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"Death is my meat, Terror my wine"

Dark eldar archon by beckjann

A Dark Eldar Archon

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A Dark Eldar Archon leads his Kabal into combat

An Archon is the leader of a Dark Eldar Kabal, the organisation that serves as the heart of the standard Dark Eldar raiding force as well as the Dark Eldar's primary political unit within the Dark City. The Archons of the Dark Eldar Kabals are the true lords of Commorragh. They sit at the apex of the Dark Eldar hierarchy that controls the Dark City and the Labyrinthine Realm of the Dark Eldar's portion of the Webway. Each wields enough political influence to collapse portions of realspace into the Warp, stall the progress of an Imperial Crusade or take the population of entire worlds as slaves. The overlord of a Kabal is always a potent foe on the battlefield, but he has attained his position not merely through martial prowess in the arts of war and violence but through consistently emerging as the victor in the most difficult game of all -- the byzantine intrigues that govern all things in the heart of the Dark City. Though every Archon is a conceited, solipsistic megalomaniac convinced of his mental and physical superiority over all other beings, he will retain his position as an overlord of Commorragh for only as long as he can stave off the endless coup and assassination attempts of his rivals, enemies and his own Dracon lieutenants. One false move in the upper echelons of the Dark City is almost inevitably fatal, and so all Archons have an uncanny ability to predict the motives and schemes of others and take great delight in turning their rivals' traps against them in bloody and often spectacular ways.

The endless ambitions of their underlings keep an Archon's paranoia as sharp as their own blades, and so it is in the service of treachery that all Archons truly excel, with their strategies stretching across millennia as centuries-old plots come to fruition. It is said by some that the Archons of the Dark Eldar could teach even Tzeentch, the Lord of Change, a thing or two about plotting for the long term. Some of the Archons known as the Lords of Twilight, who govern from the highest spires of Commorragh, even claim to have seized their thrones in the times before the Fall of the Eldar. These eldest of the Archons view the rest of their species with contempt; as little better than squabbling children. The Lords of Twilight do not suffer fools willingly. A single misstep in protocol may rouse an Archon to murderous wrath. In matters of maintaining their Kabal's hierarchy, Archons have been known to even prefer solutions that leave everyone less well-off if only to spite them.

Yet revelling in the depths of suffering and madness for an eternity eventually extracts a price. Over the long Terran years that they have held the reigns of power or clawed their way up to hold their lofty positions, the Archons of the Dark Eldar have enjoyed the pain of others for so long that only a true atrocity invigorates them. Archons regularly lead full-scale planetary raids for their Kabals, as drinking in the agony of entire planets is the only way they can regenerate themselves. Thousands of slaves must be sacrificed for the eldest Archons every night and this still may not be enough to make the oldest and most corrupt look youthful once more. As a result, elder Archons usually cover their black-veined faces with masks. Some Archons' masks are stylised and beautiful; others are bloody, alien and terrible, fashioned from the flayed flesh of their rivals' faces. When the time comes to offer battle, an Archon will first stop at his weapons museums, savouring the process of selecting which of the baleful technologies of the Dark City -- Soul-traps, Agonisers, and Shadowfields -- he will use to visit terror and pain upon the unwitting. The Archon's most favoured retainers and pets, each of whom specialises in its own preferred form of visiting death and pain upon others, accompany him into combat. Few mortals have ever seen a Dark Eldar Archon in combat -- and kept the tongue in their mouths to tell the tale.

Court of the Archon

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A Dark Eldar Archon in battle armour

A Kabalite overlord surrounds himself with retainers and personal bodyguards at his court. Depending on an Archon's personality, this court can be comprised of a highly eclectic group, but is usually drawn from among the following types of beings:

  • Medusae - Medusae are visored slave-beings used to record the roiling emotions of the battlefield. However, these creatures, usually humanoid slaves with psychic ability, are actually only the physical hosts for the alien entities of the Immaterium that are the true Medusae. These creatures are empathic parasites and in their true forms look like a collection of brains and spinal cords layered one atop another. In their natural state they float through the Warp like jellyfish, a form of psychic plankton who feed on daydreams and nightmares. Medusae can latch onto a host that intruded into their realm, absorbing their emotions directly and providing a portal into realspace. Though meeting the gaze of a Medusae's host can cause immediate emotional hemorrhaging, these hybrid beings are extremely valuable in Commorragh, for they can absorb and store extreme sensations for the Dark Eldar to enjoy later. Consuming one of the Medusae's brain-fruits brings back all the exhilarating emotions of a raid or other experience as if it was happening once more.
  • Ur-Ghuls - Dark Eldar Archons maintain all manner of deadly xenos creatures in their courts, from worm-like Haemovores to greater Shaderavens, whose croaks and caws drive those who hear it insane. Though innumerable numbers of such hideous beasts prowl the dark ways of Commorragh, it is the Ur-Ghul that is the most frightening, a blind but dexterous troglodyte that originated on the world of Shaa-dom among its haunted and abandoned ziggurats. Once one of these whip-thin horrors gets the scent of prey in its rows of quivering, dripping scent-pits, it will not stop hunting that creature until either it or its prey has fallen.
  • Lhamaeans - An Archon may keep many strange humanoid beings as his courtesans, but the mysterious Dark Eldar sisterhood known as the Lhilitu are coveted above all others, for not only are they imaginative and passionate lovers but they are also masters of the arts of poison. Descending from the original Cult of Lhamaea, they draw from the knowledge of Shaimesh, the Father of Poisons, one of the Dark Muses. The presence of a Lhamaean in an Archon's court ensures his Kabal with a supply of the most virulent toxins which she will share with her Archon before each raid into realspace. It is said that even a kiss blown upon the wind by a Lhamaean courtesan can kill hundreds in its deadly path.
  • Sslyth - As true Dark Eldar inevitably make extremely poor bodyguards as a result of their innately self-interested nature and penchant for treachery, most Archons employ the more reliable alien mercenaries who inhabit the Dark City to protect them from the constant coup and assassination attempts. Though Dark Eldar bodyguards can be found among every intelligent race of the galaxy, the most favoured are the Sslyth, massive serpent-bodied xenos whose race fell to the temptations of unbridled excess and the worship of Slaanesh many millennia ago. Since they possess two sets of arms, Sslyth mercenaries can wield enough guns and blades to easily counter any would-be assassin or usurper. Some Imperial scholars have noticed the unusual similarity of the Sslyth to a xenos race known as the Laer who were supposedly exterminated by the Emperor's Children Legion of Space Marines at the end of the Great Crusade in the early 31st Millennium. These creatures were nearly identical to the Sslyth and were also worshipers of sensual excess whose homeworld of Laeran was responsible for the initial corruption of the Emperor's Children and their Primarch Fulgrim by Chaos. What the connection might be, if any, remains unknown at this time.

Sources

  • Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition), pp. 34-35
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