- "All theatres are theatres of war. War must needs be theatrical."
A Harlequin, known in the Eldar Lexicon as a Rillietann, is a member of a very distinct sub-group of the Eldar race that belongs to none of the existing Eldar sub-races, including the Craftworld Eldar, the Exodites or the Dark Eldar. They are the keepers of the Black Library and serve the enigmatic Eldar deity called the Laughing God. They are welcomed by all of the other Eldar factions, including the Dark Eldar of Commorragh and the Webway, and are known for their brightly coloured clothing, incredible agility (even for an Eldar), and use of unusually powerful weapons. Harlequins always organise themselves into groups they call Troupes.
The Harlequins are an ancient faction of the Eldar, and the most enigmatic members of that mysterious alien race. They roam the Webway, fighting Chaos and its influence. Their sole purpose is to seek out Chaos and destroy its power wherever they can, and Chaos and its minions are their most hated enemies.
Harlequins must pass a trial known only as "The Ritual" upon initiation into a Harlequin band. This ritual binds them to the Laughing God (the only Eldar God to have survived as an independent entity in the Warp), which is said to free them from the fear normal Eldar have of Slaanesh, the Chaos God of pleasure, stealing their souls away for an eternity of hellish torture in the Immaterium. This is why they need not wear a Waystone when they travel in the Webway, and do not have to endure the tiring soul-draining that other Eldar endure when in the Webway for prolonged periods of time.
The Harlequin lifestyle is very like the life of a roaming mime or troubadour of the medieval times. They wander the Webway and occasionally appear at Eldar settlements: on a Craftworld, on Commorragh, an Exodite Maiden World, or even a human world in the Imperium of Man. They perform frenetic, acrobatic dances for the spectators there which are called Masques. Their artistic works portray the Fall, the legendary decline that destroyed the Eldar empire, the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh, and many other tales from the long history and ancient mythology of the Eldar people.
The Harlequins are highly accomplished warriors and each Trouper, as their warriors are called, can be considered almost a one-man army in melee combat. They are already graceful and lithe from their lifestyle and dances and Harlequin augment their prowess with so-called "Flip-Belts" that generate a small anti-gravitic field around them and allow them to leap unnaturally high. They also make use of Eldar Holo-fields and a technology known as "Masks of Fear." Holo-fields are a sophisticated substitute for armour: whenever the Harlequin moves, their image is shattered into a holographically-projected cloud of crystal shards that dance and swirl around with vigour proportional to the speed that the Harlequin is moving.
The Mask of Fear is a small holographic device worn like a mask. It projects daemonic visages and scenes of death onto the mask and has a short-range psychic amplifier which increases enemies' sensitivity to fear and despair. Other versions of the Mask of Fear include the Rictus Mask, which projects an aura of death in the general vicinity of the wearer, or the Dread Mask, which senses an enemy's worst fears and displays them on the mask, along with a more potent psychic amplifier like the ones used on the Mask of Fear.
Harlequins are also noted for their brutal combat weapons. The most gruesome of these is the Harlequin's Kiss. The Harlequin's Kiss resembles a sharpened tube, tapering to a wicked point, fixed to a warrior's forearm. The tube is actually filled with monofilament wires. When the Kiss is punched into a victim, the wires uncoil and flail around, slicing the victim apart from the inside. Less disturbing is the Storm Glove. The Storm Glove is a Harlequin adaption of the Power Weapons used by Eldar and humans alike. It is a set of powered blades worn on the forearm, or more typically, on the hand as a glove.
Although Harlequins do not currently use armoured vehicles or heavy equipment, when Harlequins were first encountered by the Imperium, they did make use heavy equipment of all kinds. This equipment was scavenged by the Harlequins during their travels, incorporated into the Troupe and then used without much thought as to its maintenance. As a result, the earliest known Harlequin armies were equipped with a wide variety of armoured vehicles, brightly colored and bedecked with Harlequin banners, yet prone to sudden, unexpected maintenance problems in the midst of battle. Harlequins of the time also often made use of Jetcycles.
Harlequins are organised into two basic units, the troupe and the masque. A masque is composed of a number of troupes, plus certain additional individuals.
- Troupe Master - Troupe Masters, also known as Avatars and called athair in the Eldar Lexicon, are the officers of the Harlequins, with each troupe being led by a Troupe Master. In performance, the Avatar dances the part of the Laughing God. Some Avatars are known to wear long coats to indicate their rank. An Avatar is usually armed with two close combat weapons (one of which is often a Shuriken Pistol), and equipped with a visual disruption Holo-field and Conversion Field emitter. In addition, some Avatars may have psychic abilities. In combat, an Avatar may be armed with Vortex Grenades, which he delivers on-target by running forwards alone while the rest of the troupe supplies covering fire. The Avatars of some Harlequin troupes carry a number of lightweight batons, which unfold into a flag bearing the symbol of their masque. This is commonly left as a "calling card" after the destruction of enemy units and installations.
- Troupers - Harlequin Troupers, called rillietann in the Eldar Lexicon, form the backbone of a Harlequin force. In performance they dance the chorus roles, and in battle they form the rank and file of the Harlequin troupe, if such a term is appropriate to the unique and free-wheeling structure of Harlequin society. The typical wargear of a Trouper consists of two close combat weapons (one of which is often a Shuriken Pistol), a visual disruption Holo-field and a holographic Refractor Field.
- Shadowseers - Shadowseers, known in the Eldar Lexicon as esdainn, are powerful Harlequin psykers whose abilities are centred around spreading confusion and fear. During a Masque the Shadowseers act as storytellers, releasing programmed hallucinations from their creidann grenade launcher backpacks which form scintillating phantoms that dance and duel in the air. In battle, they can force visions of unholy terror upon the foe, or even remove the recognition of the Harlequins' presence from their enemies' minds altogether.
- Death Jesters - At the present time, Harlequins make use of no heavy weapons or tanks, save for the Eldar Death Jesters. The Death Jesters or Deathheads, called in the Eldar Lexicon the margorach, are the heavy weapons specialists of the Harlequin, and make use of a wide-array of heavy weaponry; from the humble Shuriken Cannon of the Craftworld Eldar, to the specialised Firepike, or the morbid Shrieker Cannon. The Shrieker Cannon is the trademark weapon of the Death Jesters, as only they can create and maintain them. They are a variant of the Shuriken Cannon, but instead of firing a hail of projectiles, they fire only a single shot. This shot is impregnated with a virulent acid that causes the victim's blood vessels and insides to expand violently. This usually results in a small explosion that showers enemy squad mates with pieces of their companion, thus earning the shrieks that give the weapon its name. Death Jesters stand somewhat aloof from other Harlequins -- and even from each other. They are renowned for their morbid and ironic sense of humour, something not normally considered an Eldar trait, which makes them quite popular in Commorragh among the Dark Eldar. On the battlefield, they stand off from the rest of the Harlequin force, firing their heavy weapons in support. Their costumes and equipment nearly always feature skulls, bones and other symbols of death, and the Death Jester's death's head mask has become a universal icon amongst them. In performance, the Death Jester dances the role of Death, and performs daring stunts of escapology and risk - "dicing with Death", as they are fond of saying.
- High Troupe Master - The High Troupe Master, also known in ancient texts as High Avatars and called in the Eldar Lexicon the ardathair, is the leader of a Harlequin masque. During The Dance, he takes the role of the Laughing God only when the whole masque is involved in a performance, while Avatars from the individual troupes of his masque play the lesser Eldar deities and other mythological roles. High Avatars dress and behave in the same way as lesser Avatars, but they show a distinct preference for face-designs on their masks, especially the smiling face of the Laughing God, a snarling face of daemonic aspect, or a beautiful but impassive Eldar face.
- High Shadowseer - The High Shadowseer, sometimes referred to in older texts as the High Warlock and called in the Eldar Lexicon the athesdan, is the overall commander of a masque's Shadowseers, and may overrule commands issued to Warlocks by their Troupe Masters -- though this rarely happens in practice. It is not unknown for a High Warlock to take the Warlocks from the troupes and form them into a separate unit under his (or her) own command. The High Shadowseer advises the High Troupe Master on all psychic matters pertaining to a masque. In performance, the High Shadowseer leads and coordinates the other Shadowseers as they play the role of a supporting chorus to his Storyteller; in battle, the High Shadowseer may coordinate the Shadowseers' grenade barrages, or act as a completely independent warrior.
- Master Mime - The Master Mime, called in the Eldar Lexicon the athistaur, commands the Mimes of his or her masque, and advises the High Avatar on all matters of espionage, infiltration and politics. In performance, the Master Mime joins the other Mimes, generally playing the most prominent and demanding Daemon or deity.
- Mimes - Mimes, called in the Eldar Lexicon the distaur, are under the direct command of the Master Mime, instead of being allocated to individual troupes. In performance, the Mimes play mystical and daemonic roles, using movement and gesture only. Even in everyday life, the Mimes speak little, communicating among themselves by lambruith, the name given to their system of hand-signals. It is customary for Mimes to go in advance of a masque or troupe to announce their impending arrival for a performance. Frequently they simply appear on a Craftworld or in Commorragh, without anyone knowing when or how they arrived. This skill is also used in warfare -- the oft-repeated stories of enemy commanders suddenly and unaccountably finding a Harlequin "calling card" in their command centres are typical examples of the tactics Mimes use to undermine enemy morale. Infiltration and assassination are their specialties.
- Solitaires - The most chilling of all the Eldar Harlequin are those individuals known as a Solitaire, called in the Eldar Lexicon the arebennian. The Solitaires, as their name implies, are solitary individuals who roam the Webway, seeking out Eldar they think might be talented enough to join a Harlequin troupe. The most startling truth of the Solitaires is that, unlike other Harlequins, who are protected by their faith in Cegorach, their souls are doomed to be devoured by Slaanesh, although the Laughing God attempts to intercede on the Solitaire's behalf after their death and force the Prince of Chaos to compete for his or her soul. Whenever Solitaires are with a Harlequin troupe, they prefer to distance themselves from the others, and one is considered cursed if one exchanges words with a Solitaire. A Solitaire never shows any sign of emotion, either with other Harlequins or on the battlefield. Psykers of every race, even other Eldar, are known to be very depressed in the presence of a Solitaire. The mental landscape of the Solitaire is obviously disturbing to them. Psychic attacks on Solitaires will almost always fall short, and weapons which attack the enemy's mind, such as the Neuro-disruptor, will simply have no effect. During the performance of the great Harlequin performance or Masque that dramatises the ancient Fall of the Eldar known simply as The Dance, Solitaires are the only Harlequins that can play the role of the Chaos God Slaanesh who brought the Eldar low. Various stories exist of other Harlequins who tried to perform the role, and were driven mad by the experience. In battle, Solitaires almost always fight as individuals. A Solitaire may live unknown among the Eldar (or even members of another intelligent race) for years or decades, and there are many rumours and folk-tales telling of Eldar who have met a Solitaire, and realised only later that this was actually the Great Harlequin, Cegorach himself. Solitaires represent the pinnacle of the Harlequin ideal, and are truly formidable foes in combat.
The Black Library
The Black Library has been described as a massive Craftworld complex where the Eldar gather all of the information and ancient lore they have learned on the Chaos Gods and their daemonic and mortal servants, possibly in the hope of using this information to find a way to destroy them. Very few Eldar have ever seen the inside of the library, and even fewer non-Eldar have entered. It is said to be guarded by the oldest and most powerful of those Harlequin who are Solitaire.
It is not known where the Black Library is, only that it is a "dark Craftworld". The Imperium also knows that it was located very far away from the center of the ancient Eldar empire at the time of the Fall and so was not caught up in the destruction caused by the birth of Slaanesh and the Eye of Terror. Harlequins have a greater understanding of the Webway and its myriad paths and entrances than any other Eldar, so the Black Library is believed to lie within the Webway. This makes it virtually impossible for non-Eldar to even learn of its existence, although a handful of the more enlightened members of the Inquisition have been allowed by the Harlequin to enter it under heavy guard for very specific purposes.
During the 13th Black Crusade of Abaddon the Despoiler in 999.M41, the Chaos Sorcerer Ahriman of the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion was able to penetrate the Webway and forcibly enter the Black Library, attempting to gain access to the arcane lore hidden within as part of his quest to better understand the very nature of Chaos itself. However, a guard of Harlequins and Eldar warriors were able to drive the Chaos Sorcerer back.
- Codex: Craftworld Eldar (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Eldar (4th Edition)
- Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition), p. 42
- Harlequin (Novel) by Ian Watson