The Battle of Port Demesnus was a conflict fought between the Space Marines of the Deathwatch and the Harlequin Aeldari of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow on Coheria, the crystalline moon of the Imperial War World of Port Demesnus. The Harlequin troupe was led by none other than the Farseer Eldrad Ulthran of the Craftworld Ulthwé.
Using the campaign for Port Demesnus as a distraction, Eldrad and his allies among the Midnight Sorrow performed a ritual that was intended to awaken the Aeldari god of the dead, Ynnead, within the Immaterium. The ritual was subsequently disturbed before its completion by the forces of the Deathwatch, led by Watch Captain Artemis of the Mortifactors Chapter.
Despite the interruption by Imperial forces, the ritual succeeded in partially awakening the god of the dead. Ynnead immediately reached out across the galaxy to anoint his prophet Yvraine, who founded the Ynnari and offered a new hope to the entirety of the Aeldari species.
The Hidden Path
From long-hidden valleys and subterranean arbours emerged warhosts from Craftworlds Saim-Hann and Ulthwé. They burst from ancient Webway gates, the tunnels of the labyrinthine dimension allowing them to bypass the cordons that made the planet of Port Demesnus an Imperial Navy stronghold. As the Aeldari forces fell upon the population, the cacophony of Port Demesnus' giant industrial complexes was drowned out by the screams of the terrified and the dying.
The entire planet was on high alert within solar hours. Ancient Vox protocols were triggered that saw the Empyrean echo with the mind-wails of the port's Astropaths. In the cold depths of space, the sccattered assets of the Imperium mobilises. But they were too slow, and too far away, to shield the planet's heartland. After the first night, a dozen of Port Demesnus' critical defence sites had been overrun by Aeldari, some clad in jet black, others in bloody crimson.
Outraged, the sector's High Command responded to the attack in a predictably thuggish fashion. The Imperium's nose had been bloodied on their watch, and they reacted with an indignant show of strength, just as the Aeldari had known they would. Bulk landers emerged from the fog of war to land with earth-shaking booms in the midst of the fighting. Battalions of soldiers marched from their cavernous holds and regiments of rugged tanks churned the ground to mud.
At first, the show of force was all but impotent, for the reinforcements were so slow to mobilise that they found the Aeldari had vanished from whichever theatre of war they hunted them in. As the war effort unfolded, and the endless stream of Imperial reinforcements began to cover the planet's surface, the Aeldari had no refuges left to them. Before long, three of the planet's four continents were burning with the fires of all-out war as the Imperial forces closed in.
For all the doom and destruction meted out upon Port Demesnus, the truth behind the war was worse still. The invasion was only a ruse engineered by the most far-seeing of Aeldari strategists, and the true strike was falling elsewhere. The prize they sought was so vital, so pivotal in the wider destiny of their race, that they had sent tens of thousands of irreplaceable Aeldari lives into a full military campaign that was ultimately little more than a decoy.
The war for Port Demesnus was immense. It had all the hallmarks of a critical engagement that would decide the fate of a capital world and the star system beyond; fire rained from the skies, sprawling cities burned to ash and rivers of blood ran in the streets. Yet to Eldrad Ulthran and the players of the Troupe of the Midnight Sorrow, it was a necessary evil, a sideshow to distract from the main event: the fate of Coheria, Port Demesnus' moon.
Where the population of Port Demesnus numbered in the dozens of billions, the glittering white orb of Coheria was entirely abandoned by Mankind, thought cursed for many long generations. Those who had attempted to settle it in the past had all been driven to distraction by the constant, low susurration of whispers that haunted the cusp of hearing day and night.
The white sands of the moon, glinting like snowdrifts in the stellar light, were formed of a mildly psychoactive crystal, shards of precious stone ground to powder by the erosion of the aeons. Though none alive knew it, Coheria had been on the edge of the ancient Aeldari Empire at the time of Slaanesh's birth, and was saturated in psychic residue.
Though individually tiny, when held together, the numberless grains of crystal that rendered the moon's surface white had absorbed immense psychic potential. Though Coheria had long been lost to the collective consciousness of the Aeldari race, at the close of the 41st Millennium, it was rediscovered by Illic Nightspear and the star-stalking outcasts of Craftworld Alaitoc. The discovery, when revealed to the Seer Councils of the other Asuryani Craftworlds, set in motion this series of galaxy-changing events.
When Eldrad Ulthran of Craftworld Ulthwé learned of Coheria's strange sands, the seed of an idea germinated in his fathomless mind. He cast it mentally into a sea of potential and followed the path of its voyage to a skein of glittering futures. There was physical danger there, for the rune that represented the brutish Imperium of Man-- and worse still, their elite Space Marines -- orbited the crux of fate, splitting it into several possible futures.
After consulting with Kysaduras the Anchorite, a visionary Farseer who had long ago locked himself in the wraithbone heart of Ulthwé, Eldrad resolved to investigate the moon in person, but he would need assistance and stealth. Hundreds of Terran years previously, Eldrad had found common cause with a Death Jester known as Inriam's Spectre, and the Farseer reached out with his psyche to contact his morbid ally.
Though his masque had needed him to defend the Black Library against the Sorcerer Ahriman, Inriam's Spectre answered the summons. Before the year was out, Eldrad was escorted through the Webway to Coheria by a maverick troupe of the Midnight Sorrow.
The Death Jester had listened to Eldrad's plan, and since that day, the potential of it had burned like the rune of new hope within his mind. It was a ploy of such vaunting ambition, so redolent with the star-forging grandeur of the ancient Aeldari race, that the warrior-dancer and his kinsmen found its lure irresistible.
Eldrad had long believed in the possibility of rousing a new Aeldari deity: Ynnead, the god of the dead. Many a doom-laden Seer believed Ynnead would awaken to destroy Slaanesh, that diabolical Chaos God who sought to devour every Aeldari soul, but legend had it that this would only after every Aeldari in the galaxy had already left the mortal coil.
Eldrad dared to hope that he could awaken Ynnead before then, and in doing so save a fraction of the Aeldari race -- enough to slowly regrow their population without the leering hunger of Slaanesh forcing them into lives of asceticism or endless torment.
The Path Divides
The Corvus Blackstar Lethal Intent soared through the thin atmosphere of Coheria. The planet had long been forsaken, the hab-blocks thrown up by ancient Demesnan settlers no more than jutting ruins upon the horizon. Despite the strange mist banks that swirled like a slow-motion tempest around part of the planet's surface, the Lethal Intent 's scry-augurs registered the atmosphere as still breathable. Better yet, the drifts of crystal powder that passed for its surface were firm enough to land the Space Marines' aircraft on.
Watch-Captain Artemis and his Battle-Brothers noted with focussed interest the flicker of engagement sigils upon the periphery of the Cogitator readout. They knew there must be more Aeldari upon Coheria when the scans registered as humanoid but not Imperial.
Xenos presence was confirmed by the data lattice of the Stormraven that was deploying the Deathwatch Venerable Dreadnought Nihilus nearby. Artemis' decision to leave the Port Demesnus war zone against orders was one step closer to being vindicated. If the Aeldari were working some nefarious scheme, and Watch Force Artemis could slay them in time to prevent it, perhaps they could return to Talasa Prime in victory rather than disgrace.
A split second after Artemis ordered the attack, his combat veterans took heavy fire. The thickening mists were no wider than an Aeldari's wrist, but the incoming projectiles were impossibly sharp. Where they scored telling hits, they sliced through ceramite to draw blood, slash fingers from hands or take limbs from torsos. A hollow laugh rang eerily in the mist as a shuriken slashed the eyes from a Battle-Brother's head in a spray of broken visorglass and murky liquids.
The Deathwatch were already returning fire. Even those who were badly wounded shot from the hip without faltering. Kraken bolts hammered out into the gloom towards the long-limbed figures cavorting on the cusp of vision. Here and there, a satisfying boom rang out as bolt shells struck something solid and detonated hard.
Artemis levelled shot after shot as he charged forward, struggling to see the tall-helmed Farseer through the mist. His vanguard elements boosted alongside him with a roar of Jump Pack engines. There was a sudden storm of multicoloured light, the mist flashing a hundred shades at once, and the tall Aeldari was gone.
Actinic lightning blasted from the mist, a skein of electricity that left runic symbols behind Artemis' eyes as it hurled him skidding sidelong into a drift of crystal sands. A red-stockinged foot pressed his helmet down, seeking to trap him immobile for a coup de grace, but the Watch Captain jabbed his Power Sword high, impaling the Harlequin. He sprung up, gripping the falling body and breaking its spine even as he used it as a shield against the blinding laser beam that shot at him from the gloom. The corpse came apart in a puff of blood.
Sleek-hulled Attack Craft swooped through the swirling, shimmering mist, adding to the confusion with crackling lasers and shuriken volleys. The Deathwatch, knowing that to remain stationary was to court disaster, had already spread out into pairs. What had started as a meeting of battle lines had devolved into a fast-paced hunt in the mists. Artemis growled in frustration; in a battle of agility, the Aeldari held all the cards.
There was a sudden "whump" of ignition as a swathe of the battlefield was consumed in plasma fire, spindle-limbed xenos dancing spasmodically as they melted to nothing in the intense flames. The Dreadnought Nihilus stomped into the fray from the west, Storm Bolter barking as it tracked a passing Jetbike.
A long-hafted Harlquin blade lashed out, deftly slicing through the weapon system's ammo feed, but Nihilus had fought Aeldari before and knew the tolerances of a Plasma Cannon well. A second explosion of eye-searing energies and the Jetbike -- brightly unformed riders and all -- was reduced to scattered ash.
The tide of battle ebbed back and forth as each side attempted to encircle the other, only to find itself ambushed in turn. The mists swirled thick, the dull crump of explosions and the high shriek of dying xenos sounding strangely far away. Barking curt imperatives to fight on to the last man, Artemis plunged into the thickest part of the mist, seeking its source. He was determined to slay every last Aeldari upon Coheria, even if he died in the process.
All around the Deathwatch, faces they could swear were familiar flashed in the flashed in the gloom; visages of the dead, of sisters and brothers, of the hated, of heroes long passed into legend. They blurred together, laughing, crying, a surreal kaleidoscope of imagery punctuated by intense flashes of gory violence.
The distorting masks of the Harlequins, combined with the strangely reflective mist, left Watch Force Artemis with no option but to fight on using only their instincts, trusting their hearts instead of their heads.
The vanguard of the Deathwatch force aimed their assault towards the highest concentration of Harlequins. They lashed out with Thunder Hammers and Power Mauls, but their targets simply vaulted and tumbled over the attacks as if in a long-practised performance.
As their foes dodged, however, two of the veterans flicked Frag Grenades from the mag-lock points of their belts, and the sudden detonations sent three Harlequins reeling. It was all the opportunity the Space Marines needed. Heavy hammers arced overhead to smash dazed Harlequins into mangled heaps of broken bone and burst flesh, blood painting black ceramite red.
Then, a cruelly laughing Death Jester was among them. A point-blank volley sliced an armoured torso into ragged meat, the shuriken's poison sending vital organs spattering with a bang. A blow from the scythe blade took a Battle-Brother's jaw, cutting his battle cry to a single gurgling words, "death," before Inriam's Spectre pushed a Plasma Grenade into his ruined mouth. Brother Galatael kicked out hard, sending the Death Jester rolling into the mist.
Despite being blinded by a hundred stimuli, Watch Captain Artemis fought on with primal savagery. Once more, his mind told him he was surrounded by warriors hungry to devour him, similar to the same murderous kinsmen that had cut him down on his homeworld of Posul.
The hungry faces of the Harlequins' masks loomed large in the mist. Artemis span and slashed, punched and stamped, crunched his helm into the face of one assailant and his elbow into the throat of another. He fought like a captured beast, proud and ferocious, but every return blow somehow connected, drawing blood from him with each strike.
The Watch Captain felt a curved blade slide into his lower back. Another came in to sever his hand at the wrist, but glanced hard from the metal of Artemis' bionic arm. He spun, his mind flaring with pain as he ripped the sword lodged in his back from his attacker's hand. He shoved hard and primed his stasis bomb before flinging it towards the dancing shadows.
A mind-numbing detonation and a shroud of stillness froze Artemis' assailants as if trapping them in a glacier. The mist, banished by the arcane explosion, parted to reveal grinning Aeldari trapped in the last act of a play that would never end. An arrowhead-shaped gunship swerved abruptly to avoid being being caught in the dislocation of time and space that rippled out from the stasis bomb's detonation.
The machine's evasive manoeuvre put it right in the path of the Dreadnought Nihilus, who took some relish in backhanding it into scrap with a blow from his giant Dreadnought Power Fist. Artemis gave a shout of joy. With a single strike, the tide had turned.
A Shattering Blow
Eldrad Ulthran had taken into account every eventuality he could foresee unfolding on Coheria -- with the exception of one. He had foreseen the Imperial attack, slowed its advance with a web of words and laid an ambush of blades to repel it, and yet there remained a future he had not factored into his plans.
In his meditations, the High Farseer had glimpsed a fold in chronology, a ruction in the imprecise nature of the skein. It hid a divergent thread of destiny that led away from his carefully sculpted paths of cause and effect. Eldrad had examined the temporal anomaly, but dismissed it as a false vision, for he saw no way for a species as lowly and backward as Humanity to affect the passage of time itself.
With the detonation of Artemis' stasis bomb, fate's path veered sharply away from that which Eldrad had intended. The Deathwatch fought clear of the mind-altering mist that was dissipating around them and brought their full might to bear.
The Harlequins were revealed, at last, in all their splendour, and those not caught within a stasis field were attacked with renewed fervour. The High Farseer of Ulthwe fought only in his own defence, for he was consumed with the culmination of a far greater work.
All around Eldrad, the crystal seers glowed brighter and brighter with a cold and colourless light, throwing the twilight of the battleground into a stark new dawn. The Harlequins evaded many kill shots and leapt high to escape the crushing blows of the Deathwatch vanguard, but they could not dodge forever the hurricane of fury brought to bear upon them. Pressing their attack, the Deathwatch surrounded the remaining Harlequins, gunning down one Troupe and sending the other scattering as Nihilus' plasma blasts seared in from the flank.
Artemis ran to the crest of a sand drift, lashing out to decapitate the rider of a Skyweaver Jetbike as it shot past. The blow sent the vehicle careening into an outcrop of eroded Imperial ruins. The resultant explosion saw a skull-masked figure spring high from within the shelter of the rubble, flipping, somersaulting and landing in a stumbling crouch.
Artemis was already running, taking advantage of his adversary's distraction to press his Bolt Pistol into the back of the figure's skull-masked head. The Watch Captain smiled grimly in anticipation of the kill. Unbeknownst to him, the masked Aeldari grinned too.
Slowly, the Aeldari laid down his long-barrelled cannon. He made a sound reminiscent of a herald clearing his throat and held out a hand in a stylised gesture of declaration.
"If you slay me, Sir Knight," he said, his High Gothic perfectly enunciated,"the fates shall align to bless our mutual foes."
"Trust not the Eldar," said Artemis, his words thick with hatred.
"We are the sons of Death, you and I," said the Aeldari. "We bring oblivion, in order to deny Chaos. We cannot afford to thwart one another when the greater enemy stands on the cusp of victory."
The gilded finger bones lining the edge of the creature's cloak gleamed in the harsh light as crystal statues glowed bright all around. Artemis narrowed his eyes; a similar rainment was worn by the Chaplains of his own Mortifactors Chapter in their sepulchral celebrations. Strangely, he could not sense duplicity in this one.
"Walk away," said the Harlequin, "and a dire blow shall fall upon the Archenemy." Artemis recoiled at the term as the Aeldari spoke on. "Is your distrust so deep you would rather kill me now than spare the doom of a trillion human souls?" There was disbelief under his tone, and something else. Despair, perhaps.
"Yes," said Artemis, pulling the trigger to end the creature's life.
Eldrad Ulthran screamed as the ritual reached its crescendo. All around, the crystal sands of Coheria glowed bright. A bow wave of spiritual power rippled across the moon as the soul of every dead Craftworlder since the Fall of the Aeldari lent a measure of its sentience. But a vital voice in the choir of his psychic melange had been silenced, and the blessings of the Laughing God were fading away.
Wraithbone runes whirled around Eldrad, burning to smoking ash one by one as the High Farseer struggled to hold the ritual of awakening together. His mind was aflame, the skies above bursting into bright orange fire in sympathy. Psychic energies heated the planetoid to volcanic temperatures. The moon became a psychic sun, a signifier of a new dawn. Somewhere, in the bottomless soulscape of the void, Ynnead at last stirred to wakefulness.
Another sun blossomed on the cusp of fate, far smaller, and filled with malevolence. Eldrad opened one eye to see a plasma sphere burning towards him. He directed a portion of his psychic focus into his Rune Armour to dissipate the blast. In that act, he failed. The ritual disturbed, the emergent consciousness of the new Aeldari god splintered, its full apotheosis and awakening denied.
The crystal seers shattered with terrific force even as Space Marines sprinted for their assault craft as the crystalline moon exploded around them. Eldard reeled, stumbling blindly through the Webway gate behind him as the planet ignited with white fire. The last thing he saw was a vast and solemn constellation losing cohesion, a single bright point from within it shooting away into the far reaches of the cosmos.
Yet the god of the dead had stirred in his dreamless sleep. Even as his full consciousness remained quiescent, he reached out across the galaxy to find his herald, an Aeldari who had served with many of her species' different factions, and even then was battling in the arenas of Commorragh. She would be the prophet of the new age and complete the awakening Eldrad Ulthran had begun. Her name was Yvraine.
- Warhammer 40,000: Death Masque (Board Game), pp. 2, 4-5, 7, 12, 14, 15, 18-19