The Eldar of the Galactic South
The Galactic South is home to a thousand menaces and traitorous foes of the Imperium. However, few threats that dwell there are more mysterious and deadly than the Eldar of the Biel-tan craftworld.
The Eldar are humanoid in form, invariably long limbed and slender. Their faces are slim with high cheekbones, ears that are pointed and constantly shifting almond-shaped eyes. Their fingers are long and dextrous and their overall appearance seems slight to the untrained eye, which is strangely at odds with their strength and resilience.
It is when the Eldar are in motion that any similarities to Humanity are irrevocably shattered, for their poise radiates an eerie, languid decadence that is so irredeemably inhuman as to betray their true identity to even the casual observer. Even the most simple gesture is characterised by inhuman grace. So alien to our own physiology it is that the finest human dancers and performers could strive for a lifetime to emulate it and still fail.
Humans that encounter Eldar often find themselves unaccountably beguiled by them, for their beauty and allure is utterly beyond compare, and there is evidence that both sexes of Eldar exude the same alien attraction upon humans, male and female.
Their lifetime cannot be properly measured for it seems they do not age in the same way as humans. Whilst injury, toxin and disease can slay them, the march of time takes a far gentler toll on their lives, each spanning many hundreds or even thousands of years.
The Eldar language is so complex and detailed as to utterly baffle all but the most talented and diligent linguists the Imperium has to offer. Even when the Eldar are silent they are capable of holding comprehensive conversations based entirely on their body gestures. A fractional change of posture can convey a depth of meaning that would take minutes to explain verbally. All communication is considered deeply significant within the culture of the Eldar as, with literally hundreds of layers of etiquette and meaning, each must be carefully understood to prevent gross offence. It is perhaps then understandable that the Eldar find communication with 'lesser' races to be entirely distasteful due to the vulgar simplicity of such interaction and thus something to be embarked upon only when necessary.
The Eldar were once a mighty empire indeed. Uncounted billions lived on worlds of beauty and peace, paradises of personal contentment and cultural achievement. However, only a fraction of that innumerable civilization survived the events the Eldar refer to as the Fall, their worlds shattered and consumed by the birth of the Great Enemy (cf.xc.182Slaanesh). Aboard craftworlds, colossal star-faring vessels easily capable of sustaining the population of a whole planet, the Eldar who survived fled to the stars.
Throughout the many thousands of years that have passed since their Fall the Eldar craftworlds have grown, each becoming many times its original size as the vessels have developed into self-contained biosystems. Each craftworld contains vast forests and garden areas that act as a natural oxygen source for the population on board, as well as providing valuable renewable resources for the Eldar. Extensive space docks adorn the outside of the craftworld, housing fleets of spacecraft, from cargo vessels and small craft to the deadly warships of the craftworld's armada.
Each craftworld is home to one shrine for each Aspect represented on that craftworld.
These shrines are where Eldar warriors can learn the battle-skills of one of the Aspects of Khaine. One thing that makes Biel-tan so uncommon is the sheer number of these shrines scattered throughout the craftworld. Almost every Aspect is represented with a shrine, and many of them with more than one. This sets Biel-tan apart from her sister craftworlds, since unlike them she can draw on literally dozens if not hundreds of shrines, rather than just a few, to provide Aspect Warriors when the craftworld goes to war.
The Eldar call their war god 'Kaela Mensha Khaine'. The most skillful warriors of the Eldar are 'Aspect Warriors', who take on an Aspect of this war god. Each Aspect Warrior is an Eldar that has devoted a portion of its life towards the pursuit of military excellence. These Eldar train and worship in an Aspect shrine, where they master the form of war that particular shrine teaches.
The Imperium has encountered and catalogued dozens of different Warrior Aspects such as the Warp Spiders, Star Eagles and Shining Spears. However, there are a select few that appear over and over again. These Aspects include the Swooping Hawks, Dark Reapers, Howling Banshees, Dire Avangers and Fire Dragons. Every Aspect is a tribute to the Eldar war god, Khaine, and each shrine trains its warriors in a different way of fighting, representing just one part of the whole of Khaine.
The Dire Avengers - the most commonly seen Aspect Warriors - specialise in close-range attack, armed with deadly shuriken catapults, whilst the Fire Dragons use fusion guns to blast apart heavily armoured targets. Swooping Hawks use their hawk-wings to keep their distance from the enemy, and their blasters, similar in function to the lasgun, to pour accurate fire on them. The intention is that when a number of Aspects come together they are an unstoppable force, capable of overwhelming any foe with their diverse weapons and tactics. As many generals will attest, Aspect Warriors working in concert are a terrifying proposition.
Aspect Warriors are far better trained than their civilian counterparts, with superior armour and the most potent weapons in the Eldar armoury. The Dark Reapers, for example, act in a long-range support capacity, clad in thick, interlocking armour and bearing ranged weapons capable of bringing down even the magnificent warriors of the Adeptus Astartes.
Howling Banshees are equipped with lighter armour allowing them to attack with great speed, wearing vile death-masks that emit piercing shrieks as they charge into combat.
The result is that the Banshee's victims are literally paralysed as their nervous system is overloaded, before the Eldar remorselessly cut them down. The Warrior Aspects represent what an Eldar can become if they dedicate their whole life to the Path of the Warrior.
Khaine, the Bloody-Handed God, is a mystery even to the most learned xeno savants. When Biel-tan goes to war its leaders often summon forth a daemonic manifestation of their god. Within a towering body of metal and fire the Avatar is unholy terror with prodigious fighting skills and supernatural endurance. Reports of the Biel-tan Eldar at war often include accounts of one of these mighty Avatars leading the force, surrounded by a cadre of elite Aspect Warriors.
The Eldar blame the Fall, in part, on the intensity of their character and mind, and the heightened potential for intellectual and emotional gratification that their psyche allows. Because of this, and to prevent themselves from recreating the mistakes of the past, the Eldar Path was embarked upon. Throughout their long lives the Eldar follow a number of different 'paths', where they participate in various areas of society. Each path allows the Eldar in question to devote itself entirely to perfecting a given function. By concentrating on only one facet of their complex and overwhelming character at a time, the Eldar are free to explore that area in depth without danger of distraction. Due to the proliferation of Aspect Shrines on Biel-tan, it seems that many of these paths on that craftworld are strictly military. Because of this, Biel-tan is better prepared for conflict than any other craftworld, as evidenced by the civilian levies of Biel-tan only entering battle in truly dire situations.
Biel-tan places an unusual importance on the role of the warriors within their society. Whereas in many craftworlds the Farseers hold sway over important decisions, on Biel-tan a warrior council, referred to as the Court of the Yong King (cf.xe.335.Court), appears to be at least the equal of the Farseers. This cadre reveres the idol of the Eldar war god and takes its name from the ceremony in which they awaken the Avatar of Khaine. A strong and dynamic political faction, it is often the Court that makes the decision to go to war or negotiate as they see fit. Every member of this court is an Aspect Warrior trapped in one particular path.
Unable to move to another path and gain new experiences, these Exarchs, as they are known, are perhaps the most potent political force acting in Biel-tan as well as its most deadly warriors. It is speculated that the Court is what drives the craftworld to war over and over again.
The position of Autarch is one that arises only when a craftworld is in a protracted or especially desperate state of war. Due to the aggressive nature of Biel-tan, this is more often than most. An Autarch is an Exarch who has trodden the Path of the Warrior in several Aspects for so long that battle to them is first nature. To most Eldar the concept of Autarchy, when the individual allows war to rule their life completely, is a horrifying idea as it is anathema to the ideas of the Eldar Path. The Biel-tan view it differently.
Details of the first contact between the Imperium of Man and the Biel-tan craftworld are fragmentary at best. Whilst it is likely that the forces of the God-Emperor encountered Biel-tan forces during the Great Crusade, the first formally detailed encounter was in late M32. An Adeptus Mechanicus exploratory fleet was in the process of settling the uninhabited world of Gavris Minor when they came under attack. The archaeo-xenos teams had barely begun to unearth alien architecture when the Eldar assaulted with inhuman ruthlessness. The startled adepts sent a desperate cry for help before all communication was lost.
In accordance with their settlement schedule, the Explorator teams had built several preliminary fortifications. However, under the ferocity of the assault, such meager preparations proved useless and they were forced to retreat back to their landing craft in the hope of withdrawal. Deadly xenos weapons and highly specialised warriors slaughtered the fleeing adepts and their Skitarii protectors alike in carefully planned and meticulously orchestrated attacks.
The landing craft that escaped the planet found their fleet burning in orbit, slaughtered by the swift Eldar attack craft. Their ship crippled and without warp capability, the Explorator that survived were abandoned to their fate, the Eldar leaving as swiftly as they had arrived. The only communication given by the Eldar throughout the incident was an ominous broadcst delivered to the floundering landers: "The soil of this planet is not for your feet to tread. Only death awaits you here."
When elements of the Imperial Navy arrived to investigate only one of the Explorator craft remained, drifting lifelessly amongst the molten wreckage of the settlement fleet, its crew long since starved of both food and oxygen. Reviewing the vid-logs and vox-recordings Admiral Kieslick ordered all Imperial vessels out of the area before marking the planet with warning buoys, declaring the planet 'unsuitable for settlement'. Accurate records of the episode at Gravis Minor have long since been sealed by the Ordos Xenos, though it is interesting to note that, despite four subsequent settlement attempts by Explorator teams, Gravis Minor remains a contested world, and bears the same sanction as given by Admiral Kieslick 8,000 years ago.
The Eldar way of war is very much akin to a child's puzzle. Composed of interlocking pieces the puzzle, like the Eldar war machine, is of little value if any of the pieces are missing. The Eldar army functions by dozens of mutually supporting elements combining creating a dangerous and effective force: each piece plays its own specific part. An army composed of several Warrior Aspects becomes a menace due to its diversity and speed, and it is this variety that makes Biel-tan the threat it is.
The combat capability of the Biel-tan is comprehended well, for whilst victories over the Eldar are honoured and celebrated victories against the Biel-tan Eldar are disappointingly rare.
In the Eldar tongue the term 'Bahzhakhain' defines their assembled warhost. Translated literally the term could be constructed to mean Swordwin, Tempest of Blades or even Frozen Leaves Falling to Cut. Regardless, the term Swordwind is also the name given to the manner in which the Biel-tan wage war - a single attack that relies on the immense fighting skills and overwhelming firepower of its Aspect Warriors to annihilate the enemy in one swift blow.
As befits such a philosophy, the Swordwind utilizes numerous Wave Serpent and Falcon grav-tanks to speed the Aspect Warriors into battle. The Swordwind is most effective against Biel-tan's favoured target - fledging colonies that are ill prepared for the carefully orchestrated onslaught of the Swordwind. What makes this behavior unusual is that Biel-tan is virtually the only craftworld to behave in this way. Ordos Xenos experts believe that Beil-tan are attempting to take back the Eldar realm by force of arms, striking out to claim worlds they believe are their own.
The Swordwind utilizes the very best weapons and technology available to the Eldar forces with deadly energy weapons mounted on the transport vehicles and well-armoured and armed warriors within.
For all the speed and precision of the Swordwind, there is fatal flaw in its method.
The very nature of this Swordwind tactic involves a rapid strike that is not bogged down in protracted combats, nor caught up in a war of attrition so often used by the Imperial Guard. For whilst the Aspect Warriors are swift and deadly beyond belief, they lack the physical endurance of the holy Astartes and the numberless ranks of the Imperial Guard.
The technology employed by the Biel-tan craftworld is as advanced as that of the other craftworlds. It can be argued that Biel-tan is considered more terrifying, however, because of the diverse weapons and equipment they employ in the differing units of Aspect Warriors. Even the most basic weapon in the Eldar arsenal is of a technological level incomparable to the solid and dependable weaponry of the Imperial Guard, and arguably the equal of the bolter wielded by the Adeptus Astartes. Every aspect of Eldar technology is baffling in the extreme, the shrewdest Techpriests and Adepts of the Machine Cult have all so far failed to unlock the secrets to their operation.
The Eldar do not utilise warp travel in the manner of the Imperium to any degree, instead making use of a system of stable portals through the Warp called the Webway. These portals, or tunnels, allow Eldar spacecraft to travel between craftworlds and Exodite worlds at a speed inconceivable to the Imperium. Some of the tunnels of the Webway are large enough for even the greatest spacecraft to travel trough, whilst others are so small that only the very smallest craft, or even Eldar on foot, can travel them. It is speculated by some Xenos theorists that the Webway is in some way fractured, and no longer offers travel across the whole of the galaxy. If this theory is correct, it might explain the fact that Biel-tan has, thus far, only ever been sighted in the galactic south.
Classifying Biel-tan on the Imperial Threat Index is a near impossible task. It has been proven time and time again that Biel-tan has attacked settler fleets, Explorator teams and Imperial outposts without provocation or warning. On most of these occasions the result has been the total destruction of the Imperial elements involved, followed by a swift withdrawal by the Xenos. Such damning evidence would cause the Ordos Xenos to classify Biel-tan as a serious menace, except for every such account there are others where the armies of Bile-tan have struck against Orkish infestations, Chaos-held planets and even the menace of the Necrontyr with the same results.
In particular Biel-tan has struck against the Orks time and time again, harrying their hulks and attacks ships to prevent them infesting more worlds, and exterminating them on the planet's surface if they are too late. Swordwind hosts have even been known to come to the assistance of beleaguered Imperial forces facing the green tide, crushing the greenskins with no show of mercy, although all too often (and with typical Eldar treachery) they turn their vile attention and their weapons, on the armies of the Emperor once the Orkish threat is removed.
The problem therefore is how can the Imperium classify a threat that is such a thorn in the side of its enemies? Attempts to negotiate with Biel-tan have been abortive at best and there are many within and without the Ordos who perceive the very act of negotiating a heresy. Current policy amongst Imperial commanders towards the Biel-tan craftworld is unclear. Despite repeated petitions to hunt down and destroy Biel-tan, there is neither the military might nor the political will to do this.
For their part, Biel-tan appear to be attempting to counteract any expansion into areas that they perceive as their own, rather than prosecuting a campaign of annihilation. Apparently the worlds that Biel-tan is willing to fight over are of some deep cultural significance to their craftworld, so much so that they are willing to expend significant resources purging them. It is unwise to attempt Imperial conquest of those worlds without overwhelming military support.