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"All theatres are theatres of war. War must needs be theatrical."
Farseer Ro-fhessi of Craftworld Ulthwe, describing a Harlequin performance
Harlequins3

A pair of Eldar Harlequin Troupers unleashing the Dance of Death

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.

History

Harlequin troupe

A Troupe of Eldar Harlequins

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. For the warrior dancers of the Harlequins, there is no distinction between art and war. Followers of the cunning deity known as the Laughing God, they 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. For the warrior dancers of the Harlequins, there is no distinction between art and war. Followers of the cunning deity known as the Laughing God, they 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.

When an Eldar dies, his essence is caught within his crystal Spirit Stone and so escapes the Chaos God Slaanesh who would otherwise consume it. The craftworld Eldar release this spirit into the Infinity Circuit, and the souls of the Exodites find similar refuge within the World Spirit of their home planets. The Harlequins, however, belong only to the Laughing God. The Harlequins doubtless possess countless secrets that would be of great benefit to the Archons of Commorragh were they to know of them, not least how they keep their souls from the grasp of She Who Thirsts. Newly inducted Harlequins must pass a trial known only as "The Ritual" upon initiation into a Harlequin band. This ritual enables their dying spirits to merge together with their patron, strengthening his power. This ritual is said to free them from the fear normal Eldar have of She Who Thirsts, who would steal 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 story goes that while Slaanesh fought with Kaela Mensha Khaine, the Laughing God escaped into the webway and hid amongst its myriad tunnels. He lives there still, laughing at the gods of Chaos, dancing through the strands of fate and consequence as he makes his secret plans. Known to the Harlequins as Cegorach, he cannot be caught, for he is too fast and subtle, and he knows all the secrets of the webway.

Much like their ever-shifting god, the Harlequins are not tied to any particular craftworld, but wander from world to world through the interspatial tunnels of the webway as if guided from place to place by some unknown purpose. In peacetime, the Harlequins weave spells of song and dance, enacting the mythic cycles of the Eldar in mime and music. They occasionally grace other Eldar with impressive performances and acrobatic displays, and are even rumoured to stage their performances for the cursed Dark Eldar in their twilight city of Commorragh. In these pageants, each Harlequin plays the role of one of the figures from Eldar legend, acting out stylised versions of Eldar mythic cycles. The plays and songs of the Harlequins are full of subtle meanings and significances that only the Eldar can fully appreciate. The roles within each performance are always taken by the same players; thus the role of the Laughing God is always played by the Troupe Master himself, whilst that of Fate is played by the Shadowseer, Death by the Death Jester, and so on. The majority of roles are played by the Harlequins who make up the bulk of the troupe. Having no individual names or identities, they have become the players of the troupe in a quite literal way.

Harlequins wear exotic multi-coloured costumes at all times, and employ shimmering holosuits they call domino suits or dathedi. Similar in function to the holo-fields used by Eldar battle tanks, a holo-suit breaks up the outline of the wearer. Every time he moves, his outline explodes into a scintillating cloud of tiny fragments, and when he stops the image coalesces into a solid likeness once again. The Harlequins never show their real faces, but conceal them beneath a shifting mask that can assume any image at the will of the wearer. When the followers of the Laughing God bend their formidable skills to the art of murder, their masks reflect the worst nightmares of those who gaze upon them. When the call to war is heard, the Harlequins lend their strength to the might of the Warrior Aspects and Guardians. The fact that they will as readily fight alongside the warhosts of the craftworlds as the cruel Kabals of the Dark Eldar speaks of an allegiance to the Eldar as a race rather than to any specific caste or offshoot, yet their aid is never refused. The Harlequins invariably appear upon the eve of momentous events, whether for good or ill, and their appearance is seen as a portent of the shifting tides of fate.

The Dance

A Harlequin troupe performing The Dance during a masque

Masques

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.

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 it is necessary to travel secret passages through the webway, to pass its terrifying sentinels, and to find one of the hidden entrances that lead within. The Black Library houses all the Eldar's most precious knowledge, and in particular focusses upon all that they have learned about the perils of Chaos. It was Chaos that destroyed their once great civilisation, and which threatens them still from the Warp. The secrets of the library are not for the unwary or the merely curious; within its psychically locked rooms lie grimoires of dark magic, black tomes of daemonic lore, and records of countless Chaos cults scattered across the stars. The expertise within has been gathered from every corner of the galaxy, and includes many alien works. 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. As to the sentinels of the Black Library, their true nature remains unspoken, yet they are described as the most terrible of all the perils to be encountered in the webway.

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.

Notable Campaigns

  • 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.
  • Sanctity Breached (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.

Harlequin Organisation

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

Harlequin Troupe Master

A Harlequin Troupe Master

  • 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.
Harlequin Shadowseer

A Harlequin Shadowseer

  • 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. The Shadowseers are the only psykers permitted open passage within the bounds of Commorragh, for the Dark Eldar know that these warrior mystics are shrouded from the sight of She Who Thirsts. It is believed that every Shadowseer works to their own, private agenda, giving or withholding information in whatever way best suits their needs.
Death Jester2 Colored

An Eldar Harlequin Death Jester armed with a Shrieker Cannon

  • 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.

Masque

  • 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.
Harlequin Solitaire Model by precinctomega

An Eldar Harlequin Solitaire

  • 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.

Wargear

Harlequin rune3

Rune of the Eldar Lexicon designating the Harlequins

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. In place of the thick armour plates used by less advanced races, all Eldar warriors use psychically activated bodysuits. Guardians wear armour formed from complex psychoplastics which stiffen with the impact of a shot or swordblow. Aspect Warrior armour is similar in design but incorporates moulded plates to better reinforce the suit, leading to a far greater degree of protection. Both are constructed of a psycho-sensitive material that reacts to the movements and thought-forms of the wearer, moulding and reshaping itself to fit like a glove as the warrior fights. Even the heaviest and most ornate of these suits, worn by the Exarchs, are still lightweight enough for the wearer to kill without hindrance. The Eldar also make use of powerful force fields varying from personal shield projectors to the holo-fields employed by Eldar grav-tanks and towering titans. Some are stranger in function still, including the psychic shielding of rune armour, said to pulse in time with the wearer's heartbeat, and the dathedi holo-suits used by the mysterious Harlequins.

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.

Remnants of Glory

Remnants of glory are items of incredible rarity and power:

  • 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.

Sources

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