The War in the Labyrinth is the name given to a battle between the Aeldari faction known as the Ynnari and a warband of the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion, the Prodigal Sons, led by the infamous Chaos Sorcerer Ahzek Ahriman that was fought within the confines of the Webway.
A council of Asuryani elders had gathered in the aftermath of Prince Yriel's resurrection following the Battle of Iyanden. Together they discussed the new doom that faced the galaxy as the Great Rift came into being.
After long debate they came to the conclusion that only by giving the teeming masses of Humanity a fighting chance to hurl back the forces of the Ruinous Powers could they avert a doom that would see the Aeldari species suffer and die.
The Ynnari, now bolstered by a large contingent from Craftworld Iyanden, braved the shattered spars of the Webway once more. After a fraught journey where they were forced to face the legendary Ahzek Ahriman and his Thousand Sons Rubric Marines, they reached the ice moon of Klaisus in the Cadian System, that frozen orb which had appeared large in the divinations of the Asuryani Seers.
There the Ynnari rendezvoused with the surviving Imperial forces who had fled the fall of Cadia to Abaddon the Despoiler's 13th Black Crusade under the command of Saint Celestine, Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax and Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl.
A pact was struck, and together the uneasy allies headed through the Webway to Macragge, the capital world of the Realm of Ultramar, there to resurrect the Primarch Roboute Guilliman who could lead Humanity in its darkest hour.
Into the Webway
With a galactic cataclysm unfolding around them, the Ynnari made haste to the ghost halls as soon as the Iyanden Seer Council had reached its decision to aid Humanity in the struggle against Chaos as a way to save the Aeldari as well.
Using her inﬂuence over the spirits of the dead, Yvraine worked every available moment to transfer the consciousness of ancient heroes from the Iyanden Infinity Circuit directly into the wraithbone bodies they had previously only controlled via the use of Spirit Stones. These Ghost Warriors were no longer trapped in what seemed a waking dream, but given new life by Yvraine and her kin, able to see, feel and hear the material world around them with all the clarity they had possessed as mortals.
Though mute, their gratitude was obvious in their deference -- the stiffness and uncertainty of the typical wraith construct was replaced by a ﬂuid grace as the statuesque spirit warriors adjusted to their new forms.
Before long these newly realised Ghost Warriors had taken up the artefacts and heraldry of their mortal incarnations. They were truly Reborn. With their senses singing and their thirst for vengeance undiminished, the Ghost Warriors of Iyanden were more formidable than ever.
In conjunction with Iyanna Arienal and her Spiritseer brethren, the High Priestess of Ynnead brought entire Ghost Halls to full wakefulness. The wraithbone constructs were filled with purpose -- they felt the presence of Ynnead calling them to war, for if any could command them from beyond the veil, it was the Aeldari god of the dead.
Within a matter of solar days, the Ynnari made for the Webway once more. This time they went with not only elements of the Biel-Tani Swordwind, ghostly emissaries from Altansar and strike forces from the other craftworlds amongst their ranks, but also with a mighty host of Reborn Ghost Warriors.
Many of the Iyandeni traditionalists objected vociferously to what they saw as a crippling blow to the world-ship's defences, but the newly realised constructs would not listen to even the most compelling argument, and would not allow themselves to be stopped.
Few had the nerve to stand before the ancient heroes of the Eldar race and tell them to stand down in the name of passivity and caution. The future of their entire species was at stake, and the dead would do everything in their power to ensure that their living brethren were beyond the reach of She Who Thirsts.
From the sternmost portal of Iyanden, the swollen ranks of the Reborn made for the depths of the Webway once more. To use those esoteric pathways often carries a cost -- even with the Harlequins of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow to guide them, the Ynnari found their progress painfully slow.
Fractal complexities haunted their peripheral vision, surreal dreams assailed their minds, and false turns confounded them every night. Half-real, half of the Warp, that twilit Labyrinth Dimension was in places as much the domain of the Dark Gods as that of the Aeldari -- or rather the Old Ones that had come before them.
A devotee of Tzeentch, Ahriman had once been a mystical warrior of the Imperium, noble and just. In the millennia-long search to save his cursed Legion, he walked such dark paths he became consumed by ambition and revenge.
Ahriman's former master, the Daemon Primarch Magnus the Red, had wrought a great doom for the Space Wolves Chapter of Astartes, those executioners that had hounded his Legion to near-extinction at the dawn of the Horus Heresy 10,000 standard years before.
In doing so he had not only brought utter devastation to the Fenris System, but also used the tremendous magical forces he had unleashed to force his own power base, the Daemon World known as the Planet of the Sorcerers, through the veil between the Warp and realspace.
That cataclysmic act of metaphysical manipulation had seen a dozen new Warp Storms spiral into being across the galaxy. Empowered, the Legion of the Thousand Sons had risen again in power and prominence.
The Thousand Sons were a force like no other. In the name of enlightenment, they had dabbled with the energies of the Warp so deeply that a ﬂaw in their transhuman gene-seed had mutated out of control, with some of their number turned into ﬂeshy monsters called Chaos Spawn who were robbed of all sanity. Ahriman had cast a great spell, the Rubric, to preserve what was left of his fellows, but in doing so had been too successful.
He had turned his kin from mutable ﬂesh to unliving dust sealed inside baroque suits of ancient Power Armour. Since that day, the Arch-Sorcerer had sought a way to rescue his fellows from their deathly and soulless half-life. He had needed little spurring to seek out the Ynnari. In their travails within the Webway, the Reborn had come to the notice of many a baleful eye.
Through the whispered cant of daemons, word had reached Ahriman of a new force in the galaxy that could defy death -- and even resurrect those whose spirit still lingered. With all haste, he gathered his daemonic servants and sent them into the twilight between worlds to serve as his eyes and ears. Here was a chance to save his Legion in earnest, and possibly restore them body and soul.
He had sent several thrallbands of his servants alongside Abaddon the Despoiler's Black Legion to the ice moon of Klaisus in the besieged Cadia System, for he had foreseen that planet as a nexus of fate in the greater schemes of Tzeentch. Yet that was a distraction from his own self-imposed mission -- a task he still considered selﬂess, but which was more truthfully yet another quest for personal power and vindication entwined.
If his agents in the Webway spoke even a whisper of possible redemption for his Legion, he would snatch it up with both hands. Then, once he had wrung the Ynnari's secrets from their pain-wracked bodies, he would use their power over life and death as he saw fit.
When they had first ventured into the Webway from Commorragh, the relatively small size of the Ynnari expedition had lent them stealth. They had evaded the notice of Ahriman's diminutive spies, for the Webway is impossibly convoluted and beyond the ken of all but Cegorach, the Laughing God himself.
Yet bolstered by Asuryani warriors from Biel-Tan, Ulthwé, Iyanden, Altansar, and several other craftworlds that had been drawn to their banner during their travels, the Ynnari had become a force that could no longer hide.
Ahriman, having stolen passages of the fabled Tome Labyrinthus from the Black Library and deciphered their mind-bending secrets, knew many of those shattered spars that had been claimed by Chaos.
He had even learned to scry regions of the Webway at will, the better to catch his prey unawares. The sorcerer waited for his moment to strike with the attentiveness of a serpent; ten millennia of pursuing his arcane agendas had given him a terrible patience.
When the Ynnari strayed into the Psychedelta, a many-tunnelled region where the walls of the Webway were thin, the Chaos Sorcerer conducted a great ritual of translocation, sacrificing nine hundred and ninety nine captives to the glory of Tzeentch.
The Changer of the Ways was pleased, and a few moments later, Ahriman burst from the aether to attack the Ynnari with a host of Thousand Sons and gibbering daemons at his back.
The battle that ensued scorched the still air of the Webway delta. It was a pyrotechnic display of raw Tzeentchian magic pitted against the expert skill and spiritual conjurations of the Reborn. Initially, the battle was fought on a narrow frontage, every Thousand Sons thrallband and daemonic host pushing with relentless, tireless strength into the ranks of the Ynnari.
The Eldar reacted instinctively, ﬂowing and darting around every push and thrust with the expertise of master duellists. Then, as the Ynnari were forced to give ground by the sheer power and suddenness of the Chaos assault, the battle ﬂowed back to the neck of that section of the Webway, spreading into every one of the contributory capillaries of the Psychedelta.
Before long, a half-dozen battles were being fought in parallel or in tunnels one atop another, each force giving everything it had to break past the other -- and in doing so, win a critical advantage by attacking on two fronts in the neighbouring engagement.
High on a crystal bridge that seemed open to the void of space, a host of Iyanden's Guardians and Ghost Warriors were led into battle by the Wraithknight Soulseeker. A phalanx of Thousand Sons Chaos Terminators barred their path across the apex of the bridge, but the wraith-led host slowed not at the sight.
Where they had once moved in ponderous strides, the blank-helmed constructs now ran with the easy grace of the living Eldar that loped behind them, their complex Warp-tech guns held tightly to their broad chests.
Guardian heavy weapon platforms sent a steady hail of Shuriken Cannon fire into the ornately-armoured Terminators, the shredding discs shattering or ricocheting from ensorcelled ceramite without visible effect.
The Thousand Sons swiftly switched targets, picking out the Guardians behind with uncanny marksmanship to take a gory toll. The sorcerers in their midst sent vivid helixes of light shooting out to trap the Wraithguard in cages of azure luminescence -- these then contracted to slice through wraithbone as if it were raw meat, until only chunks of ivory anatomy were left behind.
Those Terminators armed with rotary Assault Cannons and Hellfyre Missile Racks poured in enough Warp-cursed firepower to dismember two of the leading ghost warriors. The irresistible force of the Thousand Sons' firepower had met the immovable object of the wraith host, and found their edge not in technology, but psychic magic.
Soulseeker loomed over the front line, his ﬂickering shield generator casting a pale aegis of light across the leading elements that prevented the worst of the magical storm from taking a greater toll.
The Wraithguard, so protected from the Chaos Terminators' salvoes, seized the moment, running in close to open fire with their Distortion Cannons. Howling vortexes of Warp energy simply snatched away their heavily armoured targets as if they had been sucked from an open airlock into space.
Soulseeker charged through the Thousand Sons ranks, braving salvoes of mutagenic fire that would have turned a mortal target inside out, and swept his immense Ghostblade across the span of the enemy battle line.
The dolorous blow cut several of the Scarab Occult in half at the waist, breaking the Thousand Sons's cohesion. Suddenly, the Iyanden Wraithblades were in amongst them, fighting with grace and efficiency of movement as their axes hewed apart suits of Prosperine battle-plate.
Tortured by so many arcane forces clashing at once, the crystal bridge shuddered, shook and cracked along its length. Some of the wraith constructs were fast enough to leap from one cracking ﬂoe of crystal to another until they reached the safety of the far side. Others were not so lucky, and tumbled away into nameless, fractal oblivion.
Nearby, the daemon-choked tunnels of the Psychedelta's rightmost spar were lit brightly with Warpﬂame. Cackling Pink Horrors and Flamers drizzled fire with manic glee as they lurched and bounded towards their quarry.
Amongst them were towering Lords of Change, each hurling their own devastating spells at the oncoming Eldar. The Biel-Tani spearhead that faced that ﬂaming host suffered a thousand deaths in the space of a few terrifying solar minutes.
Wherever the mutagenic ﬂames touched an Eldar warrior, manifest insanity was left behind. A squad of Howling Banshees were turned to infants in outsized armour that looked at their blades in fascination. A trio of winged Swooping Hawks were transformed to a scintillating rain of scaled serpents.
A shrine of Dire Avengers, having released a hurricane of razored shuriken, found their projectiles reversing course to attack them with the avidity of starving piranhas.
Each inventive demise brought great merriment to the Horrors that massed around the Lords of Change. For a while, the Webway echoed with skirling hilarity.
The laughter stopped when figures of legend strode forth, brought together once more by the mighty Jain Zar.
Majestic as the Aeldari war god Khaine himself, the Phoenix Lords emerged from the darkness of the Webway one by one. It was not Asurmen at their fore, but his foremost student -- she who had taken Ynnead into herself, and found her way back to the Reborn.
Baharroth dived low, blinding beams searing from his multi-barrelled riﬂe to burn the eyes from a Lord of Change as he passed. His sword took its head with contemptuous ease as he shot past in a sapphire blur. Faced with a horde of assailants, Jain Zar span, polearm blade carving a deadly spiral around her. Her Triskele shot outward; it cleaved pink-skinned daemons in twain on the way out, then slashed through their blue-skinned replicas on the way back as it returned to her hand.
The Brimstone Horrors that scattered the ground in their place shrieked at the sight of Fuegan, the Burning Lance, striding swathed in the heat of a thousand fiery deaths. They ran back howling to set fires amongst the Thousand Sons that came behind.
Hissing in impatience, the Lord of Change Zarzapt the Ineffable strode forward to bathe Fuegan in Warpfire, but its mutagenic curse could not touch the Phoenix Lord's scaled armour. A moment later he blasted the creature into discorporating mist with a pinpoint beam from his Firepike.
Asurmen ran a beaked Herald of Tzeentch through with the Blade of Asur, hoisting its wriggling body high so his Dire Avenger acolytes could shred it to nothingness with shuriken fire. Maugan Ra, standing legs braced atop a fallen Wraithknight, methodically shot every blade-winged Screamer from the sky with such impeccable skill that not a single one of the Maugetar's shuriken failed to hit its mark.
His bio-explosive rounds he saved for the Burning Chariots trailing ﬂame through the skies; each turned to a fiery meteor as they were sent crackling into the hordes below. The Greater Daemon Vexwing teleported into being behind him, stave raised to lay him low. Before the blow could land, Karandras struck from below, melting from the shadows to hack the avian horror into shimmering nothingness with biting blade and scorpion’s claw.
The Phoenix Lords' skill at arms outmatched the daemon host to such a degree that not one of the Horrors or their ﬂame-hurling, bestial brethren could lay a single claw upon them. Here, amongst the tight press of battle, the First Exarchs were lethality personified.
In the next spar, at the foremost tip of the Ynnari advance, the warriors of Ulthwé raced to close quarters with the tightly packed Rubricae. The Black Guardians had felt the sting of the Thousand Sons' ensorcelled fusillades before. They knew from experience that a single inferno bolt could blast an Eldar limb from limb.
Yet they faltered not, for they knew the god of the dead was watching over them. In rushing the enemy lines they invited decimation, and indeed many irreplaceable lives were lost. It would likely have been a massacre but for the presence of Eldrad Ulthran.
The High Farseer cast the runes of war to lend uncanny fortune to his kin, whilst his close ally, Kysaduras the Anchorite, sent storms of crackling lightning within the ranks of the Thousand Sons to disrupt their firing lines.
Ahriman parted the sea of his warriors with a wall of psychic force before replying with his own volley of psychic magic. Transmutive ﬂames struck out, turning the elder Farseer Kysaduras into a crude wooden statue that was caught eternally in a pose of desperate anguish.
With the Ulthwéans came the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow, their Shadowseer casting a veil of mist over the Dire Avengers that sprinted alongside them. Where a volley of blazing bolts roared in, the mists saw the fiery bolts pass through the Aspect Warriors as if they were made of no more than shadow.
The blitzing attack had gained the Ulthwéan warhost a good deal of ground, however. As their Harlequin allies ﬂipped and danced through the air around them, the Eldar hit the Thousand Sons line like a bladed tornado.
The armoured automata suddenly found themselves hard-pressed. The heirloom blades and energised swords of the Reborn slashed open ancient Power Armour at the waist, the shoulder, and the neck, each blow aimed with pinpoint precision to ensure as telling a cut as possible.
The tactic worked well, and for a triumphant few solar seconds the Eldar advanced over dismembered suits of battle-plate that lay gently steaming in the mist.
Then Ahriman pointed his staff, and geysers of pink fire roared out to consume the Harlequins vaulting towards him. Three graceful warrior-dancers were caught mid-leap; they landed as scatterings of dust.
At the same time, the ranks of beleaguered Thousand Sons seemed to wake from their dreamlike torpor and attack with sudden speed, shoulder-barging, punching and clubbing the Eldar to the ground with the stocks of their Bolters before stamping down to mangle ﬂesh and crush bone.
In a crackle of Warp-light, Eldrad materialised amongst the Thousand Sons, the glowing Staff of Ulthamar spinning to shatter their armour as if their ancient battle-plate were made of no more than fine china.
The fight in the tunnel descended into anarchy around him as the Ulthwéans pressed in again and again, their morbid black and bone armour lit by the neon-bright, mind-searing hues of the raging psychic battle.
In anarchy and mayhem, the forces of Tzeentch thrived.
Riding upon aetheric winds came the Exiles, gathered over the millennia to Ahriman's side. Nine was their number, each a Sorcerer of incredible power who had, alongside their master, transformed the Thousand Sons to their unliving state. Some strode through the air itself, footsteps blazing in their wake; others came on bladed discs that soared through the air, or rode fiery chariots pulled by swift sky-ray daemons.
The Triumvirate of Ynnead had been sighted on the front line, and the psychic signal had been sent -- the Reborn were fighting hard to break through the Thousand Sons ambush with Yvraine at their head. It was time to close the trap.
The bird-headed Azhtar Manutec stretched his feathered fingers into claws, grabbing and ripping the air. Fifty metres distant, Incubi bladesmen were torn bodily apart by invisible forces. The skull-mantled biomancer, Naratt of the Broken Troth, stunned a knot of Eldar with a blast of kaleidoscopic light before casting knucklebones at their feet like a farmer scattering grain.
Each osseous seed grew swiftly into a ﬂeshless corpse, the unliving warriors clattering forward to lock bony fingers around the limbs of the nearest Eldar. Ahriman himself tied an invisible noose and pulled it taut, a score of those Eldar closest to him clutching at their throats as all breath was sucked from their bodies.
Each new spell took a terrible toll. Here, so close to the Warp from which they drew their power, the millennia-old Sorcerers of the Thousand Sons could mould reality to their desires with the twitch of a finger.
Towards them came Yvraine, her face twisted in a snarl. Her proud strut turned into a purposeful run, her expression that of a lioness who has seen her cubs cut down by a cruel assailant. Kha-vir, the Sword of Sorrows, sang at her side, the edge of its blade glowing white with psychic corposant. With her came the Visarch, his own Cronesword held poised to strike, and the Yncarne, howling with the voice of a thousand departed souls.
Empowered by the psychic energies of death all around them, they moved faster than any mortal creatures should. Whispering potent curses, Yvraine cut the air with her fan, and six scalpel-sharp dirks ﬂew on deathly winds to impale a chanting Sorcerer. Another found his spell cut short as the Visarch ran in close, the Sword of Silent Screams casting a pall of soundless twilight around him as the great blade sheared off the front half of the Exile's helmet -- and bisected his head with it.
Nearby, the Yncarne rose high like a bird of prey on a hot thermal, only to swoop down forcefully. The quicksilver Sword of Souls ﬂowed to become two daggers that slashed and stabbed at the Thousand Sons, each striking with a demigod's strength behind them.
A circle of Rubricae turned their guns on the creature, but although their explosive salvo tore bloodless chunks from the Yncarne's torso, they could not shift the cruel smile from its face.
A spiralling vortex of spiritual energy whirled out from the creature's opening maw, and the Thousand Sons froze like statues. The mystical animating forces within the undead Traitor Marines had been reduced to nothing more dangerous than echoes.
Yvraine felt her hatred flare hot, her gyrinx growling at her side. There was their leader, commanding the throng from his perch on a disc of fiery metal.
Casting aside her finery, she shot towards him like a living missile, her companions close on her heels. Calmly putting his staff aside, the Champion of Tzeentch cupped his hands as if trapping a winged insect, and hurled a handful of nothingness upwards with a roar.
Along with the Visarch and the Yncarne, Yvraine suddenly found herself adrift -- not within the Webway, but without. They were stranded in a near-silent limbo, trapped on the top of the psychocrystal walls. The sounds of battle were mufﬂed beneath them, and the cool void sucked in its breath at their backs.
Yvraine did not look around, for she felt something there, in the darkness. A voice in her mind said should she do so, she would behold the Changer of the Ways himself, and learn the meaning of madness.
That voice was not Eldar, but human; it belonged not to a salvaged soul, but to the Arch-Sorcerer below. Another joined it; that of Elierrogh the Sage, one of the Eldar spirit passengers within her. She had studied this one at length.
A ﬂash of insight struck Yvraine. "Ahzek Ahriman!" she shouted, "I have that which you seek. I can restore your brethren!"
A stone's throw away, the Visarch cut at the Webway's exterior with the Sword of Silent Screams, but he could not scratch it. The Yncarne hissed in pain to her ﬂank, trailers of purple mist unwinding from its body as it was dissolved by the aether behind.
"And why should I believe that?" came the sorcerous voice in Yvraine's head. "You have no power here, in my new domain." She felt white heat as something loomed behind, the fell gaze of godly eyes burning down upon her with terrible, inhuman focus.
"Open your eyes!" she cried, secretly praying to Ynnead that her desperate gambit would work. She pressed her hands upon the psychocrystal of the Webway's exterior, focussed on the armoured Legionaries within, and reversed the cycles of their existence.
A dozen of the Thousand Sons Rubric Marines, previously levelling firepower into the Reborn with the emotionless efficiency of automatons, staggered backwards as if struck.
They looked at one another, clutched their hearts, and fell back, rallying around Ahriman before taking up the defensive stances of the Emperor of Mankind's ancient Legiones Astartes. Yvraine could just make out their words as they frantically sought to make sense of their situation.
"Ahzek? Is that you, brother?"
"Where are the Athenaeans? These are Eldar we face this day!"
"In the name of Magnus, what is going on?"
Ahriman shook his head as if stunned, his wide shoulders shaking uncontrollably with mirth, grief, or a mixture of the two. He brought his cupped hands together once more and yanked Ynnead's luminaries downward with a shout of pure exultation.
A lurch of the stomach, and Yvraine suddenly found herself in the swirling tide of battle once more, the Visarch and the Yncarne quickly taking up positions behind her.
"Do it," she said to her companions, siphoning the rich reservoir of Eldar life force that ﬂooded the tunnels into a single burst of invigorating energy. In a ﬂash, the Iyandeni giant Soulseeker was there, trailing white ﬂame as his Wraithblade carved a chasm through the crystal of the Webway's superstructure with an ear-splitting scream.
Stepping to the edge of the fissure, the Yncarne opened its maw impossibly wide. It inhaled so mightily the resurrected Thousand Sons were drawn towards it, stumbling over the edge of the chasm to fall away into the void beneath. Ahriman screamed in denial, riding his disc after them on a trail of fire.
"The Whispering God gives new life," said Yvraine as her Reborn surged forward around her for the kill, "just as he takes life away."
Clash on the Ice Moon of Klaisus
With Ahriman defeated and the majority of his Thousand Sons thrallbands trapped on the far side of a metaphysical chasm, the battle for the Psychedelta swiftly turned in favour of the Reborn. Yvraine and her fellows were initially forced to backtrack, joining their rearguard at the mouth of the Webway delta and taking the two spars that led to the relative safety of the arterial tunnels beyond.
Though perhaps only half of the Ynnari's number had made it to the other side alive, those that had died had their Spirit Stones secured by the living. They would fight on, just as scores of departed Eldar already fought on within Yvraine. Of the Yncarne and the Phoenix Lords, there was no sign, but for a tunnel packed with the swiftly discorporating remains of a thousand daemons.
The Harlequins of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow once more took their place as guides for the greater mass of the Ynnari, following the laughter of Cegorach as a ship on the sea follows a lighthouse's beam. The Laughing God had been most amused by Yvraine's gambit, and was of a mind to help her to her destination.
Twisting the fabric of fate to confound the Dark Gods had long been Cegorach's way, but he yearned for a brother-in-arms, for his fellow Eldar gods were long ago devoured by She Who Thirsts. Though awakened, Ynnead was sombre and sinister in comparison to Cegorach's riotous, colourful demeanour, yet any force in the galaxy that could deny Slaanesh was worth fighting for.
To rebuild a trinity of Eldar deities, with Khaine as the fell-handed destroyer, Ynnead as the giver of life after death and the Laughing God to balance the two -- that was a truly worthy goal. Indeed, some amongst the Ynnari had already begun to talk of these Eldar gods as a small pantheon -- and even pay homage to them in thought, deed, and sumptuous regalia, becoming an echo of the ancient Aeldari in microcosm.
One of the Spiritseers, upon seeing this, asked if the equivalent female trinity was to set Iyanna Arienal as the maiden, Yvraine as the mother and Lelith Hesperax as the crone -- though a sharp glance from a Crucibael Bloodbride cut short her mirth.
With the Harlequins's divine patron guiding them out of the Webway, the Ynnari made good speed for the ice-locked moon of Klaisus. Orbiting the planet of Kasr Holn in the Cadia System, it was as pallid as a corpse's skin, its surface swirling with blizzards. Eldrad had seen the white orb clear in his visions. Indeed, he had been dreading its coming, for in his glimpses of the future he had seen its snows stained by blood.
To the Eldar, such an omen was truly feared; it symbolised the spilt blood of Eldanesh at the hands of the war god Khaine, and a severing of the peaceful accord between the Eldar and their deities.
The High Farseer still had hopes that omen was inverted -- a sign of imminent disaster not for the Reborn Aeldari, but for their enemies. They approached a conﬂuence of fate where they would join forces with Humanity, and in doing so strike a blow against the Dark Gods that could yet prevent the fabric of the universe from unravelling.
Unbeknownst to Eldrad and the Ynnari, the omen spoke true for every kindred that set foot upon the cursed moon of Klaisus. The murderous hordes of Abaddon the Despoiler's Black Legion were already on the attack upon that ice-locked orb, waging war on the Imperials that followed the vision of the Living Saint, Celestine.
As the Ynnari came to the spherical Webway portal that led to the Crone's Claw Mountains, they gathered one final time to commune in the name of Ynnead. A swathe of Aspect Warriors from Biel-Tan were the first to wholly entrust their souls to the Whispering God.
Inspired, they finally found the inner steel to put aside their helms and their war personas, in doing so honouring not just Khaine in one of his aspects, but also Ynnead, trusting to an existence beyond the grave.
Should they die, their souls would find salvation in those Ynnari nearby. In doing so the Reborn would deny Slaanesh her feast, join with Ynnead in the afterlife, and continue the fight against Chaos forever more.
Massing for battle alongside Eldrad and the Black Guardians of Ulthwé was a faction from the Wych Cult of Strife. Lelith Hesperax had agents of her own; in hearing of Yvraine's intended destination from her Harlequin contacts, she had sent a force of skilled arena fighters to take up arms alongside the Ynnari.
If these Wyches reported back that the Ynnari truly were able to allay the soul-curse that afﬂicted the Drukhari then Lelith herself would seek them out and fight for Ynnead's cause.
Yvraine suspected that Lelith's motivations were purely selfish -- the belladonna of the Commorrite arenas would give almost anything for an immortality of adoration without having to pay a constant cost in souls.
Still, with her forces badly depleted by Ahriman's strike, Yvraine welcomed her kin from the Dark City with open arms.
Nearing the Webway gate, Yvraine traced lines of psychic fire around the tiny triggersphere that hung in mid-air before it, setting in motion the opening of the portal.
A thin hint of icy wind became a gust, then a gale of freezing cold as the Webway gate unravelled the quantum barrier between the Labyrinth Dimension and the ice-locked mountaintop of the Crone's Claw in the Materium. The Ynnari plunged through the fractal portal, only to behold a vision of utter carnage.
The precipice-ringed hollow of the portal's site was almost hemispherical, its lip ridged with sharp rocks. Beyond it was a wasteland stained with blood.
A trail of corpses led for several Terran kilometres into the middle distance, many of the wounded and the dying pulling themselves through the gory slush in search of safety.
Here were the Imperials that Eldrad had spoken of, their strength all but destroyed by the ravagers of Chaos. They had clearly been forced marching through the snow, assailed by the infamous Black Legion as they presumably sought the same Webway gate from which the Ynnari emerged.
It was here they had decided to make their last stand, unaware of just how close they had come to the ancient xenos structure.
Too stubborn or stupid to realise they had no chance of victory, the Imperials fought back with a desperate ferocity. A disarrayed assortment of Black Templars Space Marines, Sisters of Battle, Imperial Guardsmen and Adeptus Mechanicus forces fought at the feet of battle-ravaged Imperial Knights, guns barking as they gave their lives to defend three warriors in their midst -- Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax of the Ordo Hereticus, the Mechanicus Archmagos Dominus known as Belisarius Cawl, and the Living Saint herself, Celestine of the Order of the Martyred Lady.
All of this the Ynnari took in at a glance, for the Eldar have senses so sharp even a howling blizzard is little hindrance to them. The Windriders of the Black Guardians were first into the fray, the Wyches of the Cult of Strife close on their heels.
The Imperials, pushed beyond breaking point, could only stare in disbelief and wonderment as Ynnari warriors ﬂowed like a river around them to crash against the Black Legion. The Chaos Space Marines had hounded their quarry across Klaisus, only to find themselves denied at the last.
Now it was the blood of the Black Legion that turned the moon's snows crimson, the smoking corpses of mutant Traitors to Humanity that lay thick upon the ground.
Seeing the large force of Eldar suddenly appear to repel his assault was enough to give even Abaddon pause, but he drove forward nonetheless. Twice he assailed the ridge of the Crone's Claw, and twice he was hurled back, his numbers sorely reduced.
After the third time, he angrily ordered a tactical withdrawal. The bedraggled Imperials had reached safety -- of a sort.
The Road to Salvation
In the dubious safety of the Crone's Claw, that natural bowl housing the Klaisus Wraithgate, humans and Eldar watched each other warily. The ragtag Imperial warriors were exhausted, wounded, or dying, barely a hundred of them huddled around the giant Triaros Conveyor that the Archmagos in their midst clearly valued more than life itself.
Incredibly, the light of battle still burned in every warrior's eyes -- that, and the certainty of absolute faith. The Ynnari, knowing well the horrors that the Black Legion would have unleashed upon these hapless humans, took note of that determination, and looked with admiration upon the stubborn resolve of the survivors.
To stand against the infamous Abaddon the Despoiler in person and remain unbowed ... it was a feat worthy of the Dark Muses. Though it ran against the grain of their souls, even the Wyches of the Cult of Strife felt a kind of respect.
The Eldar, upon seeing the winged figure of the Living Saint, parted their ranks so a clear corridor led from the Ynnari leaders to Celestine. To her left stood Inquisitor Greyfax, as suspicious of the saint as she was of the xenos.
To Celestine's right was the Priest of Mars; his servo-eyes followed a lithe figure -- the Shadowseer Sylandri Veilwalker -- who moved unnoticed into the ranks of the Eldar host before vanishing entirely from sight.
First came Meliniel, Autarch of Biel-Tan, followed by Yvraine, the Visarch and Eldrad. Swathed in ethereal energies, the Eldar seemed like ancient monarchs stepping from the world of myth. As they approached, Greyfax's hand went to the hilt of her Power Sword.
The Visarch mirrored the gesture, grasping the Cronesword Asu-var in a graceful motion. These small acts of aggression rippled outward to the warriors of each side, escalating as they did so until it seemed as if conﬂict were inevitable.
Were it not for the strident words of Autarch Meliniel ringing out over the cries of alarm, perhaps the Imperium of Man would have lost its best chance to ride out the coming tempest, and perhaps the Eldar would have faded into obscurity forever.
With Meliniel's entreaty delivered, he had bought a few valuable moments -- and in those seconds, chose to bow low before the Living Saint. His mastery of the human custom -- and of the Low Gothic tongue -- was impeccable. As Celestine moved forward to talk to him, she purposefully cleaned her silvered blade of blood and sheathed it behind her, motioning her Geminae Superia to hang back with Archmagos Cawl and his conveyor as she did so.
The few remaining Astra Militarum still alive averted their aim, but did not stand at ease. As Inquisitor Greyfax stepped forward to join the negotiations, the Black Templars stood on a knife edge of action and inaction, casting baleful glances to one another as if daring their Battle-Brothers to make the first move.
A brief binharic blurt of the Lingua Technis from Archmagos Cawl, and the Skitarii marksmen aiming their long-barrelled riﬂes from the mouth of the valley took aim at the Autarch striding confidently towards the Living Saint.
Autarch Meliniel was the first to act. The Seers were known to the humans as manipulators and liars, and the Drukhari -- the "Dark Eldar" -- as evil incarnate. A warrior, however, they might just listen to.
"I know you feel hatred for our kind," the Biel-Tani commander said to the human leaders. "You have good reason for it. But just as your million far-ﬂung worlds each has its own culture, we too are a fractured people. You look upon that element that would see Humanity and Eldar both escape their doom."
"We look upon pampered peacocks and depraved fiends," spat Inquisitor Greyfax. Saint Celestine cast her a reprimanding glance, but the statement hung in the air, unretracted.
Meliniel cast his gaze at the strange acolytes of Ynnead beside him before turning to regard Greyfax. "I thought so too, at first. My people have reason to fear the unknown more than most. But these visionaries are agents of destiny and hope."
"Your saint and I share the same goals," said Yvraine. Her voice was quiet, but steady and sure. "Even if she is yet to fully understand exactly what they are."
"We would see your pilgrimage to completion," agreed Meliniel.
"You Eldar twist fate," said Greyfax, "and only ever in your own selfish interests."
"Perhaps," said Meliniel, nodding. "But there is only one thread that leads to salvation. And it is tenuous indeed. Our mutual enemies are in the ascendant as we speak. Look above you."
None of the Imperials took their eyes from the Eldar.
"I know the sight well enough," said Celestine. "The Warp rift is an ugly and infected wound. We must prevent it growing any worse."
"Enough of your riddles and platitudes," said Greyfax, her upper lip curled. "Why are you here, xenos?"
"Because your wish to deny the end of all things outweighs your unreasoning hatred," said Meliniel. "This is a crux point of fate. We believe that here, by casting a stone amongst the snows, we can start an avalanche that will quench the ﬂames of Chaos."
"The Dark Gods rise," said Yvraine sombrely. "We must rise higher, the better to cast them down. This lumpen thing," at this she gestured at the Triaros Conveyor, "this contains hope. The lord it belongs to will be a powerful symbol for your people; he will oppose the Ruinous Powers, and turn back the encroaching darkness."
The Visarch stepped forward to stand at Yvraine's shoulder. "And he will not be alone in that fight."
"You have won yourselves an hour," said Greyfax. "Convince us, or die."
The first solar hour of the parley slid past, and then the second, and the third, the atmosphere thick with a sense of history in the making. By the time the cold light of Kasr Holn's sun disappeared behind the curling talons of the Crone's Claw Mountains, the Eldar and the humans had come as close to an understanding as their species had ever attained.
After the Eldar had said their piece, the Imperial leaders had consulted amongst themselves. The Living Saint stressed that her visions had led her here, and that the xenos rescue could not have been happenstance. It was then Celestine chose to name where they must go next -- a place that struck a chord with every soul present.
It was imperative, she said, that the cargo the Tech-priest carried reached its destination. Such was her conviction that she did not need to see Cawl nodding in confirmation to know the truth of her words. Given that the only route ahead was through a semi-mythical domain that the Eldar alone knew how to navigate, Celestine argued, they had little choice but to join forces.
If the xenos had wished the Imperials dead, they had but to watch the Black Legion go about their red work, yet they had interceded in order to save the lives of human warriors.
Greyfax counselled caution at all times, but agreed that their mutual task was more important than the immediate gratifcation of the kill -- the Eldar could always be put down once their mission was complete.
Though he still suspected trickery, and vowed to remain vigilant at all times, even Marshal Amalrich of the Black Templars eventually sheathed his weapons, giving the order for his xenos-hating Battle-Brothers to do the same.
It was agreed. The Imperials would accept the aid of the Eldar, placing themselves in their total trust -- in actuality, they had little option, for to stray into the endless maze of the Webway unguided is amongst the worst of follies.
The Ynnari delegation had promised they would make good speed, outdistancing the Chaos Space Marines that pursued them and ensuring that Archmagos Dominus' precious ward remained intact.
So the two crusades became one, crunching through fresh snow to reach the giant glittering orb of the fractal Webway gate. Their procession was lit by the swirling Warp Storms that blighted the heavens high above, the splitting seam that threatened to disgorge the riotous unreality of the Warp into the order of the material universe.
The Eldar fled through first, rejoining their craftworlder kin on the far side with solemn nods. The Imperials ventured through last, every one of them shocked at the size of the Eldar warhost beyond, and looked upon a world of marvels.
As incredible as the Webway's lambent architecture was, it was a mere precursor to the glory that would follow -- the vector by which the newfound allies would strike out for their true destination.
The realm of hope...
- The Gathering Storm - Part Two - Fracture of Biel-Tan (7th Edition), pp. 4-101