The Ynnari sought to resurrect Ynnead without having to sacrifice the entirety of the Aeldari species as most legends had claimed would be required for the god of the dead's birth.
The Ruinous Powers were alarmed by this development and sought to foil the rebirth of Ynnead at all costs. The key to the Ynnari's plans was the recovery of the mythic Aeldari artefacts called the Croneswords, several of which were located on Craftworld Biel-Tan. Thus both the Ynnari and Chaos forces sought entry into the Craftworld to claim these relics.
A massive Warp Storm ravaged the Maiden World, decimating its population of Exodites and transforming it into a Daemon World before the Herald of Slaanesh called The Masque of Slaanesh and the Bloodthirster Skarbrand led an invasion of Slaaneshi and Khornate daemons.
Skarbrand cared little for his Slaaneshi allies and initially tried to slay the Masque, but she was able to convince the Bloodthirster to agree to a temporary alliance.
Biel-Tan, unaware of the larger machinations of the Chaos forces, nonetheless sent a sizable expedition to Ursulia in order to defend what they believed to be one of the precious Maiden Worlds of the Aeldari.
The counterattack was led by Biel-Tan's Autarch Meliniel and a massive battle erupted on Ursulia's surface. At the battle's height, the Webway portal that led to Biel-Tan was smashed open by Skarbrand's axe, allowing the Masque to pass through to reach the world-ship beyond.
Descending from the Webway portal at the stern of Biel-Tan to drift down like a pearl diver heading for the sea bed, the Masque made it to the surface of the craftworld.
The quiet Chaos infiltration ended when Skarbrand and his Khornate legions smashed through Biel-Tan's Webway portal and a vicious combat erupted aboard the craftworld.
The Avatar of Biel-Tan was awoken and clashed with Skarbrand personally while the Phoenix Lord Jain Zar and a force of Howling Banshees Aspect Warriors attempted to subdue the Masque before she could summon ever more daemons. Despite Jain-Zar besting the Masque in combat, the daemon proved able to enter Biel-Tan's Infinity Circuit in an attempt to destroy the Craftworld's very soul.
From there she polluted the craftworld's Infinity Circuit with Slaaneshi daemons in such number that the innate defences of that wraithbone megastructure were hard-pressed to cope. Slowly, the Biel-Tan Infinity Circuit became corrupted as it was possessed by the very daemonic forces it was devised to help the Asuryani within it escape.
Even as the Biel-Tani fought with every ounce of their skill to quarantine and cleanse their home of the daemon infestation, the Ynnari passed through the Webway to join forces with them, led by Yvraine and Eldrad Ulthran.
Consisting primarily of Harlequins and Drukhari who had accepted the worship of Ynnead, the Ynnari were able to turn the tide of the battle. Skarbrand and his hordes were ultimately destroyed or forced back into the Webway.
Yvraine, under attack from a horde of Daemonettes, breathed out a cold grey mist that dissolved them amongst a horrible keening scream.
The parlay between Ynnari and Biel-Tani was strained, due to the the hated Drukhari among them. The presence of Jain Zar, who spoke out on Yvraine's behalf, bought enough time for the high priestess of Ynnead to perform a ritual of her own.
Yvraine plunged her hand into the psychoplastic wraithbone skeleton of the Biel-Tan world-ship as if it offered no more resistance than water. When she drew it back out, she held high the second of the Croneswords that had been buried in the craftworld's spine for many Terran millennia.
The Biel-Tani Infinity Circuit, already wracked with pain, began to shatter, and the backlash of deathly psychic energies formed a vortex of terrifying power.
From that vortex emerged the Yncarne, the Avatar of the Aeldari god of the dead. Its coalescence has a terrible price, however -- though Biel-Tan's Infinity Circuit was cleansed of daemons by Ynnead's power, the craftworld began to physically break apart.
Worse still, roiling storms of psychic energy boiled through the void, joining with the empyrric dissonance of several other cataclysmic events such as the destruction of Cadia during the 13th Black Crusade to form a large section of the Great Rift.
Biel-Tan was saved though it would need solar decades to recover, but the galaxy itself had paid the price.
The Seers of Craftworld Ulthwé then opened a portal from their Dome of Crystal Seers to its equivalent upon Biel-Tan, destroying the precious and irreplaceable souls of several deceased Farseers within the Ulthwé Infinity Circuit to do so.
The sacrifice was deemed necessary to ensure the Ynnari were rescued from damaged Biel-Tan before the strife they had sown among its populace saw the craftworld consumed in the fires of civil war between those who accepted Ynnead's message and those enraged by the damage the Ynnari had done to their home.
Solar months before Yvraine was chosen as the high priestess of Ynnead during the Night of Revelations in Commorragh, secreted in vaults of black wraithbone within Craftworld Ulthwé, Eldrad Ulthran 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 during the Battle of Port Demesnus, 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 of Ulthwé 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.
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.
Fall of 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 Terran 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 Drukhari 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 as the 13th Black Crusade began, 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 daemonic 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."
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 species 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 Aeldari 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.
Bridge to Ulthwé
"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 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 Drukhari 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 first 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.
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.
The Reborn had come to Ulthwé, and they were ready to begin the next step in their quest to save the Aeldari people.
- The Gathering Storm - Part Two - Fracture of Biel-Tan (7th Edition), pp. 4-101
- White Dwarf 33 (May 2019), "Index Xenos: The Ynnari", pp. 24-53