Thursday, 24 July 2014

Return to Battlefleet Gothic

So I'm taking a break from my Wood Elves at the moment and getting back to my big tabletop gaming love - Battlefleet Gothic. Last year for Christmas I showed off the first one of the Kor'O'vesh series of Tau ships I have that I painted, a Warden class gunship. The other day I finished painting up the other three of them. Now they stand complete as Cristina Squadron.

And here's also some pictures of my Messenger class starships, with a side order of background. Like the rest of the Kor'vattra series of Tau ships I have, I painted these ones a while ago, but have only just recently gotten around to photographing them.

Skether'qan class starship 

The smallest starship in Tau space capable of independent faster than light travel (though considerably larger than the Kass'l), the Skether'qan or Messenger class starship is rarely seen by observers and spacecraft enthusiasts, or indeed much of the Tau Empire's population not directly related to the operation of one. They are mostly found in deep space in the depths of the Empire between Septs, where they regulate and monitor data remotely and keep watch over shipping routes, and commonly act as a 'mobile waystation' relaying communications between Sept worlds. The class was originally designed to patrol the space around Sept worlds, guiding shipping or intercepting smugglers, and so while perhaps no longer common within its intended habitat, the Skether'qan does nonetheless excel at such roles commonly assigned to it.

Possessing only standard armoured hull plating and shielding for its size, the Skether'qan is not particularly intimidating by itself militarily. Its trio of light railcannons, which when combined are roughly equal in power to the deck guns of an Imperial Cobra class destroyer, are paltry for the primary armament of even an escort sized vessel, though the Skether'qan does possess a formidable close in point defence armament for a ship of its size. The Skether'qan, however, is not intended for direct ship-to-ship combat. The vessel's real strengths lie in its electronics and phenomenal speed. Much of the Skether'qan's mass is given over to the vessel's large and extremely powerful engines and gravitic drive, which makes the Skether'qan the fastest starship operated by the Tau - only Barracuda space superiority fighters can match a Skether'qan's top speed. The ship's gravitic drive, a development on the older model used in the Kir'qath, allows the vessel to travel immense distances for much longer periods of time without needing to recharge, giving the Skether'qan excellent operating range. The Skether'qan is also the only Tau vessel to possess advanced tracking systems, an extensive suite of sophisticated and state-of-the-art sensors, tracking equipment, communications centres, supercomputers and data storage and processing facilities normally only seen on orbital stations. These tracking systems are extremely valuable in fleet engagements, where they can be used to route this data to nearby Tau ships in the form of a direct data feed to the ships' turrets and weapon systems, making both their long-range railcannon fire and their close-in defence systems unerringly accurate, much to the shock of many Imperial admirals and captains facing Tau fleets with Skether'qan support. These tracking systems, placed on the highly mobile platform of the Skether'qan, also afford a Kor'O an immense wealth of situational awareness information, and a combination of the Skether'qan's speed, tracking systems, sensor suites and extended supply stores make it an excellent scout, with Skether'qans acting as the eyes and ears of the Kor'vattra in military actions. Indeed, it was a small flotilla of Skther'qans that first identified and then tracked and shadowed the Imperial response force to Nimbosa during the Tau annexation of that world, relaying the Gue'la fleet's progress to the Tau leadership, information that proved invaluable during the initial negotiations with the Imperium. The Skether'qan is also fast enough to intercept small fast shipping, and has enough firepower to at least threaten small light craft such as merchant transports, allowing the vessel to be used, in a pinch, as a commerce raider. A number of Skether'qans were used in this way to inflict significant losses on supply convoys during an Imperial incursion into the abandoned artefact world of Arthas Moloch.

There is, finally another, perhaps more sinister use for the Skether'qan class. Skether'qans are frequently used by the Tau Empire for covert insertion missions into hostile territory. While most of the Skether'qan's internal space is taken up by its engines and gravitic drive, tracking systems and the other necessities of a starship such as a bridge, stores for supplies and tools and living quarters for the 7 Kor, 2 Fio and 6 Shipboard Security Firewarriors that make up the vessel's crew (along with numerous drones of varying kinds), the Skether'qan does possess a modest cargo hold, enough to carry roughly 24 personnel and 2 vehicles of Devilfish size, allowing it to transport small forces across interstellar distances. Once near the destination, the Skether'qan is able to use its advanced tracking systems to detect holes in enemy patrol patterns and sensor grids, which the ship can then use its speed and small size to exploit. The Skether'qan's small size also enables it to land on planets if need-be, allowing it to touch down on the surface of a world to deliver its passengers, though they are more commonly deployed in a high-altitude pass using grav vehicles or jetpacks to allow the Skether'qan to escape more easilly. Such operations are commonly used to insert advance Pathfinder teams onto a world targeted for invasion so that they can reconnoitre potential landing sites, enemy concentrations, and other features and points of interest, but they are also used to deliver Stealth Teams and infiltration cadres, and it is rumoured they are used to deploy even more covert elements.

Like other Kor'vattra escorts such as the Kass'l and Kir'qath, Skether'qans and their crews are greatly respected by the Fire Caste, who often refer to the Messenger class as the Stealthsuit of the Kor'vattra, though vehicle crews will often instead liken them to the Tetra. There is much joking and friendly debate as to which comparison is 'correct'.

Much like the Air Caste itself in the greater Tau Empire, the Skether'qan class starship is an often unseen, but nonetheless vital, component in the Tau armada. 

Tau Covert Ops: Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams and the Saer'loq

While much of the Tau Empire's direct military might is well-known across the Eastern Fringe, much less is known about the various covert elements used by the Tau Empire. Two of the more common of these secretive special units are the Fire Caste Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams and the alien Saer'loq bounty hunters.

Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams

Not all veterans and heroes of the Tau Fire Caste go on to become battlesuit pilots and commanders. Many of the most skilled and experienced Firewarriors instead go on to become part of the Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams. A joint initiative between the Air and Fire Castes both working together for the Greater Good, Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams are one of the premier special forces units in the Tau Empire, consisting of small teams of exceptionally well-trained, highly-motivated and battle hardened Firewarriors outfitted with some of the best weaponry and equipment the empire can provide. In addition to the combat armour, photon and EMP grenades and pulse weaponry common to line Firewarrior teams, Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams have access to a mind-boggling number of special equipment including flamer attachments, flechette or frag grenades, decoy projectors, longshot pulse rifles, rail rifles, ion rifles, hard-wired support systems, personal shield generators, enhanced scopes and targeting systems, target priority programs, bionics, blacksun filters and even advanced infantry armour such as the XV-12, and much more besides. Team members will also often receive additional specialist training, ranging from standard training courses such as endurance or medical training, to more esoteric training such as advanced computer hacking or the study of alien technology and artefacts. Finally, Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams are also given cutting edge experimental equipment to field-test, such as anti-shield 'screen breaker' rail-rifle ammunition or immensely destructive nova charges.

Rather than being attached to Fire Caste formations, Special Insertion Thread Containment Teams are instead attached to Air Caste fleets, which provide transportation to their missions, which range from assassination and sabotage work, to support of indigenous movements sympathetic to the Tau'va, to abduction of key enemy personalities, retrieval of important objects or information, escort and protection of important personnel, counter-insurgency operations, and many more tasks besides. Once deployed, a Special Insertion Threat Containment Team can count on no additional support, their only link to the Tau Empire being a small number of secret communications channels known only to them and the fleet they're attached to - Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams are expected to complete their missions on their own, using a combination of skill, teamwork, cunning and high-tech weaponry and equipment to overcome whatever obstacles they encounter.

Overall the Special Insertion Threat Containment Team program has proven to be highly successful, managing to accomplish a number of high-stakes assignments. Special Insertion Teams dispatched to the world of New Hael managed to destroy a series of key military infrastructure targets without ever drawing attention to themselves, allowing human rebels wishing to join the Tau Empire to overthrow the Imperial regime and bring the system into the fold of the Greater Good. It was a Special Insertion Team that infiltrated into the Ork Infested world of August's Folly and landed the fatal shot on the Warlord Murguk, ending a potentially devastating WAAAAAGH before it began. When Hive Fleet Gorgon swept through the region now known as the Zone of Silence, a Special Insertion Team made planetfall on one of the worlds being consumed, before making their way through the endless swarms of Tyranids to collect and retrieve genetic samples and research data on Tyranid behaviour, before successfully extracting to deliver the information to the greater empire where it proved invaluable to Earth Caste science efforts. Perhaps even more notably, a number of Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams attached to Kor'vattra fleet K-42 served with distinction during the defence of one of the Tau Empire's most renowned academy stations against a number of assaults. In the aftermath of the second of these battles, instigated by Gue'la Imperial agents, a pair of Special Insertion Threat Containment Teams pursued the withdrawing Imperial forces and managed to infiltrate the damaged battlecruiser Jotunheim as it lay in dry-dock, before destroying all traces of the advanced shielding technology it had been outfitted with and erasing any information about it from the Imperial databases, ensuring that the technology could never be disseminated across the Imperium. Following this both teams managed to make their escapes in the saviour pods of the battlecruiser and the station it was docked with, before exfiltrating Imperial space and successfully returning to the Tau Empire.

Saer'loq Bounty Hunters

The Saer'loq are one of the many minor alien races and factions dotted across the Eastern Fringe. They control little territory, barely a couple of systems, but their technology is highly advanced. Saer'loq society is extremely individualistic, with most honour and credit going only into individual achievements, and Saer'loq warriors are fiercely competitive. As a result most Saer'loq military technology is geared towards the enhancement of single infantry, and includes advanced powered exoskeletons, advanced optics and targeting gear, personal jump-jets and a staggeringly wide range of both kinetic and energy weapons, and a large number of advanced close combat equipment. It is said that a single Saer'loq fighter fully equipped for combat is comparable to a soldier equipped with a battlesuit, and can face down small armies single-handedly. This is fortunate for the Saer'loq, as their population is small and grows slowly, and they have historically been surrounded by enemy powers, making such odds a necessity.

Because of the individualistic nature of Saer'loq culture, their initial response to first contact with the Tau was hostility, as the concept of working for the greater good of the collective at the expense of the individual was an alien concept to them, and shortly afterwards a short but highly violent war was fought between the Tau and the Saer'loq. Initially the Saer'loq did well, scoring decisive victories in a number of early battles, and quickly proved to be formidable adversaries to the Fire Caste. Saer'loq equipment and weaponry proved to be a close match for Tau technology, and Saer'loq warriors proved to be adept at hit-and-run raids, guerrilla attacks and brutal ambushes. However, the Saer'loq's own emphasis on individual achievement and thinking ultimately proved to be their undoing, leading them to have a tendency to win battles but loose the greater war. The collaborative thinking of experienced Tau commanders and a greater sense of larger overall schemes, the result of a lifetime spent serving the Greater Good, enabled Tau forces to gain considerable strategic advantages that eventually allowed them to win the war with the Saer'loq. Tau naval power proved decisive in this conflict, with Saer'loq space forces being severely underdeveloped and limited to little more than raiding actions with small ships, which were ultimately ineffective at stopping the supporting Tau fleets from blockading Saer'loq worlds and providing invaluable support to forces on the ground.

After their defeat, the Saer'loq were sufficiently impressed with the power the Tau had demonstrated and were quietly integrated into the empire, in exchange for military aid against many of their historical enemies. While Saer'loq fighters, or bounty hunters as they are more commonly called, are known to perform mercenary work for a number of powers on the Eastern Fringe, ever since their defeat they have served the Tau Empire as covert operatives, a task that makes the best use of their limited numbers, individual focus and high technology. Saer'loq strike cells are frequently smuggled onto worlds opposing the Tau, where they conduct a wide range of secret missions, and are reputed to be highly competent at performing them. They are particularly popular amongst many Tau leaders as they cannot be immediately traced back to the Tau Empire, especially due to their frequent mercenary contracts, thus allowing the Tau Empire to conduct clandestine operations while still maintaining an attractive image to other powers.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Ailyn the Spellsinger, and some stuff about background and Tau (I couldn't think of any clever title puns or cool sounding titles)

An owl hooted off in the gloomy distance as Mir'q'arielle steadily made her way along the winding forest path. At least she thought it was an owl as she trod on through the shadows, it occurred to her that it could just as easily be some form of spite or other fey spirit, or even other Asrai communicating with each other in secret. Either way the Wood Elf thought it best to keep moving. Though still daylight in the outside world (by her reckoning at least), the canopy of this part of Athel Loren was dense enough to block out almost any sunshine, casting an ominous and eerie darkened shade over the wood. Anywhere beyond a few dozen or so paces was completely obscured by darkness, and as was common in Athel Loren small beady eyes occasionally glinted out of crevices and hiding places, and every so often something would skitter or scamper across the path just out of sight. Nonetheless, the dusty, twisting, leaf-strewn path was at least somewhat illuminated, and had yet to turn in upon itself or vanish off at a dead end. It seemed that The Forrest was at least allowing Mir'q'arielle to continue on her quest, for now at least.

And it was fortunate indeed that Mir'q'arielle continued to be uninterrupted in her journey, for it was of utmost importance - she was to travel to the Oak of Ages itself, and appear before Ariel, the Queen in the Wood herself, and make one final attempt to reason with her and the rest of the Asrai. One last attempt to peacefully reconcile the Meadows of Heaven with the rest of Athel Loren, through diplomacy and negotiation. One last attempt to talk sense into the rest of the Elves, to try and get them to see and realise the danger and madness that was sweeping through the once great forest, and to convince them to take action against it alongside the Meadows of Heaven.

The Asrai noble plucked a string of the Rhymer's Harp she had brought with her from the royal armoury of the Meadows of Heaven, and instantly its magic propelled her through another sizeable part of the forest path in the span of a few short moments. Normally Mir'q'arielle did not travel with one, but this was an important task and so she had been provided with one and a small satchel bag to carry it in. The musical note's effect wore off and she returned to her normal speed, passing through another stretch of the lonely forest path.

At once, Mir'q'arielle's cloak took on a life of its own, trembling and shifting as the Murder of Spites that called its folds and feathers home suddenly rushed out to confront an unseen danger, Kaereon taking flight in the same direction. In a blur of movement Mir'q'arielle spun around to face the danger, only to face nothing but more shadows. A movement caught on the edge of her vision sent her turning to the other side, but the obscured shape twirled away behind her. She heard footfalls just behind her before the mysterious assailant leapt over her head and somersaulted to her front in a whirl of colour and streamers, before settling into the shape of a tall athletic female elf with deep rich electric red hair, a long spear in one hand and an elegant sword in the other.

"What such dull wits you've been left with Traveller," the Elf said with a chuckle, "Your companions spotted me quick enough, but even then its a wonder you've gotten on this far through the woods. All that time spent picking foes off with that old longbow of yours must have left you flat-footed."

Mir'q'arielle could not believe her eyes. "Aemiria!" She exclaimed, "By Isha! We thought you were dead! The horde-"

The Deathdancer laughed, and jumped and shifted as she spoke. "It takes more than a few hundred servants of Chaos to slay the Queen of Muses. By Loec's good graces, and the steel of his blades, I managed to survive the battle, but was separated and some distance from the Asrai lines. After much wandering, battling darkness at every turn, I managed to find my way back to Athel Loren."

"Why did you not return to the Meadows of Heaven?" Mir'q'arielle asked.

"I intended to, but the Elvenpath was secreted from me. It seems that The Forrest wished a new and different adventure for me, for instead I ended up journeying deep into the wood. At long last I arrived in the heart of Athel Loren, in the area they now call Fyr Darric, where I visited the great stronghold of my kind, the Feast Halls of the Wardance. It has become a dark and twisted place, filled with sadism and wanton cruelty and malice. They consider it now a game to have blood contests with captives, only to execute them as slowly and painfully as possible. Such an appalling practice I would expect from the corrupt and bitter Druchi, but not from noble Asrai, I would like to think we're better than that. And that is but one of their many degenerate sports. Alas, they are also extremely vigilant. I was kept in the region for many many seasons, unable to leave."

"How awful. It must have been painful for you to see the great bastion of your people fallen so."

"My people are the Elves of the Meadows of Heaven Mir'q'arielle, never forget that. But it did fill my heart with sorrow to see my Wardancer kin so depraved. Fortunately a few weeks ago, at least that's what it feels like, I was able to escape my retainers and slip out of the territory along with my Blades of Loec, which I was sure to steal away with me from where they were being kept after their confiscation. I've been wandering the forest ever since."

Mir'q'arielle stood, taking in everything she was being told as the Spites returned to her cloak. "It is good that we ran into each other then."

"Always good to have a travelling companion, but we must make haste. My escape cannot have gone unnoticed. Fyr Darric's hounds must surely be hunting for me even now. We must return to the Meadows of Heaven. I have seen much of what Athel Loren has become, and much of the darkness creeping through it. I must speak with the Wishmaster at once."

"We know as well Aemiria. I had set out to seek audience with Ariel to rouse the Asrai to action."

"Ariel has grown as decadent and corrupt as any of them. She has grown intoxicated with the accursed Dark Magic that they even now practice with wanton abandon. I'm afraid she would not listen. I'm not sure any of them would. The Wishmaster must be informed of the full extent of the danger."

"Then we could send word with an Eagle. I have good ties with-"

"No, some of the Eagles have ties with Argwylon, a place of magic academia in the north, they could easily report us to them. As noble as they may be, the Eagles cannot be trusted with this. We must travel back and deliver the news ourselves."

Mir'q'arielle looked down. She had a long history with the Great Eagles, to think they could not be depended on was difficult to bear. "I see," she said. "Let us be off then."

"Excellent," Aemiria replied, "Lead on friend. Along the way I will recount to you all of my thrilling escapades and adventures I have had along the way."

"Only if you retell them again when we get there," Mir'q'arielle said, "I am sure the Wishmaster will want to hear all of your tale as well." 

So the other day I finally finished something that's been sitting on my hobby space ever since I got the characters for my Wood Elf army - my Spellsinger on a Unicorn. It was long, and it was hard, and working with greenstuff is now one of the top contenders for 'most horrific excruciating torture I have ever endured in this hobby', but I finally did it. And now here she is, my Spellsinger, Ailyn! 

When I first conceived the idea of my Wood Elf army I had four very clear ideas about the characters I wanted in it. Two of those became Maxamaron and Moni'qeth, my general and standard bearer. The other two were the wizards I wanted in my army. I knew right from the get-go I wanted two wizards, one with the Lore of Athel Loren, and the other with another Lore, which I decided would be life (this was the days before the new Wood Elf book, so I couldn't choose just anything, but Life fits in with my idea of Wood Elf wizards acting as medics or healers in the Wood Elf army, and I also wanted to make sure I could keep my warriors in top health. I care about them like that).

I also had a clear vision of exactly what I wanted them both to be like. The typical Warhammer wizard is often somewhat flamboyant and extravagant, and so I wanted one of my wizards to break away and be different from this archetype by being quite humble and simple in their attire and the items they used, an older wiser magic user that knew that adding gems to something doesn't make it magical, it just makes it expensive - this would become Aneaeth Ollissin, my Spellweaver. The second wizard, on the other hand, I wanted to be much more extravagant, to contrast. At the same time, I knew as soon as I saw it as an option that I wanted one of the wizards to be riding a Unicorn. I love classic fantasy tropes and conventions, and it doesn't get much more classic than a beautiful Elven maiden riding a Unicorn and wielding magic. Finally, I knew I wanted one of the wizards to have red hair. I put these trains of thought together to create a quintissential vision of a classical attractive young Elf mage atop a Unicorn with flowing red hair, and this fitted perfectly with my want for an extravegant wizard. It also lead to the nucleus of the character backstory, she would be a young inexperienced, but gifted Spellsinger, in contrast with the aforementioned wiser, older one. This younger Spellsinger I decided to name Ailyn.

After scouring GW's model range for suitable female heads for converting these two magic practitioners (I never liked the puffed out 'super saiyan' style hair of the official female Wood Elf wizards), it quickly became obvious what model would be used as the basis for the younger spellsinger - The Fey Enchantress from the Bretonnian range. Its a model I deeply love (much like the rest of the Bretonnian model range), and even knowing that it was a sacrifice for the greater good it was heard to cut her to bits, but in the end I managed it by promising myself that one day I would put together and paint up the Fey Enchantress in all her Bretonnian glory. Anyway, the first thing I did was remove the Unicorn, replacing it with the unmounted one (re)released for Storm of Magic, ever so subtly converted. My original plan was to then cut away the Enchantress's torso and replace it with one from a Spellweaver model, but that eventually proved far too impractical to do (getting her off her Unicorn ended up being hard enough as it was!), so in the end I resorted to my contingency plan of simply switching her goblet arm with the staff arm from the aforementioned spellweaver model. I feel that most wizards should have a staff, and even if they don't, I planned on giving this one Calaingor's Stave anyway, so it'd be nice and WYSIWYG that way, as well as helping to differentiate her from the normal Fey Enchantress model. The other part of said contingency plan was the addition of vines along her dress to make it look more Wood Elfish, which I think I did quite well on, even if one of them broke off as I was undercoating her (which is why there's one leaf just above her knee awkwardly floating there. Oh well, I don't think it looks that bad). The next step was to fill out the top of the model's head. The Fey Enchantress has a crown topped with a big fleur-de-lis, which I removed along with all the other fleur-de-lisses on the model, but this ended up leaving a big space of flat resin on the top of her head, so I had to sculpt something to cover it up. I was going to go with leaves, but hair proved to be easier to do. After that I added a daisy-chain around her head, its an element right back from my original vision of the character, and I feel the idea of a lovely young Spellsinger with flowers in her hair is very Wood-Elfish. I'd originally planned to have the Unicorn be completely unadorned, a wild free creature with nothing on it except the Spellsinger that was riding it. However, Spellsingers come with a longbow as standard issue, just like any other Asrai character, and there wasn't anywhere on the Spellsinger herself to put one, so I stuck it and a quiver of arrows for it on the Unicorn, slung on with a leather loop greenstuffed around the Unicorn's body.

The base is another holdover from my original vision (to which the final model is actually extremely close to). In the background Ailyn is so full of the power of the forest that life springs up and blooms wherever she walks (or wherever her Unicorn walks when she's riding it), and so her base is covered in flowers, both small ones made from grated up sponge (using the very fine tutorial on this very forum) and larger ones crudely formed out of wire and greenstuff, along with a single large bumblebee, again crudely formed from greenstuff. Yes, I am fully aware that a bee that size would in fact be the size of a large kitten, I do not care - it is clearly a magical giant bee. I imagine a magical forest like Athel Loren needs plenty of magical pollenators, and Spites only do so much. Besides, there are giant hawks and giant eagles, why can't there be giant bees as well?

All in all I'm actually quite content with how Ailyn turned out. I think I might have liked more flowers on the base, but I think it worked out ok in the end. Anyway, background time. 

Ailyn, Glamourweave Spellsinger of the Meadows of Heaven 

In these darkened days, Ailyn is of an increasingly fewer kind. The newest and youngest of the four mages that govern the Fey Glades and the Celestial Heath, Ailyn is one of the last remaining members of the Kindreds of Yenayla - the Glamourweave Kindred. A smaller Kindred within the Spellsinger and Spellweaver Kindreds, the Glamourweave Kindred is known by many names; Shaper, Tree-Singer, Skein-Weaver, Shadow-Walker, Changeling, Wood-seer, Grove-kin and Wood-shaper are just a few well known titles they are known to go by. Glamourweaves are extremely closely linked to Athel Loren, and are as much Forrest Spirit as they are Elf, in a similar manner to the Wild Riders of Kurnous. They are dedicated to maintaining the correct balance in Athel Loren, and in times past they would often act as envoys to the older spirits of The Forrest. Alas, as the Asrai turned away from the older traditions of Athel Loren, the Glamourweaves, much like many of the other more specialised Kindreds, largely died out, and in the present time in most of Athel Loren they are all but extinct. The Meadows of Heaven, however, never abandoned the older ways, and so the territory remains a haven for all Kindreds, the Glamourweave included, and so a number of Glamourweaves continue to keep their Kindred and its teachings alive, though as they were never a large Kindred to start with they are few in number.

As well as this, Ailyn is also one of the last few who practice the fabled Lore of Athel Loren. A strange and subtle lore, the Lore of Athel Loren is a form of spellcraft that comes from magic flowing trough Athel Loren's web of consciousness. This fey form of magic can be used to create powerful glamours and illusions, or to heal even the most grievous of wounds with a touch. An Elf using the Lore of Athel Loren can weave spells of confusion and trickery to hide important areas, objects, or even entire armies, and can cast dangerous blasts that can strip a target of its memories and wits. This lore can even be used to access the secret and hidden pathways in the world, even those inaccessible by Moonstone, allowing allies to move quickly unimpeded by even the most daunting of terrain, or to disappear completely and reappear somewhere else entirely. Most impressive of all of the powers available through the Lore of Athel Loren however, is the ability to influence and alter the growth of trees and foliage, whether it be to incite a tree to grow into a beautiful structure or monument, or to cause entire groves to uproot and shift to create new glades or pathways or seal off existing ones. Many Asrai in the rest of Athel Loren no longer have a strong enough connection to the raw mystical power of Athel Loren, with their connection having over the seasons been corrupted by the use of Dark Magic, and so most territories in Athel Loren no longer practice its use - even Argwylon, for all its vaunted knowledge, retains little education or expertise regarding it. The Asrai of the Meadows of Heaven, however, never took to practising the more unwholesome forms of magic. Such forms of magic are illegal in the Meadows of Heaven, in the eyes of the Asrai of the Meadows of Heaven, magic forms such as the Dark Magic, the Lore of Death or even the Lore of Shadow are the magics used by the hated Druchi and Beastmen, and consequently they consider the use of such lores to be stooping to the level of those tainted beings, and thus abhorrent. As a result, the connection between the Spellsingers and Spellweavers of the Meadows of Heaven and the consciousness of Athel Loren is pure enough to still be able to make use of the Lore of Athel Loren, and so its practice remains common within the territory.

As a result of this, the mystical power of Athel Loren flows through Ailyn's veins as much as Elven blood does, and she feels much of what The Forrest feels. In recent times this has been the cause of great pain, as she feels madness and corruption twisting through Athel Loren's glades and trees. Her Glamourweave nature also gives Ailyn a close affinity to Forrest Spirits, especially Spites, and together with the ancient Treeman Avyrrnhan she represents the interests of the Forrest Spirits in the Meadows of Heaven, speaking for their needs before the Wishmaster. This deep connection with Athel Loren alone makes Ailyn a valuable member of the royal court of the Meadows of Heaven, but it is not for this reason that she rose to her current position. Instead, Aneaeth Ollissin chose her to become the fourth member of the ruling council of the Fey Glades and the Celestial Heath, representative of Spring, because of the immense magical capacity Ailyn possesses. Though still quite young by Elf standards, Ailyn holds unprecedented amounts of magical ability, perhaps rivalling that of even Ariel herself. She is however, still young and extremely inexperienced, and currently lacks the skill and knowledge to use her abilities to their fullest extent, and so the vast majority of this incredible power remains latent and untapped. Nonetheless, she has already demonstrated this exceptional talent - one of the first actions she ever did as a Spellsinger was to inadvertently awaken the slumbering Avyrnhan completely effortlessly, and it was this action that brought her to the attention of Aneaeth, who since then has made it her task to take the young Spellsinger under her wing as an apprentice, teaching her the ways and knowledge of magical practice.

She also gave Ailyn the staff she now wields, one of Calaingor's Staves. The Calaingor's Staves of the Meadows of Heaven, however, are very different to the ones now used in other parts of Athel Loren. Where the latter purify and strengthen a Spellsinger or Spellweaver's connection with Athel Loren enough to make use of basic spells from the Lore of Athel Loren, a Calaingor's Stave of the Meadows of Heaven enhances a Spellsinger or Spellweaver's command over the Lore of Athel Loren, allowing them to Tree-Sing repeatedly, commanding entire swathes of Forrest at once. The immense raw magical ability of Ailyn has also brought a Unicorn into her service, the magical creature being utterly seduced by the power within her. In addition, such is the extent that the Spites of the Meadows of Heaven adore her that she is escorted at all times by a Pagent of Shrikes.

In the days following the estrangement of the Meadows of Heaven from the rest of Athel Loren, Ailyn has been increasingly pained and saddened by the plight of the forest, and so she has taken it upon herself to restore The Forrest to its true glory. In recent times she has come to spend more and more time roaming the forest of Athel Loren, healing the damage done to it and restoring harmony to it. She brings Daylight to Modryn, and seasons to Arranoc, Atylwyth and Tirsyth, and does what she can to equalise the other areas of Athel Loren. However, she is but one individual, and cannot be everywhere at once, and such is the extent of the changes wrought upon Athel Loren that the Forrest invariably returns to its disharmonious state when she leaves. Even so, Ailyn continues her long quest, determined to do as much as she can to restore the proper balance to Athel Loren, no matter how long it takes.

Somewhat bizarrely however, Ailyn may not be alone in her quest. In recent days rumours and talk have begun to spread about a startling phenomena. Spites have reportedly been seen or glimpsed in vast numbers, entire armies of them pouring through the Forrest. According to tales, this 'Spite Crusade' works ceaselessly and relentlessly to undo the changes in Athel Loren, healing corruption and mercilessly battling intruders, and even occasionally striking out at Elves practising certain forms of magic. Most who claim to have seen this also say that these Spite armies head in directions that have an uncanny tendency to coincide with the direction Ailyn travels in, and all apparently can be traced back to the Meadows of Heaven. The exact nature or purpose behind this supposed 'Spite Crusade' remains a mystery. Some suggest that they might be a secret weapon unleashed by the Meadows of Heaven to dominate the rest of Athel Loren covertly. Others think that Ailyn's quest to heal Athel Loren has created an example that the Spites aspire to emulate. Others still claim that it is the work of Drycha, or that it is the first stage in a rebellion against the Elf presence in Athel Loren. Some instead argue the simple explanation that it is a natural reaction to some of the worst excesses of the Season of Retribution (or the Season of Lunacy as it is known in the Meadows of Heaven). Whatever the truth may be, the so called 'Spite Crusade' remains largely unproven, the stuff of fancy tales told in Halls by travellers. Still, talk and sightings of the phenomenon grow more and more numerous each season. While the Spites may have good intentions at heart, if the 'Spite Crusade' is indeed true it could have dangerous consequences for Athel Loren, as its invasive activities, especially the reported attacks on Elves, could give Araloth and the other Asrai opposed to the Meadows of Heaven and its ways the pretext they need to make war upon the Meadows of Heaven.... 

And finally a short while ago my local Games Workshop store had its birthday, and to celebrate they threw a giffle giveaway where I won.... this. 

In case you can't tell, its a Tau bundle including a Hammerhead, 3 Crisis Suits, a Firewarrior team and some Gun Drones. According to my estimates its roughly $265 worth of models for free. And it goes great with the Devilfish, Crisis Suit and Stealth Team I won in the Christmas giffle giveaway. Granted, this one didn't include bases for the models, so I'll have to get those seprately, but even taking that into account its still a massive discount off what it usually would cost. 

Assuming there's another Christmas giffle giveaway, with a bit of luck I might end up with a small Tau army entirely for free. This pleases me. 

Right then, back to more hobby.