar Craftworld of Saim-Hann was one of the first Craftworlds to abandon the Crone Worlds as the Fall of the Eldar approached, heeding their Farseers' warnings. As such they have spent far more time isolated from the rest of the Eldar than the other major Craftworlds, although the Saim-Hann do maintain contact with and have a very similar culture to the Exodite worlds. They are fierce warriors, who place upon honour a higher value than their sophisticated kin. This, coupled with their pride, has sadly led them into conflict with each other and different Craftworlds. While this generally takes the form of an organised duel between representatives of each Craftworld in which first blood is usually sufficient to end the matter, the high number of deaths from these conflicts has lent to the barbaric reputation of the Craftworld among other Eldar. In Eldar myth, the Serpent is the only creature believed to exist in both the material and the psychic universes at the same time. Hence, the Serpent is said to know all secrets past and present. Saim-Hann means "Quest for Enlightenment," for the Eldar word for snake and secret knowledge is identical: "Saim." The Eldar of Saim-Hann bear the world-rune that represents the Serpent as their heraldry, sporting it on the cowlings of their jetbikes, grav-tanks and aircraft.
- Ulthwé - One of the largest Craftworlds, Ulthwé was caught in the pull of the Eye of Terror after it erupted into being, and now orbits it. As such it faces a constant danger of attack by Chaotic marauders and has served as a bastion against the Dark Powers for thousands of Terran years. The constant war and risk of attack has hardened the Craftworld's citizens, and it maintains a standing militia force known as the Black Guardians, who are highly skilled and better-trained than the Guardians of other Craftworlds. Its proximity to the Eye has also given it an unusually large number of potent psychics, even for the Eldar. One of the more famous and integral aspects of the Ulthwé Craftworld is that of its Seer Council. Formerly led by the now deceased Eldrad Ulthran, the council both overtly and secretly interferes with other races in an attempt to steer fate in their favour. This has no doubt allowed the Ulthwé to survive so long in such a perilous position. This Craftworld's world-rune, "The Eye of Isha," symbolises the sorrow of Isha, the fertility goddess from whom the Eldar believe they descend. Isha, it is said, wept bitterly when Asuryan, the king of the gods, ordered her separation from her mortal children. Vaul forged her tears into glittering Spirit Stones so that her grief might not be in vain. Today, the warriors of Ulthwé bear this symbol as their sigil, a poignant reminder of the godhood they lost long ago.
- Altansar - Altansar is a small Craftworld that had been on the edge of the shockwave that created the Eye of Terror at the time of the Fall. It rode out the psychic shock waves that destroyed the Eldar empire but was subsequently caught in the gravity well of the newborn Eye of Terror. Although the Eldar of Altansar struggled valiantly against the encroachment of Chaos, their doom was inevitable, and within five hundred years of the Fall, their Craftworld was swallowed into the Warp. Amongst the entirety of Altansar's population, only the Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra escaped the Craftworld's consumption by Chaos. Altansar was long thought to have been lost in the birth of the Eye with the other homeworlds of the Eldar. However, there were reports of its sighting and even active involvement in the recently conducted campaign against the Eye of Terror, and doubt now exists as to its fate, though other Eldar will view any citizens of Altansar with suspicion, as no Eldar Craftworld has ever been known to exist within the Eye of Terror for so long without being corrupted by Chaos. The world-rune used by Craftworld Altansar is known as the "Broken Chain" -- not only in reference to the escape of Kurnous and Isha from the dungeons of Khaine, but also to the shattering of the links that bound Vaul to his anvil. The broken infinity loop above the world-rune has only been adopted by the craftworld since its narrow escape from an eternity of damnation within the Eye of Terror.
- Il-Kaithe - Il-Kaithe is one of the lesser-known Eldar Craftworlds. Being located close to the Eye of Terror, the Eldar of Il-Kaithe constantly wage war against the Forces of Chaos. Il-Kaithe, meaning "Knowledge of Blood", was once best known for its Bonesingers' creativity. Their talented Bonesingers are said to be able to practice their art even in the heat of battle. Since the dawn of the 41st Millennium, it has become renowned for its merciless crusades against the forces of the Dark Gods. The craftworld opposes the Great Enemy at every turn, no matter the cost -- it will readily ally with Commorragh and even with Mankind to thwart the machinations of Chaos. The Eldar of Il-Kaithe use the world-rune depicting the helm to remind themselves that knowledge can have a terrible cost. The world-rune of Il-Kaithe, known as the "Helm of Eldanesh", represents the all-seeing helm the Eldar hero Eldanesh received from Asuryan himself. The Lay of the House of Eldanesh describes how the Eldar hero defeated the gods and monsters alike with the prescience that it gave him, but in the end he fell prey to his own curiosity and foresaw his own bloody demise at the hands of Khaine. The Eldar of Il-Kaithe use the world-rune depicting the helm to remind themselves that knowledge can have a terrible cost.
- Iybraesil - Iybraesil is a largely matriarchal Craftworld society, fostering many Howling Banshees shrines and female Autarchs. As followers of the blind Eldar Crone Goddess of the Underworld, Morai-Heg, the Iybraesil Eldar constantly aspire to recover the hidden secrets of the Crone Worlds, the original homeworlds of the lost Eldar empire which now reside within the Eye of Terror. Dutiful and fierce, the gifted Seers of the craftworld labour long in their hunt for the hidden secrets of the Crone Worlds. They hope to secure not only the Tears of Isha, but also ancient technologies and doomsday artefacts that will allow them to tip the balance in the war for survival. The world-rune of Iybraesil, known as "Wisdom of Pain" and also the "Hand of Heg", is a reference to the Eldar myth wherein Morai-Heg, the Crone, persuaded Khaine to sever her hand so that she could drink of the wisdom of her own blood. The Eldar of that Craftworld make frequent references to this act, claiming that no knowledge is truly claimed without sacrifice
- Kaelor - Kaelor is a relatively obscure and extremely isolated Eldar Craftworld. The Craftworld of Kaelor remembers virtually nothing of its early history and its earliest known records begin with the Craftwars between Kaelor and the Saim-Hann Craftworld, and even information concerning that event is very scarce. Virtually nothing of its early history is known except that in the distant past this Craftworld made a Webway jump towards the fringes of the galaxy and has not ventured towards the galactic centre for several millennia since then. It is known that Craftworld Kaelor's migration route brings it through the Calixis Sector once every thousand Terran years. On such occasions, Imperial authorities have strict —- and highly confidential —- instructions from the Inquisition's Ordo Xenos to give it a wide birth. Kaelor is effectively cut off and has virtually no contact with the rest of the galaxy. Even the Harlequins barely remember its existence.
- Lugganath - Perceived as little better than corsairs by other craftworlds, the Eldar of the minor Craftworld of Lugganath are a society of renegades who seek to foster close ties with the Harlequins of the Laughing God as the Lugganath Eldar hope to abandon this galaxy and start civilisation afresh and claim the Webway as their realm, reclaiming the Labyrinthine Dimension from the Dark Eldar. Reports of corsair fleets operating out of Lugganath are common, notably the Sunblitz Brotherhood, whose vessels often fight alongside those of Lugganath's navy in times of war. Lugganath is known to be active within the Western Quadrant of the Segmentum Obscurus. Lugganath's name translates as "Light of Fallen Suns". Their world-rune, the "Black Sun", is a reference to the lost glory of the original Eldar star systems. It is said that if a viewer were to look far enough into the void he would be able to perceive the last light of those dead stars -- as close to a metaphor for hope as the Eldar of Lugganath ever use.
- Mymeara - Mymeara was an ancient Eldar colony world that had escaped the Fall after the birth of Slaanesh because it was located on the extreme outer frontier of the Eldar empire and the corrupting influence of the Pleasure Cults had never gained a foothold. However, as the Fall consumed their race, the Mymearans finally descended into hedonistic depravity and madness. The wisest of the Mymearan elders had foreseen this fate and spent the last decades of their world's existence constructing a mighty Craftworld that was also named Mymeara. Lost in their grief for the death of their race and believing themselves alone in the galaxy, Craftworld Mymeara drifted across the galaxy for many Terran years. Craftworld Mymeara remained hidden for millennia, its continued existence unknown to the rest of the Eldar and the other intelligent races of the galaxy alike. Yet, in the late 41st Millennium, Mymeara's Farseers managed to locate the Phoenix Lord Irillyth's final resting place upon the Imperial Ice World of Betalis III. The world-rune of Mymeara, known as the "Cursing Eye", is a reference to the omniscient abilities of Asuryan, said to be able to perceive and to kill in the same instant. Asuryan's pitiless extermination of the brutal Yygghs epitomises the cull of a lesser race in its comparative infancy, eradicating it before it could grow to endanger the noble Eldar race in any way.
- Yme-Loc - The Eldar of the lesser Yme-Loc Craftworld are talented artisans, boasting many weaponsmiths who supply its warhosts with Engines of Vaul and lithe titans that dwarf the Gargants of the Orks and the God-machines of the Imperium. Though it is not openly spoken of, the craftworld also possesses an arcane engine of destruction that can destroy a continent in a single night. Their armies are supported by powerful grav-tanks and Eldar Titans. Its last known location placed it in proximity to the Eye of Terror between 989.M39 and 341.M40. The world-rune of Yme-Loc is known as the "Crucible of Souls". Eldar legends tells of the Crucible of Souls, within which the smith-god forged weapons of purest wraithsteel were alloyed with the spirits of the virtuous in order to wage the War in Heaven. It was in this crucible that the ninety-nine-and-one Swords of Vaul were created. Yme-Loc uses the symbol of the Crucible of Souls as its world-rune, claiming that the Eldar's fate is theirs to forge.
Other Minor Craftworlds
- An-Iolsus - The Craftworld of An-Iolsus forged a rare alliance with the Imperium of Man during the Gothic War of the early 41st Millennium to defeat the Forces of Chaos
- Cairas Mythar
- Ctho - Ctho is the "the legendary lost Craftworld"
- Dolthe- Warriors of the Dire Avengers from the Dolthe Craftworld fought to defend and close a Webway portal on the contested world of Monthax. They were later joined by the Volpone 50th and the Tanith 1st Regiments of the Imperial Guard.
- Dorhai - Dorhai does not deal with other Craftworlds, believing themselves to be the only untainted survivors of the Fall of the Eldar
- Il'sariadh - In 116.M38, when this Craftworld was visited by a large troupe of Eldar Harlequins, during their performance, the Solitaire was none other than the trickster Tzeentch daemon known as the Changeling. Killing the player who portrayed the Great Harlequin, he summons the Slaaneshi daemon The Masque of Slaanesh, who in turn, opens a portal that allows her daemon brethren to pour through. Il'sariadh effectively has its heart torn out with the loss of their brightest and best.
- Meros - Meros is remembered as "the doomed Craftworld".
- Miel Carn
- Telennar - Telennar is a minor Eldar Craftworld. Cordial relations between Alaitoc and Telennar have often brought the two Craftworlds together to battle against the Forces of Chaos, most recently during the Fall of Medusa V in 999.M41. Telennar is also known for going to war alongside the Harlequins of the Masque of the Twisted Path. It's well documented that the Twisted Path have an affinity with the Eldar of Telennar, for while the masque has been known to spirit victims, whether they be friend or foe, away into the Webway (never to be seen again), this never happens on Telennar -- some say it is because the souls on that Craftworld are too dark. Telennar's colours are bright orange and sable. The meaning of their world-rune is unknown.
- Zandros - Home to the Slicing Orbs, an Eldar Aspect Warrior shrine unique to this Craftworld.
Since the Fall of the Eldar some Craftworlds have been destroyed. These include:
- Idharae - Idharae was destroyed in an all-out siege launched by the Invaders Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes and the Legion of the Damned; its surviving population fled to Alaitoc, which earned revenge against the Invaders by destroying their homeworld of Ogrys in 895.M41, forcing them to become a Fleet-based Chapter.
- Lu'Nasad - Lu'Nasad was destroyed after fleeing from their civilisation's destruction during the Fall of the Eldar. The scholars, Farseers and Warlocks of Lu'Nasad had spent centuries studying and discovering lost paths within the Webway which led through the Empyrean that no living being had walked since time out of mind. As fate would have it, the dark, twisting, and largely unknown paths taken by Lu'Nasad took her not to salvation, but directly into the seething heart of the Rifts of Hecaton, located in the Koronus Expanse. There in the midst of these damned and forgotten stars, Lu'Nasad came face to face with powerful forces of the Empyrean that were manifesting in realspace. A desperate and largely futile battle ensued as Lu'Nasad's defenders were overwhelmed by the Forces of Chaos, and in short order the Craftworld fell silent and drifted further into the Rifts, her only survivors the powerful Farseer Anaris and the crew of his ship. Bathed in the energies of the Warp and infused with the taint of Chaos, Lu'Nasad became a twisted, ugly parody of herself.
- Malan'tai - Malan'tai was a minor Craftworld of the Eldar. It was destroyed in 812.M41 by a splinter of the Tyranid Hive Fleet Naga and was the location of the first known encounter of the potent Tyranid Zoanthrope later called the Doom of Malan'tai by the Eldar. The derelict Craftworld became nothing more than a drifting, lifeless husk floating through the void. In 994.M41, Craftworld Iyanden came to Malan'tai to see if they could find anything of use to help with repairs of their home after their recent battle with Hive Fleet Kraken, but instead, they found the abandoned Craftworld swarming with vile Orks. When the Eldar finally regained control of Malan'tai, they discovered that the Orks have stolen or destroyed anything of use. With heavy hearts, they altered the Craftworld's course towards the nearest sun and headed home.
- Mor'rioh'i - Destroyed by the military forces of the burgeoning Imperium of Man during the Great Crusade.
- Muirgaythh - Destroyed by the daemonic forces of Slaanesh.
- Thuyela - Thuyela was destroyed by the Tenth Company of the Space Wolves Legion during the Great Crusade.
During The Fall, the degeneration of the Eldar did not proceed wholly without resistance. Some Eldar, the more far-sighted, began to openly criticize the laxity and perversity of their fellow citizens, and to warn against the effect of Chaos cults. These people were mostly ignored or else treated as narrow-minded fools and religious fanatics. Soon the general collapse of Eldar society convinced even the most resolute amongst them that there would be no end to the reign of death and depravity. Some decided to leave the Eldar homeworlds, and settle new planets free of the creeping corruption. They were the ones still untainted by the touch of Chaos, and by now they were few. These Eldar are known as the Exodites.
The Exodite worlds are generally considered backward and rustic compared to the rest of the space-roaming Eldar (and thus are commonly thought to be the equivalent of the Wood Elves instead of High Elves), although they still possess a good deal of the Eldar's advanced technology. One of the pieces of technology they have maintained is the Infinity Circuit, although on the Exodite worlds these are known as World Spirits and exist in the form of grids of stone menhirs, obelisks, and stone circles all crafted from psychoactive crystal. Despite the presence of some technology, these worlds are often agricultural, however, and it is not uncommon for groups of Exodites to exist in a primitive, nomadic state, living off roaming herds of pastoral animals and seasonal harvests. This is the most common image of the Exodite life among Craftworld Eldar. Many Craftworld Outcasts will find a refuge among these Eldar, who are generally more accepting.
Many Craftworld Eldar regard the Exodites a sort of rural, backwater group that is quaint at best. To others, the Exodites represent the foundation of a new Eldar empire on the edge of the galaxy, composed of the descendants of those far-sighted and strong-willed enough to escape the touch of Slaanesh. The Biel-tan Craftworld is one of the chief proponents of the Exodite potential, and will often mobilize its forces in defense of one of the scattered worlds.
Known Exodite militaries consist solely of the Exodite Dragon Knights. These Eldar ride various types of reptilian mounts into battle and are known as Exodite Knights and Lords. The Dragon Knights use a laser lance and wear carapace-style armor.
The Eldar Gods
The Pantheon of Eldar Gods is considered to have been destroyed by the creation of Slaanesh. While the Eldar still revere all the gods of the pantheon and preserve their stories within the mythic cycles, they do not call on them for aid or hope for their intervention any longer. There are many similarities between the mythology surrounding the Eldar pantheon and aspects of the ancient mythologies of the Greek and Norse cultures of Old Earth. It is assumed that the Warhammer 40,000 creators drew heavily on these existing sources of real world mythology when creating the Eldar race and the defining mythic stories of their culture.
Kaela Mensha Khaine, God of War
Kaela Mensha Khaine is one of the only two surviving Gods of the Eldar before the recent awakening of Ynnead. In the old Aeldari pantheon, he was second only to Asuryan himself in power, and was often shown as the enemy of Vaul. He is also the most violent and reckless of the gods. Asuryan was so appalled by his murder of Eldanesh, a mortal Eldar, that he cursed Khaine and made his hands drip eternally with the blood of Eldanesh so that everyone would remember what he had done. The Eldar say that when Slaanesh awoke, he/she (Slaanesh can appear as either gender at will) consumed each of the other Eldar gods in the Warp in turn. While his counterparts were all devoured, Khaine took up his great sword and did battle with Slaanesh instead. Khaine was not strong enough to destroy Slaanesh, but he was too powerful to be defeated. Instead his psychic signature in the Warp was broken, and scattered into pieces. These pieces were driven from the Warp where they had done battle and came to rest in the heart of the Infinity Circuit of each Craftworld. These pieces of the god became the Avatars of Kaela Mensha Khaine. In times of war the Eldar can awaken him to lead them into battle, though the price is the sacrifice of an Exarch's life, for the Avatar needs to possess a physical body to enter the material universe. The Avatars of Khaine are towering monsters with skin of iron and molten cores, hands permanently dripping with blood as Khaine's did.
Cegorach (The Laughing God), God of the Harlequins
The only other surviving god of the Eldar Pantheon, Cegorach, also known as the Laughing God, the Great Harlequin, the Great Fool and the First Fool, was a consummate trickster and artist of the Eldar Gods. While most of the Eldar Gods were destroyed by Slaanesh during the Fall of the Eldar, according to legend this deity survived because his mocking nature distanced him from the collective psychic corruption and decadence of the ancient Eldar empire that birthed the Chaos God Slaanesh. Other legends tell that when all the other Gods were destroyed, Cegorach fled before Slaanesh until Khaine rose to do battle with her. It is said that during the fight between Slaanesh and Khaine the Laughing God hid behind Khaine for protection, and in the aftermath of the struggle Cegorach fled into the Webway where Slaanesh could not find him. He still resides there, and is the only being in the universe who knows exactly where every door in the Webway leads. As the master and patron god of the mysterious Harlequins, Cegorach is the only Eldar God that still remains in his original form. The Harlequins are protected from Slaanesh in a different way from their Craftworld brethren. While Craftworld Eldar wear Spirit Stones which absorb their souls when they die to prevent them from being devoured by Slaanesh in the Warp, the Eldar Harlequins are directly protected by their faith in their God's power, becoming one with his Warp emanation upon their death. The only exception to this are the Harlequin Solitaires whose souls must be won from Slaanesh after their deaths by the Laughing God.
Asuryan, King of the Eldar Gods
Sometimes known as the Phoenix King, Asuryan was the king of the pantheon of Eldar Gods. While the mythic cycles seem to indicate that he held sway over all the others, he was nevertheless consumed by Slaanesh in the Warp. He is often depicted in relation to fire and light, his chief symbols.
Isha, Goddess of the Harvest
The Great Mother of the Eldar race, Isha is a fertility goddess in many respects. She was imprisoned by Khaine for a period of time, until Vaul paid her ransom. She is often depicted crying, and her symbol is a teared eye, symbolic of her sorrow in being separated from her mortal children. Her tears are said to have solidified to form the Spirit Stones which keep the Eldar safe from Slaanesh after their death. It is rumoured that the Chaos God Nurgle coveted the Eldar fertility goddess, and rescued her from consumption by Slaanesh only to imprison her in his decaying mansion that lies within his foul realm in the Warp. Nurgle "cares" for Isha by feeding her the various diseases he concocts, only for her to whisper the cures for each one to mortals when his back is turned.
Vaul, God of the Forges
The artificer of the Eldar Gods, Vaul is one of the central gods of the Eldar Pantheon, and an enemy to Khaine. In order to purchase the freedom of Kurnous and Isha, Khaine demanded one hundred blades from the Smith God. Vaul was unable to finish the last blade in time, and so hid a mortal blade amid the others of immortal craftsmanship. This fooled Khaine long enough to get Isha and Kurnous to freedom, but when he realised he had been tricked, he cried out for vengeance. Vaul finished the final blade, Anaris the Dawnlight, and took it to do battle with Khaine. Though it was the greatest of swords, Khaine was the better warrior and crippled Vaul. The smith is often shown chained to his anvil, the punishment that Khaine set upon him.
Ynnead, God of the Dead
Ynnead is a dream, the embodiment of a possibility that has yet to be fully realized. Some Eldar Seers long believed that when the last Eldar dies during the Rhana Dandra (the Final Battle with Chaos), Ynnead will be born from the Warp with the strength of all the Eldar souls stored in the Infinity Circuits of the Craftworlds and the World Spirits of the Exodites. Ynnead will then have the power to destroy Slaanesh forever in a final battle, thus correcting the mistakes which led to the Fall of the Eldar and allowing the race to be reincarnated into a universe free of the taint of Chaos.
Or at least that is what the Eldar believed would happen for almost ten thousand standard years. Then, in 999.M41, during the Battle of Port Demesnus on the moon of Coheria, the High Farseer Eldrad Ulthran partially completed a ritual intended to awaken Ynnead using the power of the souls found in the Infinity Circuits of every Craftworld in the galaxy. While the intervention of the Imperial Deathwatch interrupted the ritual before it could be completed, the God of the Dead was partially awakened, and sought out a champion to complete his rise in the form of Yvraine, the Daughter of Shades. Yvraine founded a new Eldar faction dedicated to the Whispering God's resurrection known as the Ynnari. The Ynnari, with members drawn from the Craftworld Eldar, the Harlequins, and the Dark Eldar of Commorragh, seek the restoration of the ancient Aeldari race by collecting the artefacts known as the Croneswords from across the galaxy. Their combined ritualistic use at a single focused point in realspace will allow Ynnead to fully manifest his power in the Warp, where he will combat Slaanesh, hopefully destroying the Prince of Chaos and freeing the Eldar from the soul-devouring curse of She Who Thirsts forever. Only then will the Eldar race, restored to the unity of the ancient Aeldari, seek to rebuild a new and better interstellar empire.
Other Eldar Gods
- Kurnous, God of the Hunt - Kurnous was the Father of the Eldar race and the companion and consort of Isha. He is often shown in conjunction with hounds, hawks, and other trappings of the hunt. Along with Isha, the goddess of the harvest, he too was imprisoned by Khaine.
- Gea - Gea was a female Eldar God that existed within the pantheon of the Eldar race. She is notable for being the consort of the twin deities Khaine the Bloody Handed God and Asuryan the Phoenix King.
- Hoec - Revered amongst the near-invisible assassins known as Eldar Pathfinders, the mysterious wandering Eldar divinity known as Hoec is said to be one with the Webway, and has walked the paths between planets since the stars themselves were young.
- Lileath (also known as Lilcarth), the Maiden - Lileath was the Goddess of Dreams.
- Morai-Heg, the Crone, Goddess of Fate and Souls - The Crone-Goddess Morai-Heg is the consort of Khaine and the third in a trinity of female Eldar Goddesses who appears as an ancient and withered creature who holds the fate of mortals inside a skin rune pouch. In Eldar myth she sought to partake of the wisdom contained in her divine blood. She manipulated Khaela Mensha Khaine to cut off her hand so that she might drink deep of her own vitae. With this deed Morai-Heg gained the knowledge that she sought, and in return, Khaine gained the aspect of the banshee. The original homeworlds of the Eldar that were lost to the Eye of Terror after the Fall became known as Crone Worlds, a reference to the Crone Goddess. The inhabitants of Craftworld Iybraesil are noted for being followers of Morai-Heg.
- Cobra-God - The Cobra-God is an animistic creature of destruction who does not care who is caught in his wake; he is venerated by the Exodites.
- Scorpion-God - The Scorpion-God is an animistic spirit of defence, brother of Cobra; he is also a spirit deity venerated by the Exodites.
- Serpent-God - The Serpent-God is an animistic creature of secrets who knows all there is to know in the universe; he is the third major spirit deity venerated by the Exodites.
Relations With Other Races
As with most of the primary factions in the 41st Millennium, the Eldar have no particular love for any of the other major intelligent races in the universe. Though they abhor the Forces of Chaos more than any other since they have lost more than most civilisations to the predations of the Ruinous Powers, they do not particularly desire to share their knowledge or co-exist with their fellow space-faring species. They have been known to trade and have relations with the other Elder Races.
Relations between Mankind and the Eldar were not always sour, but perhaps the current state of warfare between the Eldar and the species they derogatorily refer to as the mon-keigh (literally "mammals" in the Eldar Lexicon, though with a derogatory meaning closer to "monkeys" in Low Gothic) could be blamed on the events preceding the Horus Heresy -- most notably, the meeting between Fulgrim, Primarch of the Emperor's Children Legion of Space Marines and the Eldar Farseer Eldrad Ulthran upon the Eldar Maiden World of Tarsus during the Great Crusade. Both leaders had come in peace to discuss the Imperial Compliance of the planet and Fulgrim's willingness to ignore Imperial doctrine on the matter and leave the Eldar's Maiden Worlds unconquered by the Imperium, but the main issue that Eldrad was attempting to pursue was that the Imperial Warmaster Horus had turned to Chaos, and sought to betray the Emperor of Mankind. However, Eldrad was unaware that Fulgrim had already been tainted by contact with the Slaaneshi daemonblade that he had recovered from the world of Laeran, and the supposedly peaceful meeting soon turned into a bloody battle when Ulthran sensed that the Emperor's Children had already been corrupted by She Who Thirsts. Being that Fulgrim was unaware of the existence of a Chaotic taint on himself and his Astartes, or even what Chaos was at the time of their meeting with the aliens, the Ulthwe Eldar's actions were seen as a betrayal and great insult to the offer of friendship and peace that Fulgrim had offered them with the Imperium of Man. Hence, Mankind and the Eldar have been at nearly open war since the days of the Horus Heresy.
Though they have had no love for the Imperium of Man, which they view as a brutish, repressive and extraordinarily arrogant government (though in truth no more arrogant than the Eldar themselves were before the Fall) the Eldar typically leave human settlements alone and have fought side-by-side with the Imperial Space Marines and troops of the Imperial Guard on multiple occasions, though they have been known to attack unprovoked for reasons of their own and have used other races as shields against certain threats such as the Orks. In campaigns like the Gothic War and the 13th Black Crusade, both races have been seen working together against their common foe of Chaos. In truth, though neither species will ever truly understand the other, and there are a great many differences between them, they both need the other to survive the terrible threats that face both races and they are both far more alike in their mutual arrogance and disdain for other species than either would be comfortable admitting.
As the most primitive intelligent starfaring race in the galaxy, the Eldar look down upon the Orks and all of their actions. Essentially a green wrecking ball hurling through space, the Orks destroy and loot every world in their path. This has put them at odds with the Eldar many times. However, due to their limited intelligence, the Orks have often made excellent pawns in Eldar schemes designed to save Eldar lives from another, even more potent threat from the Imperium or the Tyranids.
As the first race most predominantly affected by Chaos, the Eldar have devoted all of their resources to battling the forces of Chaos whenever possible. This has made them temporary allies of the Imperium on occasion though such partnerships rarely last beyond the span of a few battles.
The Tyranids are a seemingly unstoppable force in the universe, the origins of which are still unknown. The Eldar have dedicated much of their time and sacrificed many in the fight to stem the spread of the Tyranid Hive Fleets. Though only three major Tyranid incursions have actually occurred, the universe is forever under threat from further Hive Fleet invasions. Billions on all sides were sacrificed in the fight to stem the Tyranid flow, but the Eldar are not above sacrificing entire human worlds in favor of diverting the swarm away from their own Craftworlds.
Perhaps the most notable conflict between the Eldar and the Tyranids was the bloody battle between the Craftworld Iyanden and Hive Fleet Kraken, which reduced the massive Eldar cityship to mere remnants of its glory, and which was saved only through the timely intervention of the Pirate Prince Yriel and his Eldritch Raiders.
The Eldar have much experience with these dark, evil beings since they were originally created by the Old Ones to aid them in their ancient war with the Necrons. The Eldar have been searching for ways to rid the universe of the foul Necrons for thousands of years. As a relatively recent addition to Warhammer 40,000 lore, the Necrons are a threat to all life in the universe, putting the Eldar in alliance with the Imperium once more against this foe. As usual, such alliances are fleeting and do not last beyond major battles against the Necrons.
- "I have followed the myriad potential futures of the Tau with great interest. Though barely even striplings compared to us, I feel a strange protectiveness towards them. In time I believe they will exceed even our greatest feats and master the darkness within their souls."
So far, there have been no reports of any major contact between the Eldar Craftworlds and the Tau Empire. However it can be assumed that one of three things would happen should the Eldar and the Tau have more contact: The Tau see the Eldar as a threat to their Empire and the Greater Good, the Eldar Craftworlds come to view Tau expansionism as a threat to their way of life, or the Tau offer the Eldar a place in their Empire, which the Craftworlds would view with outright scorn. As the Eldar ultimately want to re-establish their own interstellar empire, they have no desire to bow to the effectively newborn interstellar civilisation of the Tau. As such, the Tau's hopes for the Eldar would be ill-founded. Finally, the Eldar and the Tau may come into conflict because the Eldar don't believe in the Tau's overriding philosophy of the Greater Good. The Eldar were sailing the stars long before Mankind, never mind the Tau, and have actually physically interacted with their own Gods in the past. The Tau Empire's philosophical belief of the Greater Good would seemingly have little appeal to the far older, more cynical Eldar, most of whom would likely consider Tau ideology to be grossly naive.
The Eldar are a race of fey-like humanoids similar in appearance and culture to the sylvan elves of ancient Terran mythology and literature, and they are the most ancient and technologically advanced of all the intelligent races of the Milky Way Galaxy, with the exception of the Old Ones, and their ancient enemies the Necrons. Their armies usually have the advantages of great mobility, potent psychic abilities and technology that is more advanced than that deployed by the human Imperium. In the sense that Warhammer 40,000 races are generally derived from the earlier Warhammer Fantasy universe, the Eldar are derived from the High Elves of the Warhammer World, except for the Eldar faction known as the Exodites who are the equivalent of the Wood Elves.
Etymology and Inspiration
The name Eldar is drawn from J. R. R. Tolkien's work the Silmarillion, where the hunter Valar Oromë discovers Elves far from the Blessed Realm of Valinor, in Middle-earth. In their own language the Elves were given the name "Eldar" (Quenya for "Star People") by the Valar Oromë, presumably for the fact their birth came in a time before the sun and the moon existed and because the elves have a particular love for the stars. The history of the Eldar in Warhammer 40,000 mimics that of Tolkien's elves, to the point that they are a "dwindling race" in the game universe, as the elves were in Middle-earth's Third Age.
The inspiration for the Eldar is heavily drawn from Celtic culture, such as their largely Gaelic-influenced language (similar to the dominant Sindarin Elvish in Tolkien's works which was somewhat based on Welsh), the names of their Craftworlds, their iconography and even one of their units, which is called the Howling Banshees.
The different Eldar Aspect Warrior paths can be seen as reminiscent of the many different styles of Chinese martial arts (kung fu). The Eldar cultural arrogance is similar to the ethnocentrism displayed by the Chinese of the Ming and Qing Dynasties when they first encountered European cultures that they considered barbaric and inferior. The late nineteenth century Chinese Confucian scholar Gu Hongming, speaking to an Englishman, is quoted as saying "Why, when you lived in caves and clothed yourselves with skins, we were cultured people."
The Eldar may also be seen to borrow from Japanese culture to a lesser extent in the appearance of some of their wargear and the use of shuriken-like kinetic ammunition in their most common ranged weapons. The Eldar "Path of the Warrior" can be seen to be akin to the "Way of the Samurai", Bushido.
- Dark Eldar
- Eldar Harlequins
- Eldar Weapons and Equipment
- 13th Black Crusade
- Roboute Guilliman
- Terran Crusade
- 40KOnline - Revamped successor site to Eldar Online
- Wargame Tactics for Eldar - A Wiki site for Eldar army tactics.
- Forge World - Eldar
- Black Crusade: Core Rulebook (RPG), "The Fall of the Eldar," pg. 322
- Citadel Journal Issue 44, "Codex Harlequins Update: Eldar", pp. 36-39
- Citadel Journal Issue 39, "Codex Harlequins: Eldar", pp. 4-13
- Citadel Journal Issue 19, "Harlequin Dreadnought: Eldar", pg. 17
- Citadel Journal Issue 18, "Eldar: The Lightning Assault" & "Behind the Masque: (Eldar) Harlequin Tactics", pp. 3-5, 65-67
- Citadel Journal Issue 17, "Harlequin", pp. 3-10
- Citadel Journal Issue 12, "Eldar Exodites: Rules & Conversions", pp. 26-30
- Citadel Journal Issue 5, "Eldar (Space Hulk 1st Ed.)", pp. 34-47
- Codex: Craftworld Eldar (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Eldar Craftworlds (7th Edition) (Digital Edition), pp. 15-16 ("Warhosts"), 33-37 ("The Doom of the Eldar")
- Codex: Eldar (6th Edition)
- Codex: Eldar (4th Edition)
- Codex: Eldar (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Eldar (2nd Edition)
- Craftworld Iyanden (6th Edition) (Digital Edition)
- Dark Heresy: Creatures Anathema (RPG), pp. 76-85
- Deathwatch: The Outer Reach (RPG), pg. 64
- Rogue Trader: Battlefleet Koronus (RPG), pp. 84-85
- Imperial Armour Aeronautica, pp. 48-56
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2008), pp. 54-64
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2013), pp. 93-101
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse II, pp. 54-56
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse Second Edition, pp. 57-68
- Imperial Armour II - Ork, Eldar & Dark Eldar Vehicles for Warhammer 40,000, pp. 10-20
- Imperial Armour Tactica Aeronautica, pg. 36
- Imperial Armour Update 1, pp. 34-37
- Imperial Armour Update 2, pp. 18-27
- Imperial Armour Volume Eleven - The Doom of Mymera
- The Art of Warhammer 40,000, pg. 181
- The Gathering Storm - Part Two - Fracture of Biel-Tan (7th Edition), pp. 4-101
- Warhammer 40,000 Compilation (1st Edition), pp. 35-77
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (4th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (2nd Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader (1st Edition)
- White Dwarf 304 (US), "Index Xenos: Discussing the Eldar of the Biel-Tan Craftworld", pp. 88-91
- White Dwarf 207 (US), "Aerial Supremacy: The Eldar Vyper Jetbike" & "A Clash of Patrols: Battle Report - Ultramarines vs. Eldar", pp. 10-17
- White Dwarf 196 (US), "Civil War: Battle Report - Eldar vs. Eldar", pp. 92-109
- White Dwarf 191 (US), "Tyranid Invasion: GW Campaign of Ichar IV Defense by Ultramarines, Imperial Guard and Eldar", pp. 76-81
- White Dwarf 189 (US), "The Great Devourer!: Battle Report - Imperial Guard & Eldar Alliance vs. Tyranids", pp. 46-63
- White Dwarf 186 (UK), "Titan Legions - Eldar Revenant Scout Titans", pp. 37-42
- White Dwarf 177 (US), "Hold the Line: Battle Report - Eldar vs. Space Wolves", pp. 52-72
- White Dwarf 173 (US), "Eldar Pheonix Lords", pp. 6-9
- White Dwarf 172 (US), "The Eldar", pp. 5-16
- White Dwarf 171 (US), "Warp Spider Aspect Warriors: Eldar", pp. 38-41
- White Dwarf 170 (UK), "Epic Eldar Armies", pp. 39-42
- White Dwarf 164 (UK), "Doom of the Eldar", pp. 27-32
- White Dwarf 160 (UK), "The Assault on Barbarius: Battle Report - Imperial Guard vs. Eldar", pp. 20-39
- White Dwarf 159 (US), "Eldar in Tyranid Attack" & "Space Marine & Eldar Scouts", pp. 5-12, 14-17
- White Dwarf 147 (US), "Eldar Avatar and War Walker" & "The Eldar Craftworlds Colour Schemes", pp. 9-11, 12-14
- White Dwarf 144 (US), "Epic Forces: Eldar" & "Titan Data Sheets: Eldar Titans", pp. 24-33, 62-72
- White Dwarf 143 (US), "Stompers!" & "(Eldar) Alaitoc Craftworld vs. The Blood Angels: Battle Report", pp. 12-20, 41-59
- White Dwarf 141 (US), "Alaitoc Craftworld vs. The Blood Angels: Battle Report", pp. 32-45
- White Dwarf 138 (US), "Alaitoc Craftworld Eldar Army", pp. 20-29
- White Dwarf 136 (US), "'Eavy Metal: Eldar Guardians", pp. 18-21
- White Dwarf 127 (US), "Eldar" by Rick Priestley, Jes Goodwin, William King & Lindsey D. Le Doux Paton, pp. 13-52
- White Dwarf 126 (US), "Knights: Eldar & Human War Machines", pp. 28-45
- White Dwarf 124 (US), "Eldar: Jes Goodwin's Sketch Book", pp. 30-33
- White Dwarf 110 (US), "Eldar - Eldar Phantom Class Titans: Shade & Spectre Variants & Eldar Vehicles", pp. 60-69
- White Dwarf 107 (US), "Eldar Harlequin Jet Bike: Stats & Background", pg. 15
- White Dwarf 106 (US), "Harlequins Army List" & "Eldar Jet Bike: Stats", pp. 11-18, 40
- White Dwarf 105 (US), "Harlequins" by Graeme Davis, pp. 35-46
- White Dwarf 101 (US), "Chapter Approved: Eldar; The Infinity Circuit, The Spirit-Warriors & Eldar Ghost-Warriors", pp. 52-55
- Xenology by Simon Spurrier, pp. 25-26