- "I am all your nightmares. I am the legends your forebears whispered of in fearful tones. Every terror you have never imagined comes from me. Look upon my majesty and weep at the terror I have wrought upon you and your kin. I am an artist, and dread is the colour I splash across the canvas of your mind."
- — Archon Anas Vaenix of the Kabal of the Sundered Eye
The Dark Eldar or Eldarith Ynneas in the Eldar Lexicon are the forsaken and corrupt kindred of the Eldar, an ancient and highly advanced alien race of fey humanoids. Their armies, like their Eldar counterparts, usually have the advantages of mobility and advanced technology, though they are often lacking in resilience and numbers. The Dark Eldar revel in piracy, enslavement and torture, and are sadistic in the extreme. Dark Eldar armies make use of various anti-gravity skimmers such as Raiders and Ravagers to launch high speed attacks. They strike with little or no warning, using an interdimensional labyrinth known as the Webway to traverse the galaxy safely and far more quickly than most advanced races are able to with their Warp jumps. The Dark Eldar are unique amongst the intelligent races of the Milky Way Galaxy because they do not live on a settled world or worlds, but rather the bulk of their population is concentrated in one foul city-state -- the Dark City of Commorragh -- that lies within the "ordered" Immaterium of the Eldar Webway. The Dark Eldar are mainly pirates and slavers who prey on targets across the galaxy to feed their unholy appetites for other sentient beings' souls, a terrible desire called the Thirst, though they are sometimes used as mercenaries by other species.
The Dark Eldar are the living embodiments of all that is wanton and cruel in the Eldar character. Highly intelligent and devious to the point of obsession, these piratical people revel in the physical and emotional pain of others, for feeding upon the psychic residue of suffering is the only way they can stave off the slow consumption by the Chaos God Slaanesh of their own souls. The Dark Eldar, particularly their warrior castes, are tall, lithe, white-skinned humanoids. Their alabaster skin is death-like in its pallor, for there is no true life-giving sun within their dark realm to provide colour. Their athletic bodies are defined by whipcord muscle, shaped and enhanced until they are physically stronger on average than their Craftworld Eldar counterparts, as the Dark Eldar prize physical and martial prowess highly. Yet for all their physical beauty, the Dark Eldar are still repugnant monsters. When viewed with the witch-sight of a psyker, the Dark Eldar's black souls are revealed, for they eternally thirst only for the anguish and torment of other thinking beings in order to fill their own infinite emptiness. Unlike their Craftworld Eldar cousins, the Dark Eldar do not integrate their still powerful latent psychic abilities into their culture, and indeed have a great disdain for psykers of any kind. This is because for the Dark Eldar, the use of psychic abilities would only further draw the attention of She Who Thirsts (Slaanesh) upon them, and their souls are already at risk enough of being devoured by the Prince of Chaos.
The Dark Eldar have fallen from true grace in the most profound of ways. Their roots as a culture lie at the very height of ancient Eldar society, when theirs was perhaps the most highly advanced species in the Milky Way Galaxy. The Eldar once boasted mastery over a civilisation that was the greatest seen in the galaxy since that of the Old Ones. The various cultures of the Eldar that exist today in the 41st Millennium are only shadows of the glory of that ancient Eldar empire.
The true origins of the Dark Eldar can be found in the Fall of the Eldar, the great cataclysm that nearly destroyed the entire Eldar race. It was an event so terrible that not only did it kill trillions of Eldar, but it breached the dimensional barrier between realspace and the Warp, and gave birth to the Chaos God Slaanesh.
The ancient Eldar had perfected their science and technology to such an extent that they could remake planets and quench the light of the very stars at a whim. The need for labour or hard work in Eldar society became nothing but a dim memory of a difficult past. The Eldar, arrogant in the belief that they were now the true masters of their destiny, spent more and more of their time in esoteric pursuits and entertainments intended to escape the ennui that set in over the course of their centuries-long lives of ease and comfort. The Eldar mind and psyche is a thing of duality: it can experience zeniths of bliss and nadirs of suffering far more keenly than that of the other intelligent races, including Mankind. The Eldar were capable of becoming just as irredeemably corrupt as they were of transcending their flaws and touching the divine. With so much power at their hands, the core worlds of the Eldar empire -- once the height of civilisation in the known universe -- became centred solely on the pursuit of individual fulfillment, desire and entertainment.
To understand the reasons for the Fall, it is necessary to know something of the Eldar mind and soul. An Eldar's mind is incredibly complex. Their senses are extremely sharp, able to perceive incredible levels of detail. Their emotions can be so strong that a human’s are merely pale shadows by comparison. They are extremely intelligent; their thought processes are much faster than a human’s. All of this means that an Eldar experiences the universe and all its sensations to a greatly heightened degree compared to a human.
Similarly, an Eldar's soul is much brighter in the Warp than those of "lesser" sentients like humans who do not possess such potent psychic abilities. Eldar are able to affect the nether-realm of the Warp much more than most other intelligent races. Every Eldar is a latent psychic and has the ability to become a very powerful psyker with training. It is the psychic strength of the Eldar's souls that was one of the causes of their downfall.
Before the Fall, during humanity's Dark Age of Technology, the Eldar had an immense galaxy-spanning empire comprising millions of worlds, larger and more powerful than even the Imperium of Man at the height of its power. The Eldar lived in relative peace—barbarian races such as the Orks were kept at easily manageable numbers and never had the strength to threaten the might of the Eldar empire. The humans were not yet virulently xenophobic and did not have a large interstellar domain, and the Tyranid Hive Fleets remained unknown. The C'tan and Necrons, the ancient foes of the Eldar, had been defeated long before and still remained dormant.
Life on the Eldar worlds was idyllic, with fantastically sophisticated machines that took care of all the labour and manufacturing required to keep an advanced society functioning, leaving the Eldar free to indulge in other, more aesthetic pursuits. With all menial work taken care of for them, the Eldar became indolent and decadent. They began to explore more deeply the arts of pleasure, delving ever deeper into hedonism. This descent into decadence spanned millennia. Tradition and order disintegrated as the Eldar pursued the limits of the pursuit of pleasure. Sects called Pleasure Cults were formed, dedicated to achieving the highest levels of hedonistic sensation, and their ceremonies and practices became ever more wild, eventually devolving into violence against one another and even the ritual sacrifice of their own kind. Some Eldar hated what their race had become and left the Eldar homeworlds for the unexplored and virgin Maiden Worlds, or left on the newly-constructed Craftworlds, leaving the Pleasure Cults to their madness.
Among the pleasure-seekers and the interminably curious of the Eldar were those whose pursuit of excess became ever more extreme. These included a great proportion of the aristocracy of ancient Eldar society, who possessed the wealth and time to truly explore the meanings of decadence. One by one, the leaders of the Pleasure Cults that were becoming the centrepiece of Eldar society became obsessed with their own power. They relocated their headquarters to the Labyrinth Dimension known as the Eldar Webway, for so great was their political influence that they could command the construction of entire sub-realms just for themselves. Unseen, these Pleasure Cult lords continued to grow in power and influence, initiating more and more of the ancient Eldar population into their strange and shadowy creeds of decadence.
The Eldar are the most psychically gifted of all sentient beings in the galaxy and as the corruption gradually seduced them, the echoes of their ecstasy and agony began to ripple through time and space. In the parallel dimension of the Immaterium, the Warp, the reflections of these intense experiences began to coalesce, as the shifting tides of the chaotic Empyrean can take form around the raw emotions emitted by the sentient beings of the material universe and attract even more of such similar psychic energies to themselves. The constant stream of individual selfishness and indulgence pouring into the Warp from the Eldar empire nourished and empowered that which lay within - a nascent God of pleasure and pain, content to wait and to grow.
As the Eldar empire sank into corruption and decadence, brother turned against brother in pursuit of ever more extreme and darker pleasures. Some of the wiser Eldar, however, foresaw the disaster that was approaching their society and fled from the Eldar core worlds to safety. The first of these were the Exodites, who chose to establish a network of Eldar planetary colonies known as the Maiden Worlds far from the blighted heart of the empire. Many of these Exodite colonies still exist in the galaxy, their cultures living in a symbiotic relationship with the world-spirits of the planets they call home and protect. Among the last Eldar to escape from the empire's core before the Fall were the ancestors of the present day's Craftworld Eldar. As their society collapsed into civilisation-wide insanity these Eldar recoiled in horror from what they were becoming. Realising that they stood upon the brink of destruction they bend their considerable resources to the construction of the massive Craftworlds, the graceful spaceborne cities that were the size of small moons. The Eldar of the Craftworlds retreated into asceticism and spiritual introspection, preserving what they could of their ancient ways and culture before the time of the Pleasure Cults. They left the core worlds of the Eldar empire for the dubious safety of deep space, to the laughter and contempt of those who remained behind. Some even managed to flee far enough to escape the terrible destruction of the Fall.
Meanwhile, as mentioned above, something terrible was stirring in the Warp. The long millennia of Eldar hedonism had made a massive impact in the psychic realm of Chaos. Within the Warp the decadent Eldar civilization was giving shape to a new Power of Chaos, which grew and grew over thousands of years, getting stronger and more defined until suddenly it sparked into an intelligence – a shatteringly huge and malign intelligence, with an immense and bottomless thirst for Eldar souls. This was the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh, the Dark Prince of Pleasure, better known as She Who Thirsts to the Eldar, who see Slaanesh as inherently female.
This process lasted for thousands of years, corresponding to the historical era that was Mankind's Dark Age of Technology, although when Slaanesh finally came into being the results within the material universe were apocalyptic and sudden. As depravity riddled every aspect of Eldar society, the Pleasure Cults sought ever more violent thrills. Before long the streets of Eldar cities ran with their blood. The elegant architecture of their palaces became battlegrounds as the Eldar preyed upon each other, revelling in the cruelest of crimes. Their insanity and tainted passions poured into the Warp until it finally achieved critical mass. With an apocalyptic bellow that tore the heart out of the Eldar empire, a new Chaos God was born, Slaanesh the Dark Prince of Excess. An almighty psychic shockwave scythed across the galaxy, destroying countless billions of Eldar souls as Slaanesh's birth cries echoed through the material realm. The souls of almost every Eldar were stripped from them in an instant and devoured by the new-born Chaos God in a cataclysm of pain and terror. There were few survivors. Most were driven mad, their minds trapped half in the real world and half in the swirling insanity of the Warp. A great Warp rift was created in the material universe at the site of what had once been the epicentre of the Eldar civilisation, encompassing almost the entire Eldar empire and creating the Eye of Terror, thus marking the dawn of the era known to humanity as the Age of Strife. World after Eldar world had fallen into the Warp, to later be known as the Crone Worlds. Slaanesh gorged itself upon the Eldar's horror and despair. Unstoppable in its ascendancy, the new God consumed the ancient deities of the Eldar empire and scattered their psychic remains to the far corners of the Empyrean.
The Eldar civilisation was gone. All that was left of the Eldar race were the Exodites of the farthest-flung Maiden Worlds, the Craftworld Eldar who had travelled far enough to escape the aftershock of destruction caused by Slaanesh's birth and the formation of the Eye of Terror, and those adherents of the Pleasure Cults who were hidden in the sub-realms of the Webway. Much of the Webway was shattered into ruin by the Fall of the Eldar, but unlike the Craftword Eldar who fled the catastrophe in realspace, those Eldar who had built their own jealously-guarded empires in the Webway remained physically unaffected by Slaanesh's birth. The echoes of the new God's apoetheosis still resounded within them, but unlike their kin in realspace they had escaped destruction. In their arrogance, they did not end their quest for excess and decadent pleasure, not even for a momentary respite following the death of their empire. Repentance and atonement were meaningless concepts for a people that no longer acknowledge any limits on their actions, regardless of the consequences.
The change that was wrought upon those Eldar sealed within the Webway was far more subtle. Rather than having their psychic essences, their souls, consumed in one great draught by Slaanesh, their souls slowly drained away into the Warp, taken over time by She Who Thirsts. The Eldar hate and fear Slaanesh above all other things, for she was given life by their actions and yet she waits hungrily to claim each and every one of them, now or later. Where the Eldar of the Craftworlds learned to deny Slaanesh's hold upon them by using the mystical Spirit Stones, the Infinity Circuits and the philosophies of the Eldar Paths to safeguard their souls from consumption by She Who Thirsts, the Eldar of the Webway became exceptionally good at ensuring that other beings suffered in their place. As long as they steeped themselves in the most evil and savagely decadent acts, the Eldar of the Webway found that the curse of Slaanesh upon their race could be avoided. The agony of others nourished their diminished souls and kept them vital and strong, filling their spare frames with unnaturally robust energies. Assuming that they could feed regularly enough upon the miseries of other intelligent beings, the Eldar of the Webway became psychically immune to the passage of time. So it was that the Dark Eldar were born, a race of sadistic murderers and torturers who feed upon the suffering of others in order to prevent the slow death of their own immortal souls. Ten thousand standard years later, in the 41st Millennium of Mankind, Slaanesh's Thirst consumes them still. There truly is no escape, for the Dark Eldar have only exchanged a horrible but quick death for an eternity of infernal hunger and the infinite emptiness wrought by self-absorption.
Deep in the Webway after the Fall, the groups of Pleasure Cult survivors came together and laid the foundations of a vast new sub-realm that they named Commorragh, the Dark City. Commorragh was built on the foundation of the great port-city within the Webway of the same name that had lain outside the jurisdiction of all the Eldar authorities of their lost empire. More and more Eldar survivors from other sub-realms in the Webway began to arrive and soon added their own regions to the new realm, slowly making it even larger and more heavily populated, until today it is a vast place, an infernal city of suffering and death. To this day, the Dark Eldar raid and pillage the galaxy at large from their hidden sub-realms in the Webway, sowing as much misery and destruction as possible and stealing away millions of captive slaves to their lairs within the Dark City to be exploited for their own horrible ends. They are experts in the techniques of torture as well as mental and physical degradation, as the longer a Dark Eldar can drag out the torture of a slave the more psychic nourishment he can take from him or her. A Dark Eldar who has recently fed upon the suffering of others shines with a cold and startling aura of power, his physical form restored to beautiful, youthful perfection even as his soul rots within its pristine shell. A Dark Eldar who is not allowed to partake of such energies for long enough will become a physical shadow of his former beauty, desperately hunting for a taste of misery to stave off the gnawing thirst in the depths of his withered soul.
The Rise of Asdrubael Vect
Over the millennia, Commorragh grew from its shrouded beginnings into a galactic nightmare, its expansion driven largely by the machinations of one being, Asdrubael Vect of the Kabal of the Black Heart, who rose from slavery to become the true Overlord of the Dark City.
Four thousand standard years after the Fall of the Eldar, in the time that Mankind calls the 35th Millennium, Commorragh underwent its greatest ordeal since its founding. The slave Asdrubael Vect had risen, through pure guile and murderous ambition, to become the Dracon of what he later named the Kabal of the Black Heart, when the elite forces of the Imperium of Man mounted a full-scale invasion of the Dark City. At that time Vect, the hidden architect of this time of strife intended to cement his own rule, was opposed at all turns by the most influential of the Dark City's noble factions, the Houses Xelian, Kraillach and Yllithian. By the time the human invaders had been repelled, the powerbases of these houses were in ruins, their Archons slain. It was not long before Vect and the more meritocratic Kabals had replaced them as the source of ultimate power in the Dark City, just as he had planned. The seeds of the Imperial invasion were sown in the region of the galaxy called the Desaderian Gulf. This area of wilderness space was well-known among the human starfarers of the Segmentum Tempestus for the number of spacecraft that had disappeared within its confines. General Imperial practice was to avoid it at all costs. Unknown to the Imperium, there existed a vast portal into a main arterial of the Webway within Desaderian space, shielded by holofields that made it appear to be nothing more than a shimmer in the starlight, perhaps a result of gravitational lensing. Behind this portal lurked the pirate fleets of Commorragh, waiting for unwary prey.
The Dark Eldar's noble houses preyed upon Imperial shipping lanes only rarely in order to escape retribution; hence the missing ships were always considered acceptable losses or written off as bureaucratic errors of the Administratum. Vect's first move was to increase the frequency of these piratical raids tenfold. He made it his Kabal's priority to capture every Imperial Navy warship and invade every human world within reach of the Desaderian portal. He tore apart the Imperial Guard Regiments garrisoning the planets of the Desaderian System, devastated their fortifications and disappeared with his living bounty into the depths of the Dark City, leaving nothing but utter ruin in his wake. This campaign saw the Kabal of the Black Heart grow rich in plunder and souls, though Vect's detractors thought him a fool for antagonising the massive Imperial war machine.
With its usual ponderous, bureaucratic slowness the Imperium eventually reacted to the disappearances in the Desaderian Gulf. A Strike Cruiser belonging to the Salamanders Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes was close enough to investigate. It was patrolling the edges of the Gulf in search of the sacred artefacts and relics of their Primarch Vulkan. Captain Phoecus of the Salamanders ordered his ship deeper into the Desaderian Gulf. After a short but violent exchange with Vect's Kabalite fleet, Phoecus' Strike Cruiser Forgehammer was crippled by Haywire Bombs and transported through the Desaderian portal into the heart of the Dark City. The furore that resulted from this audacious capture set the spires of High Commorragh aflame with new intrigue. A Space Marine Captain was a great prize indeed, for such an individual could withstand extreme and prolonged mental and physical torture before divulging his vital secrets about Imperial defence. Before long, Vect found his Kabal's fleet in the Desaderian Gulf dwarfed by the armada of the Archon Lord Xelian. The Forgehammer, still rendered impotent by Vect's Haywire field, was confiscated by Xelian, taken to High Commorragh and analysed by a long dissection process.
In his arrogance, Lord Xelian had not reckoned with the resourcefulness of the Space Marines trapped within the stricken Strike Cruiser. The ship's vox communications network had been shorted out by the Haywire field, but unknown to Xelian there remained a more pervasive method of communication available to the Astartes. Captain Phoecus' close friend, the gifted Librarian Hestion, had sent a psychic request for aid as soon as the starship's systems had been disabled. Hestion acted as a living beacon to the rest of the Salamanders Chapter, a beacon now trapped within the spires of Xelian's realm in the Dark City. When Lord Xelian sent the elite of his warrior court to bring the Space Marines to his torture chambers, they were met with far sterner resistance than anticipated. The Dark Eldar found it easy to carve through the hull of the strike cruiser and gain entrance to its dark corridors, but overpowering the Space Marines proved impossible. Lit only by the flashes of Boltgun fire, a desperate battle took place within the hull of the Forgehammer until Astartes and Dark Eldar blood had mingled upon its hull plates. Xelian was quick to realise that he had underestimated his victims. He returned the salvage rights for the Astartes starship to the Kabal of the Black Heart, appearing generous but actually intending to seize the Space Marines once the Black Heart had suffered the losses in taking them captive. Vect readily agreed, forming small strike forces of all those warriors in his Kabal whom he suspected of disloyalty and sent them to face the Strike Cruiser's defenders piecemeal. Vect's Kabalite Warriors, triumphant on dozens of worlds, marched into the Forgehammer without fear, but the battle lasted for days.
Xelian was happy to let Vect drive his so-called Kabal to destruction, believing the Kabal's Dracon to be a fool for not attacking with all the force at his disposal in a single, massive assault. Vect played a waiting game, feeding the disloyal elements of his Kabal to the guns of the Space Marines to buy time and even employing Commorrite mercenaries with well-known ties to Xelian's court, all of whom were soon swallowed by the violence within the human Strike Cruiser. On the sixteenth day of the siege, the skies above High Commorragh suddenly broke open. The Salamanders Chapter had received the coordinates that had led them to their beleaguered Battle-Brothers from the Librarian Hestion's psychic broadcasts. The Desaderian portal had mysteriously been left fully operational, its guards slain and its controls locked so that it could not be closed.
The full fury of the Imperium of Man thundered from the crackling jade-cloured Webway portal directly above Archon Xelian's personal spire. Through it came starships bearing the heraldry of not only the Salamanders but also the badges of the Howling Griffons and the Silver Skulls Chapters of Space Marines. Two dozen Strike Cruisers, each appearing like a chunk of Gothic architecture reshaped for war, hammered though the wide-open portal into the shadowy skies of the Dark City. At their heart was the great Battle Barge Vulkan's Wrath, an immense spacecraft with broadside batteries that could flatten whole cities. Its prow was a vast jutting ram that ploughed straight into the spire where Xelian stood, crushing it like a hammer driven into a priceless sculpture.
The Dark Eldar overcame their surprise quickly. From nearby Port Shard came hundreds of exotic craft, each a needle-like splinter next to the slab-like Imperial vessels, but no less deadly for that. Voidraven Bombers and Razorwing Jetfighters careened out of their towering hangars like bats from a cave, descending in swarms to attack each Astartes Strike Cruiser. Though many were destroyed by the Imperial cruisers' broadsides, others systematically targeted the larger ships' guns with focused Void Lance fire and sustained hits from their Disintegrator Cannons. The Vulkan's Wrath was struck by thick blasts of electromagnetic force produced by Port Shard's salvage spars, rendering the majority of its weapons systems useless. One by one, the Imperial ships' guns were silenced. But these were Space Marines, and they were nothing if not resourceful. Ejecting from each Strike Cruiser came Drop Pods, fired with such force that they were projectile weapons in their own right. The Drop Pods hurtled down, smashing through Dark Eldar fighter craft and Commorrite starscrapers alike, each containing a squad of Space Marines who deployed upon impact with their weapons blazing. They left pure ruin in their wake as priceless Eldar statues shattered and the spires of the Dark City fell.
The Astartes' counterattack robbed the Dark Eldar of the initiative. Within only moments of the Drop Pod assault, the Space Marines had established a perimeter in the obsidian-paved streets of the Kraillach Quarter. Though they took constant fire from Kabalite Warriors and Scourges that flew through the dark skies above, Astartes Power Armour proved to be an effective barrier to the Dark Eldar's splinter weaponry. Yet it was not long before more of the Dark City's denizens joined the fight, drawn to violence and death like sharks to blood. Massed swarms of skyboard-mounted Hellions and Reaver Jetbikers swooped down to rake and tear at the Space Marines, who returned fire, literally, with their Promethium-fueled Flamers. The half-daemon Mandrakes and Raider transports loaded with Dark Eldar Warriors assaulted the Space Marines with claws, knives and Splinter Pistols. Battle was joined from one side of High Commorragh to the other and the streets seethed with violence. Entire sections of High Commorragh burned as the invading Space Marines cut down or incinerated each new breed of horror that assaulted them. Word spread quickly through the Dark City of the human invasion and high up in the arenas, the gladiators of the Wych Cults mobilised for war.
The Space Marines within the city were 500 strong, almost half the size of a full Chapter, and they maintained a defensive perimeter throughout the Kraillach Quarter. High Archon Kraillach himself led a massed charge against the Astartes, intending to crush the invaders that were destroying his personal fiefdom. Yet Kraillach's rampage was ultimately halted by a "stray" blast from a Dark Lance that vapourised him where he stood.
As the Forgehammer lay shackled by electromagnetic force high in the spires, the battle in the skies of the Dark City intensified. Xelian's last command had been to destroy the captive human ship no matter the cost, for if mere humans recovered his prize, the Archon's authority and that of his fellow noble-born peers would be shattered forever. Flights of winged Scourges armed with Haywire Blasters and Heat Lances began to systematically destroy the captive ship while a fleet of Ravager gunships forced the Space Marines who sought to rescue the vessel's Battle-Brothers back into cover. Then, in a storm of light generated by their teleportation technology, Terminators from the Salamanders' 1st Company teleported directly onto the hull of the Forgehammer and returned fire. The Scourges were driven back and Captain Phoecus seized his chance. His men emerged from cover as a single force, sending a Krak Missile soaring into each of the nine towering spars that held his craft captive with their beams of electromagnetic force. Miraculously, each missile triggered a chain reaction of explosions, and the burning spars crashed down into the streets below. The Librarian Hestion summoned a psychic storm of his own, a raging inferno in the shape of a flaming drake that tore the Ravager gunships out of the sky one by one. The Forgehammer had been ravaged by the Dark Eldar assaults, but it was free at last from the Dark City's clutches. With a roar, the Strike Cruiser began to ascend into the sky and freedom.
Far below, the Space Marines fighting in the Xelian Quarter were completely encircled as the full weight of Commorragh was pressed against them and warriors from dozens of noble houses joined the defence of the city. Yet the Space Marines' objective had been achieved, for the Forgehammer was free. A single curt comm-signal was sent and within mere moments, the main bulk of the Space Marines in the Dark City teleported away in a brief burst of light. Those that had been cut off from the main assault gave their lives to buy their brethren time or else were paralyzed by Dark Eldar hypertoxins and taken away to later fight and die as warrior-slaves. Confusion reigned as the Haywire fields that had shackled the Imperial spacecraft were disengaged one by one. The Battle Barge Vulkan's Wrath, now joined by the badly damaged Forgehammer, fired its retros and disengaged itself from the ruins of what had been Archon Xelion's pride. The vast starship's engine blast flattened spires and starscrapers alike before the Space Marines made their escape. The entire Astartes fleet then passed through the still-yawning Webway portal above High Commorragh and escaped triumphantly into realspace.
In the aftermath of the Imperial invasion, Commorragh changed forever. The power vacuum left by the vanquished noble houses of High Commorragh was quickly filled by Asdrubael Vect and his jubilant Kabal of the Black Heart, who had proven their superiority to their rivals in the crucible of war. In the years that followed, Vect played politics like a true Machiavellian master of intrigue, forever asserting the meritocracy of the Kabals over the ancient aristocracy of the Eldar noble houses. So it was that the Kabal of the Black Heart rose to ascendancy over the Dark City in place of the old nobility and Archon Vect's new position as the Supreme Overlord of Commorragh and the Dark Eldar race was sealed.
Dark Eldar in the Calixis-Koronus Region
- "They are a scourge upon our galaxy, the most vile and sadistic of all our xenos foes, and a peril to any who would ply the void in search of profit or gain. Whatever happens, should the shadow of their ships darken your path, pray you die fighting at the helm of your vessel, lest 'fortune' favours you and they take you alive..."
- — Magos Domos Agnelain, Explorator
The Calixis Sector and Koronus Expanse are regions that have some significance to the Eldar, and while it has been many millennia since they have had any major presence there, the worlds of that great frontier are still laced with many thousands of webway passages and tunnels connecting worlds and systems. Today, these tunnels are twisted, stretched, and torn by the psychic pressure of the Warp storms dividing the Calixis Sector and Koronus Expanse. While the mysterious rites of the Harlequins long ago sealed many of these passages, others still remain open to the tides of the Warp, infested with vile and ephemeral creatures.
This region of damaged tunnels is centred across the Warp Storm known as the Screaming Vortex. The Vortex is home to teeming hordes of daemon-worshippers and mutants, living and dying at the whims of warlords and sorcerers intent on murder and subjugation in the name of their dark gods. While this a ready source of slaves and victims for the raids of the region's Kabals, it is a realm largely inhospitable to the Dark Eldar, so strong is the presence of She Who Thirsts within the storm. However, suspended at some point between the Screaming Vortex, the Koronus Expanse, and the webway is an island of relative stability where numerous groups of Dark Eldar have formed a twisted haven. Here floats the Nexus of Shadows, a Dark Eldar outpost built upon an ancient and massive technological relic.
Three major Kabals dwell in the tunnels and passageways that cross the Calixis Sector, the Koronus Expanse, and into the Screaming Vortex. The foremost of these, at the heart of the Nexus, is the Kabal of the Splintered Talon. The others, the Kabal of the Shadowed Thorns and the Kabal of the Crimson Woe, are of a more mercenary inclination due to their lesser status, often selling their murderous skills to other races in exchange for resources or opportunities to grasp at power. The Kabal of the Crimson Woe operates in the Calixis Sector more than in the Koronus Expanse, in part to avoid directly competing with the Kabal of the Shadowed Thorns and thus drawing their ire. Numerous other groups exist alongside these, from the Cult of the Withered Blade, which controls the Bloodspine Pits on the Nexus of Shadows, and The Sutured Helix, a coven of Haemonculi that operates from the Nexus of Shadows, to numerous smaller factions that raid and scavenge for scraps of the might and prestige.
The Dark Eldar operating near the Nexus of Shadows are frequently on the move, either carried within fleets of ships or travelling in smaller groups on light skimmers through the winding and impossible labyrinth of the webway, returning to the Nexus of Shadows only periodically to trade their cargo of tormented victims for supplies and to replace slain warriors. These itinerant raiders often cross paths with pirates and reavers of other species, particularly the Chaos-aligned flotillas that hail from the Screaming Vortex and isolated bases like Iniquity. A select few of these have been shown the location of the Nexus, so that they may trade in slaves, dark lore, and abhorrent technologies, but these are relatively rare.
The Dark Eldar are a plague upon the Koronus Expanse raiders, slavers, pirates, and even Rogue Traders suffer at their barbed lashes and blades. Any who cross the Maw and sail the void of the Koronus Expanse learn to fear the wicked silhouettes of their ships and their seemingly endless cruelty towards all life, including their own. Only vigilance and firepower keep the worst depredations of these terrible raiders at bay, though from the dens of Footfall to the commerce halls of Port Wander there are countless tales of crew lost and ships savaged in their sudden attacks. Within the Calixis Sector, the Imperial Navy keeps the Warp routes and sector worlds protected against the worst of these raids, and while some outposts and lone vessels still disappear at the hands of the foul xenos, most citizens sleep soundly, never even knowing that such a depraved species haunts the stars above their heads.
In the Koronus Expanse it is different, as that lawless place has neither a fleet capable of guarding the uncharted wastes nor a tightly controlled network of worlds that can call upon one another in times of need. The Expanse is a playground for the Dark Eldar, where along with the myriad of other alien menaces they can raid worlds and take ships with relative impunity, slipping away into the night from whence they came. The power of the Dark Eldar is compounded by the fact that no one knows precisely where they come from or where they go, nor can they explain the aliens' uncanny ability to appear from nowhere and then vanish with their stolen cargos of goods and slaves just as quickly. Some Rogue Traders believe there must be a Dark Eldar world somewhere in the Expanse from which they launch their raids, though where exactly it is and how it could have evaded detection for so long remain a mystery that has yet to be unravelled.
Salaine Morn - Archon of the Kabal Of The Shadowed Thorns
- "There is no good story without a villain. I shall provide you with an antagonist beyond your imaginings or even your comprehension, and as you die you will curse my name exquisitely."
- — Drecarus, Master of The Sutured Helix
The Gaelan Sphere, upon which the Nexus of Shadows was built, is an ancient relic of a long-forgotten age of technology. The size of a small moon, covered with towers and antennae, the sphere was crafted around a solid core, the remnants of some mineral rich asteroid that its automated systems are slowly eroding away as it adds more and more levels to the sphere. Neither the Gaelan Sphere's alien inhabitants nor those few explorers from the Imperium who have had a chance to study it know its true purpose. How the sphere came to enter the webway is also a mystery. Abandoned for untold ages, the sphere could have drifted through a web-gate or even been drawn towards one by the ancient programs and protocols of its cogitators seeking to study a breach in the webway that it perceived as a celestial phenomenon. Alternatively, it is possible that some unknown force moved it into the webway for some inscrutable purpose. Once it entered the webway, the sphere spent aeons drifting from one region to another before becoming trapped in a confluence of ancient forces and alien powerfields. Now, it floats in a relatively stable position, more debris of a forgotten age of enlightenment.
It was Salaine Morn and her Kabal that first rediscovered the Gaelan Sphere and decided to put it to use. After being exiled from Commorragh, the Archon spent years wandering the webway with her fleet, raiding worlds and looking for a place to claim as her own. The sphere, with its well-hidden location and ancient technology, presented the perfect place for a new home. Unfortunately for Salaine, the sphere's defences and legions of servitor guardians were too numerous and powerful for her Kabal alone to overcome. Thus, Salaine forged an alliance with Zaergarn Kul and his Kabal of the Splintered Talon, and together they purged the city of its ancient human defences, destroying that which they could not control and sealing away the areas that they could not inhabit.
Even though their forces had secured a landing zone and deactivated the aging orbital defences, it was to take years for the Dark Eldar to carve out the areas where they would build their city. As more Dark Eldar came to the Nexus, new sections would be cleared of their ancient automated defences. Often the Dark Eldar would drive thousands of slaves into an area to identify these dangers, or simply to exhaust a turret's ammunition so it could be destroyed. Other xenos races were also allowed to settle in the Nexus as part of trading missions, though these aliens had to clear their own areas for inhabitation. The lasting result of this wanton conquest by the Dark Eldar and their allies is that many areas of the Nexus still show signs of battle, and the stripped remains of the combat machinery of the sphere is a common sight along its shadowed streets. Occasionally, the Nexus' old defenders rear their heads once again, but the Dark Eldar usually put them down swiftly.
Almost immediately after the arrival of the Dark Eldar and its establishment as a port, the Nexus began to operate as a hub for trade and a base for raiding. Close to the Koronus Expanse and the Calixis Sector, it opened up fresh opportunities for slavers and worlds that before had been out of reach or too dangerous to raid using the fractured remains of the webway. The Nexus of Shadows quickly grew in size and wealth on the backs of its slaves, despite the fact that most Dark Eldar of Commorragh at least openly shun the cursed place and the outcasts who live there. The xenos of the Koronus Expanse and the renegades of the Screaming Vortex have no such compunctions, however, and have found the Nexus to be a useful place to trade and congregate, a place far from the reach of the Imperium and utterly hostile to its agents. Salaine welcomed such factions into her city on account of the wealth and influence they offered, as well as the added protection it afforded her against those who would try and take the city from her. Unfortunately for Salaine, it was not an outside force or an alien that was to oust her from power. In the end one of her own, Zaergarn Kul, usurped her, and exiled her once more into the webway before she could do the same to him. For many of the inhabitants of the Nexus this change in power meant little, especially for the slaves, to whom one Dark Eldar Archon is much the same as another.
Salaine Morn intentionally projects a presence that is both evasive and unmistakable; her dread majesty is as hard to put into words as it is to ignore. Appearing at once menacing and tempting, the Archon catches many of her foes off-guard, uncertain of the obfuscated nature of this ancient being. Morn is several thousand years old, though only she knows for certain how long she has been alive, and has seen and done much that would long haunt the nightmares lesser beings. Like all Archons, she is possessed of a deadly martial prowess, but her true weapon is a mind finely-honed by the lethal intrigues of Commorragh's high society. She finds it utterly distasteful, then, that she and all those she commands are exiles from the Dark City and now even the Nexus of Shadows. At her grudging command, the warriors of her Kabal have turned to mercenary work, selling their efforts to lesser beings as part of a plan to regain the power she once possessed. On the rarest of occasions, she deigns to speak to these prey-creatures herself.
Unique Dark Eldar Technology
The Dark Eldar employ a number of hand-held weapons designed to eviserate, lacerate and incise at close quarters. Although varying widely in design and use, all employ a similar technology in their construction. They are built from very lightweight materials, with blades honed to a mon-molecular edge capable of cutting through even Ceramite armour plating when sufficient force is employed. Weapons incorporating powerful shock fields have also been recovered by Imperial forces, and these devices utilise an energy generation and transference system as yet beyond the comprehension of human Tech-Adepts. The following are the most common close combat weapons employed by the Dark Eldar:
- Agoniser - An Agoniser is an extrememly sophisticated close combat weapon that acts as a Power Weapon and drives a victim's sensorium haywire, causing excruciatingly severe pain as a victim's nerves burn out through constant overstimulation, producing exquisite agony. Though Agonisers come in a variety of forms, the most common are whips or barbed flails.
- Bloodstone - A Bloodstone is a rare and exotic weapon forged from the broken Soul Stone of an Eldar Exarch. It can be used in close proximity to an enemy, unleashing a single pulse of baleful energy that will boil their blood.
- Cluster Caltrops - Cluster Caltrops serve as an antipersonnel weapon made up of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged in such a manner that one of them always points upward from a stable base in the form of a tetrahedron. Caltrops serve to slow down the advance of foot soldiers and mounts. Caltrops are also used against wheeled vehicles with pneumatic tires. This weapon is most commonly employed by Dark Eldar Reavers who use these small but effective antipersonnel weapons against enemy troops as they swoop past on their deadly Jetbikes.
- Crystal Gauntlets - Crystal Gauntlets are extraplanar in origin, able to mysteriously sprout and regrow a deadly profusion of blades. These deadly weapons are often employed by Dark Eldar Wyches in melee.
- Demiklaives - A Demiklaive is a variant of the deadly Klaive. These vicious Power Weapons are finely honed to a mono-molecular edge and can either be wielded separately or clasped together to form a much larger blade that confers an even deadlier strike against an unfortunate victim. These weapons are commonly employed by Dark Eldar Incubi.
- Djin Blades - Djin Blades are Power Weapons that usually take the form of blades of polished crystal with a scowling bestial face engraved upon their hilts. Each blade has a bloodthirsty and resentful sentience of its own, usually that of a former rival bound eternally to the service of the blade's owner.
- Electrified Shardnet - An Electrofied Shardnet is a specially crafted and weighted net that can be thrown over an enemy in order to ensnare them. The combined weight and the painful electrical shock of the net is both painful and debilitating. When successful, the victim is then attacked with an extendable twin-bladed impaler while they are entangled, ensuring they cannot escape alive. Another tactic that is often used is to ensnare an enemy's weapon in the shardnet and pull it out of their grasp, leaving the opponent defenceless. This weapon is commonly employed by Wyches.
- Electrocorrosive Whip - An Electrocorrosive Whip is a deadly Power Weapon whose lash is a tongue of venom-soaked polymer with a high-yield dynamo embedded in its hilt. Its touch is painful and debilitating in the extreme, sapping the strength and robbing the will to fight. This weapon is commonly employed by Wyches and Beast Masters.
- Flesh Gauntlet - A clawed glove fitted with far too many syringe-like spines and serum-filled vials, the flesh gauntlet can inject potent electrosteroids that force rapid, unnatural, and uncontrollable growth. Its victim will literally outgrow his own skin, bursting apart in a welter of streaming, heaving matter, and leaving little more than a pile of twitching overgrown muscle, ruptured skin, and shattered bone. The deadliness of the weapon is hardly offset by the fact that many models require a short period of time to prepare a new batch of electrosteroids after each use.
- Fusion Pistol - The Fusion Pistol is a compact hand-held Melta Weapon whose elegance belies its potency.
- Hellglaives - These long, double-ended polearms are the favoured weapons of Hellions, who employ the sharpened hooks on each end to pull themselves around corners and past obstacles, while the broad heads and symmetrical balance of each hellglaive serves to aid a Hellion's stability in flight. As weapons, they are no less useful — a hellglaive's balance and razor-sharp blades allow a Hellion to strike down multiple enemies with every pass, if he is sufficiently skilled.
- Huskblade - A Huskblade is a Power Weapon that appears as if made of cracked and pitted bone, a husk blade leaves faint smoke trails as it passes through the air, and instantly evaporates any moisture that comes into contact with its blade. Victims slashed or stabbed by such a blade are reduced to shrivelled corpses that turn to dust in moments, and even those lucky enough to only suffer a glancing hit find much of their vitality dragged away by these deadly weapons.
- Hydra Gauntlets - These outlandish weapons are the defining tools of Hydrae, and the bladed gauntlets they wield are said to have been forged beyond the petty confines of reality, in some strange and distant pocket of existence. The blades on each gauntlet are grown from a strange crystalline substance that continually renews itself, sprouting new blades to replace those shorn off or blunted. Hydra gauntlets are only ever equipped in pairs by Hydra Wyches, and though one could theoretically be used alone, it would be both uncouth and far less effective. Hydra Guantlets are commonly worn by Dark Eldar Wyches.
- Impaler - An impaler is unremarkable in itself, a simple twin-bladed shortspear that can be rammed deep into the body of a victim. Impalers are seldom used alone, and most of those who wield them are Yraqnae, who use them in conjunction with shardnets.
- Klaives - Klaives are great Power Swords favoured by the deadly Incubi. These weapons are considered to be a masterpiece of balance and form and the one true weapon of true Dark Eldar warriors, though Klaivex war-leaders sometimes favour variants such as the more versatile Demiklaives.
- Mindphase Gauntlet - Less a weapon and more a control device, mindphase gauntlets can stop a creature in its tracks with a single touch. A fleeting moment's contact is sufficient for the gauntlet’s discharge to paralyse muscle and dull the mind.
- Razorflail - Razorflails are lightweight swords composed of a number of interlocking blades joined by a cable. At a moment's notice, these blades can be separated, turning a sword into a many-bladed lash. In the hands of a skilled wielder, these are almost impossible to parry and can be woven past almost any defence. Razorflails are commonly wielded in pairs, the Wych surrounding herself with a swirling wall of deadly blades as she dances across the battlefield.
- Shardnet - Shardnets are a wire mesh covered in tiny barbs that dig into flesh and tear with every moment of struggle, while simultaneously administering electrical shocks that render a victim incapable of self-defence and cause him to jerk and twitch against the barbed net.
- Stunclaw - A Stunclaw is a close-combat weapon that confers additional strength on its bearer and can also be used to grapple to snare and entrap an enemy leader. This weapon is commonly employed by Hellions.
- Venomblade - This weapon is a common sign of wealth and power amongst the Dark Eldar aristocracy. Each venomblade has thousands of microscopic pores that continually exude a distilled cocktail of hypertoxins. The slightest scratch from a venomblade is sufficient to fell even the mightiest of foes.
- Wych Knife - At first glance, there is little to distinguish these blades from a commoner’s knife or a Kabalite Warrior's flaying blade. However, subtle details of their construction, such as the pattern of serrations, the precise curvature of the blade, or the placement of perforations, influence their balance and the cuts they inflict so that in the hands of an expert they can inflict grievous wounds and find the weaknesses in all but the toughest armour.
- Disintegrator Cannon - Utilising tiny quantities of plasma stolen from enslaved suns, the disintegrator cannon is a sophisticated weapon, remaining cool to the touch even after a sustained barrage in spite of the boiling energies within. Disintegrator cannons are most commonly encountered mounted onto vehicles like Raiders and Ravagers.
- Heat Lance - The long-barrelled Heat Lance is a powerful device that combines the focus and precision of laser weaponry with the searing potency of melta weaponry, creating a weapon able to melt armour plate from further away than most comparable Meltaguns, but with the fine precision of the most finely-honed Eldar laser weapon.
- Hexrifle - Thousands of years ago, the Dark City found itself host to a plague of a quite unusual nature. While the plague itself has long since been stopped, samples of the disease still exist in phials within the laboratories of Haemonculi, to employ as a weapon against their enemies. Each hexrifle is unique, created for an individual Haemonculus to deliver this potent and exotic plague in battle, but all function in essentially the same way. Crystalline cylinders containing the tiniest quantity of the disease are fired from the rifles, shattering upon impact and exposing the target to the plague. For all but the hardiest of victims, this momentary exposure is sufficient for the plague to begin its vile work, turning flesh and bone into glass and leaving a transparent, flawless statue where once was a living creature.
- Liquifier Gun - This baroque collection of pipes and tubes projects a torrent of highly corrosive fluids that can melt through anything it touches. Typically carried by Grotesques, Wracks, and other servants of the Haemonculi, these weapons are most commonly fuelled by the corrosive ichor that passes for blood in such creatures. The devastation wreaked by a liquifier gun's noxious payload depends entirely on how much of the fluid splashes across a target. While not strictly a Flame weapon, a liquifier gun functions in almost exactly the same way, including a chance of being set aflame — in truth, this represents a quantity of the corrosive liquid lingering on the target and continuing to eat away at flesh and armour, and thus deals damage with a toxic quality, in place of the normal damage from fire.
- Phantasm Grenade Launcher - Wealthy Dark Eldar warriors often wear specially modified backpacks that can hurl a volley of small, disc-shaped grenades from twin tubes. These grenades are made from a highly reactive substance that, upon contact with the air, dissolves into clouds of psychotropic gas so potent that to even catch a whiff of it fills the mind with horrific nightmares and delusions. This weapon is often employed by Dark Eldar Kabalite Warriors.
- Shredder - The shredder unleashes an expanding mesh of monofilaments with miniscule barbs along their length. The mesh entangles the victim in an invisible net that slices apart the target as it struggles.
- Stinger Pistol - A wicked weapon with a cruel purpose, a stinger pistol delivers horrifyingly deadly toxins via the thin needles that it fires.
Like all Eldar technology, the heavy weaponry that is employed by the Dark Eldar utilises an order of technology far different from that employed by the other sentient races of the galaxy. The following is a list of the most common heavy weapons employed by the Dark Eldar:
- Dark Lance - The Dark Lance is comparable in its role to that of a standard issue Imperial Lascannon. Its primary function is to destroy heavily armoured targets. However, the Dark Lance does not employ standard laser technology, but instead fires a stream of "Darklight." This dark matter substance works by reacting catastrophically with its target, producing a blast that is more than capable of destroying any vehicle regardless of the thickness of its armour, or totally vapourising a foot soldier.
- Disintegrator - A Disintegrator employs a more unstable form of "Darklight" dark matter and can be used in several firing modes, unleashing a single ball of ravening energy or a lethal salvo of powerful energy bolts.
There are a number of weapons entirely unique to the Dark Eldar, although they draw upon the same technology found in the weaponry of the Craftworld Eldar. The following is a list of special weapons commonly employed by the Dark Eldar:
- Crucible of Malediction - The Crucible of Malediction is a weapon used by the Dark Eldar to neutralise the psychic powers of enemy psykers, a necessary defence for a species that cannot risk ever developing its own powerful latent psychic abilities for fear of drawing the attention of Slaanesh, She Who Thirsts. No one knows what dark arts the Dark Eldar use to create their Crucibles of Malediction. Each Crucible appears to contain the trapped spirits of psykers of many species captured and tortured by the Dark Eldar in their Dark City of Commorragh. Once released, these spirits move across the battlefield and unleash a psychic cacophony that only other psykers can sense and that can drive them insane if their psychic defences prove too weak to survive the assault. The most powerful Crucibles of Malediction contain the trapped and tortured souls of Eldar Seers.
- Darklight Weapons - Darklight Weapons are crafted in the weapon shops of Commorragh that are infamous for their ability to cheat the natural laws of physics in order to design ever more efficient ways to kill. Blasters, Blast Pistols and Dark Lances epitomise this, for they do not employ standard laser technology but instead fire a stream of what is, for want of a better term, "darklight." The origin of this substance is unknown, although some amongst the savants of Commorragh claim that it is a form of dark matter that has been recovered from the event horizons of black holes, Warp Storms, and other celestial phenomena of great magnitude. Darklight works by reacting catastrophically with its target, producing a blast that can bore a massive hole in a vehicle regardless of armour, or vapourise a foot solider in an instant. Even to perceive a beam of darklight without the correct protection leaves permanent slash-scars upon the retina.
- Destructor - The Destructor fires a stream of virulent organo-acidic compounds which can melt through armour and sear flesh. The effects of these toxins can inlcude blood vessel explosion or implosion, pharyngal contraction, extensive haemolysis, skeletal disintegration, sclerotic corrosion, intercostal spasm, hyper-reacted thermoreceptors and chemoreceptors, Eustachian damage, retinal scarring, cardiac and respiratory atrophy and aqueous humour deprivation. In simple terms, the victims are hideously blinded and disoriented, their skin feels as if it is burning, their respiration and even the circulation of their blood is erratic and extremely painful.
- Haywire Blaster - Haywire Blasters are long-barrelled weapons that siphon the electromagnetic energy crackling around Commorragh's highest aeries to later release it in a terrifyingly powerful burst. A well-aimed Haywire Blaster can cripple an enemy tank's or aircraft's control systems in a single shot.
- Haywire Grenades - Haywire Grenades are used for disabling or crippling enemy vehicles. They send out a powerful electromagnetic pulse that shorts out and destroys electrical circuits.
- Mindphase Gauntlet - A Mindphase Gauntlet is a special close-combat weapon that acts as an advanced neural controller that saps both the strength and will of an enemy. It can stop a rampaging foe in his tracks with a single touch.
- Shredder - The Shredder is a hand-held pistol that unleashes a web or mesh of monofilament wire, often with minuscule barbs or serrations along its lines. This mesh entangles the victim, slicing them to pieces as they struggle. Its dense cloud is also highly effective at finding weak points in a vehicle's armour, but is thankfully short-ranged.
- Splinter Weapons - Splinter Weapons fire shards of splintered crystal using a powerful magno-electric pulse. These shards are covered in incredibly virulent and fast-acting toxins the better to ensure a painful death. The favoured armament of the Kabalite Warrior is the Splinter Rifle, often fired on the move from the ballustrade of a Raider or Venom transport. The Splinter Pistol, its handheld cousin, is an elegant sidearm beloved of assassins and street fighters across the galaxy; though it is designed for precision short-ranged shots, the toxins inside its reservoir pod are no less deadly. Larger variations of Splinter Weaponry are often employed, such as the Shardcarbine, popular amongst the winged Scourges, and the Splinter Cannon, a heavy weapon able to mow down entire squads at a time.
Dark Eldar Equipment
- Clone Field - In place of coherent fields of energy, a clone field projects holographic duplicates of the wearer, all identical in aspect and moving in perfect and lifelike synchrony. Only through trial and error can the true wearer be identified, and few combatants have the time to find the real threat amidst a swarm of falsehoods.
- Ghostplate Armour - Constructed of strange resinous materials and shot through with pockets of lighter-than-air gases, each suit of ghostplate armour provides considerable protection while weighing far less than any comparable panoply. The expense of a single suit of ghostplate is such that only the wealthiest and most influential Dark Eldar can obtain it. Each suit is further reinforced by a force field.
- Gnarlskin - The Dark Eldar Haemonculi and their hideous, fleshy creations have toughened, scarred hides that have been subjected to so many brands, burns and abrasions they have become leathery and resistant to enemy blows.
- Incubus Warsuit - All Dark Eldar Incubi wear a close-fitting suit of ritual battle armour that can turn aside all but the most well-placed blows.
- Kabalite Warrior Armour -These suits of segmented plates are commonly worn by Kabalite Warriors of all kinds, from the half-born murderers who have dragged themselves up from the depths of Commorragh to the sneering Trueborn in their palatial spires. Each suit of armour is held in place by a variety of barbs and hooks that dig deep into the wearer's flesh and play against his nerve bundles. His senses heightened by his own pain, the simple act of donning this armour prepares him for battle.
- Shadow Field - A shadow field is an arcane Dark Eldar device that creates a defence that is virtually impossible to pierce. Projecting a dark miasma of energy around the wearer, the field is proof against almost any attack, and the warrior within cannot be easily targeted. However, should one manage to penetrate this miasmic aura, the field's instability causes it to collapse almost immediately.
- Soul-Trap - Though Soul-Traps vary in size and appearance, from folding pyramidal prisms to jewelled skulls engraved with vampiric runes, they all have one ghastly function -- to capture the soul of a powerful enemy within its confines and empower the bearer with the stolen energies.
- Vexator Mask - A Vexator Mask often takes the form of a delicate skein of bone and skin adorned with runes of confusion and illusion. It projects the image of the viewer's most trusted friend, beloved ruler, or loved one, often buying the wearer a second of precious time. An enemy will balk at the sight of such highly personal illusions and may not attack the bearer -- until it is too late.
- Webway Portal - The Webway Portal is a portable form of the portals used to link together places via the Webway and is used by Dark Eldar raiders to unleash their attacks into realspace.
- Wychsuit - Wychsuits and similar garments are little more than flexible bodysuits, adorned in an eclectic manner with armoured plates and reinforced panels. Those worn by Wyches often provide protection only to the side of their bodies that they habitually turn towards the enemy, while Hellions commonly wear armoured collars and vambraces, and many Reavers favour masked cowls and heavily padded shoulders. Regardless, it is difficult to strike a Dark Eldar warrior past even the tiny amounts of armour that these suits provide.
- Xenohide Clothing - Crafted from the flayed hides of arena beasts or slaves (living or dead), these garments are common clothing amongst the Dark Eldar of the Nexus of Shadows. The toughened nature of the material helps ward off would-be murderers and other common hazards of the Bonespires and the Shadow Arteries alike.
Drugs and Poisons
- Combat Drugs - Though they drastically shorten the life expectancy of those who take them, drugs and stimulants are in widespread use throughout Dark Eldar society. The fashions and the vagaries of supply and demand commonly influence which ones are used during a given battle or realspace raid, but certain drugs remain popular amongst the inhabitants of Commorragh and the Nexus of Shadows. Dark Eldar combat drugs are designed to enhance Eldar physiology, and do not function in the bodies of any other creature.
- Accelerai - This stimulant alters the warrior’s adrenal glands, producing a substance that is far more potent. Harvested from the brain of a small, multi-legged, and extremely aggressive predator found on the ruined shell of the Light of Terra and certain Space Hulks that drift through the Koronus Expanse, Accelerai accelerates the user's attacks to a blistering tempo.
- Corpse Obmulen - First found growing amidst the corpses of fallen warriors during the taking of the Nexus of Shadows, Corpse Obmulen appears to be a cousin of the better-known Dusk Lotus and seems, against all odds, to have been on the Gaelan Sphere longer than the Dark Eldar. Since their arrival, however, the blood-drinking plant has flourished, and covers many pits of discarded corpses with an ashen veil. Though inherently toxic, Corpse Obmulen is a popular additive to steroidal compounds that saturates muscle fibres and makes them superhumanly resistant to the stress and tension of use, allowing the warrior to exert himself to an extreme level for a protracted period of time.
- Shudderstep - Tailored from a number of incredibly dangerous ingredients, including grass harvested from specific Yu'Vath grave worlds and miniscule quantities of the stasis venom of the Ariadne Helspider, Shudderstep is designed to hyper-stimulate fast-twitch muscle fibres. A dose of Shudderstep enables a warrior to run at incredible speeds.
- Murder's Boon - Distilled from the cranial fluid of slaves who have been poisoned with a combination of other drugs and toxins including Corpse Obmulen and Liquid Agony, Murder's Boon amplifies a warrior's killer instincts.
- Eviscerine - Eviscerine is a derivative of the rare but seemingly uninteresting viperleaf found on certain worlds within the Koronus Expanse. Though The Sutured Helix does not share exactly how it transforms this barbed vine into a drug as effective as Eviscerine, the raw material nonetheless commands a high price on the Nexus of Shadows. Cold Trader groups such as the Consorvana Ring exchange vast quantities of viperleaf for xenos artefacts, and know better than to ask why the devious aliens want this particular plant. Once refined into a useable drug, Eviscerine is a favourite of warriors who prefer to kill at close range. Heightening the adrenaline sensitivity of perception centres of the brain and the conductivity of synapses and nerve fibres, a dose of Eviscerine makes a warrior more able to perceive and avoid the attacks and defences of his enemies.
- Soul Echo - The coalesced essence of a being who has been tortured not only unto death but far beyond it, Soul Echo is almost pure pain, containing the last tormented gasp of a spirit bound in eternal agony.
The Toxic Spectrum
The Dark Eldar are experts in the many applications of poisons and toxins. Entire districts of Commorragh are given over to the manufacture of substances that can kill in countless thousands of different ways, and many an aristocrat's court contains a master poisoner whose gifts can transform the merely agonising into the unrelentingly lethal. Many weapons employed by the Dark Eldar exude, are impregnated with, or otherwise employ potent hypertoxins, and most warriors have their own favourite cocktail of poisons. The toxic spectrum is something that all Dark Eldar appreciate with an artist's insight, and personal aesthetics are as important as effect when it comes to poisoning a rival, enemy or prey-beast. The following is the most common poisons employed by the Dark Eldar:
- Essence of Perfect Vitriol - Perfect Vitriol is the universal solvent, a corrosive agent capable of dissolving absolutely everything. Created by the Stryxis for reasons they refuse to explain and traded to the denizens of the Nexus of Shadows for use in their arenas and shadowy plots, no substance is proof against this liquid's fury, and it must be stored in magnetic suspension because no material container exists that can hold it. Not to be stymied in their quest to weaponise everything in their grasp, the Dark Eldar of the Nexus of Shadows cleverly use fields and other exotic distribution systems to imbue their blades and projectiles with the vapours produced by this substance without degrading their own equipment too quickly for it to be of use.
- Final Breath - A targeted paralytic agent that is derived from a plant native to Burnscour and brought to the Nexus of Shadows accidentally along with several beasts for the pits, Final Breath causes rapid respiratory shutdown, swiftly making it impossible for the target to breathe. The Dark Eldar first discovered the effect of the plant when a number of slaves tasked with cleaning the pen of a Clawed Fiend were discovered dying after inhaling its deadly pollen. The Dark Eldar of the Nexus of Shadows were most impressed by the agonising death that this humble plant had inflicted upon their slaves, and so they immediately set about finding a way to turn the plant's toxic pollen into a weapon.
- Heartfire - Heartfire is a substance produced by the razor-spined fungi that inhabit certain parts of the Gaelan Sphere, and is found in the greatest concentrations in those specimens that have made their home in the shafts that house the coolant for many of the sphere's mysterious processes. Apparently a defence mechanism against predators, this poison coats the spines and self-replicates within a victim's body, polluting his blood with a kinetically unstable chemical that may ignite at any moment. Vigourous motion is often sufficient to set the poisoned blood off, consuming the victim with a fire within his own veins and arteries, burning up the oxygen in his blood.
- Liquid Agony - Popular amongst nobles of the Kabal of the Splintered Talon involved in realspace raids against particularly valuable targets and those fighting rivals at home alike, Liquid Agony is a potent neurotoxin that amplifies nerve conductivity to extreme levels, turning even the weight of clothing and the caress of the air into torturous sensations. Liquid Agony is based upon the viscous bodily fluids of the Sandsnapper of Vaporious, a rare, segmented serpent that inhabits the deep deserts. Some within the depths of the Nexus of Shadows imbibe tiny quantities of Liquid Agony to heighten the impact of sensations, but overdoses are all too common and leave the wretched beings in a state of perpetual agony just long enough for a hungry soul to find the source of the screams and drink deep of the self-inflicted pain.
- Nightmare Philtre - This toxin creates terror in its victims, nothing more or less. Though the exact composition of this poison is a jealously guarded secret of The Sutured Helix, dark whispers tell of how Archon Salaine Morn commissioned the Haemonculus Drecarus to create it shortly after her forces slew a Rak'Gol raiding party that had simultaneously attacked the human settlement she was in the midst of pillaging. It is said that she brought one of the creatures' corpses back to the Haemonculus as a gift to entice his services, and he repaid her with this serum of hell-dreams some days later. By chemically influencing the "fight or flight" reaction, and then triggering it, an overwhelming sense of panic and dread afflicts the victim, without obvious cause or reason — something that is arguably more terrifying than being afraid of anything specific. In many cases, the horrified psyche actually tries to invent some fearful apparition to justify the terror, a feat of self-delusion that only serves to act as a beautiful accompaniment to the Dark Eldar feeding upon this unreasoning panic. Hard-won experience has taught the Dark Eldar that this particular poison does not have an effect on all of their foes - even the most concentrated dose does not influence a Space Marine in any way, and it seems to merely enrage Orks.
- Sanguine Exodus - This toxin causes the victim to begin exsanguinating rapidly, his blood pouring from every wound as if seeking to escape from his body. Sanguine Exodus in part on the saliva of the Culamia Bloodsucker that is all too common on the world of Burnscour and certain other Death Worlds in the Koronus Expanse, and has become popular amongst the Wyches of the Withered Blade Cult, as it allows them to kill with even greater elegance and conservation of motion.
- Vitae Rebellion - A cruel and savage toxin, Vitae Rebellion is a genetic serum of incredible potency created in the laboratories of The Sutured Helix and sold to Dark Eldar nobles on the Nexus of Shadows who desire a certain explosive flair to their kills. Vitae Rebellion aggressively transforms the biochemistry of its victims, transmogrifying critical fluids into chemicals and compounds that react violently with one another. The end result is gruesome and spectacular, as the victim detonates in a shower of mutated gore.
Dark Eldar Combat Doctrine
The raiding parties of the Dark Eldar are able to suppress their treacherous natures only in pursuit of power, spoils and slaves. When the Kabals of Commorragh gather in large numbers, they darken the skies of unsuspecting worlds with their razor-edged anti-gravity craft and fall upon the unwary populations of the galaxy with extraordinary speed and their characteristic sadism.
Every Dark Eldar is fundamentally defined by his or her innate selfishness. Personal power, the pursuit of comfort and the gratification of their dark desires are the only things which truly hold value for the Dark Eldar. They take no pride in the achievements of others within their race and measure every endeavour's worth in how it contributes to their own self-interest. The need for survival in a hostile galaxy is the only thing that bonds the Dark Eldar together as a species and thus even in combat they are not normally inclined to cooperate with one another beyond the bare minimum required.
Yet, on occasion, an opportunity may present itself that even the greatest of the Archons is forced to admit cannot be seized by a single Kabal acting alone. This could be an Imperial Hive World whose teeming masses of humanity are ready to be culled, an Eldar Craftworld drifting unpowered and vulnerable to a slave raid, or a newly discovered intelligent alien species unaware of the dangers which haunt the galaxy. Such targets represent more than a single Wych Cult or Kabal could hope to assault on its own without suffering crippling losses, but the potential rewards are so great that they prove willing to share the spoils with others within the Dark City.
Dark Eldar society is splintered and lacking in any true unity. The raiders of the Dark City owe their first allegiance to themselves and then to the Kabal or Wych Cult to which they belong. Each of these factions constantly compete with one another in the pursuit of their divergent goals and will happily betray or murder any of its allies of convenience once they have outlived their usefulness. Amongst the Dark Eldar, only the most devious and ruthless survive for long and any alliance or coalition that forms does so only either out of greed or fear of its individual participants' rivals.
The lure of thousands of souls to be enslaved and tortured and immense amounts of wealth to be plundered can draw Dark Eldar together to face a large or very well-defended target. Power is the only truly palpable currency within Commorragh and a successful attack on a target of unusual magnitude can secure extraordinary wealth and authority for those who were daring enough to carry it off. At the same time, no self-respecting Archon or Succubus would willingly stand by while his or her rivals benefit from such a cooperative venture. As such, when large-scale assaults are in the offing they can grow to unusually large proportions as jealous Dark Eldar nobles pledge their support for the raid, whilst all the time plotting ways to double-cross their newfound allies and seize all the plunder and prestige for themselves.
While it is greed that forges these massive Dark Eldar assaults, it is fear that keeps them cooperative. The Dark Eldar are defined by their fear of many things, including death, loss of status and the plots of their rivals. An unusually large war fleet allows the Dark Eldar to hunt much larger and more powerful victims. However, just as a raid that earns victory returns with great wealth and the envy of all Commorragh, a failed raid will lead to a loss of standing amongst the participants and possible enslavement by their rivals who will immediately move to capitalise upon the raid leaders' perceived weakness. By involving all of one's rivals in the attack, the risk of failure can be shared by all. Additionally, the nature of Commorragh's vicious politics means that when a Dark Eldar faction seeks to move against its rivals, the blow needs to be decisive, overwhelming and completely successful. Any less will result in the unleashing of civil strife that will see entire Cabals and Wych Cults destroyed, thousands murdered amongst the spires of the Dark City and slavery and torture for almost all as the enemies of both sides seize their own advantage. Because of the terrible risks involved with such reprisals, the fear of these consequences keeps most of the double-dealing and treachery within a large war fleet to a minimum -- until the participants return with their spoils to Commorragh.
Dark Eldar raiding forces never attack the foe directly, but use their speed, mobility and the advantage of surprise to attack swiftly and then withdraw, with the intent of slowly bleeding the foe dry. As a result of this tactical doctrine, Dark Eldar forces never gather in a single place that would leave them open to an enemy counter-attack. This also allows them to attack the foe where he is weakest. During large battles, the Dark Eldar favour a style of combat that might be considered a "wave attack." The Dark Eldar in large war fleets assaulting well-defended targets organise themselves into successive waves made up of units with differing tactical capabilities and destroy the enemy in a series of separate but linked sequential assaults. Each wave will target a specific type of enemy unit or will pursue a specific tactical objective, which weakens the foe's defences just in time to face the next Dark Eldar assault wave. After several such assault waves, the enemy forces' defences are stripped away until only the weakest units are left to be ripped apart in the final assault. As a result, the Dark Eldar refer to this combat doctrine as "The Flaying."
By attacking the most dangerous enemy units with the lightning-fast assault that only the Dark Eldar are capable of, the Dark Eldar are able to create the opportunity for their other units to move into position and attack the survivors. The faster vanguard waves buy the time needed for the slower units of a Dark Eldar raiding force to outflank the enemy and deliver the coup de grace. An example of The Flaying proceeds as follows:
- Wave 1: Splinter Raid -- Striking without warning, a Splinter Raid comprised of a single Archon and his bodyguard of Kabalite Trueborns on a Raider, 2 Reaver Jetbike squads and 3 other squads of Raiders attack the foe from out of the sky after emerging from a Webway portal, destroying and pinning those enemy troops that present the gravest threat.
- Wave 2: Strike from the Shadows -- In the second wave, 2 squads of Scourges drop out of the sky and use their Dark Lances to target the vulnerable rear armour of enemy armoured vehicles, while 2 squads of Mandrakes appear from the shadows themselves to assault enemy infantry unexpectedly who are taking cover from the Scourges.
- Wave 3: Mounted Kabals and Cults -- A much larger wave of swift-moving Dark Eldar troops, comprising an Archon and his bodyguard of Kabalite Trueborns on a Raider, 2 squads of Raiders, a squad of Hellions, a Ravager and an entire Wych Cult transported by a Raider, swoop in to engage the survivors of the earlier waves' attacks, and in particular this wave targets enemy command units.
- Wave 4: Kabals and Cults on Foot -- By the time the fourth wave of The Flaying breaks upon the foe, the slowest elements of the Dark Eldar war fleet have had time to join the attack, and this wave includes 2 squads of Kabalite Warriors, 2 squads of Wyches and a pack of Warp Beasts led by a Beastmaster. This wave moves in for the kill on the ground and catches the enemy defenders between their own advance and the Dark Eldar elements already engaged from the sky, crushing the enemy in a classic hammer-and-anvil movement. Once the defenders are defeated, the torture and culling of the population into hideous enslavement will begin.
Dark Eldar soon learn to fight with every weapon at their disposal in order to ensure their own survival, primarily against the machinations of their own kind, but also the other major races of the Milky Way Galaxy whom they raid often for slaves. No distinction is drawn between the genders, for an individual's skill and cunning is far more important to the race than sheer physical traits such as height and gender. Their senses are keen to the point of paranoia, their eyes and long tapered ears always alert to the slightest movement or disturbance that portends betrayal and death. In the Dark City, the unwary rarely survive for long among their treacherous brethren.
While their countless generations of conflict and internecine strife led the Dark Eldar to develop better reaction speed and greater overall physical strength than the other factions of the Eldar race, the innate psychic abilities of the Dark Eldar have atrophied. To channel the psychic energies of what is essentially Chaos within Commorragh would invite disaster, for the use of Warp energy would draw the attention of Slaanesh, She Who Thirsts, the eternal nemesis of the entire Eldar race. As a result, the use of psychic abilities or sorcery within the Dark City is one of the only activities truly forbidden to the Dark Eldar.
Though it is manufactured rather than psychically grown from the hardened substance of the Warp like the wraithbone implements of the Craftworld Eldar, the Dark Eldar's weaponry is just as technologically advanced as that of their more benevolent counterparts. When it comes to war, the Dark Eldar are veritable artists. their technology refined to the point that some of its effects appear as nothing less than magical to less advanced species like humanity. Their infinite--if infinitely dark--imaginations and sheer skill have led them down a sinister path--their favourite weapons can set every nerve ending afire with pain, darklight beams, whips that bleed acid and eldritch soul-traps. The Dark Eldar are so confident of their own abilities that their lightweight suits of body armour incorporate bladed plates not only for protection, but also to provide them with yet another weapon to inflict pain. The warriors of Commorragh are well-versed in the physiology and anatomies of all the other starfaring races of the galaxy, knowledge that is used to inflict the maximum amount of pain, suffering and death.
Though they turned their backs upon the mortal universe millennia ago, whenever the Dark Eldar emerge from their pocket dimension they revel in their superiority to their prey. They rarely deign to sully their tongues with the primitive languages of the other races, instead using translator technology on the rare occasions that some form of communication is actually necessary. The warrior Kabals strike swiftly and without warning from portals opened within the Labyrinth Dimension of the Webway, or disappear like wraiths when the enemy resistance becomes too difficult to overcome. The strike forces of the Dark Eldar, despite their own treacherous natures, are well-honed machines in combat. Raids are planned meticulously by the Archons and Succubi that lead them and hidden routes through the Webway are opened in readiness for the attack. Only the most capable Dark Eldar warriors are recruited for each incursion into realspace, for to fail in such an invasion is to bring one's own entire Kabal that much closer to annihilation in the byzantine politics of Commorragh. Working together ensures that not only is the greatest amount of suffering inflicted upon the forces of realspace but also that the greatest number of victims can be taken back to the Dark City. Personal vendettas are engaged once more only after all of the captives have been divided, for over all other things, the Dark Eldar must have fresh souls to keep themselves from the clutches of She Who Thirsts. The Kabals regularly launch fresh piratical raids into realspace and there is much to be gained for an individual Dark Eldar for being part of such an effort--the thrill of hunting the lesser mortals of the universe, the chance to personally capture new slaves which adds to their personal wealth and the joy of unbridled destruction for its own sake. Upon the Kabal's triumphant return to Commorragh, thousands of the captives will be traded as currency, put to work in the infernal depths of the weapon shops, rendered down in flesh-troughs or tormented until their deaths, that happy release drawn out for as long as possible so that the Dark Eldar can draw even more psychic sustenance from their suffering.
To the Dark Eldar, the sweet nectar of horror and suffering is as pleasing as the act of murder itself. They relish breaking the bodies of their slaves, but prize even more the process of crushing the mind and the spirit, for nothing is more gratifying to a Dark Eldar than securing true and willing dominion over an individual who formerly resisted them. They drink in every nuance and every inflection of pain until their captives gibber and plead remorselessly for death -- a mercy that the Dark Eldar rarely grant easily or quickly. Dark Eldar, like most Eldar Kindreds, make use of advanced technology, including anti-gravity devices, dark matter weaponry, nanotechnology and psychic artifacts. While Dark Eldar do make use of psychic devices, they do not any longer use psychic powers themselves because of the danger that interacting with the Warp brings for those whose souls are desired by Slaanesh. Psykers are treated as playthings in Commorragh, and given the twisted, sadistic nature of the Dark Eldar, this necessarily involves pain and torment for the psyker.
Over time, the Dark Eldar begin to suffer more and more from the Thirst. They develop an all-consuming and ever-increasing need to drink the souls of other beings. It is postulated that the cause of this is the Chaos God Slaanesh, the Great Enemy of the Eldar, who leeches the soul-essence of the Dark Eldar while they still live because of their pursuit of the hedonistic and sadistic activities that strengthen the power of the Dark Prince. Dark Eldar "drink" the souls of other sentient beings to stave off this leeching - perhaps by sating the thirst of Slaanesh, or perhaps by replenishing the essence of their own souls with that of the consumed one. Slaanesh will also consume the souls of Dark Eldar whole should they die. Dark Eldar are long-lived but not immortal; drinking souls has a rejuvenating effect that reverses aging, thus Dark Eldar need not fear falling into the clutches of Slaanesh due to death from old age, if they have a constant supply of souls. The usual source of these souls are those of the many captives taken as slaves during Dark Eldar raids.
As far as the Dark Eldar are concerned, the Eldar Gods died in the Fall and they despise them for it. That the Gods had become so weak that they could be consumed by the ascendancy of Slaanesh indicates that they never deserved to exist in the first place. The exceptions are Khaela Mensha Khaine, the Eldar God of War who is still held in high regard in Commorragh and the lesser powers known as the Dark Muses who are the embodiments of selfish vice and whose clandestine worship by the Pleasure Cults contributed to the demise of the Eldar Gods. The Dark Muses are truly powerful Dark Eldar from ages past who have essentially become folkloric figures of reverence, much like the Imperial Cult's saints. Many epitomise a particular form of vice, whose worship and practice weakened the Eldar Gods and so helped to bring about the Fall. Favoured by assassins and murderers is the Dark Muse Shaimesh, the Lord of Poisons, the treacherous brother of Saim-Hann the Cosmic Serpent. The courtesan elite of the Cult of Lhamaea pay homage to Lhilitu, the Consort of the Void, whereas powerful Archons are more likely to follow the tenets of Vileth, a being synonymous with the immense arrogance so often displayed by the Dark Eldar. Before they enter combat, many traditionalist Wych Cults invoke the Red Crone Hekatii, or make sacrifices to Qa'leh, Mistress of Blades. It is believed by many Dark Eldar that their current Supreme Overlord, Asdrubael Vect of the Kabal of the Dark Heart, may one day join the ranks of the Dark Muses, though given his ability to cheat death again and again, this may be an honour long in the coming.
In the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop war game, many of the Dark Eldar units are similar to the units used by the Eldar armies of the Craftworlds, but twisted by the malevolent nature of the Dark Eldar. For example, instead of having Aspect Warriors, Dark Eldar have drug-using gladiators called Wyches. Rather than having their heavy weapons systems transported by robotic walkers or miniature anti-gravity skimmers, they are carried by specialised warriors wearing jetpacks -- Scourges. The Wraithguard and Wraithlords of the Eldar are replaced with the Talos, a bizarre mechanical weapon which is part grav-tank and part torture device, powered by the suffering of the tortured sentient being bound into it. The Dark Eldar are best known for their speed and fluidity on the battlefield. Almost all of their units are focused on what can be accomplished with a combination of speed and power. Even the Dark Eldar's heavy support units, the winged Scourges and the mighty Ravager, are as agile as they are dangerous. The Dark Eldar are capable of completely redeploying their forces faster then any other faction in the galaxy, thanks to their plentiful transportation. With access to the flying Raiders, the Dark Eldar are capable of delivering their elite close combat units like the Wyches to where they will deal the most damage, and placing plentiful anti-tank weapons where the enemy's armoured units have gathered.
Forces of the Dark Eldar
An Archon is the leader of a Kabal, the organisation that serves as the heart of the standard Dark Eldar raiding force as well as the Dark Eldar's primary political unit within the Dark City. The Archons of the Dark Eldar Kabals are the true lords of Commorragh. They sit at the apex of the Dark Eldar hierarchy that controls the Dark City and the Labyrinthine Realm of the Dark Eldar's portion of the Webway. Each wields enough political influence to collapse portions of realspace into the Warp, stall the progress of an Imperial Crusade or take the population of entire worlds as slaves. The overlord of a Kabal is always a potent foe on the battlefield, but he has attained his position not merely through martial prowess in the arts of war and violence but through consistently emerging as the victor in the most difficult game of all -- the byzantine intrigues that govern all things in the heart of the Dark City. Though every Archon is a conceited, solipsistic megalomaniac convinced of his mental and physical superiority over all other beings, he will retain his position as an overlord of Commorragh for only as long as he can stave off the endless coup and assassination attempts of his rivals, enemies and his own Dracon lieutenants. One false move in the upper echelons of the Dark City is almost inevitably fatal, and so all Archons have an uncanny ability to predict the motives and schemes of others and take great delight in turning their rivals' traps against them in bloody and often spectacular ways.
The endless ambitions of their underlings keep an Archon's paranoia as sharp as their own blades, and so it is in the service of treachery that all Archons truly excel, with their strategies stretching across millennia as centuries-old plots come to fruition. It is said by some that the Archons of the Dark Eldar could teach even Tzeentch, the Lord of Change, a thing or two about plotting for the long term. Some of the Archons known as the Lords of Twilight, who govern from the highest spires of Commorragh, even claim to have seized their thrones in the times before the Fall of the Eldar. These eldest of the Archons view the rest of their species with contempt; as little better than squabbling children. The Lords of Twilight do not suffer fools willingly. A single misstep in protocol may rouse an Archon to murderous wrath. In matters of maintaining their Kabal's hierarchy, Archons have been known to even prefer solutions that leave everyone less well-off if only to spite them.
Yet revelling in the depths of suffering and madness for an eternity eventually extracts a price. Over the long Terran years that they have held the reigns of power or clawed their way up to hold their lofty positions, the Archons of the Dark Eldar have enjoyed the pain of others for so long that only a true atrocity invigorates them. Archons regularly lead full-scale planetary raids for their Kabals, as drinking in the agony of entire planets is the only way they can regenerate themselves. Thousands of slaves must be sacrificed for the eldest Archons every night and this still may not be enough to make the oldest and most corrupt look youthful once more. As a result, elder Archons usually cover their black-veined faces with masks. Some Archons' masks are stylised and beautiful; others are bloody, alien and terrible, fashioned from the flayed flesh of their rivals' faces. When the time comes to offer battle, an Archon will first stop at his weapons museums, savouring the process of selecting which of the baleful technologies of the Dark City -- Soul-traps, Agonisers, and Shadowfields -- he will use to visit terror and pain upon the unwitting. The Archon's most favoured retainers and pets, each of whom specialises in its own preferred form of visiting death and pain upon others, accompany him into combat. Few mortals have ever seen a Dark Eldar Archon in combat -- and kept the tongue in their mouths to tell the tale.
A Kabalite overlord surrounds himself with retainers and personal bodyguards at his court. Depending on an Archon's personality, this court can be comprised of a highly eclectic group, but is usually drawn from among the following types of beings:
- Medusae - Medusae are visored slave-beings used to record the roiling emotions of the battlefield. However, these creatures, usually humanoid slaves with psychic ability, are actually only the physical hosts for the alien entities of the Immaterium that are the true Medusae. These creatures are empathic parasites and in their true forms look like a collection of brains and spinal cords layered one atop another. In their natural state they float through the Warp like jellyfish, a form of psychic plankton who feed on daydreams and nightmares. Medusae can latch onto a host that intruded into their realm, absorbing their emotions directly and providing a portal into realspace. Though meeting the gaze of a Medusae's host can cause immediate emotional haemorrhaging, these hybrid beings are extremely valuable in Commorragh, for they can absorb and store extreme sensations for the Dark Eldar to enjoy later. Consuming one of the Medusae's brain-fruits brings back all the exhilirating emotions of a raid or other experience as if it was happening once more.
- Ur-Ghuls - Dark Eldar Archons maintain all manner of deadly xenos creatures in their courts, from worm-like Haemovores to greater Shaderavens, whose croaks and caws drive those who hear it insane. Though innumerable numbers of such hideous beasts prowl the dark ways of Commorragh, it is the Ur-Ghul that is the most frightening, a blind but dexterous troglodyte that originated on the world of Shaa-dom among its haunted and abandoned ziggurats. Once one of these whip-thin horrors gets the scent of prey in its rows of quivering, dripping scent-pits, it will not stop hunting that creature until either it or its prey has fallen.
- Lhamaeans - An Archon may keep many strange humanoid beings as his courtesans, but the mysterious Dark Eldar sisterhood known as the Lhilitu are coveted above all others, for not only are they imaginative and passionate lovers but they are also masters of the arts of poison. Descending from the original Cult of Lhamaea, they draw from the knowledge of Shaimesh, the Father of Poisons, one of the Dark Muses. The presence of a Lhamaean in an Archon's court ensures his Kabal with a supply of the most virulent toxins which she will share with her Archon before each raid into realspace. It is said that even a kiss blown upon the wind by a Lhamaean courtesan can kill hundreds in its deadly path.
- Sslyth - As true Dark Eldar inevitably make extremely poor bodyguards as a result of their innately self-interested nature and penchant for treachery, most Archons employ the more reliable alien mercenaries who inhabit the Dark City to protect them from the constant coup and assassination attempts. Though Dark Eldar bodyguards can be found among every intelligent race of the galaxy, the most favoured are the Sslyth, massive serpent-bodied xenos whose race fell to the temptations of unbridled excess and the worship of Slaanesh many millennia ago. Since they possess two sets of arms, Sslyth mercenaries can wield enough guns and blades to easily counter any would-be assassin or usurper. Some Imperial scholars have noticed the unusual similarity of the Sslyth to a xenos race known as the Laer who were supposedly exterminated by the Emperor's Children Legion of Space Marines at the end of the Great Crusade in the early 31st Millennium. These creatures were nearly identical to the Sslyth and were also worshipers of sensual excess whose homeworld of Laeran was responsible for the initial corruption of the Emperor's Children and their Primarch Fulgrim by Chaos. What the connection might be, if any, remains unknown at this time.
The Succubi, also sometimes called Archites, are the ruling elite of the Dark Eldar Wych Cults. Extraordinarily beautiful and possessed of an elegant but deadly grace, they are born to the fury of battle and stride through its chaos surrounded by coteries of their lethal Wyches who seek out worthy alien opponents for their mistresses to kill. Every Succubus is famed across Commorragh for the precision and artistry of her kills. Their every motion is an entrancing sight, their serpentine grace almost hypnotising the viewer as they flow like a lethal work of art towards their victims. The Succubi are the true celebrities in the gladiatorial arenas of the Dark City, and when they are in the heat of combat they enjoy a jealous envy from their peers that is as close as the Dark Eldar can ever get to veneration or admiration of another being.
The Succubi are collectively called the ynnitach in the Eldar Lexicon, the "brides of death." Every Wych Cult is governed by 3 Succubi who collectively lead it in the form of a triune council. However, only one of the three actually rules the cult, whilst the other two simply try to outdo each other in the gladiatorial arenas in the hopes of increasing their power and popularity with the general populace of the Dark City. Competition among the Succubi is fierce, though any disputes between them are far more likely to be concluded through an artful decapitation or the twist of a poisoned blade than by the skillful political scheming preferred by the Archons. Succubi are vain to the point of obsession and with good reason, for the arena crowds desire not only the bloody spectacle of vicious combat but also slaughter that is aesthetically pleasing. Wyches with one too many scars have often found themselves facing unbeatable odds in an arena match simply for the crime of no longer being physically perfect enough for the jaded Dark Eldar crowd's taste.
Only those Dark Eldar Wyches who possess both deadly combat skill and the allure of physical perfection ever join the ranks of the ynnitach. A Succubus will do almost anything to preserve her stunning beauty, including feeding a multitude of lesser warriors to a gruesome death so that she may feed upon their fear and anguish to regenerate herself and present a more youthful, lithe appearance to the arena crowd upon her entrance into the fight. Yet, though each Succubus is a beauty to the eye, their hearts are cold, cruel and dispassionate and a psyker who observed a Succubus with his Witch-Sight would likely see only a grey and shrivelled hag rather than a lush temptress of the arena. The greatest of the Succubi seek through the art of death to transcend the brute violence of the arenas and become living avatars of the act of death, hoping to follow in the wake of the Dark Muses and become revered as the embodiment of a particular type of murder. Currently, the greatest of the ynnitach include the murderously amorous Helica Venomkiss, the famously bad-tempered Yctria the Flayer Queen and Lelith Hesperax, who is admired for once decapitating a dozen rival Wyches with a single pirouette of her graceful body.
No Succubus' position can be secure without regular demonstrations of her extraordinay skill in battle. As such, the Succubi often take the lead during the Dark Eldar's raids into realspace, not only to take their share of the plunder and slaves, but also to seek out champions of the lesser races and defeat them to showcase their own skills. Though the Dark Eldar generally look upon Mankind with utter contempt for what they perceive as its weakness as a species, a Succubus would gladly duel a Chapter Master of the Adeptus Astartes, as such a kill would carry respect even in the Dark City. Similarly, it is not unusual for a Succubus to have claimed similarly gruesome trophies from an Ork Warboss, a synapse creature of the Tyranids, or, the most coveted of all, an Autarch of the Craftworld Eldar. Each such kill is an opportunity for a Succubus to prove her superiority and maintain her position, so the more witnesses to these duels, the better. Succubi wear the same high-necked Wych Suits as their subordinates, and they are often armed with a close combat bladed weapon in one hand and a finely-crafted Splinter Pistol in the other. Some Succubi also make use of Plasma Grenades for crowd control during realspace raids.
Horrific and insane flesh-sculptors who have lived within the depths of Commorragh for many Terran centuries, if not millennia, the Haemonculi, the Lords of Pain, are master torturers, the Dark Eldar's greatest connoisseurs of pain and terror. To pass the long centuries they compose loving symphonies of agony from those unfortunate enough to be held captive in ther dungeons. Even other Dark Eldar secretly fear the Haemonculi, for they can reshape not just the body but also the soul. The Haemonuli are organised into units called covens that are integral to Commorrite society since they are the true masters of the Dark Eldar's necessary regenerative processes as well as of torture, but they remain the embodiments of terror and paranoia even for others of their species. All know that to anger one of the Lords of Pain is to end up as the subject of one of their horrific tapestries of agony. Haemonculi specialise in body modification and flesh-sculpting and they love to work with a new "canvas" of flesh. If their client wants barbed quills added to his shoulders, the scaled face of an alien reptile, or the eyes of a Viridian Wraithspider, no request is too difficult or bizarre for a Haemonculus to fulfill.
How a Dark Eldar becomes a Haemonculus is unknown. They are all of an ancient age, even for Eldar, and their withered and horrific appearances speaks of a Dark Eldar so old they have passed beyond the ability to regenerate a youthful appearance no matter how much of others' torment and agony they immerse themselves in. It is possible that the oldest of the Haemonculi, known as the Haemonculi Ancients, contain among their numbers those individuals who inaugurated the very first Eldar cults of pleasure and pain before the Fall, but this also remains unknown, as all Haemonculi physically alter themselves to the point that they barely even resemble other members of the species they mockingly still call their own.
While the physical modifications will differ from Haemonculus to Haemonculus, representing their personal tastes and particular brand of insanity, they are always attenuated and twisted in form. Their wan, pale-skinned frames do not have a spare ounce of flesh upon them, and their waists are devoid of internal organs to better present what they view as a fashionably disturbing facade. Some Haemonucli place their intestines, lungs and heart within a powerfully-muscled piece of additional tissue that sprouts from their shoulders and serves as a repository for stimulants and other alchemical mixtures as well as boasting secondary limbs of mechanical or biological origin. Others replace their blood so that searing ichor or even a potent molecular acid now runs through their modified veins. Their spines have been elongated so that from the lower back, their vertebrae meld into prehensile bone-tails that can lash out at their victims. From their backs emerge horn-like protrusions of bone that frame the Haemonculus' head like an organic rack. These racks are hung with special syringes that channel their noxious concoctions directly into their spinal sump.
As they are for all purposes functionally immortal, the Haemonculi do not pursue the hurried, frenetic pace of the younger Dark Eldar. They move with an unlovely grace, often held aloft by powerful anti-gravity suspensor crystals. Others can slither along the ground like nightmarish serpents using their bone-tails. Patient fiends, they know that the manufacture of a truly perfect death takes time. As the millennia pass, many Haemonculi become ever more deranged and obsessive. One Haemonculus might only dine upon the left hands of his victims, while another may only drink from a fluted glass filled with the tears of children. Having long since transcended notions of wealth held by even other Dark Eldar, Haemonculi particularly prize the acquisition of unusual alchemical ingredients, such as the heart of a Judge of the Adeptus Arbites or the distilled physical essence of a once-proud Imperial Planetary Governor. The former may elicit the stout flavour of pure resolve; the latter the foolish thrill of vain-glory.
In battle, the Haemonculi see combat as yet another canvas upon which to exercise the skills of the true artist of pain. They use extreme wargear that often takes the form of an unusual biological or chemical weapon, such as a compound that allows them to cause uncontrollable tissue growth with a single touch or to remove all water from their foes' bodies in an instant, causing their dried, dessicated corpses to drop to the ground before they are even aware of what is happening to them. A Haemonculus usually drifts across the field of battle using his suspensor crystals with a magnificent if macabre elegance, providing the gift of a gloriously agonising death to one combatant after another. In the rare instance that a Haemonculus himself should die, he will go quite willingly into the void with a hideous smile etched upon his gaunt features. Every Haemonculus knows that he will soon return to seek a fascinating and vicious revenge. After all, for these foul beings, death is just the beginning...
The Incubi (sing. Incubus) are an order of Dark Eldar very similar to the Aspect Warriors of their Craftworld counterparts, as the Incubi train for combat and combat alone. Warriors of the highest calibre, the Incubi dedicate themselves to perfecting the killing stroke. Despite their unusual ascetism for a Dark Eldar, no shred of true virtue exists within their black souls, for though they seek perfection, their only true desire is to take other lives as often as they can. Eveything about an Incubus bleeds menace. His armour is spiked and segmented and his horned helmet is framed by a pair of razor-sharp blades. He walks with the grace of a stalking sabrecat and when he does so there is no sound, for his formidable warsuit is so perfectly designed that it subtracts from his native agility only slightly. The Incubi lead lives of rigorous discipline; so much so that some Dark Eldar whisper in astonishment that they can actually be trusted to keep their words and their promises. Incubi are highly valued in Dark Eldar society as bodyguards and shock troops. It is believed that the very first Incubus was the first Phoenix Lord of the Striking Scorpions Aspect Warriors, Arhra, who fell to the service of Slaanesh by walking the Path of Damnation and joined the Dark Eldar. Arhra became the first Hierarch of the Incubi and created the first Incubi Shrine in the Dark City. Arhra is believed at present to be Drazhar, the Master of Blades, the greatest of the Dark Eldar Incubi.
However all Incubi are ultimately mercenaries who will fight for anyone, for any cause and will even impart their formidable skills to any who prove themselves worthy of the training. Their forbidding obsidian shrines, each presided over by an Incubus called a Hierarch, the dark counterpart of an Exarch, are filled with patrons and aspirants eager to learn the deadly arts of the Incubi. Through long and gruelling training, the strong will prosper and learn, while those who are weak will fail, be slain and their bodies burnt as an offering to the iron statue of the War God Khaine that lies at the heart of every Incubus shrine. Should an aspirant actually live long enough to defeat an Incubus in combat and take his armour from him, the final training will begin. Only when the initiate has killed an Eldar Aspect Warrior of the Craftworlds in single combat and shattered his victim's Spirit Stone and rebuilt it into one of the psychic torturing devices known as Tormentors, can he be fully inducted by the Hierarch of his shrine as an Incubus.
The Incubi focus not on artistry but on the pragmatic method of killing their opponent as efficiently and quickly as possible. Thugh they are trained in the use of every form of blade and ranged weapon, they favour the use of the potent Power Swords they call Klaives. A Dark Eldar Klaive is a masterwork weapon, displaying the exquisite balance and form to be expected from a work of Eldar craftsmanship. The Incubi consider the Klaive to be the only weapon properly used by any true warrior, though the Incubi's warleaders, who bear the title of Klaivex, sometimes favour the usage of such variants as the Demi-Klaive, two smaller powered blades that can be wielded separately or clasped together to form a much larger sword that adds to the wielder's strength. Every Klaivex is a born killer whose skill in taking lives is so extraordinary that even other Dark Eldar believe there must be something supernatural about their power. Despite their skill in one-on-one duels, Incubi scorn fair fights in actual combat conditions. When they close with their enemy, they send out waves of damaging neural energy from the Tormentors mounted on their armour's chestplate, leaving their enemies wracked with pain before the killing can truly begin. Some Incubi also possess special Tormentors known as Bloodstones that are crafted from the broken Spirit Stone of a slain Eldar Exarch. These weapons can fire a neural pulse so powerful that they can boil an enemy's blood, killing him outright from afar.
A peculiar trait of the Dark Eldar psyche is that after a few Terran centuries of life they often request that the Haemonculi of the Dark City surgically modify their bodies into a form other than that with which they were born, for such voluntary alteration staves off the ennui to which all Eldar are prone and provides a whole new suite of experiences and debaucheries to be savoured and suffered. For this reason a Dark Eldar who has nothing to lose will willingly give himself up to the Haemonucli's mad artistry, emerging from his foul metamorphosis as something far more frightening than before, a creature known as a Wrack among the Dark Eldar of Commorragh. Each Wrack is a nightmarish example of his Haemonculus master's surgical craft, an individual cut apart and then reshaped into a walking instrument of eternal torture. Masked and physically altered to better instill terror into those they encounter, the Wracks act as the hands of the Haemonculi in the outside world and during combat they defend their masters with their lives. Formally known among the Haemonculi as Haemacolytes, each Wrack's only duty is to serve his master as required, whether upon the fleshcrafting slab or on the battlefield. The Wrack's surgically enhanced frame possesses a shock physical strength. In combat, they prefer to make use of close combat weapons such as sickled Venom Blades, corrosive, toxin-tipped Electrocorrosive Whips, stun-rods and silvered flesh hooks.
Wracks often have heavy metal gauntlets grafted in place of their original hands and these appendages can inject or withdraw bodily fluids from their victims with the flex of a tendon or be coated with searing venom to aid their master when accompanying him on a raid into realspace. It is not uncommon for Wracks to have three or even four arms surgically grafted onto their torsos, sometimes taken from other species. Spinal grafts and rampant bone growth is common in these beings, which often form exterior bone racks and hooks from which tissue samples and bioagents can be suspended so they are within easy reach when the Wrack's Haemonculus needs them. Wracks will also be modified in such a way that they can defend their benefactor in combat, or pillage a community in order to gather new subjects for their master's terrifying pleasure. Their finger and toenails are severed and replaced by iron-hard, razor-sharp talons while their faces are covered by inscrutable black iron masks to conceal their identity, for individuality has no place in the inscrutable existence of a Wrack. Wracks wear only the most simple of clothing during their day-to-day duties, usually going about their business in gore-stained butcher's aprons and tabards, an extraordinary array of torturer's tools clanking on their belts.
As the Haemonculi of the Dark City are megalomaniacs who tend toward delusions of godhood, they love to surround themselves with minions who will enact their orders without question or debate. Most Haemonculi refuse to sully themselves with physical labour of any kind, considering themselves polluted by the act of exertion on their own behalf. Instead, the dirty work of every Haemonculus is performed by his Wracks. Most Wracks hope to one day join the ranks of the Haemonculi and will endure any degradation at their master's hands in the hope that they, too, may one day ascend into the ranks of the lords of their particular coven. A common scene in the oubliettes and laboratories of the Haemonculi covens is a single, horrific figure leaning with satisfaction over a freshly vivisected victim while his Wracks scrabble about to carry out his commands. Those Wracks who have served their masters the longest and are considered his chief minion are known as Acothysts. Acothysts are slightly more potent in combat than their fellows, have more useful and/or deadly surgical alterations and are also most likely to be promoted to become a full Haemonculus within their coven. Wracks prefer poisoned, bladed weapons in combat and are armoured in gnarlskin, the hardened, altered flesh possessed by the Haemonculi and all their foul creations.
Each squad of Dark Eldar Wyches is led by a more skilled Wych known as a Hekatrix, who in her turn reports to the Wych Cult's Succubus. It is common for a Succubus to gather the most talented and skilled of her Hekatrix handmaidens into a clique of elite murdereresses, led by the most skilled Hekatrix in the cult, who holds the position of Syren. These cliques, whose members are known as Hekatrix Bloodbrides, are usually plagued by often intense rivalries for the Succubus' favour. When combat begins, however, Bloodbrides become an unstoppable force, ritually anointing themselves with the blood they spill from the foe as a foul testament to their own dark prowess in the arts of death, pain and terror. Hekatrix Bloodbrides are armoured in Wychsuits, and normally make use of Plasma Grenades, a Splinter Pistol and close combat weapons like Razorflails, Hydra Gauntlets, Shardnets and Impalers. The Bloodbrides' commanding Syren normally uses a Blast Pistol, a close combat weapon like a Venom Blade, Agoniser or another Power Weapon and sometimes keeps a Phantasm Grenade Launcher in reserve to deal with more immediate threats.
Naturally-born Dark Eldar are rare, due to the long gestation period of the Eldar body. The ones that are naturally birthed from their mothers' wombs, known as Trueborns, are often very privileged in Dark Eldar society because of the circumstances of their birth. As such, they are arrogant and see themselves as far better than the majority of Dark Eldar, who are born in amniotic gestation tubes and whom the Trueborn call the Halfborn. Due to this prejudice, the Trueborn often gather only in squads of other Trueborn within the Dark Eldar Kabals, and serve as the elite Kabalite Warriors that escort their Kabal's Archon into battle and serve as his most elite unit of Warriors. Trueborns often sport many more advanced weapons than their fellow Warriors, such as the Shard Carbine, a Dark Eldar weapon design that hybridises the Splinter Rifle and a Splinter Cannon and possesses a shorter range than either. Trueborn also often make use of Dark Lances and Splinter Cannons as well as Blasters and Shredders. The Trueborn are an elite group that excludes any Halfborn Dark Eldar birthed in an amniotic tube from their company. Led by an officer called a Dracon, these hardened killers carry a wide assortment of expensive and deadly weapons wherever they go, supposedly to better protect the life of their Archon but in truth only to better inflict more pain and death. Trueborn delight in dramatic displays of firepower, sending powerful fusillades into the enemy's ranks and leaving bodies and the broken carcasses of armoured vehicles in their wake.
Harlequins are not true Dark Eldar. Though they often frequent Commorragh and dwell within the Labyrinthine Dimension of the Webway, they exist outside of all Eldar societies while still moving between the Craftworlds, Commorragh and the Exodite homeworlds, their true motives remaining cloaked and hidden. The Harlequin prefer to dwell within the shattered corners of the original Eldar Webway, and they usually only interact with the other Eldar societies on the night before what they believe will be a particularly important battle for the Eldar race. They often emerge unexpectedly from hidden Webway portals, staging dazzling performances known as masques drawn from the tales of Eldar Mythology that reenact the most sacred legends of the Eldar race. The Harlequins' performance is always extraordinary and can generate such depths of emotional feeling in other members of their species that a Harlequin troupe can hold even an audience of Dark Eldar completely enthralled. Any performance by a Harlequin troupe will always culminate with the tale of the Fall of the Eldar, an event still within the lifespans of the oldest Archons and Haemonculi of the Dark City, who find Act One of the performance especially gratifying. Because of their status as outsiders to all Eldar cultures, the Harlequins often work as intermediaries between the Eldar Craftworlds and the rulers of Commorragh. If the Harlequins have any true loyalty beyond devotion to their trickster deity Cegorach, the Laughing God, it is to the Eldar species as a whole, and they would see its unity and glory restored to that of ancient days.
The Harlequins are elite Eldar warriors who see no separation between the performance of art and the pursuit of war. Every thrust of the blade, every somersault over the head of an astonished foe, every sharp kick to the head is an act of celebration and worship for the Laughing God. The Harlequins embody an ancient secret that has haunted the Eldar since the Fall, for they alone know the secret of how to deny Slaanesh's claim upon their souls without resorting to the use of the Eldar Paths, Spirit Stones, or the Dark Eldar's Thirst for pain and agony. Even a handful of these warrior-dancers can turn the tide of a battle with their acrobatic assault. They always make their way to the frontlines of any Eldar combat they participate in, killing or capturing certain enemy individuals for their own mysterious reasons before vanishing into the hidden depths of the Webway once more. In contrast to the Dark Eldar, the Harlequins move as blurs of colour upon the field of battle, their holographic "domino fields" distracting the enemy. Once the Harlequin Troupe's dance of death begins, even the most hardened Dark Eldar raider is taken aback by the sheer artistry and skill with which these warriors-as-artists slash apart their foes.
Harlequins make use of a number of different forms of speciality wargear unavailable to any other Eldar units. The Harlequins' Flip Belts are personal anti-gravity devices that enable them to bound and somersault over even the most treacherous footing. Harlequins use a sophisticated Holo-suit to fragment their visual image and foil incoming fire and physical blows from the enemy. They are often armed with standard Shuriken Pistols and sometimes with the more potent Fusion Pistols, compact Eldar Melta Weapons whose elegance belies their sheer potency. Harlequins also often use a close combat weapon known as the Harlequin's Kiss that is a sharpened tube attached to the forearm. The Kiss can be punched into an enemy's body and the monofilament wire inside then uncoils, reducing the target's internal organs to a bloody spray in only an instant. Harlequin Troupes are normally led by a particularly wise Harlequin deep in the favour of the Laughing God known as the Troupe Master. The Troupe Master is usually armed with a Fusion Pistol and some form of Eldar Power Weapon.
There are two specialised troop types that can be found in a Harlequin troupe. These include:
- Death Jesters - Harlequin Death Jesters are heavy weapons specialists, sinister warriors who stand apart from their fellow Harlequins because of their grim and unforgiving demeanour. Their costumes are not riots of rainbow colour like their fellows, but feature skulls and death's head masks, often decorated with the actual bones of their predecessors in the role of the troupe's Death Jester. The Death Jesters' particularly morbid sense of humour is greatly appreciated in the Dark City. Death Jesters are armed with anti-personnel Shrieker Cannons that fire Eldar plasti-crystal shurikens that have been coated with virulent genetic toxins that cause their targets' bodies to rupture and literally explode in a shocklingly violent fashion as their cells rapidly disintegrate. The Death Jesters always find this riotously humourous.
- Shadowseers - Shadowseers are Harlequin psykers whose abilities are centred around creating confusion and fear in their opponents. They add to the potency of what they view as their psychic performances by releasing grenades containing a special toxin from their Creidann Hallucinogenic Grenade Launcher backpacks that can induce a suggestive state in targets that the Shadowseers then use to create psychically-programmed hallucinations in their foes' minds. During Harlequin masques, the troupe's Shadowseers act as the storytellers, forming scintillating illusions for the audience that dance and duel in the air. In combat, they can use this same power to implant visions of gibbering terror within the enemy troops' minds or even remove the presence of the Harlequins from the foe's awareness altogether. This latter power is known among all Eldar as the Veil of Tears.
Within the darkest corners of the Webway's labyrinthine confines lurk the foul humanoid creatures known as Mandrakes in the Eldar Lexicon. This vile breed is secretly feared even by other Dark Eldar, for a Mandrake can pull itself into any region of space-time through another being's shadow, emerging with a sibilant hiss to sink its frigid claws and teeth into flesh. Their ebon skins writhe with blasphemous runes and their faces shift and flow, one moment a featureless mask, the next parting to reveal a maw filled with sharpened teeth. Mandrakes exist both in realspace and a cursed shadow world that may be a part of the Immaterium. To fight them is to combat a living shadow.
The true origins of the Mandrakes remain shrouded in time and secrecy. Some Eldar savants claim that the Mandrakes are descended from those of their race inhabiting the Webway who before the Fall of the Eldar engaged in heinous acts of lust with daemonic entities of the Warp when the lost Eldar empire was at its most decadent. Others hold that the living shadows are descended from a forbidden pleasure cult that found its own way to escape the devastation of the Fall, fleeing into a nightmare dimension of shadow within the Immaterium and reemerging as something no longer quite natural. Young Dark Eldar call the Mandrakes "creepers" and whisper that they crawl from one shadow to another and can emerge from one's reflection into the real universe. They believe that the Mandrakes are the absence of light given life, and in that they may very well be right. Such theories do not seem so far-fetched when one examines the Mandrakes' appearance. Their flesh is night-black and seems to absorb rather than reflect light, their featureless faces shift like rancid oil while their hair is the color of splintered bone. Surrounding them is an aura of darkness and cold that saps the strength from all those with the misfortune to be standing nearby. Often the first sign of an imminent Mandrake attack will be the sudden onset of freezing temperatures, flash freezing all the moisture out of the very air. The shapes set into their flesh are Eldar sigils of destruction that pulse with a venomous green brilliance when the Mandrake feeds upon the terror and pain of its victims. Mandrakes possess the ability to channel these stolen life energies, shaping blasts of blue-white cold fire known as Baleblasts that emerge from their taloned hands to freeze their foes in place. When they finally fall upon their terrified prey, they use not only the natural weapons of claw and fang, but also hideous, sickle-shaped blades similar to the surgical tools beloved of the Haemonculi.
Like all the inhabitants of the Dark City, the Mandrakes thrive on the infliction of pain and terror on other living things. As a result of their unsurpassed abilities at stealth, many Dark Eldar Archons have sought to hire the Mandrakes' services for a realspace raid by his or her Kabal. The Mandrakes normally ask for a share of any slaves taken as their payment, but sometimes for reasons unknown, they will ask for something far more arcane, such as a heartbeat, a true name or a voice. Such requests are rarely denied, for the Mandrakes' only clothing is a patchwork garment created from the flayed skins of those who have betrayed them. They are infamous for their ability to track down any quarry and they are able to manifest anywhere in the universe that shadows gather. Sometimes, a Mandrake of particular age and power will join a Dark Eldar raid and will lead others of its kind in the taking of slaves or in pursuit of one of its more esoteric desires. These hideous creatures are called Nightfiends among the Dark Eldar and they may possess many powers of shadow that remain unknown even to the denizens of Commorragh.
Grotesques are the towering, insane creations of the Haemonculi that are employed as living weapons by their twisted masters. An individual does not become a Grotesque voluntarily like the Wracks. Though they usually begin their ultimately wretched existences as Dark Eldar, these repulsive constructs have been reborn into their new shapes through a hideous metamorphosis meted out as a punishment for some real or perceived slight to the Haemonculi. The process by which a Dark Eldar captive is transformed into a Grotesque begins with a series of painful and humilating chemical and surgical modifications to the body. Dark Eldar are by nature narcissists and the Haemonculi always take great joy in warping the flesh of those who have angered them. Though the process can take several Terran years to complete, the victim is constantly pumped full of growth hormones, macrosteroids and muscle stimulants until his or her form has swollen grossly out of proprotion. Bone growth is accelerated by injections of osseovirals, which results in the excruciatingly painful growth of external bone spines from the massively muscled back of the nascent Grotesque. A Grotesque's muscled forearms are augmented with blades and toxin-dispensing gauntlets and his hands are surgically replaced with grasping talons or dripping tubes that can eject a great spray of the Grotesque's own toxic blood-ichor. At this point, the Grotesque has usually been clinically lobotomised, though some are left dimly aware of their situation the better to grasp the full horror of what has been done to them. The Grotesque becomes mindlessly obedient to its Haemonculus master, able to comprehend and execute only the most simple of tasks. His or her terror-stretched face is forever sealed behind a mask of black iron and the new monster lumbers forth from the Haemonculi's flesh-pods covered in ichor, a new and powerful battle slave for his foul masters.
When moving from place to place, Grotesques simply shuffle after their keepers, but when given the command to kill and maim, they become true engines of destruction. Racks of syringes depress into their spinal sumps to dump potent stimulants into their blood-ichor stream, ridged bellow-pumps connected to their primary lungs wheeze and contract at triple speed, and veins throb near to bursting as tube-punctured hearts are forced to pound. With roars of anger and pain muffled by their iron masks, Grotesques fling themselves into close combat, slaughtering every living thing within their not inconsiderable reach with greathooks, their own claws and massive cleavers. They never stop killing until they receive their master's command. If this command is not heard for whatever reason in battle or because their Haemonculus master has temporarily been shuffled off the mortal coil, the Grotesque will simply continue killing, even if this means slaying other Dark Eldar in the same raiding force. Sometimes, a Grotesque's body will respond even more aggressively to the Haemonculi's transformative treatments over time and become even larger, more powerful and more bloodthirsty, if such a thing is possible. These hideous monsters are known to the Dark Eldar as Aberrations, and they are feared by any sane individual, though such creatures are valued particularly highly by the Haemonculi covens of the Dark City.
The Wych Cults of Commorragh are second in prestige in Dark Eldar society only to the Kabals that sponsor them. The Dark Eldar thrive upon expert displays of bloodletting, and in the pursuit of murder the Wyches are talented females indeed. Gladiatorial fighters and combatants without equal, the Wyches are true artists in the realm of physical combat. Most of the Hekatarii, as the Wyches call themselves in the Eldar Lexicon, are female, for Dark Eldar females find it easier to attain the levels of athletic maneuverability and grace that their craft of killing demands. Male Wyches exist, but they ensure that their Wych Cult is never at a lack for strong or talented offspring; they are valued within the Cult, but rarely attain high rank or perform in the gladiatorial arenas of the Dark City.
Melee kills invigorate the Dark Eldar because of the greater torment involved in the death of the victim. This reality is magnified in the Wych Cults, whose curved, envenomed blades extend the exquisite pain of every perfect cut. The knife or Venom Blade is a symbolic weapon for the Wych Cults; each blade is specially-crafted by a master and kept in a sheath outfitted with a gravitic sharpening field to ensure it is always ready to take a life. The myriad fighting styles of the Wych Cults are all based on the use of deception and cunning. They wield a variety of outlandish-looking weapons that can extend, enmesh, retract, split in two or snap an opponent's own weapon with a supple twist of the wielder's pale wrist. Many Wyches specialise in the use of these kinds of melee weapons. Amongst their number are the Wyches known as the Lacerai, who use segmented Razorflails that can split apart and lash out like a whip; the Hydrae, who use crystalline Hydra Gauntlets that can sporut and regrow a deadly profusion of new crystal blades; and the Yraqnae, who use electrified Shardnets and extendable, twin-bladed Impalers to ensure their victims never escape with their bodies -- or lives -- intact.
All Wyches take great pride in their appearance. They enter combat dressed with as much aesthetic care as if they were to meet a lover. Regardless of the cult they serve, Wyches wear the bladed black armour of the arena over one side of an impeccably elegant and skintight bodysuit known as a Wychsuit. The other side has sections deliberately cut away to expose their pale flesh, as if to tempt Death himself. The Wyches use a variety of combat drugs distilled by the Haemonculi covens to increase their already superhuman dexterity. When outnumbered in combat, Wyches will roll, backflip and pirouette out of the way of the foe, stabbing their blades into any vulnerable points on their enemies' bodies, slitting throats and gouging out eyes as they go. They flow like water around their foes' attempts to land a blow, their expressions of aloof arrogance melting into infuriating smiles of superiority as they drink in each fresh scream of agony.
Most Wyches wield a close combat weapon and Splinter Pistol, while others may make use of Shardnets, Impalers, Hydra Gauntlets and the dreaded Dark Eldar Razorflails. Squads of Wyches in combat also often use Plasma Grenades and Haywire Grenades for crowd control purposes and every Wych is armoured in her Wychsuit. Each squad of Wyches is led by one of their most skilled number, who is known as a Hekatrix and reports to the Wych Cult's ruling Succubus. The Hekatrixes with the most talent for murder may earn a place in the Succubus' own elite clique of murderesses, the Hekatrix Bloodbrides, who are led by an officer known as a Syren.
The Warriors of the Dark Eldar Kabals lie at the heart of every Dark Eldar strike force, pirate fleet and slave raider assault. They are the cruelest members of their caste, hungry for power over their fellows and thirsty to taste the suffering of others. Each Warrior will have forged a fearsome repuation for himself in the war-torn halls of High Commorragh, and has proven himself in multiple battles to be a merciless combatant. The more vicious and ruthless a Warrior is, the better his chances for advancement within the Kabal. Only a born killer can thrive within the backstabbing halls of the Dark City and only a chosen few of true skill and utter cruelty are selected by the Kabal leadership to enjoy the thrill and privilege of striking at the worlds of realspace and returning with living souls, the screaming booty that every Kabal requires for its survival.
Only the most skilled at arms among the Dark Eldar of each of the Dark City's sectors are selected to serve as Kabalite Warriors. Whether male or female in gender, Dark Eldar Warriors are tall, whipcord thin and athletically built, more powerful in body and violent in temperament than those of their brethren who remain behind in the Webway. When they go to war, each Warrior encases him or herself in a sophisticated bodysuit of segemented, powered Eldar armour, similar to the suits worn by the Craftworld Eldar. These suits are donned during long, and usually painful pre-combat rituals, the better to ensure the Warrior's psyche has been honed to a single point of murderous intent, somewhat like those Eldar Aspect Warriors who "put on their war mask" when they go to battle, though Kabalite Warriors express only the darkest and most violent extremes of Khaine's battle-madness. Much of the armour is held in place using long metal barbs that penetrate deep into the Warrior's nerve bundles, sharpening his senses by subjecting him to constant pain.
It is pain that energises the Kabalite Warriors and it is pain they hope to inflict upon their prey -- and the more merciless and agonising, the better. To this end, Kabalite Warriors make use of a wide-array of particularly devious and deadly weapons. Foremost amongst these is the dread Splinter Rifle, which is a long-barelled and elegantly-shaped kinetic weapon that fires a stream of jagged crystalline slivers, much like Craftworld Eldar's Shuriken Weapons. However, each needle-like shard is impregnated with a wide spectrum of potential hypertoxins. A Splinter Rifle can slay its target over severa extremely excruciating moments as the toxin does its work, allowing the jubilant wielder of the rifle to savour their victim's agonising death as a gourmand might savor a fine meal. Though the distilled poisons of a Splinter Weapon can kill even the monstrous biologically-engineered living weapons of the Tyranids, it is of little use against heavily armoured enemy vehicles. A squad of Kabalite Warriors will usually carry a far more destructive weapon for this purpose -- the Blaster is a particular favorite, for it can destroy even a Space Marine Land Raider with only a single shot. All Kabalite Warriors are also experts in close combat fighting, though few have the political pull needed to ensure that they can claim regeneration in the lairs of the Haemonculi. As such, Warriors often employ heavy ranged weaponry to avoid the severe injuries melee combat can bring. The sightlinks built into their Splinter Cannons and Dark Lances not only improve accuracy but also allow the wielder to watch his victim's agony as each weapon blast penetrates flesh and bone. The more imaginative Warriors use mnemonic scopes to record such events, replaying the hologhosts created upon their return and basking in the envy of their fellows at their skill and foresight.
Each squad of Kabalite Warriors is led by an officer called a Sybarite, typically the most veteran and experienced among their number. Sybarites are not only veteran raiders of realspace, but also the Kabalites who have the honour and duty of initiating each new Warrior into the always-brutal mysteries of their new Kabal. While certainly no Sybarite, or any Dark Eldar for that matter, can claim the loyalty of his or her underlings, the Sybarites are obeyed for the simple reason that they are the masters of the craft of war and their orders when followed are more likely to lead to success in the raid...and survival.
The first indicator of a Dark Eldar raid into realspace is always a viridian light in the sky, that unfolds and spirals outwards into a shimmering, multidimensional portal that blazes with green flame. Through this gateway comes dozens of bladed anti-gravity assault skimmers, that angle downwards to seize their unexpecting prey. The most common of these anti-gravity combat transports are known as Raiders. Raiders are the most favoured vehicles of the Dark Eldar and are in use across the galaxy. Lightweight and extremely manoeuvrable, the Raider epitomises the Dark Eldar's belief that velocity always triumphs over durability. Unlike the lumbering vehicles of the human Imperium, a Raider does not carry its passengers within heavily armoured Ceramite shells. Instead, these skimmers are more like the gliding anti-gravity pleasure yachts once common on the homeworlds of the ancient Eldar empire, modified to enhance their speed and fitted with blade-sharp fins and jagged keels to slice apart any foes.
The primary motive power for a Raider comes from its compact, air-breathing jet turbine engines. The transport is held aloft by anti-gravity emitters built into the vehicle's ventral ribbing. This technology allows a Raider to skim even the most rugged terrain at an extraordinarily rapid speed. Though each of these transports is customised by the Kabal that owns it and is adorned with the severed body parts of past victims, all have certain basic features in common, including a repulsor keelblade manned by a talented steersman, Aethersails to harness the multidimensional shear energies that flow from the Webway portal from which they emerge, and a prow-mounted heavy weapon, usually a Dark Lance, to sow slaughter amongst the unexpecting enemy. The curved hull of every Raider possess sweeping fairings and its metal deck is pierced through with tesselating designs intended to lessen the skimmer's weight and increase its speed. Sickle-blades, Electroshock Rams and Splinter Rifle racks are also frequently mounted on Raiders, for the Dark Eldar will always use any weapon available in their vast arsenal of pain.
The Raider's primary function is to serve as a troop transport during a realspace raid and it has a passenger capacity of 10 Dark Eldar warriors, whether they are drawn from a Kabal, a Wych Cult, a Haemonculi Coven or from one of the various mercenary Dark Eldar groups of the Dark City. Such is the surety and confidence of its Dark Eldar occupants that they can hang onto the balustrades and trophy-hooks of the Raider with ease even as it races forward at breakneck speeds, rejoicing in the thrill of the hunt as the enemy's shrapnel bursts all around them. It takes them but a second to detach from the transport and drop into the midst of the enemy, already savoring the screams to come. Once the foe has been vanquished, any enemy survivors are lashed or chained to the Raider or even simply impaled, still living, upon its trophy hooks. The corpses of those Dark Eldar who died in the raid are also carried back to Commorragh with a distinct lack of dignity or sentiment, heaped in a bloody tangle of limbs or hung like macabre mannequins from the Raider's spiked hull. The Dark Eldar have no pity for the dead, whether their own or of other species.
The raids of the Dark Eldar rely above all else on the advantages of surprise and sheer speed. As a result, all Dark Eldar skimmers are extraordinarily fast and highly manoeuvrable in-atmosphere. The most agile of all Dark Eldar transports is known as the Venom, an arrowhead-shaped skimmer that carries an elite group of Dark Eldar warriors into battle. Rather than present one obvious target, Dark Eldar strike forces attack in waves, with a veritable horde of their skimmer craft pouring out of the Webway portals they open in the tortured skies of targeted worlds. Although many of these Dark Eldar craft can still be intercepted by enemy antiaircraft fire, even a highly disciplined battery will prove unable to stop all of the craft in the black swarm that falls upon it. Additionally, it is always the largest and most populous of transports that draws the attention of well-drilled enemy soldiers. Thus, the most devious Dark Eldar ride to battle upon aircraft no larger than the Vypers used by their Craftworld counterparts or the sky-chariots once so ubiquitous in the skies of the planets ruled by the lost Eldar empire. Speed is always of paramount importance to the Dark Eldar -- should even one Venom penetrate enemy air defences it can be enough to prove the doom of the opposition, as its lethal passengers do their bloody work.
Though the Venom's booster engines and the anti-gravitic emitters implanted within its ribbing is similar to that found on other Dark Eldar skimmercraft, the transport is so agile and sensitive to the commands of its pilot that it can juke through a hail of incoming fire, its holographic Flickerfield confounding enemy snipers and Auspexes. A skilled Venom pilot can even manoeuvre his craft into those segments of the Webway designed only for the passage of a single individual at a time. It is for this reason that Venoms are very popular with Commorrite hunters and those Dark Eldar nobles of the Dark City's upper spires who enjoy running down their enemies as a form of vile sport.
Despite its small size, the Venom can carry a small squad of up to 5 hand-picked elite warriors who have been trained to enter combat as a coordinated unit. Though most Dark Eldar lords and elite warriors prefer to lead their Kabalite Warriors into battle from aboard a larger Raider personalised to their specific tastes, this does not sit well with those especially arrogant Comorrites who do not wish to consort with mere footsoldiers. Sometimes Venoms are used to transport only a single warrior to battle in unusual style. This is usually those Dark Eldar nobles so convinced of their own superiority that they believe they do not need bodyguards -- or those so paranoid that they fear them. Those amongst the forces of the Imperium who have seen the Dark Eldar in combat know that a single one of these malicious xenos warriors is sometimes all it takes--the true toxin delivered by a Venom is its passengers, not its weapons.
The tortured skies of Commorragh are warzones as perilous as its xenos-riddled ghettos and its noble-ruled spires. Through the mists soar arrogant lords and winged hunters seeking the next kill. The most savage of these airborne horrors are the Hellions, gangs of feral Dark Eldar who descend upon their prey in a flurry of blades before soaring away, safely out of reach. Hellions are Dark Eldar miscreants. Their numbers include aspirants not yet old enough to be chosen as Kabalite Warriors, those who have been exiled by their Archons and those who have rejected life in a Kabal in favour of one of continued autonomy, beholden to none. Packs of Hellions haunt the desolate regions of the Dark City, surviving through the use of their wits and taking pride in the scars they earn in the course of their savage lives. Hellions gather together into large gangs to better ensure their survival, some of which can be as large as a lesser Kabal. Hellion gangs often have fierce rivalries between themselves and with the Reavers and Scourges of the upper levels, for they resent above all those who flaunt their privilege and status. Though a Hellion in his typical bravado might outwardly claim that he lives as he does for the terror and anarchy he can spread on the mean streets of the Dark City, like all Dark Eldar each Hellion secretly burns with ambition to become a power in the city in his own right.
Hellions enter combat upon Skyboards, single-pilot, anti-gravitic skimmers that are highly prized amongst the Hellions as symbols of their independence. Each Skyboard is personalised with trophies and Dark Eldar glyphs, though most have changed hands several times, won either in ritual knife-fights between gang members or claimed as bounty. Skyboards are sensitive to the slightest pressure. As a result of this, and for the sheer thrill of it, Hellions often take combat drugs that enhance their reaction speeds still further so that they can flip and jink like madmen, their reflexes now as sharp as their perfectly filed teeth.
Unpredictable and wild, Hellions attack the Kabals just as often as they join with them to participate in realspace raids. In turn, it is unusual for the Archons to bring their wrath to bear on the roving Hellion gangs, for they consider such street scum to be beneath their lofty notice and a Kabal bounty hunter skilled enough to bring a particular Hellion to the torture chambers of his employers is a rare specimen better employed in other ways. However, the Kabals value Hellions as terror troops, and the Heliarchs that lead them are not above cutting deals with the Kabals and the Wych Cults -- if the price is right. Many realspace invasions undertaken by the Kabals are lead by waves of howling, drug-enraged Hellions atop their Skyboards.
In combat, Hellion gangs will swoop directly into the main body of the enemy, screaming curses and mocking taunts in the Eldar Lexicon. A Hellion's signature weapon is a Hellglaive, a double-bladed polearm with recurved hooks on each end that allow a skilled wielder to latch onto nearby objects and rapidly change direction while on a Skyboard. Each Hellglaive is viciously sharp, and it is common practice for Hellions to call out beforehand a particular part of the body of a foe that they intend to cut off on the next pass of their Skyboard. Such is their skill with the blades that a swarm of Hellions can fall upon a squad of enemy soldiers and lop off limbs and heads before scattering once more, while a single chosen victim is carried aloft into the sky to be cut apart at the Hellions' leisure.
Hellions are outfitted with their Skyboards, a Wychsuit, a store of potent combat enhancement drugs, a Hellglaive and a Stunclaw, a close combat weapon that can paralyze a victim so that he can be snatched into the sky.
The Reavers of Commorragh are fascinated by bringing death to others at high speeds. They ride to war upon the most streamlined and pared-down of all Eldar skycraft -- the Eldar Jetbike, the perfect fusion of motion and lethal power. The Eldar experience sensations and emotions to a far greater degree than any other sentient race and their psyches are given over too easily to obsession. Reavers, having first gotten a taste for high-speed violence during raids into realspace, are those Dark Eldar consumed with achieving the maximum-impact kill. It is not enough for them to simply carry out acts of mayhem and murder or to soar through the air at overwhelming speeds. These savage sadists must accomplish both at once to have their vile obsession truly sated. When they accomplish a well-placed and mortal blow delivered at an obscene rate of speed, they feel that spike of pure joy that Reavers consider the ultimate thrill in life.
In the toroid racing arenas that girdle the highest spires of the Dark City, the Reavers duel amongst themselves for supremacy. These vain and mortally-competitive riders engage in death races each night, their Jetbikes screaming around each arena in a high-stakes battle that brings screams of ecstacy from the bloodthirsty crowd of spectators. No quarter is ever asked for or given in these races, for to come in last is literally a death sentence. Reavers will pull every trick they can on the back of a Jetbike to secure even a fraction of a second's advantage over their competitors. The arena champions endlessly modify their craft's vanes and blast-engines, install targeting holograms for their Jetbike's built-in weapons, pierce their craft's fairings so that the shriek of the air created by their passing is of a pitch that distinguishes them from their peers and wear flexible suits akin to "second skins" to eliminate air resistance.
Reavers, like many Dark Eldar warriors, use artificial narcotic stimulants to enhance their performance and capacity for sensation in the death races or in combat. They are cheats and liars like so many of their kin, and give respect only to those who can pull of an "elegant kill". It is considered improper to simply maim a fellow rider during the death races, while a well-executed decapitation while riding inverted can bring a smile even to the frozen face of the most jaded Kabal Archon. Because of this no-holds-barred approach, weapons are extensively employed during the death races in the most prestigious of the toroid arenas. The most infamous and celebrated Reavers employ underslung Grav-Talons to push their rivals into the artfully bladed contours of the arena's walls, or release clusters of proximity-sensing anti-gravitic caltrops that detonate in spectacular chain explosions behind them to the crowd's applause. Reavers are so attuned to their beloved Jetbike steeds that in combat on a realspace raid they will use them as if they were extensions of their own bodies. Though a Reaver Jetbike usually incorporates a Splinter Rifle, the craft itself is the rider's most favoured weapon. Reavers pilot their Jetbikes with such uncanny precision that they can take off a head or even slash open a throat with a single pass of their finely-sharpened keels. A favorite tactic is to dive down from the clouds, corkscrewing the craft so that the razored edges of its blade-vanes dismember those unfortunate enough to be caught in the pass or rip through them head-on.
In addition to their Jetbikes, Reavers are normally outfitted with a Wychsuit, a Splinter Pistol, their combat stimulants and a Dark Eldar close combat weapon of their choice.
If one were to trespass amongst the jutting spires of upper Commorragh, one might just make out the winged figures soaring upon the hot thermals of the Dark City. If one looked carefully, these figures would be recognised as the Scourges, genetically and surgically altered avian Dark Eldar who have been refashioned into something far more deadly. If a gaze lingers too long, those same figures will swoop towards the watcher, seizing him and impaling him upon the sleek spires of their aeries.
Scourges are an intrinsic part of the society of Commorragh. The omnipresent intrigues of the Dark City thrive on information, without which even the greatest of the Kabals is soon rendered impotent. The most secure forms of Vox transmission can always be intercepted and psychic communication is strictly forbidden to the Dark Eldar. Instead, the Dark Eldar aristocracy pays handsomely for the Scourges to take their missives to their destination by hand. Each communique is sealed with tailor-made toxins, the antidotes to which -- usually -- are only held by the recipient. The Scourges are so vital to the intrigues of the Dark City that to kill one is to invite a very painful death by his or her fellows.
Considered the pinnacle of Dark Eldar body modification, the metamorphosis from warrior to Scourge is a lengthy and painful process, as one might expect of the Dark Eldar. A rich and daring Dark Eldar may surrender himself to the mercies of the Haemonculi and request that his bones be hollowed out by the drills of a Talos, that bands of new, vat-grown muscle be grafted onto his torso, and powerful avian wings and adrenaline dispensers be attached to his shoulders so that he is capable of undertaking true flight. Even if the warrior survives this grueling procedure, he is still not yet a true Scourge, for he must then fly all the way to the corpse-strewn aeries of his new brethren. His still raw and bleeding wings carry him from the oubliettes of the Haemonculi to the topmost spires of the Dark City where the Scourges make their home and he must fight through the deadly fatigue, warring gangs of Hellions, vicious Reavers and all the other types of airborne terrors to be found in Upper Commorragh to get there. If he makes this vertical pilgrimage and manages to survive its dangers, he earns the right to call himself a Scourge, a member of a highly exclusive mercenary clique of skyborne warriors that looks with disdain upon those of their kin who remain tied to the ground.
Many Scourges, especially the veterans known as Solarites, are so removed from their former lives that they now sport feathers in place of hair and elongated skulls. No matter what their chosen appearance, all Scourges relish the arts of war. Because of this, and the immense wealth they earn from the Kabals, all Scourges possess highly advanced Dark Eldar wargear. Clad in a form of porous body armour called Ghostplate, they descend from above, shrieking with the sheer exhilaration as they ruthlessly scythe down those who seek to escape. Scourges prefer to engage the enemy at range, for they are highly protective of their altered and now fragile physiques. They lay down punishing salvos of firepower, glorying in the screams of their dying foes while using their enhanced senses before wheeling about for another pass. As a result all Scourge weapons are designed to be fired while in flight. The most popular is the Shardcarbine, an advanced variant of the Splinter Rifle with a mich higher rate of fire, though Scourges also favour the Haywire Blaster, which releases the electromagnetic ernegy of Commorragh's captive suns in a powerful burst that fry electronics and the Heat Lance, which can disintegrate a foe in a blast of atomic fire. Scourges also usually carry a number of Plasma Grenades for hardened or heavily armoured targets.
Over the millennia since Commorragh's founding, its sand-filled arenas have drunk the blood of millions. Each arena has witnessed countless spectacles of perveristy and death, but there is one gladiatorial favourite that never fades in popularity -- the wild hunts of the Beastmasters.
The Beastmasters themselves are technically part of the Wych Cults, though they are mostly male and remain remote from the Hekatarii. Some suspect they are part of a shamanic tradition, for when the Beastmasters go to battle, they wear totems and masks echoing the nature of the alien predators under their control. It is partially because of these artefacts that they enjoy such mastery over their ferocious beasts, for their masks harbour complex sonic emitters and phereomone traps. Even unmasked Beastmasters have a natural ability to dominate, and the most senior of their number can subdue rampant Megasaur with a baleful glare.
When accompanying a realspace raid, Beastmasters gladly involve themselves in the business of bloodletting. They hover above the gore-spattered ground upon modified anti-gravitic Skyboards, goading their charges into the fray with whip and lure and laying about themselves until their enemies are torn to shreds and frequently messily devoured. In the Dark City, their arenas have played host to a broad variety of dangerous creatures, including blade-legged Helspiders, hyper-vigilant Bhargesi, and even captured Adeptus Astartes warriors. Three species remain in perennial use, however, and the largest of these is the Donorian Clawed Fiend, the Empyrean-spawned beasts called Khymerae, and the alien terror known as the Razorwing.
Talos Pain Engines
A Talos Pain Engine is the most widespread of the Dark Eldar's many so-called Engines of Pain. Festooned with multiple surgical apparatus and grotesque weapons of war, the Talos is a part organic and part mechanical device conceived by the creations of a mad genius. Created by the insane Dark Eldar masters of pain known as the Haemonculi, the Talos was first constructed as a torture device, but is now employed across the galaxy's innumerable battlefields. Sweeping forward upon anti-gravitic motors, the Talos catches its victims with its razor-sharp claws and then incinerates them from the inside out. The death spasms of those captured propel the Talos towards its enemies as its unique Sting wildly spews death in all directions and its many-bladed arms cut through armour and bone alike with lashing blows. These semi-sentient machines are invaluable to the Haemonculi, as they serve as both guardians and mobile torture chambers, inflicting punishment upon all those that displease their master. The fate of those caught within the death-grip of a Talos does not end with death. The remnants of the victims caught within its grasp is siphoned out to be used in the creation of potions and elixirs.
An Adaptation of the raider, the Ravager fills the role of "heavy support" sporting 3 high powered heavy weapons. either dark lances or disintegrator cannons. While it is used heavy support, it is still lightning fast, like the raider, and indeed, all Dark Eldar vehicles and still sports very little in the way of armour.
Cronos Parasite Engines
Like the Talos, the Cronos Parasite Engine is a creation of the Haemonculi. However unlike the Talos, however, the Cronos isn't used as mere brutal killing force, it is instead used to drain the souls of their victims. Stripping their souls, they magnify it through their carapace, and fire it to another Dark Eldar close by, usually their macabre captors.
An Aircarft with speed unmatched by even the fastest of of the Craftworld vehicles, the Razorwing jetfighter is commonly used as heavy support and to rapidly advance ahead of the main force, taking out gun batterys and battle tanks to prevent casualties to the main fleet. The Razorwing is piloted by an ex raver jetbiker who earned enough to escape the carnage of the death races, and now seeks to main and kill without risking his own skin.
A bigger, more heavily armed and armoured version of the Razorwing Jetfighter, the Voidraven bomber sports a much higher cluster of weaponry. Allowing its 2 crew members to better kill and destroy their prey. Like it smaller cousion, the razorwing, The Voidraven is piloted by an ex raver jetbiker who earned enough to escape the carnage of the death races, and now seeks to main and kill without risking his own skin. However, it is the gunner of this sleek aircraft who defines its worth.
- Wargame Tactics for Dark Eldar A site outlining tactics for the Dark Eldar army.
- Citadel Journal Issue 42, "Pains and Pleasures Dark Eldar Tactics," pp. 30-39
- Citadel Journal Issue 34, "Slaves to Darkness: Dark Eldar Detachments in Epic," pp. 30-37
- Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition)
- Codex: Dark Eldar (3rd Edition)
- Rogue Trader: The Soul Reaver (RPG)
- Rogue Trader: The Soul Reaver - The Dark Kin (RPG)
- Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse, pp. 166-167
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 206-209
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition), pp. 174-177
- White Dwarf 241 (US), "The Torturer's Tale: Dark Eldar Background," "Vanquisher of Worlds Asdrubael Vect: Sumpreme Lord of the Kabal of the Black Heart," "Painting Marble on Asdrubael Vect Mini," "Mistress of Death - Lelith Hesperax: Leader of the Wych Cult of Strife," "Hellions: Wych cult sub-sect," "Miniatures - Lelith Hesperax leading her Cult of Strife Wych Army," "The Dark Raising: Asdrubael Vect's Army: Conversions," "Bloodied Souls: Battle Report - Dark Eldar vs. Biel-Tan Eldar," pp. 7-19, 100-101
- White Dwarf 234 (US), "Swift Death: Tactics," "Deep Purple: Dark Eldar Tactics," "The Kabal of the Broken Soul: Conversions," "Kruellagh the Vile: Pirate Lord, Ravager," pp. 29-31, 33-35, 115
- White Dwarf 233 (US), "Watch the Shadows - Dark Eldar Mandrakes, Shadow (Raider Conversion), Drazhar: Incubi Master of Blades," pp. 66-69
- White Dwarf 230 (UK), "Grotesque: Haemonculi Experiments"
- White Dwarf 229 (US), "Black Scourge-Dark Eldar w/ Shredder & Dark Lance, Scourges, Wyches, Talos Heavy Support," "48 Hours - Dark Eldar for the Codex," "Dark Eldar Battle Force," pp. 26-29, 32-34, 35
- White Dwarf 228 (US), "Codex Dark Eldar," "Dark Raiders - Dark Eldar Raider & Urien Rakarth, Master Haemonculus," pp. 62-63, 67-71
- White Dwarf 227 (US), "Codex Dark Eldar - Preview," "Wych Cult? - Dark Eldar Wyches," "Dark Eldar Miniatures," "Ain't Dark Eldar Brilliant Too! - Dark Eldar Minis," "Codex Dark Eldar," "Dark Eldar Battle Force," pp. 7-22
- White Dwarf 226 (US), "How to Paint Dark Eldar," pp. 8-9,
- Midnight on the Street of Knives (Novella) by Andy Chambers
- Path of the Renegade (Novel) by Andy Chambers
- Colours of the Kabals (Games Workshop Website)