- "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. The Harlequins see no distinction between art and war, and their outlook can best be explained by reference to the legend of the Fall; one of their self-appointed duties is to keep this legend alive through their performances. The central figure of Harlequin belief is Cegorach, the Great Harlequin –- also known as the Laughing God. None truly know how this strange being survived the birth of Slaanesh where the other Eldar gods did not. However, every Harlequin is firm in the belief that Cegorach escaped into the bounds of the Webway, existing there still behind myriad disguises and mocking She Who Thirsts from behind the veil. The Laughing God is the only authority that the Harlequins recognise, and their every deed is thought to be in furtherance of his own inscrutable agenda. Harlequins are undeniably part of the Eldar race, yet they owe no allegiance to any given Craftworld or Kabal. These enigmatic warriors are often credited with supernatural powers, and many amongst both Eldar and Dark Eldar society believe that the Harlequins know most, if not all, of the secret paths through the endless maze of the Webway. 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, which are led by a Troupe Master.
The Fall of the Eldar
Millennia have have passed since the ancient Eldar fell into shadow, yet still the memory of their glory burns bright. Like the stars in the sky they shone, illuminating the endless void. Theirs was the power to create, and also to destroy, for they held the secrets of the universe in their hands. Yet with power unchecked came monstrous pride. The cessation of toil raised the spectre of ennui, alongside the endless freedom to explore the slightest whim. Curiosity became obsession, then excess and decadence, until eventually a rot took root in the soul of the Eldar race. In their arrogance, the ancient Eldar abandoned their gods, turning their backs upon the morals and codes that guided their civilisation. Divested of their ancient pantheon, many Eldar declared themselves divine. Pleasure cults spread through the Eldar realms, each more twisted and perverse than the last. Against the lurid glare of now, the glories of old were spat upon as pale, unworthy things. In the face of this wanton madness, the old gods could do nothing. Bloody-handed Khaine raged. Vaul the Smith turned his back, while Mother Isha wept oceans of tears. Even Asuryan the Creator looked on powerless. Only Cegorach seemed uncaring, for he merely laughed. This plunge into depravity would prove the downfall of the ancient Eldar. So twisted had their race become, so lost to hedonism and corruption, that a new god was birthed into the Warp in their image. This was Slaanesh, the Dark Prince, known to the Eldar as She Who Thirsts, and she would be the doom of the race who had made her.
Three fragments of the Eldar race escaped before this cataclysm occurred. First to flee were the Exodites. Deaf to the mockery of their perverted kin, they eschewed the trappings of power that they might save their very souls. Next went those who would become the Dark Eldar. Unrepentant yet wary, they had committed their darkest excesses in the labyrinth dimension of the Webway, and were thus protected when Slaanesh was born. Last to escape were the Craftworld Eldar. Fashioning great interstellar arks to bear them to safety, they fled into the void, and a denial of all they had become. At the instant of her birth, Slaanesh opened wide her yawning maw, rending reality itself as she gave vent to a scream of unimaginable power. All but a fraction of the ancient Eldar were killed in that moment, their souls blasted from their bodies and greedily devoured. As the Eldar fell, so too did their ancestral gods, consumed by She Who Thirsts. All Eldar know the tale of the Fall. Yet not all know that, when the Eldar fled their doom, they took with them the seeds of Cegorach's vengeance. These individuals, the worshippers of the Laughing God, would find bloody purpose in the years to come
Ghosts of the Webway
The Harlequins are lightning-fast warrior acrobats. These enigmatic beings do not differentiate between war and art, applying their lithe, inhuman grace to both without distinction. Sinister, mysterious and mercurial, they wage a never-ending guerrilla war against the servants of the Ruinous Powers in the name of their Laughing God. Harlequins are the strangest and most inscrutable of all the Eldar race. Their mastery of the physical arts, twinned with their incredible speed, makes the Harlequins truly deadly fighters. Every moment is a performance, and they perform their legendary masques with puissant skill, flair and passion –- their hallmarks upon the field of battle.
The Harlequins are nomads, their warrior bands treading the secret paths of the labyrinthine realm known as the Webway. Since the Fall, they have waged their clandestine war against She Who Thirsts. Who can know what horrors might have been wrought upon the galaxy without the constant vigilance of the Harlequins? These mysterious figures strike suddenly, killing with such speed and skill that they often vanish back into the Webway without any but their foes ever knowing they were there. The populations of whole systems -- sometimes entire species -- have been spared the horrors of daemonic incursion without ever knowing the threat they might have faced.
Alongside death-dealing, the Harlequins possess another, ritual duty: they travel between the realms of their divided kin -- the craftworlds, the Exodite worlds and the dark city of Commorragh -- performing the dances and plays of the Eldar mythic cycle. Viewed with superstitious awe, these ritual performances remind the Eldar of the gods they once knew and of the Fall of their ancient race, ensuring that their people retain some semblance of racial unity. Indeed, when war calls and the day is sufficiently dark, the Harlequins often broker temporary alliances between their Commorrite and craftworld kin.
Theatre of War
- "All their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad."
- — Taken from G.K. Chesterton's epic poem, "The Ballad of the White Horse," c.911.M2
Swift beyond belief and impossibly agile, Harlequins flow through battle like silk streamers in a hurricane. As they close with the foe, the Players are in constant motion, a riot of prismatic colour that dazzles the senses. The oncoming Harlequins sprint, leap and weave, the blades and blasts of their terrified enemy whistling around them to little effect. Harlequins in battle prefer to rely upon speed and skill over brute strength and resilience. Their holo-suits shatter the wearer's outline into a fractal, polychromatic blur, causing each Harlequin to appear as an insubstantial storm of psychedelic colour into which the panicked foe pour their fire to no avail. At the moment of lethal impact, however, the Harlequins prove all too real. The thunder of gunfire is their backbeat, the screams of the dying their accompaniment as they whirl through the enemy ranks. Every step of the battle is like a dance, each victim as much an unwilling partner as a mortal foe. Blade thrusts come lightning fast, sparks and blood raining down as their victims try desperately to block their attackers' offensive. All the while, the enemy wrestles with their worst fears reflected back at them in the Harlequins' ever-shifting masks.
Where a single Harlequin in battle is a player upon a stage, an entire army of them is a performing company with a bloody tale to tell. Known as masques, these warbands fight with breathtaking synchronicity. Troupes of Harlequins sprint across the battlefield, surging from hidden Webway portals to strike without warning. Skyweaver jetbike crews engage the foe in an aerobatic ballet, streaking above the heads of the enemy to hurl spinning star bolas. Explosions blossom one after another, their roar a deafening crescendo accompanied by the howl of Starweaver transports and Voidweaver gunships opening fire. Amidst the mayhem, the masque's elite choreograph the carnage. Each Troupe Master directs their Players with the skill of an impresario and the strategic genius of a seasoned general. Death Jesters send volleys of fire to cut down key targets, always with an eye for what cruel humour they can find in the kill. Enigmatic Shadowseers use their phantasmic powers to terrify and misdirect, drowning the enemy in nightmare visions, and should one of the dreaded Solitaires deign to join a battle, they can slaughter entire enemy regiments in impossible displays of martial prowess. To the untrained eye, the onset of a Harlequin masque is a riotous confusion of sound, colour and violence. Yet to refined Eldar senses, clear patterns are revealed. Every moment is orchestrated; every Player knows implicitly how and when his comrades will strike. This is war made art and art made war, battle fought with perfect rhythm and meaning, and it is as lethal as it is spectacular.
The Webway was created by the ancient race of the Old Ones as a means of intragalactic travel. Via the Webway, the armies of these advanced beings could appear from hidden gateways in reality to strike at their foes without warning. Furthermore, this sprawling network allowed the Old Ones to voyage between the worlds of their dominion without risking the fickle tides of the Warp. Known by some as the labyrinth dimension, the Webway has been envisioned by mortal minds in myriad ways. Some describe it as a galactic tapestry of shimmering strands, others a maze of glowing tunnels, or the veins of some vast living entity. All such accounts fall short of the truth, for the Webway defies neat categorisation. It is an elegantly crafted realm located between realspace and the Warp, analogous to the surface of a still, dark pool, or a fine silk veil drawn across something foul.
It is said that Cegorach is the only being in existence who knows every single path through the Webway. This might explain how his disciples possess such an intimate knowledge of its twists and turns, for the Harlequins walk the Webway without fear, appearing and disappearing at will. So well versed are they in the Webway's secret routes that many other Eldar have credited the servants of the Laughing God with supernatural powers. It is the Harlequins who watch over the Black Library alongside its dark guardians, and use its secrets to gain the upper hand in their war against Chaos. They utilise their knowledge of the Webway's hidden paths to outmanoeuvre their foes and strike from unexpected quarters. In this way, whole masques of Harlequins can position themselves in ambush, guaranteeing themselves the element of surprise. Of course, such a system is not perfect, for the Webway has become a broken and dangerous realm. Still, this is little help to the general who suddenly discovers his armies overrun from within, slaughtered by a host of Harlequins before he even realises that battle is joined.
The Final Act
In recent years, the Harlequins' war against Chaos has been characterised by a newfound urgency. Full masques have become an ever more common sight among the stars. Appearing from the Webway, they can be found performing within the realms of their kin or battling the galaxy's disparate races in vicious campaigns of apparently random violence. As the 41st Millennium comes to a close, more and more Eldar vanish into the Webway, forsaking their former lives to take up the Harlequin's mask. The Harlequins' numbers are growing, and many among the Eldar wonder why. The truth is inspirational and terrifying in equal measure. At the very heart of the Black Library there lies a silver-lit vault. Therein stands a plinth made of finely graven obstinite, upon which rests a crystalline book said to contain the words of Cegorach himself. Since the Fall, the tome’s covers have remained closed, sealed shut with flickering chains of light. Yet now, long-awaited portents have come to pass. A fallen sorcerer seeks the lore of the library. A king stirs in his court of death and silence, preparing to rise once more. Within madness' eye, the champion of the Ruinous Powers prepares to seize a realm long denied. As the signs have come to pass, so the bands of light about the tome have flickered and died.
Now, at last, the tome has fallen open. Within its pages the Shadowseers have found a script, a secret final act that changes utterly the tale of the Fall. Penned in inks of light and shadow, these words present a slender hope, detailing an intricate, galaxy-spanning performance with the potential to change the fate of the Eldar race. Always, the strands of fate have pointed toward the victory of Chaos during the last, mythic battle known to the Eldar as the Rhana Dandra. Yet within the pages of the crystal tome is recorded Cegorach's ultimate jest, a way to trick Slaanesh into expending all her power not to destroy the Eldar, but to save them. How such an impossibility could come to pass is unclear, for on this matter the final act is infuriatingly vague. Yet the Harlequins take their god's words on faith alone, for their devotion to Cegorach is total and his methods beyond question or reproach. Thus they have begun the steps of this final dance, and will see it completed, or else face absolute destruction in the attempt.
The Black Library
Deep within the Webway, protected by terrifying sentinels and Troupes of Harlequins, lies the Black Library. The Black Library is spoken of as a craftworld, which in form it may be, yet it is very different from the other craftworlds of the Eldar, for the Black Library exists only within the Webway itself. To reach this fabled realm, one must court madness itself, travelling secret passages through the Webway, evading the gaze of the horrifying entities that stand guard, and unlocking one of the library’s cunningly hidden entrances amid veils of riddle and illusion. The Black Library houses all of the Eldar's most precious knowledge, and is said to resemble a vast, impossible craftworld that exists only within the labyrinth dimension. There is lore here regarding every deadly galactic mystery that the Eldar have ever encountered. The true nature of the ancient star-gods, the fate of the forsaken Phoenix Lord Arhra, even the origins of Chaos itself are but the merest fragments of the Black Library's archives of the forbidden and the forgotten.
In particular, the library's collection focuses upon all that the Eldar know of Chaos, for it was Chaos that destroyed their civilisation and threatens them still from the Warp. Within the psychically locked rooms of the Seething Spiral lie grimoires of dark magic, their whispers and snarls shivering the air despite layers of runic wards. Beneath the Dome of Stars Extinguished, countless caskets of moonthorn imprison daemonic artefacts and essences. Glowing lights drift through chambers in which ancient blades and alien skulls rest upon rune-carved plinths. Perhaps most valuable of all the library’s many treasures is the collected psychic lore of the Eldar and the countless species they have encountered. Captured in the crystalline thoughts of the library's long-dead inhabitants, these spectral secrets drift upon the wind like half-remembered thoughts, waiting for a mind strong enough to snare them. On and on the dark corridors wind, a maze of starlit chambers and shadow-drowned oubliettes beyond count. Few mortals indeed have seen the inside of this sinister realm, and none would be foolish enough to speak of it; once someone has witnessed the true nature of the Black Library's sentinels, the fear of their vengeance lingers.
There can be little doubt that, were the sanity-blasting secrets of this repository laid open to the Dark Eldar, the consequences would be bloody. Yet none amongst the aristocracy of the Dark City are foolish enough to waylay the visiting troupes of Harlequins openly, and the Laughing God's servants seem able to predict those snares that are laid for them in secret. Only Supreme Overlord Asdrubael Vect has ever dared to publicly cross these enigmatic warrior artists, for a terrible doom indeed is believed to fall upon those who do. Of all humans, only a handful of Inquisitors have ever entered the confines of the Black Library, and then only in the company of Harlequins and under the closest supervision. None have ever described their experiences in this mystical realm. These Inquisitors share a common bond with the Harlequins, for both are sworn enemies of Chaos and understand only too well the nature of the threat that faces Eldar and Humanity.
Recently, during the recent 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 massive force of Harlequins and Eldar warriors were able to drive the Chaos Sorcerer back.
The Harlequins travel in masques, large ensembles that perform and fight together, echoing the gatherings of Cegorach's devotees in ancient days. Each masque is formed around a number of Troupes and joined by the likes of Shadowseers and Death Jesters. Each member of the masque is a player in the grand performance. Each performs a part, taking up the role of some character from the mythic cycle. Thus, one might be the Dawnsinger, another the Blinded Princess. Some roles are reserved for specific members of the masque -- for only a Death Jester may play the role of Death. The most ominous role of all is that of the Solitaire, the most sinister and abhorrent, yet also most fascinating and alluring, troubadour within the host -- for the Solitaire alone may take on the role of She Who Thirsts, Slaanesh, the great and hated enemy of all the Eldar.
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. Troupes of Harlequins usually only treat with other Eldar the night before a particularly auspicious battle. They emerge unbidden from hidden portals, staging dazzling performances that tell of the legends of the Eldar race. The Harlequins’ masque is spellbinding; such extremes of emotion are reached in these stunning displays that a troupe can hold an audience of Dark Eldar completely in thrall as surely as any gladiatorial bloodbath. In these pageants, each Harlequin plays the role of one of the figures from Eldar legend, acting out stylised versions of Eldar mythic cycles. When presenting their stories upon the stages of the Dark City, a Harlequin troupe's performance will always culminate with the tale of the Fall. This is a story of particular significance to the oldest Archons, many of whom find Act One gratifyingly familiar.
Of all the parts of the mythic cycle performed by the Harlequin masques, the most renowned is the Dance without End. It is, however, far from the only tale performed by these enigmatic troubadours -- there is the Cripple and the Dragon, the Blades of Vaul, Isha's Tears, and many others. Each Harlequin in a masque assumes the persona of one of the characters from one of these epic tales at all times, and thus can be recognised by those Eldar who know the tales. In the tale of the Blades of Vaul, for instance, Vaul is moved by sympathy for Isha and Kurnous, who are imprisoned by Khaine, agreeing to forge 100 swords for his brother to set them free. Vaul failed to make all the blades, however, and in his wrath Khaine attacked his uncle. The culmination of this pageant is the dazzling duel between the gods, played out by Harlequins of unparalleled skill.
Millennia of Mystery
Since the Fall, the Harlequins have pursued their trickster god's veiled agenda. Though their own records are hidden deep within the Black Library, the deeds of the Laughing God's servants are laced throughout the histories of their kin. The masques' appearances are the stuff of legends, and have become ever more frequent as the end of the 41st Millennium approaches:
- The Fall (c.M31) - The civilisation of the ancient Eldar is annihilated by the catastrophic birth of Slaanesh.
- Cergorach's Summons (c.M32) - In the wake of the Fall, the surviving worshippers of the Laughing God disappear into the Webway without a word of explanation.
- The War Begins (641.M33) - After centuries of isolation, Cegorach's followers return in spectacular fashion. The Masque of the Midnight Sorrow burst from the Webway at Llayen Nuadh to fall upon a horde of Slaaneshi Daemons. Their intervention rescues the embattled warhost of Ulthwé, and with their strengths combined the Eldar hurl their daemonic foes back into the Warp. This is but the first of many such grand entrances, the masques announcing their return to war with great showmanship.
- The First Solitaire (666.M33) - The Dance Without End give the first ever performance of the Fall. Their audience are horrified, not least by the disturbing figure of the galaxy's first Solitaire as she brazenly bestrides the stage.
- The Shattering of Lugganath (764.M34) - Craftworld Lugganath is invaded in force by the Emperor's Children Traitor Legion. Thousands die as the devotees of Slaanesh defile much of the craftworld and drive the defenders back. The reeling Eldar rally at the Plaza of Reflection, where the Emperor's Children use their sonic weapons to collapse much of the craftworld's graceful architecture upon the defenders, crushing hundreds of Eldar to death amidst splintered spars of wraithbone. Seeing the devastation wrought by the terrible weapons of the Chaos Space Marines, the Autarchs of Lugganath authorise the use of Hemlock Wraithfighters. The Emperor's Children eventually retreat before the resultant barrage of necromantic energy, abandoning their dead and pursued every step of the way by vengeful Harlequins and unflinching, tireless ghost warriors.
- In Conflict's Wake (984.M35) - Asdrubael Vect seizes power in Commorragh. Few know of his dealings with the Masque of the Veiled Path at this time, or of the dreadful pact he seals with them upon ascending to his throne.
- The War of Mirrors (358.M40) - The Silent Shroud face WAAAGH! Gutrippa on Sheng's World. Impossibly outnumbered, the Harlequins use the planet's many Webway portals to run circles around their Ork foes. Only a handful of Harlequins survive the six-month conflict, but they sow such confusion that the WAAAGH! furiously tears itself apart.
- Rhildol's Salvation (454.M40) - The Chaos warband of Lord Fulgulus attacks the Exodite world of Rhildhol. Yet his attempts to desecrate the world bring him to ruin. The Masque of Soaring Spite, aided by the Wych Cult of Strife, falls upon the Nurgle worshippers at the peak of their ritual and slaughters them wholesale.
- The Cull (988.M40) - Imperial forces attempt to plunder forbidden archeotech on the dying world of Karadox. The Midnight Sorrow strike without warning, orchestrating a blistering campaign of hit-and-run attacks. Eventually the terrified humans flee, abandoning their tainted prize without ever learning the horrors it would have unleashed.
- Giant Slayers (056.M41) - Knights of House Terryn claim the maiden world of Velos for the Imperium. In response, the Frozen Stars deploy swarms of Voidweavers in the saedath known as the Giants' Lament. Though the cost is high, the invaders are finally wiped out.
- The Daemon's Dance (113.M41) - A Solitaire duels the infamous Bloodletter known as Skulltaker before the Gate of Souls, mirroring the hatred between Khorne and Slaanesh. At the duel's height, the Solitaire drops his guard and is slain, the psychic echo of his self-sacrifice resonating through the Warp to banish a horde of Slaaneshi Daemons about to breach the gate.
- The Last Laugh (215.M41) - The Veiled Path make a surprising offer of aid to defend the Imperial naval base at Roth against pirates. However, as battle is joined, they turn upon their erstwhile human allies, ending this seemingly unprovoked attack by venting the surviving defenders into space.
- The Maedrax Encore (785.M41) - The Masque of the Dreaming Shadow begin a decade-long campaign against the tomb worlds of Maedrax, fighting to stem the rising Necron tide after craftworld Ulthwé's failure to do so.
- The First Sign (899.M41) - As the Thousand Sons Sorcerer Ahriman learns the first of several truths that will lead him to an attack upon the Black Library, the first clasp of light around Cegorach's crystal tome flickers and disappears.
- Curiosity's Cost (948.M41) - Tau explorers board the empty husk of Craftworld She'enshar. However, just days after their arrival, the Tau are driven off by Harlequins of the Frozen Stars, who surge from the craftworld's Webway portals to violently evict the interlopers.
- A Dangerous Debt (987.M41) - Led by a conclave of Shadowseers, the Midnight Sorrow aid Inquisitor Sophia Vilimas in defeating the Alpha Legion on Safehaven. A massive daemonic incursion is prevented, yet in the battle's wake the seers inform Vilimas that she now owes them a debt -- one they will soon collect.
- A Mysterious Victor (990.M41) - A Great Harlequin wins the Commorrite Dance of the Blinding Blade, fighting with impossible speed and skill. Whispers abound that this shadowy figure, who vanishes soon after his victory, was none other than Cegorach himself.
- The Black Prelude (991.M41)
- Twilight Falls (992.M41) - In the midst of Craftworld Iyanden's most desperate battle for survival, Prince Yriel takes up the cursed Spear of Twilight. He is compelled to seize his destiny in this way by a Shadowseer of the Masque of the Veiled Path. The enigmatic seer vanishes soon after, Iyanden's fate assured and the role of the Veilwalker played to its conclusion.
- A Promise Kept (992.M41) - While battling Tyranids on Deshil, Ultramarines Strike Force Apollon find their senses clouded by visions. The swarm is driven back by spectral figures, even as the Astartes slump into unconsciousness. Upon awakening, they are horrified to find themselves strapped to the surgical tables of the Haemonculi. Of their captors there is no sign, but the Haemonculi croon delightedly of a debt settled in blood.
- Faolchú's Wrath (993.M41) - Several masques combine their forces into a grand masque in order to topple the Echospire on the Shrine World of Baedros. In the process, they earn the undying enmity of the Space Wolves, whose honour is besmirched by this bloody disaster.
- The Seven Sorrows (994.M41)
- A Dark Harvest (996.M41) - In several bloody battles, the Midnight Sorrow trap sixty-six Heralds of Slaanesh within runic stones. The purpose of this sinister harvest remains unclear.
- Bloodied Shards (997.M41) - Amid the crystalline deserts of Jai'Hallaer, the Masque of the Veiled Path meet a vast Khornate warband in battle. Using illusion and guile, the outnumbered Harlequins lead their rage-blind foes into the Shattered Rift, before crushing them in a razor-edged landslide.
- The Seeker Denied (998.M41) - Furious battle erupts in the twilight realm of the Webway as Chaos Space Marines of the Thousand Sons legion fight their way to within sight of the Black Library. Their leader, the master Chaos Sorcerer Ahriman, is thwarted by a powerful force of Eldar Harlequins and allies from both Craftworld Ulthwé and Craftworld Lugganath. Several major arteries of the Webway are choked with the dead before the warrior-psykers of the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion are driven from the secret paths by a concerted attack. The breach caused by the rampaging Chaos Sorcerers is runically sealed, but as a result, a section of the Webway is lost forever.
- The Death of Dûriel (999.M41) - The maiden world of Dûriel, conquered long ago by the Imperium, faces invasion by splinters of Hive Fleets Leviathan and Kraken. To prevent the swarms combining their strength, a band of Harlequins brokers an alliance between Craftworlds Biel-Tan and Iyanden, along with the Dark Eldar of Commorragh. The ensuing war is fought on a truly apocalyptic scale.
- The Curtain Rises (999.M41) - The galaxy burns, the fires of war lighting a bloody stage. The veil thins: a curtain soon to be ripped aside. According to the Laughing God's will, the Harlequins take their places to act out their last, greatest performance -- or die in the attempt.
Most of the Eldar live with the bitter knowledge that their gods are gone, having abandoned them or been destroyed in the Fall. Almost unique among their kind, the Harlequins know that Cegorach survived the Fall, and even now plans for the salvation of the Eldar race. With every passing year more Eldar are drawn towards the way of the Harlequins, erasing their past identity and taking up the mask and motley of the Laughing God. A masque is an army and a company of players both. It has no formal leaders, being instead a collective of like-minded devotees of Cegorach. All know their duties through their familiarity with the traditional roles of the characters they have adopted. No Harlequin rules their fellows for long, for all possess an equal voice. A Harlequin masque unleashed upon the battlefield is a thing of boundless fury and mind-boggling precision, the ultimate melding of cold, alien wrath and preternatural agility. It is a spectacle of destruction as beautiful as it is murderous, as Troupes of warriors leap and bound through the enemy, slaughtering the foe even as Skyweavers cut off lines of retreat, herding the enemy onto the waiting guns of the Voidweavers and Death Jesters. A masque possesses a synergy unmatched in almost any other fighting formation, an instinctive bond grown between the Harlequins as they travel and perform together and unleashed on the battlefield in times of war and strife.
The organisation of a Harlequin masque is unusual by the standards of the most of the forces fighting in the Dark Millennium -- after all, it is formed from multiple bands of dancers, mimes and other performers. The organisational strictures of a masque hail from ancient days, when Cegorach's devotees were theatrical performers first and foremost. Since the Fall, a place has traditionally been reserved in a masque's structure should a Solitaire lend their considerable abilities to a cause, but they are otherwise unchanged, centred around three distinct Troupes: the Light, the Dark, and the Twilight. Each contains a different cast of characters, grouped by outlook and symbolism. The Light, for example, is especially associated with swift action, the heroic protagonist, the sky and the day. By comparison, the Dark represents villainous antagonists, violent endings, and the night, while the Twilight is transitory, like the Webway or the fateful journey, comprising characters that bestride multiple or shifting worlds. This structure ensures that each member is aware their fellows' roles, upon both stage and battlefield.
This mutual understanding allows Harlequin masques to fight with near-prescient efficiency. Without the need for orders, each warrior knows both his own and his comrades' duties, as well as who will require support and who can provide it. Indeed, despite the lack of a formal military chain of command, masques are capable of acting with far greater synchronicity and discipline than most standing armies. In battle, a masque seems less a group of individuals, and more a single, perfectly coordinated entity. Further enhancing this incredible efficiency is the fact that each of a masque's mythic plays has its battlefield counterpart, known by the Eldar as its saedath. Essentially a strategic battle plan with an allegorical edge, these inform target priority, overall strategy, and whether the conflict should be led by the Light, Dark, or Twilight. The appropriate saedath will be chosen based upon a range of factors; in some cases, masques specialise in certain mythic cycles, and will rely upon these to the exclusion of all else. In others, the ritual significance of the foe, the battlefield, or even such factors as time of day or quality of light will inform this decision. Whatever the choice, each saedath is an intricate and brilliantly conceived strategy.
While Harlequin masques tend to follow a time-honoured structure, established by the followers of Cegorach in ages past, each also has a distinct identity that reaches from their performances and onto the battlefield. For instance, the Masque of the Leaping Stars go to war heralded by the same kaleidoscopic displays that accompany their performances, while the Mourning Mist advance in ghostly silence, as ominous as the shadow of Ynnead from Eldar legend. This adherence to tradition and connection to their ancient legends strengthens the masques in battle. Every tactic they implement is a counterpart to the mythic plays, known as a saedath, a battlefield plan with an allegorical edge. These inform the masque's tactics and which Troupes will take the lead. Each Harlequin knows these saedaths on such an intricate level they are able to enact these strategies with flawless precision.
Structure of a Masque
The organisation of a Harlequin masque is almost as old as time, a deeply-engrained aspect of Eldar culture that, while subject to small differences from one masque to the next, has otherwise remained fundamentally unchanged for thousands of years. The heart of each masque is the cadre of three Troupes, each of which is led by a Troupe Master. Appended to the three Troupes are the Skyweavers and Voidweavers. A full Masque will feature two squadrons of Skyweaver jetbikes and one of Voidweavers. Masques also usually include at least one Shadowseer and Death Jester, and it is common for one of each to fight alongside each of the three Troupes and, on rare occasions, a masque may also be joined by a Solitaire. This final Player is not bound to the masque, and will serve with it only as long as his own agenda and that of the masque are aligned.
- Masque of the Dance Without End - The Masque of the Dance Without End falls upon its foes like an avalanche, appearing as if from thin air with guns already blazing. Full of passion and verve, the Players of this masque are renowned for their performances of the Spiral of Mirth and Madness. This is the cycle of dances, plays and monologues that recount the deeds of Cegorach himself -- a specialism that is said to bring these Harlequins closer to their deity. Indeed, so deep is their connection to the Laughing God that it is rumoured the Webway itself flexes and shifts at this masque's behest. Certainly, the Dance Without End seem always to attack from the most unexpected quarter, vanishing on the breeze should matters go awry. The Dance Without End wear the rune of myriad paths, symbolising both Cegorach's knowledge of the Webway and the endless nature of his war.
- The Masque of the Dreaming Shadow - The Masque of the Dreaming Shadow act as self-appointed guardians against the awakening Necrons. They appear morbid of spirit, resentful towards other masques, who perhaps surprisingly hold them in high regard. The Players of the Dreaming Shadow are bound together by their morbid demeanour, and by a simmering resentment of the other masques. This sentiment, however, is deliberately exaggerated -- part act and part truth, deriving from the fact that the war against the Necrons distracts from Cegorach's true battle with She Who Thirsts. For their part, most other Harlequins hold the Dreaming Shadow's selflessness in high esteem, though some are scornful of this masque's inherent bitterness toward them, dismissing their war against the Necrons as nothing but a sad sideshow.
- Masque of Frozen Stars - Playful and sinister in equal measure, the Masque of Frozen Stars is well known for its Players' irrepressible sense of humour. Standing secret vigil over the maiden worlds of the Eastern Fringe, these Harlequins possess a genuine hope for the future of their race. They believe that there is a path to be trod through the horrors of the Rhana Dandra that leads to a bright fortune beyond. Following destinies gleaned by their Shadowseers from a tangle of potential futures, the masque seeks to restore the balance of fate through the destruction of their many enemies. Across maiden worlds scattered along the edges of the Eastern Fringe, they wage a war against the slow rot of Chaos, the arrogant might of the Imperium and the reckless expansionism of the Tau Empire. However, the Masque of Frozen Stars care only for the resurgence of the Eldar, and no one else. They view the galaxy's other races as vermin, there only to serve as the butt of its shockingly violent pranks and jests. Humanity, the Tau and countless minor alien empires have all suffered under the sudden attacks of this masque. Often believing the motley-clad warriors were coming to their aid, more than one race has discovered that the enemy of their enemy is by no means their friend. Over the millennia, this masque's Players have overloaded the reactors of hive cities, plunged mighty spacecraft unshielded into the Warp, and even depopulated whole worlds, all in the name of the Laughing God's malicious amusement. The rune of this masque is that of divergent chance, depicting the pathways of fate propped up on a foundation of certainty and determination.
- Masque of the Leering Moon - This notable Masque, like the Soaring Spite, are notable for performing and fighting in an almost exclusively airborne fashion. Traditionally, a masque incorporates two bands of Skyweavers, their aerobatic prowess serving to add a breathtaking edge of speed and danger to the Harlequins' performances. However, there are those masques, such as the Leering Moon, who prefer to field great swarms of Skyweavers, their deployment a ritual acknowledgement of the multifarious nature of the serpent that the jetbikes are named for.
- Masque of the Midnight Sorrow - The Harlequins of the Midnight Sorrow are the ultimate enemies of Chaos, sworn to fight Cegorach's endless battles against the Ruinous Powers of the Warp. The Masque's name stems from the eighteenth verse of the third act of the Fall; that infamous scene wherein Cegorach witnesses the darkest time ever to have befallen his wayward children. Echoing the bleak misery and clashing violence of this scene, the Midnight Sorrow will always endeavor to strike at their foes as the witching hour tolls. Their razor-sharp focus drives the masque to pursue their agenda to the extent that no action is too extreme. On one hand they strike alliances with the pawns of the Corpse God, and on the other they slaughter his slaves without mercy. This seems capricious in the extreme to those who must deal with the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow, but to them it is all a part of Cegorach's great plan. In recent years this masque has been drawn increasingly into conflict with the servants of She Who Thirsts. The Farseers of the Eldar craftworlds watch the masque with growing concern, perceiving that the frenzied and daring nature of the Midnight Sorrow's actions are proof the end is at hand. Regardless, these single-minded Harlequins dance on, whether in the beautiful displays for their kinsmen, or the bloody dance of death on the battlefield. The symbol of the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow is a spear driven into the inverse heart of Twilight. To alien observers there is no easy interpretation of this icon, but Eldar know it represents the Midnight Sorrow's desire to strike their foe when daylight is slain, but before darkness reigns once more. A literal interpretation of this might lead some to think they favour attacks at dusk, but there is a more poignant reading, too. The day of the Eldar has come and passed, and the Midnight Sorrow strike now, before the long night begins.
- Masque of the Reaper's Mirth - All Harlequins are masters of ironic murder, though some are undeniably more talented than others. The Masque of the Reaper’s Mirth takes the Laughing God's bloody humour to an extreme. Every battlefield is a gory canvas upon which they can paint their masterpieces of death. It is not enough to simply kill their enemies -- they must be made examples of in the most extravagant manner. The Palace of Crystal Bones, Hall of Echoed Screams and Fountain of Crimson Tears are all works of the Reaper's Mirth. Because of their penchant for inventive cruelty, the masque attracts a higher proportion of Death Jesters. These macabre warriors take sardonic pleasure in fighting alongside the Players of the Reaper's Mirth as they enact their performances of genocide and horrific destruction. The rune worn by the Reaper's Mirth is an ancient symbol that represents both the first blooding of a weapon and the last breath of an enemy.
- Masque of the Shattered Mirage - There are those among the Eldar who have accepted the doom of their race. Far from welcoming oblivion, these lost souls rage against the slow destruction of their people, choosing to take the galaxy with them when they go. The Masque of the Shattered Mirage are ghosts of the Webway, the embodiment of the Laughing God's maudlin mirth in the face of his race's demise. Both their kin and their enemies fear this masque's Players. Their performances are dark and terrible to behold, conveying only fatalistic despair to their audiences. In battle, they fight with a reckless abandon that is horrific to bear witness to, and even in death they take dozens of the foe screaming with them to the grave. To fight the Shattered Mirage is to fight a foe with no fear of death, intent only on the destruction of their enemies no matter the cost. The Rune of the Lamented Dead is integral to the mindset of the Masque of the Shattered Mirage -- contained within its graceful lines and bladed curves is the ultimate demise of all things.
- Masque of the Silent Shroud - This masque acts in absolute silence, its Players speaking not a word. Their movements are but the softest sigh of silk upon the air. Even their weapons are muffled through technology and illusion, the hiss of gunfire and the clash of blades echoing dimly as through piercing the veil from another realm. Needless to say, this disorients and unsettles the masque's foes, only adding to the sensory confusion of the Harlequins’ assault. Everything this masque does is veiled in secrecy and stealth, and it often appears from nowhere to stage impromptu performances without need for stage or accompaniment. Whether this be amid the bladed spires of Commorragh, or the blood and horror of the battlefield, it matters not to the Silent Shroud. The Silent Shroud wear the Rune of the Thorn-Strangled Stave -– a mythic weapon used by Kurnous, the hunting god of ancient Eldar myth, to strike down his prey without making a sound.
- Masque of the Soaring Spite - This masque bases its entire existence upon the tales of the Cosmic Serpents brood. It performs and fights in an almost exclusively airborne fashion, soaring into battle like the Weaver Serpents of the mythic tales. The Soaring Spite is frequently seen in the company of the Saim-Hann Eldar, with whom its Players share a spiritual bond. Its performances are also wildly popular within the toroid arenas of the Commorrite Wych Cults. Here, the masque's Skyweavers swoop and soar, shedding very real blood as they engage in ritual dances and duels with the best challengers the Wych Cults have to offer. The diamond rune of the Soaring Spite signifies a sense of oneness, binding the Harlequins to the mythic beasts upon whom their performances are based.
- Masque of the Twisted Path - The Masque of the Twisted Path are some of the most sinister of all Harlequins, luring friends and foes into the Webway never to be seen again. They are also some of the most well-travelled of all Eldar and have been seen fighting alongside humans, Tau and even Orks, though to what end remains a mystery, for those that question their motives invariably disappear soon after. The Twisted Path have a strange affinity with Craftworld Telennar and have often been seen performing there. Curiously, no one has ever disappeared from the Craftworld following a performance, though whether the inhabitants are cursed, blessed or simply not of interest to the Harlequins of the Twisted Path is unknown. Unsurprisingly, no one has stopped them to ask. Players in the Masque of the Twisted Path wear a bright ensemble made up of reds, oranges and purples. The Masque of the Twisted Path wear the Rune of Stolen Grace, symbolising the souls taken by the Laughing God from his enemies and fashioned into weapons for his followers.
- Masque of the Veiled Path - Harlequins of the Veiled Path are merciless tricksters who cruelly exploit other races to achieve their aims, feigning alliance when in truth they care for none but their own. Master manipulators, the Masque of the Veiled Path achieve their aims by any means necessary. It was they who caused Prince Yriel of Iyanden to take up the Spear of Twilight. This baleful weapon has a heavy curse upon it and once removed from its stasis chamber within the Shrine of Ulthanash, it cannot be set aside before death. When Yriel fought the Tyranids of Hive Fleet Kraken he bested several of the Hive Mind's greatest warriors in personal combat, but many have questioned why a great noble of such status would draw a weapon that will claim his life. The answer to this lies with the Masque of the Veiled Path, who manipulated him into this fateful duty. For what reasons, they will not say. Even after the tragedy which befell the craftworld, and the sorrow it caused, the Eldar of Iyanden do not hesitate to answer their call to arms -- providing legions of automatons to march into war alongside the Veiled Path. The Veiled Path's rune is the Inverse Enigma -– a signifier of riddles within riddles and plots within plots. It is associated not only with trickery, but with back-stabbing and an ill-omened demise.
- Masque of the Winter Sun - The Masque of the Winter Sun is one of the smallest Harlequin groups that guard the Webway. While most Harlequin masques are willing to ignore the animosity between their divergent kin, the Winter Sun have not performed for, or fought with, the Dark Eldar for many millennia. Quite why is unclear, but their signature dance, the Broken Chalice, is a tale of treachery and hints at an ancient slight by their dark cousins. The Masque of the Winter Sun were most recently seen alongside forces from Craftworld Mymeara and Craftworld Alaitoc fighting in the Maiden's Veil, known to Imperial cartographers as the Karina Nebula. On Betalis III their holo-suits made them virtually invisible in the never-ending blizzards that dominate the Tormus Delta, enabling them to quickly bypass the Imperial defence lines. Only the intervention of Bran Redmaw's Great Company saved the Imperial Guard stationed there from certain death. The Masque of the Winter Sun are painted in a complementary colour scheme of blue and orange with details picked out in black and white. Players of the Masque of the Winter Sun wear the Eldar rune of Unseen Mysteries, a combination of two Eldar runes. At the top can be seen the rune of enigmas, which is followed by the rune of the seer, its eye missing to signify the blindness of the ignorant.
Harlequin Players perform with breathtaking skill, whether their stage is a wraithbone and glass amphitheatre bathed in crystalline light, or the firelit hell of the battlefield. They tumble, sprint and leap, every squeeze of the trigger and slash of a blade bringing death to the enemy. No Eldar is born a Harlequin, and all manner of strange tales persist concerning how this metamorphosis occurs. Some are supposedly drawn from amid bustling crowds, beckoned into the shadows by a masked figure only they can see. Others simply vanish from their personal chambers, their precious spirit stone discarded in their wake. To become a Harlequin means erasing all that has come before, be it friends, family, path or purpose. However it happens, once an Eldar becomes a Harlequin every aspect of their old identity is erased. Each joins a Light, Twilight or Dark Troupe, and assumes a new role at the behest of their Troupe Master. These roles -- each known by a ritual character name such as the Webway Witch, the Sun Prince, or Shaimesh the Poisoner -- inform every aspect of the Harlequin's personality from that moment on.
The difference between these three Troupes to a non-Eldar observer would be hard to distinguish by visual clues alone. Save for a rune badge that is either a prism, heart or four-sided star, there is little else to distinguish them from each other. The true difference between them is how the Players act. Harlequins from Light Troupes embody the heroic aspects of the Eldar (and typically play such heroes in their grand displays). They launch brave charges, fight with boldness and hurl themselves into the fray like heroes of myth. Dark Troupes, on the other hand, appear sinister and vindictive in their actions and the ways in which they finish off their enemies seem cruel, flamboyant and often very violent. The Twilight Troupes are the strangest, their actions dictated apparently by some unknown motive. They appear capricious or obsessive, and their actions are hard to read, until the moment their true genius is unveiled.
A peculiarity that sets the Harlequins apart from their craftworld and Exodite kin is that they do not bear Spirit Stones. Normally, when an Eldar dies, their unprotected soul is devoured by Slaanesh unless it is preserved inside one of these mysterious gems and joined with an Exodite World Spirit or Craftworld Infinity Circuit. Yet the Harlequins alone possess a secret that allows them to escape Slaanesh's jaws, and it is not one they seem willing to share.
Harlequin Troupe Markings
To other races, the Harlequins' appearance seems to defy any form of squad identification or uniformity. This is exactly how the warriors of the Laughing God would have it; confusion is, after all, a tool of war. To them, however, each Player is identifiable as belonging to one of three Troupe divisions within a masque: Light, Dark and Twilight, and each player in the Troupe will wear the markings of that Troupe. These icons are largely standard across the masques, with Light Troupes wearing a prism, Dark a four-sided star and Twilight a heart. Each Troupe is led by a Troupe Master, who wears the master rune, an ornate version of the same basic device worn by his Troupe, often hollowed out and bordered by curved arcs. All Players commonly display their Troupe rune upon a knee, thigh or shoulder pad. Each warrior wears their masque's colours, and honoured Players may also display their masque's rune.
- 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. Troupe Masters are choreographers of war, directing their comrades’ reactions to the changing fates of battle, and ensuring the Harlequins’ performance in the theatre of war is as perfect as it can be. By consent of their peers, the Troupe Masters become focal points for the successes and failures of entire Troupes of Harlequins. In many conflicts, the most talented will even be entrusted with directing the performance of their entire masque. Troupe Masters are closer to the lead Players of a cast than formal commanders; they are elevated by the will of their brothers and sisters, playing their role until it is time for another to take their place. Troupe Masters act as exemplars for all their Troupe's key characteristics, embodying everything it means to be Light, Dark or Twilight writ large. Thus Troupe Masters of the Light will hurl themselves into battle like the headstrong heroes of ancient myth, adopting such aggressive, protagonist roles as the Duke of the Hidden Realm, or the Eldanari Prince. Troupe Masters of the Dark, by comparison, are sinister and vindictive, always seeking some way in which to flamboyantly finish off the foe. Troupe Masters of the Twilight, meanwhile, see cycles of transition in everything, often seeming obsessive or insane in their attention to nuance and detail until the precise moment their true genius reveals itself. 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.
- Harlequin Troupe - In battle, Harlequin Troupes move fast and hit hard, relying on speed and skill to annihilate the enemy before they even have time to raise their guns. Preferring to evade harm than endure it, every Player is equipped with a holo-suit that fragments their outline into a storm of coloured shards, confounding the foe's aim. Once in combat, the Harlequins are in their element, performing a lethal dance of death while their masks shimmer with the foe's worst fears. The Players cut their panicked victims to pieces using an array of horrific, yet strangely beautiful weapons, every pinpoint blade thrust and whipcord kick an act of worship to the Laughing God. Harlequin Masques are comprised of three distinct Troupes: the Light, the Dark, and the Twilight. Each contains a different cast of characters, grouped by outlook and symbolism. The Light, for example, is especially associated with swift action, the heroic protagonist, the sky and the day. By comparison, the Dark represents villainous antagonists, violent endings, and the night, while the Twilight is transitory, like the Webway or the fateful journey, comprising characters that bestride multiple or shifting worlds. This structure ensures that each member is aware their fellows' roles, upon both stage and battlefield.
- Players - Harlequin Players, 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. They use manipulation of the mind as their foremost weapon. In battle, they turn their victims' senses against them, blinding eyes, driving brave men mad, or gouging fatal psychosomatic wounds. At the same time, they shield their allies from harm, wreathing them in veils of illusion until the moment comes to strike. Enigmatic masters of trickery and misdirection, the Shadowseers' prodigious psychic abilities are a powerful tool in the ongoing war against the servants of Chaos. In the Harlequins' performances, the Shadowseers play the role of Fate. They act as narrators, speaking in monologue, song or rhyme while their fellow Players whirl and spin around them. It is the Shadowseers' subtle psychic abilities, coupled with the hallucinogenic creidann grenade launchers they wear upon their backs, that provide diverse illusions for their shows. Blasts of multi-coloured light, glowing swirls of blinding mist and white-hot illusory flame -- all are conjured forth with consummate showmanship. Shadowseers are skilled in reading the skeins of the future. However, their second sight is differently honed to that of Farseers; they are concerned less with the literal manipulation of events, but rather the fulfilment of the mythic roles that others unknowingly assume. Concealing their identities with stage names, Shadowseers act as envoys to their craftworld or Commorrite kin, their faceless masks revealing nothing of their thoughts or intentions. It is believed that every Shadowseer works to their own, private agenda, giving or withholding information in whatever way best suits their needs.
- Death Jesters - At the present time, most Harlequins make no use of heavy weapons or heavy armour like grav tanks, save for the Harlequins called the Death Jesters. The Death Jesters or Deathheads, called in the Eldar Lexicon the margorach, are the heavy weapons specialists of the Harlequin. They 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. These sinister warriors stand apart from their fellow Harlequins, for they play Death in the masque and thus must walk aloof from their brethren. They often perform daring stunts of escapology and risk -- "dicing with Death," as they are fond of saying. Their costumes feature skulls and death's head masks, decorated with the bones of their predecessors. Their morbid sense of humour is appreciated throughout the Dark City, for they are as every bit as inventively cruel as the most black-hearted Commorrite. To a Death Jester, the madness of the battlefield presents infinite inspiration and boundless opportunities for lethal practical jokes. A Death Jester may wait until an enemy squad believes themselves safe within a bunker, before placing a single shot through the closing door with his shrieker cannon. The explosive effects of the weapon turn the haven into a tightly packed death trap, eliciting screams that are music to the Death Jester's ears. In the name of sating their desire for morbid amusement, these strange sadists have been known to dress up unconscious foes in the charred skin and bone of their fallen comrades. They have arranged the bodies of the fallen in bleakly amusing positions, and perpetrated any number of other awful acts of inexplicable humour. Even the Death Jester's own troupe find his antics distasteful, but they understand the role that he plays.
- 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 universe alone for most of his life, occasionally joining a masque for a single performance or battle as the fancy takes him. He speaks and is spoken to only in ritual form, and when he is not performing he rarely communicates with the other Eldar. 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.
- Skyweavers - Skyweavers descend upon the enemy like a prismatic storm, trailing cloaks of hallucinatory colour and light as they punch through the enemy ranks. Skimming dangerously low, their pilots whoop with glee and an eerie moan fills the air as the Players spin their star bolas in rapid arcs before letting the weapons fly. Guns blazing, the Skyweavers tear onward, the thumping concussion of plasmic blasts lighting their wake. Where the traditional jetbikes of craftworld Guardians or Commorrite Reavers are single-seat craft, Harlequin Skyweavers accommodate both a pilot and a rider, each playing a specific role. While the Skyborne Prince steers the arrow-fast craft and fires the main gun, the Great Falcon fights from the jetbike's rear. Many wield Star Bolas: weighted plasma charges that are hurled to wrap around necks, limbs or gun barrels. The ferocious detonations of these wicked devices can easily tear a Space Marine in two, or sever the leg of an armoured walker. Though star bolas are undeniably powerful weapons, their main disadvantage is that they can be hurled but once, so some Players choose to go into battle bearing long-bladed Zephyrglaives instead. These weapons are wielded with consummate skill, carving arcs through the air as they lop heads from shoulders or bisect torsos in fans of blood. In Eldar mythology, the Skyweaver was the youngest and most capricious of the Cosmic Serpent's brood. Depicted as a gestalt being composed of hundreds of small flying serpents, the Skyweaver spoke always in riddles, and was forever hurried and distracted by his myriad desires. As a boon to the Laughing God, the Skyweaver is said to have scattered himself across the heavens, each facet telling a subtly different tale of Cegorach's deeds. Thus did the Skyweaver spread confusion amongst the Laughing God's foes, striking down many with its fiery bite when their backs were turned.
- Starweavers - Starweavers streak across the battlefield as a storm of shattered light, relying upon a mixture of velocity and misdirection to confound the enemy's aim. The craft swoop and spiral effortlessly through incoming fire, anti-grav engines screaming as they bear their Harlequin passengers unerringly into the maelstrom of combat. These craft are lightly armoured and incredibly nimble. Further protection is offered by flickering layers of holofields and mirage launchers that reduce the craft to little more than a technicolour blur when on the move. Alongside these cunning countermeasures, the Starweaver packs a hefty punch, mounting multiple shuriken or haywire weapons that provide supporting fire for the Harlequins once they have leapt into the fray. Echoing the sky chariots of the ancient Eldar, these swift attack vehicles have a transport platform at their rear capable of bearing a Troupe of Harlequins into battle. Such is the skill of the Harlequins that they can leap over the sides of the Starweaver directly into battle, or vault back onto its platform in a heartbeat should they be needed elsewhere. Even once their passengers have joined the melee, Starweavers remain potent attack craft, spinning and jinking as they pour a storm of firepower into the bewildered foe. The Starweaver is named for the first and greatest son of the Cosmic Serpent. The Cosmic Serpent is a significant totem to the Harlequins, for he is said to have existed in both the material and psychic universes at the same time, and his strange and capricious young acted as occasional allies to Cegorach. Starweaver was the most noble and courageous of his serpentine brood, and swiftly made common cause with the Laughing God. The serpent freely gave his aid to Cegorach and, in tales such as the Humbling of Eldanesh or the Flight from the Grave of Stars, even suffered the Harlequins' deity to ride through danger upon his back. So do the Harlequins mount their Starweaver transports with reverence, for their actions echo those of Cegorach himself.
- Voidweavers - Sleek and sinister, Voidweavers swoop into battle with balletic grace. Considering their lightweight build, Voidweavers carry an extremely heavy loadout of firepower. However, their lightweight psychoplastics and gravimetric weaves ensure that Voidweavers are in no way encumbered by their arsenal. Instead, the potent combination of versatile heavy weapons, hypervelocity attack runs and polychromatic camouflage make these streamlined vehicles exceptionally dangerous. A full squadron can easily rip apart a heavy battle tank, or reduce a squad of the foe to smoking offal with a single volley. Operating as ambush hunters, they strike before the enemy realises their danger, and scream away before return fire can be brought to bear. An unusual feature of the Voidweaver is its rear-facing shuriken cannon, which can either be operated manually by the Harlequin gunner or left to follow reactive patterns under the guidance of its targeting matrix. The weapon’s placement allows it to guard the Voidweaver's rear, laying down sawing arcs of fire against any foe foolish enough to pursue the gunship. The howl of heavy weapons heralds the arrival of the Voidweavers, as enemy positions erupt into flames and confusion as the sleek gunships scream overhead. Cannons blazing, they plunge deep into the heart of the foe before blasting their way to freedom again amid welters of blood and showers of actinic sparks. Their every salvo sees enemies punched off their feet in sprays of blood as storms of shuriken scream through the air. Armoured vehicles that catch the attention of the craft's gunner are vaporised in conflagrations of prismatic light, or suffer sudden catastrophic systems failure under a barrage of haywire energy. Even those enemies who avoid the violent fury of the Voidweaver's attack run are not safe, for its aft cannon lays down a withering hail of fire to butcher those left cowering in its wake.
Weapons of the Lethal Art
The Harlequins are highly accomplished warriors and each Player, as their warriors are called, can be considered almost a one-man army in melee combat. Harlequin weapons fire is invariably lurid and spectacular in its effect, drawing upon the ancient technologies of the Eldar to achieve impressively lethal results. Searing beams of polychromatic light, howling storms of shuriken blades, and billowing clouds of shimmering, hallucinogenic gas herald the Harlequins' explosive arrival onto the stage of war:
- Agaith - A Harlequin's mask, known in the Eldar Lexicon as an agaith, or "false face," 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 agaith 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. In battle, a Harlequin's mask projects terrifying images of his victims' worst nightmares. Physically, however, the mask will usually be crafted in the likeness of whichever character the Harlequin is playing. Different roles are indicated by all manner of flourishes, be they opposing halves of black and white, such as in the case of the Dawnsinger or the Blinded Princess, patches of checks or diamonds like those displayed by the leering Scion of Cults, or soft gradients and subtle strokes, like the stylised tear of Isha's Sorrow. Most Harlequin masks project whatever appearance the wearer wishes, yet a Shadowseer's mask shows only a twisted reflection of those who stare into its depths. Unlike their fellow Players, Troupe Masters wear grotesque masks that mock the sinister, ugly face of war. Their ever-shifting features flicker between nightmarish horror and leering, sardonic humour at the mortal plight of their foes. The Solitaire's mask is cruel and unsettling, reflecting the exaggerated androgynous features of Slaanesh in all their daemonic grandeur.
- Holo Suit - In place of the thick armour plates used by less advanced races, all Eldar warriors use psychically activated bodysuits. In battle, the trademark holo-suits (or dathedi -- meaning "between colours") transform the Harlequins into dazzling blurs, their outlines exploding into blizzards of light that leave the foe's aim confounded and their thoughts bewildered. The device incorporates a programmable holo-field that breaks down the wearer’s profile into a fractal lightstorm as they move; the faster they travel, the more pronounced the effect. So it is that a charging Harlequin appears as nothing more than an indistinct, prismatic storm that is nigh-on impossible to hit, allowing them to simply avoid blows that would otherwise lay them low.
- Holo-Field - Harlequins also make use of Eldar Holo-Fields, 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.
- Flip Belts - The Flip-Belt is a wonder of Eldar technology, a portable anti-grav generator keyed to trigger upon the mental command of its wearer. So incredibly lightweight are flip-belts that they do nothing to hamper their wearer's natural agility. Instead, they heighten it to the point that Harlequins can leap clean over all but the most towering obstacles, springing and bounding through rubble and wreckage with supernatural ease.
- Harlequin Power Sword - Harlequin power swords are always named after famed weapons from Eldar myth. Many bear titles taken from the blades forged by Vaul to appease Khaine and secure the release of his prisoners, Kurnous and Isha. Also popular are the various blades of the House of Eldanesh, one of Khaine's many godly weapons, or the many stolen swords of the Laughing God himself.
- Harlequin's Kiss - Arguably the most iconic weapon that the masques carry to war, the Harlequin's Kiss (called the brathu-angau in the Eldar Lexicon, literally the "kiss of doom"), also sometimes called a "Sting"), is horrifically lethal. A sharpened tube attached to the forearm, the kiss can be punched through an enemy's armour and flesh. High-tensile monofilament wire contained within the weapon then uncoils, reducing the target's insides to a gory soup within the space of a single heartbeat.
- Harlequin's Embrace - The Harlequin's Embrace is a wrist-mounted weapon which boasts similar technology to that found in the Death Spinners carried by Warp Spider Aspect Warriors. They are triggered a second before the wearer charges into close combat, and project a cloud of monofilament wire that quickly contracts around the foe, slicing them to bloody chunks in mere seconds.
- Harlequin's Caress - A deadly weapon utilised by the mysterious Harlequin Solitaires, the Harlequin's Caress encases the user's hand in a phase field that allows him to reach through his foe's armour and pluck out their heart as easily as though he were running his fingers through thin air.
- Star Bola - The tredalil, or Star Bolas, mounts three weighted plasma charges at the end of mesh-weave cords. These charges arm when the bolas is spun with sufficient vigour. The weapon is designed to be hurled in a scything arc, tangling about its target before its plasma charges explode with the fury of a dying sun.
- Fusion Pistol - Fusion Pistols cause the molecules of the target to hyper-vibrate, generating so much heat that their targets burst into flames before suddenly liquefying, and then evaporating into nothingness. Though incredibly short-ranged, the sheer destructive potential of these weapons ensures that they see common usage amongst the masques of the Harlequins.
- Neuro Disruptor - Neuro Disruptors are elegant psychocrystalline weapons that fire beams of energy capable of burning away nervous tissue in an agonising instant. Armour offers no protection from these weapons, for it is simply bypassed altogether. Indeed, foes hit by a neuro disruptor show no outward sign of injury, excepting their sudden, violent convulsions as they tumble to the floor.
- Miststave - Traditionally, every Shadowseer carries a Miststave -- a weapon that channels their mental force to crush armour plates and shatter bones. Against living victims, even a glancing blow from such a stave scrambles their perceptions, clouding the mind with contradictory illusions and reducing sight to a slow-motion blur.
- Zephyrglaive - Each Zephyrglaive is perfectly weighted, individually balanced to its wielder and enfolded in a molecular dissonance field. This renders it a lethal weapon of high-velocity aerial murder.
- Shuriken Pistol - Shuriken pistols are light, compact sidearms much favoured by Harlequins. The slender, graceful lines of these weapons mislead many foes, who discover their lethal stopping power only as a flurry of razor-edged shuriken rip through their flesh. The reliability and featherweight construction of the shuriken pistol means that most Harlequins bear them into battle, the Players' acrobatic combat style perfectly complemented by the firearm they wield.
- Hallucinogen Grenade Launcher - These launchers swathe the foe in hallucinogenic gas.
- Prismatic Cannon - Similar to the Prism Cannon technology utilised by Eldar Fire Prism grav-tanks, the Prismatic Cannon utilised by the Harlequins uses multiple laser arrays set around a fashioned shard of psychocrystal to project a searing beam of energy into the foe. The weapon's apertures can be adjusted in order to focus or broaden its destructive might at will.
- Shuriken Cannon - The Shuriken Cannon utilised by the Harlequins, known in the Eldar Lexicon as buana ("reaper"), operates in a similar way to the smaller hand-held Shuriken Catapult, but possesses an ammunition coil to load the weapon more quickly. It also uses a triple accelerator field for improved rates of fire and power. The Shuriken Cannon fires monomolecular bladed discs at an astonishing rate, each projectile near invisible to the naked eye but hard enough to scythe through flesh and metal with ease. The Harlequins use these punishing weapons to support their shock assaults, wailing streams of fire ripping through the foe as the Players dash forward. While the versions above are all hand-held weapons the shuriken cannon is very large and needs stabilising gyroscopes to allow any accuracy. They are generally mounted on Guardian heavy weapon platforms and Eldar vehicles.
- Death Jester Shuriken Cannon - Infinitely more cruel than a typical shuriken cannon, the shrieker cannons of the Death Jesters fire projectiles impregnated with virulent genetic toxins, which turn the luckless victim into a walking bomb. Their blood boils, organs rupture and flesh sears from within, before they explode with sickening violence.
- Haywire Cannon - Crackling blasts of electromagnetic energy leap from the forked projector-vanes of the Haywire Cannon with every shot. Capable of scrambling even the most robust electrical systems, a single hit from such a weapon can leave enemy tanks and aircraft powerless and at the mercy of the Harlequins' wrath.
- Mirage Launcher - Mounted upon hulls of Harlequin vehicles, Mirage Launchers are one-shot holo-grenade pods. When triggered, they emit an explosion of blinding colours, masking the vehicle from sight for precious seconds.
Enigmas of the Black Library
These artefacts are items of incredible rarity, ancient treasures that are carefully maintained and stored within the Black Library:
- Cegorach's Rose - Representing the barbed gift given in jest by the Laughing God to the crone Morai-Heg, Cegorach's Rose contains thorned monofilaments of shadowsilk. Existing in the penumbra between realspace and the labyrinth dimension, these shadowsilk strands bypass even the thickest armour as though it did not exist. Once within the body of the victim, the Rose's threads uncoil, a blossom of molecule-thin blades unfurling at the end of each. Thus, the foe is slain instantly as a thicket of bloody, bladed roses bursts forth within their chest.
- Crescendo - This masterwork shuriken pistol was first bestowed upon a Troupe Master of the Veiled Path. Supposedly, it was given as a gift by a wanderer of the Webway, who members of that masque claim was none other than the Laughing God himself. While many doubt the word of the Veiled Path in this, there can be no denying that Crescendo is a beautifully crafted and uniquely potent firearm. When the pistol's trigger is pulled, micro-distortion engines engage within its housing. The effect is to step Crescendo's wielder slightly ahead of time, accelerating weapon and wielder alike and allowing an impossible volley of firepower to be unleashed. Thus Crescendo lives up to its name, filling the air with a rising howl as it scythes down waves of the foe.
- The Laughing God's Eye - A pendant of rune-carved wraithbone, this potent artefact is said to draw the watchful eye of Cegorach himself. Psychic powers flicker and die in the pendant's presence, for the Laughing God will not suffer his children to be beset by the tendrils of the Warp. This aura of abnegation extends not only to the pendant's wearer, but billows like a concealing cloak to shield nearby allies. So does Cegorach watch over his followers, guarding them from the predations of She Who Thirsts.
- Mantle of The Laughing God - Every few decades, the Harlequins converge upon a particular craftworld, in search of a champion who will bear the mantle of the Laughing God in pursuance of some dire task. Whilst he bears the mantle, the champion will surely walk in dark and perilous places, but he will not do so alone –- the Laughing God was ever sentimental of his followers, and watches with keen interest those who do him honour.
- The Mask of Secrets - Many Eldar believe the Mask of Secrets to be no more than a dark fable, and perhaps it would be better if this were so. Yet it is very real, kept within a shadowed vault deep within the Black Library. All who look upon this mask see distorted reflections of their own faults and failings, the slightest doubt or regret twisted into a horrific swarm of phantasms that scream and wail as they claw at the psyche of the victim. Those who wear the Mask of Secrets fear nothing while the mask remains upon their face, yet it is said that in the long run they must pay a terrible price for this temporary boon.
- Starmist Raiment - At first glance, there is little to distinguish the Starmist Raiment from a typical holo-suit, save that it is woven through with gossamer-thin strands of what looks like liquid silver. Yet when the wearer moves, they are engulfed in a shimmering cloud of refracted starlight that blinds and confuses the foe. This effect is magnified when the wearer moves quickly, the blurred glow swelling to become a blazing corona almost impossible to see through. So does the wearer mimic Aelos, the heavenly star flung by Cegorach himself, that smote Vaul's treacherous assistant Ghaevyll and blinded him for his deceits.
- The Storied Sword - An exquisite and perfectly weighted weapon, the Storied Sword has a starmetal blade and a tooled wraithbone grip. Inscribed upon the sword in minute script is the entire tale of the Fall of the Eldar, as narrated by the Shadowseers. As the wielder of this weapon fights, they find their mind filling with images of that terrible time, impossible psychic snapshots of the greatest tragedy ever to befall their race. Driven into a killing fury by the horrors they have seen, the wielder fights all the harder, determined to prevent any such terrible events from transpiring ever again.
- Rillietann - A member of the Harlequin Troupe.
- Athair - The Troupe Master.
- Margorach - The Death Jester.
- Arbennian - The Solitaire.
- Esdain - The Shadowseer.
- Dathedi - The holo-suit worn by Eldar Harlequins. Translated as meaning "between colours."
- Geirgilath - The flip-belt worn by every Harlequin that enables them to perform incredible moves and stunts.
- Creidann - The grenade launcher used by the masque's Shadowseers. Loaded with hallucinogenic cartridges, they add to the physical and psychic effects of the Harlequins' performance, though they're also a deadly weapon in battle.
- Agaith - A Harlequin's mask or "false face."
- Marathag - The rictus mask worn by Troupe Masters, also known as a "face of death."
- Brathu-Angau - The deadly Harlequin's Kiss, the "kiss of doom."
- Marsgrech - The bio-explosive shrieker ammunition favoured by Death Jesters.
- Black Crusade: The Tome of Excess (RPG), pg. 111
- Codex: Craftworld Eldar (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Dark Eldar (7th Edition), pp. 85-89, 107, 111, 115
- Codex: Eldar (2nd Edition), pp. 28-29, 41
- Codex: Eldar (4th Edition), pp. 48-49
- Codex: Eldar (6th Edition), pp. 46-47, 65
- Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition), pg. 42
- Codex: Harlequins (7th Edition) (Digital Edition)
- Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (2nd Edition), pg. 215
- Rogue Trader: Fallen Stars (RPG), pg. 64
- White Dwarf Weekly Magazine #53 (31 Jan 2015), "Harlequin Troupe," "The Danse of Death," "Paint Splatter," pp. 4-16, 23-29, 37-45
- White Dwarf Weekly Magazine #54 (07 Feb 2015), "Skyweaver," "Parade Ground," "Rules of Engagement," "Paint Splatter," pp. 4-10, 25-30, 36-37, 45-51
- White Dwarf Weekly Magazine #55 (14 Feb 2015), "Starweaver," "Voidweaver," "Focus On...Shades of Eldar," "Codex: Harlequins," "Datacards: Harlequins," "Warriors of the Laughing God," "Harlequin Masques," "Paint Splatter," "This Week In White Dwarf," "Harlequin Masques Extra: The Veiled Path," pp. 4-19, 26-52
- White Dwarf Weekly Magazine #56 (21 Feb 2015), "Shadowseer," "Death Jester," "Focus On...The Great Players," "Uniting the Kindred," "Paint Splatter," "This Week In White Dwarf - Masters of the Masque," "Designer Notes: Shadowseers," "Codex: Apocrypha Extra," pp. 5-8, 10-15, 21-26, 50-55, 57-62, 64-68
- White Dwarf 107, "Eldar Harlequin," pg. 15
- White Dwarf 106, "Eldar Harlequins - Army List," pp. 11-18
- Harlequin (Novel) by Ian Watson
- Games Workshop Online Store - Harlequin Troupe
- Games Workshop Online Store - Solitaire
- Games Workshop Online Store - Shadowseer
- Games Workshop Online Store - Classic Shadowseer
- Games Workshop Online Store - Death Jester
- Games Workshop Online Store - Classic Death Jester
- Games Workshop Online Store - Skyweaver
- Games Workshop Online Store - Starweaver
- Games Workshop Online Store - Voidweaver