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T'au Ethereals

Xenology is a background book for Warhammer 40,000. It's an excellent work! Amongst other fascinating tidbits is the detail of how the Eldar bio-engineered the Ethereal Caste in order to manipulate the entire T'au race.

On-topic for this site, there is also a hypothesised mention of Nurgle in the transcription of the Q'Orl text-glyphs below.

T'au Ethereal

Xenology (2006), p19 — Dissection Report

b. Olfactory Chasm. Evidence of densely-massed subdermal receptor neurons; unexpected size & complexity of cilia. Conclusion: subject's scent-detection vastly superior. NB: Ethereal caste displays unknown 'diamond' organ.

Xenology (2006), p21 — Transcript of Interview Recording File 20/AZ/TAU/001.

In attendance: Inquisitor Maturin Ralei (exterior, containment cell 10); Unnamed Specimen 'Aun' (interior, containment cell 10).
Date 6.994.798.M41

So, do you have a name?
Oh, come now. I know you understand me. My servant Darvus tells me you've been trying to convince him to release you for hours. Your command of our language is very impressive.
What do you want with me?
Ahhh... There we are. Was that so hard?
What do you want with me, gue'la?
Simply to learn, my nameless friend.
Forgive my incredulity. Your race has never struck us as holding much interest in learning.
Hah. Mercifully we aren't all alike. For example, Aun - that's what your caste is called, yes? - I should be delighted if you would tell me all that you can about the 'Tau-var'.
The Tau'va. [long pause.] I daresay you think you already know all there is to know.
[The Aun reclines her head, then straightens]
Very well. If I am denied the company of my people I can at least represent their righteousness. The Tau'va is the one true pathway. Where you gue'las place your faith in a god that can affect your life not at all, the Tau'va brings every Tau to contentment.
But what is it?
Selflessness, you would call it. The Greater Good. The knowledge that by staring inwards one finds only solitude, but by staring outwards, by devoting oneself to the race and its quest for perfection, there is harmony and peace.
An ongoing quest? So you admit your empire is not yet perfect?
Of course not. What is? The Tau'va is the path, gue'la, not the destination.
And you greyskins all just... agree to follow the same path?
Is that so hard to believe? Why should we rail against that which makes most sense? Each Tau is free to choose their destiny. That they all choose the Tau'va is merely testament to its righteousness. It is a unifying ideal.
Unifying. Ah, yes. I've heard that argument before. And what happens when you find someone who doesn't want to be unified, eh? Subjugation.
You miss the point. The Greater Good is no mere diversion. No empty godhood in which we place our faith. It is a necessity, human. It is the only thing that can save the galaxy from itself. We have a saying. Aur'ocq shath'r'i tskan sha Tau'va. 'Unity comes to all things, in time'.
Whether they like it or not?
All right. Another question. What do you know of O'Shovah?
[The Aun stiffens. Long pause.]
You think you're cleverer than me, gue'la, but I assure y-
Evading my question isn't clever, Aun, just a sign that I've hit a nerve. I ask you again, what do you know of O'Shovah? What do you know of Commander Farsight?
Let me start you off. It's a story I heard from a trader on the edge of the Damocles' Gulf. Seems this O'Shovah was a great hero of yours in the Fire caste. Genius at whatever he did, just so long as what he was doing was fighting. Isn't that how it is with you Tau? Water caste to talk and debate, Air caste to shuttle you around, Earth caste to do the dirty work. Everyone with their niche, no interbreeding, no intermixing. So, O'Shovah sets off to reclaim some colonies, and naturally there's an Ethereal in charge. Except the Aun gets killed and O'Shovah ends up in command. Suddenly there's no one reminding him about the bloody Tau'va, and he's a long way from home. So what does he do, Aun? I mean, like you said, the Tau'va is something you choose to follow, yes? Surely O'Shovah would've carried on with the peace and tranquility crap, despite it all? Aun?
Except he didn't. He set up on his own. His very own little empire, without you Ethereals telling him what to do, without your wretched Tau'va running his life.
You said it yourself, Aun. Why should we rail against that which makes most sense? Well maybe it only makes sense whilst you lot are in charge.
Sketch of 'diamond organ' from Tau Ethereal subject

Xenology (2006), p23

Detail: Unknown 'diamond-organ', in the forehead of the Tau Ethereal. Ridged carapace contains ultradense chemo/hormonal fluids (overpowering scent). Rear ganglia connect to cerebral lobe. Polyp-structures vaguely reminiscent of 'pheromone' glands amongst Terran invertebrates (cf. silk worm). (Spec: Perhaps a pheromonal communication system? The sensitivity of Tau olfactory senses would certainly support a process of airborne chemical 'signifiers'. Perhaps the Ethereal asserts a measure of control over lesser castes? Results are inconclusive, and the purpose of this organ remains unknown.)

Xenology (2006), p23 — Vocal-Recording File

Inquisitor Brehm Sasham:
Date Imperial: 6.067.805.M41
Date Biegel Local: Day 57, 17th/20th

Darvus doesn't understand. He doesn't realise this one simple diagram - which he took to be so mundane - proves Ralei's point. He hides behind his 'perhaps' and his 'inconclusive', but I see the truth.

The Tau'va is no charming ideology, as the Tau would have it, it is a dark thing. And today, Darvus has discovered the means of its application.

The Ethereals have been controlling their subjects all along. Remove the Aun caste, and the Greater Good has no meaning. Without their chemical puppetry, their pheromone manipulation, the Tau Empire is reduced to an anarchic pack of disparate creatures, without cohesion.

That's their flaw. That's their weakness. Everything they believe is a lie. If we can open their eyes the possibilities are endless.

Q'Orl Warrior/Drone

Xenology (2006), p57 — Dissection Report

b. 'Chemical' stacks. Complex glands below chitin expel vaporous alchemical cocktails: evidence of pigmented hormonal and pheromonal fluids. Conclusion: subject employs controlled release of vapours as primary means of communication.

Xenology (2006), p61 — Study of Q'Orl text-glyphs, taken 5.909.799M41, Segmentum Pacificus

Text-Glyph Translation.
Author: Xenolinguitor Servitor ARG-391-ZXX

Annotated by Inq. Ralei. See attached notes.

Title Glyph: "History of Most-Great Enemy that is Once-Friend".

First stanza:
In age of [untranslatable]1 queen, at hand of eight-disc red.2 Beset was the swarm by corrosion named [untranslatable],3 passed-in by Larvae of the Dead Man-Queen.4 Great Horrors and pains came then, and many dead shells scattered on Holy SwarmWorld. Grief.

Second stanza:
At height of [untranslatable] came friend-things, named [untranslatable].5 In aspect akin to Dead Male-Queen's swarm,6 but slender of limb and high, and unalike within. Assisted in defence of swarmworld and drove out [untranslatable] enemy. Corrosion passed away. Rejoice.

Third stanza:
In time after friend-things [untranslatable] insist, in pay-exchange for aid. Request not [untranslatable] nor mineral nor royal-soup7 but great [untranslatable] queen herself. To build a swarm un-corroded. Resistant to [untranslatable].8 Refusal. Kinship shattered.9

Fourth stanza:
At loss of kinship friend-things enemy. Turned in villainy [untranslatable], and stealth-and-shadow-slip. Stolen away was great [untranslatable]-queen, and lost to the swarm. Horror and grief.10 Fortune alone endows royal comb-cell egg, and begets Great [untranslatable]-queen. Joy and prosperity in her.11


  1. Untranslatable signifier. Probably the runic 'name' of the swarm's queen at the time this historical event occurred. If the matriarchs typically live for hundreds/thousands of years, it's reasonable to assume the Q'Orl use their names as identifiers of particular historical periods.
  2. 'Eight Disc Red': maybe a reference to the novae in the Rolland Rift (Seg. Pacificus) - the 'crown of thorns'? If so, we can date this event to approx. four thousand years ago - the end of the 37th millennium.
  3. Some form of disease? Chaotic in origin?
  4. 'Larvae of the Dead Male-Queen' - literally: Children of the Dead Emperor. Which is to say: mankind. Q'Orl sickness transmitted originally by human settlers? Influence of Nurgle?
  5. The Q'Orl are assisted in their struggle against disease/Chaos by another race of aliens.
  6. Eldar? Why would they help?
  7. Ah... As soon as the war was won the pointy-ears turned round and demanded payment...
  8. Very strange. The Eldar want to take away the Q'Orl queen? Why? And what's this uncorroded swarm? A race resistant to disease? Or resistant to Chaos itself?
  9. The Q'Orl are having none of it. They dissolve the alliance and hold onto their queen.
  10. Except the Eldar don't give up so easily. Some sort of treacherous act? Did they spirit-away the queen?
  11. Luckily for the swarm there's a queen-egg already laid, and so begins the reign of their next matriarch. But the history's title suggests they're not in any hurry to forgive.

What in the Emperor's name did the Eldar want with a Q'Orl swarmqueen?

Xenology (2006), p61 — Vocal-Recording File

Magos Biologis Darvus:
Date Biegel Local: Day 62, 15th/20th

I pulled a strange diamond shaped organ from the chemical stacks on the Q'Orl's back. One on each side; all connected to its brain. I-is this where my blood would have ended, if I'd let the treasure live? Mixed into a pheromone-paste, sprayed in the air like incense? What a thing to see!

[laughter becomes sobbing]

I can't keep killing them. So few remain.


I must be strong. I studied thirteen years on Mars to become a Magos. I was revered as a master of my craft.

How did I grow so weak? So attached?


This organ, this bony little pheromone-thing, I've seen its kind before. This very week - pulled piecemeal from another of my slaughtered pets. There. Let that coincidence be my offering to the bastard-inquisitor. Let him make of it what he will.

Let him leave me for another day.

Galactic Overview: Distribution of Q'Orl swarmhood

Xenology (2006), p62 — Vocal-Recording File

No, I must pray to the Emperor that Darvus's insanity is held at bay until his works are done. But I won't countenance these nonsensical outbursts! 'Look how far apart they are!' he was shrieking, waving his starcharts. 'It makes sense. They've never met. They've never realised the connection...'

I have absolutely no idea what he was talking about.