"The sweet sound of suffering"
The Haemonculi, the Lords of Pain, are horrific and insane Dark Eldar flesh-sculptors who have lived within the depths of Commorragh for many Terran centuries, if not millennia. They are master torturers, the Dark Eldar's greatest connoisseurs of pain and terror. To pass the long centuries they compose loving symphonies of agony from those unfortunate enough to be held captive in ther dungeons. Even other Dark Eldar secretly fear the Haemonculi, for they can reshape not just the body but also the soul. The Haemonuli are organised into units called covens that are integral to Commorrite society since they are the true masters of the Dark Eldar's necessary regenerative processes as well as of torture, but they remain the embodiments of terror and paranoia even for others of their species. All know that to anger one of the Lords of Pain is to end up as the subject of one of their horrific tapestries of agony. Haemonculi specialise in body modification and flesh-sculpting and they love to work with a new "canvas" of flesh. If their client wants barbed quills added to his shoulders, the scaled face of an alien reptile, or the eyes of a Viridian Wraithspider, no request is too difficult or bizarre for a Haemonculus to fulfill.
How a Dark Eldar becomes a Haemonculus is unknown. They are all of an ancient age, even for the long-lived Eldar, and their withered and horrific appearances speaks of Dark Eldar so old they have passed beyond the ability to regenerate a youthful appearance no matter how much of others' torment and agony they immerse themselves in. It is possible that the oldest of the Haemonculi, known as the Haemonculi Ancients, contain among their numbers those individuals who inaugurated the very first Eldar cults of pleasure and pain before the Fall, but this also remains unknown, as all Haemonculi physically alter themselves to the point that they barely even resemble other members of the species they mockingly still call their own.
While the physical modifications will differ from Haemonculus to Haemonculus, representing their personal tastes and particular brand of insanity, they are always attenuated and twisted in form. Their wan, pale-skinned frames do not have a spare ounce of flesh upon them, and their waists are devoid of internal organs to better present what they view as a fashionably disturbing facade. Some Haemonucli place their intestines, lungs and heart within a powerfully-muscled piece of additional tissue that sprouts from their shoulders and serves as a repository for stimulants and other alchemical mixtures as well as boasting secondary limbs of mechanical or biological origin. Others replace their blood so that searing ichor or even a potent molecular acid now runs through their modified veins. Their spines have been elongated so that from the lower back, their vertebrae meld into prehensile bone-tails that can lash out at their victims. From their backs emerge horn-like protrusions of bone that frame the Haemonculus' head like an organic rack. These racks are hung with special syringes that channel their noxious concoctions directly into their spinal sump.
As they are for all purposes functionally immortal, the Haemonculi do not pursue the hurried, frenetic pace of the younger Dark Eldar. They move with an unlovely grace, often held aloft by powerful anti-gravity suspensor crystals. Others can slither along the ground like nightmarish serpents using their bone-tails. Patient fiends, they know that the manufacture of a truly perfect death takes time. As the millennia pass, many Haemonculi become ever more deranged and obsessive. One Haemonculus might only dine upon the left hands of his victims, while another may only drink from a fluted glass filled with the tears of children. Having long since transcended notions of wealth held by even other Dark Eldar, Haemonculi particularly prize the acquisition of unusual alchemical ingredients, such as the heart of a Judge of the Adeptus Arbites or the distilled physical essence of a once-proud Imperial Planetary Governor. The former may elicit the stout flavour of pure resolve; the latter the foolish thrill of vain-glory.
In battle, the Haemonculi see combat as yet another canvas upon which to exercise the skills of the true artist of pain. They use extreme wargear that often takes the form of an unusual biological or chemical weapon, such as a compound that allows them to cause uncontrollable tissue growth with a single touch or to remove all water from their foes' bodies in an instant, causing their dried, dessicated corpses to drop to the ground before they are even aware of what is happening to them. A Haemonculus usually drifts across the field of battle using his suspensor crystals with a magnificent if macabre elegance, providing the gift of a gloriously agonising death to one combatant after another. In the rare instance that a Haemonculus himself should die, he will go quite willingly into the void with a hideous smile etched upon his gaunt features. Every Haemonculus knows that he will soon return to seek a fascinating and vicious revenge. After all, for these foul beings, death is just the beginning...
Arcane wargear is extremely rare. Used only by the Haemonculi and their twisted minions, such devices are so strange in function that to a lesser mortal they seem like the tools of a magus or sorcerer:
- Archangel of Pain - The Archangel of Pain is an ornate casket that contains the essence of a captured daemon, driven insane by the runes of binding that hold it within. Upon the daemon's release it appears as a winged, blinding figure before returning to the Warp, its triumphant screams incapacitating even the bravest foe.
- Animus Vitae - The Animus Vitae is a special close-combat weapon. This detestable creation resembles a tightly-packed sphere of sentient barbed wire that can be made to explode outwards, capturing its prey and then contracting quickly to cut apart its victim. The psychic by-product is highly invigorating to those with the strength of will to consume it.
- Casket of Flensing - When the Casket of Flensing is opened and the activation words spoken, invisible spirits fly outwards towards the bearer's prey. Before long the Haemonculus' foes find themselves covered in dozens of circular bites that manifest in flesh and armour alike. If enough of the bearer's ethereal imps find their mark, they will strip their prey's head clean of flesh, pull the skull free from the spine, and carry their grisly trophy back to their Haemonculus master whilst the brain inside writhes in abject terror.
- Crucible of Malediction - The Crucible of Malediction is referred by Haemonculi as "the kin-gift," for this extraordinary weapon is especially dangerous to their Craftworld cousins. Each Crucible contains the essence of psykers captured and tortured until death. When released, their unquiet spirits hurtle across the battlefield, shrieking and crying in a cacophony that drives nearby psykers insane.
- Dark Gate - A Dark Gate is a runic tetrahedron that opens a portal to one of the forbidden zones of the Webway. Many impossible entities make their lairs in these sealed-off fragments, and an open portal is an irresistible lure. Shortly after the dark gate is cast into the fray, a grasping tentacle or flickering pseudopod lashes out form the gate and crushes anyone it can catch in its clammy grasp.
- Flesh Gauntlet - A Flesh Gauntlet is a claw-glove crammed with syringe-like protrusions and vials which can inject potent electrosteroids that force rapid and unnatural growth. Its victim will literally outgrow his own skin, bursting apart in a welter of steaming, heaving matter.
- Hexrifle - The long-barrelled Hexrifle fires crystal cylinders that each contain a tiny amount of the glass plague that assailed the Dark City of Commorragh in the 36th Millennium. On contact with bare flesh, the hexrifle's arcance payload spreads quickly, turning its victim into a transparent statue with an expression of shock etched upon its visage forevermore.
- Liquifier Gun - The Liquefier Gun fires a spray of incredibly potent acid that eats through anything it touches. Wracks, Grotesques and other minions of the Haemonculi covens often have Liquifier Guns built into their bodies so that they can fire out great gouts of their own acidic blood. The amount of devastation wreaked by this fearsome weapon depends on how much of its vitriolic ammunition splashes over its target.
- Orb of Despair - An Orb of Despair is a heavy black sphere that has sat within the oubliettes of the Haemonculi for millennia, absorbing the pain and horror of the damned souls trapped within. When hurled at the ground, it sends out shockwaves of negative emotional energy that plunge those around into the darkest reaches of anguish.
- Scissorhand - The Scissorhand is a close-combat weapon that looks a little like a pair of surgical sheers bearing expensive toxins so that its wielder can better incapacitate those whose limbs it amputates.
- Shattershard - The legendary Shattershards were originally a part of a complex transdimensional portal called the Mirror of Planes. Since the portal's destruction, each shard has been painstakingly tracked down and weaponised by the demented genius Vorsch. By catching the enemy's reflections in the Shattershard and then breaking it to pieces, those reflected will find themselves shattered into pieces too.
- Stinger Pistol - A Stinger Pistol is a lightweight sidearm characterised by a long, syringe-like barrel and a venom reservoir that holds searingly potent toxins. When fired, it ejects a long sliver of hollow glass that can pierce a foe's skin and introduces the toxins straight into the bloodstream, invariably with horrific results.
- Gruemeneal - Gruemeneal is a depraved Haemonculus who works in the service of the Kabal of the Black Heart. Journeying with Archon Tahril to the Kaurava System, Gruemeneal sought to capture a multitude of slaves for his own means, to torture and inflict upon them a symphony of pain.
- Urien Rakarth - The being known as Urien Rakarth is twisted beyond measure, possessing such a mastery over the arts of the flesh that he has died and been resurrected back to life time and time again. Several standard thousand years old, he has been slain by nearly every known form of weapon and has suffered more grisly fates besides. Rakarth is a twisted and depraved genius in the fields of bodily manipulation and anatomical sculpture. His skills as a fleshcrafter are legendary. Though he once enjoyed an esteemed position within the Dark Eldar hierarchy of Commorragh, the Master Haemonculus has transcended such petty squabbles over power and prestige entirely, reveling instead only in depravity.
- Vlokarion - Second only to Urien Rakarth in his twisted accomplishments, Vlokarion was an infamous Haemonculus of Commorragh of some renown. The twisted Haemonculus was fascinated with the Eldar Exodites, the members of the Eldar race that rejected the slow degeneration of their ancient civilisation before the Fall of the Eldar and exiled themselves from the core homeworlds of the star-spanning Eldar empire for the newly-terraformed colony planets called Maiden Worlds. Vlokarion believed that during The Fall, the racial soul of the Eldar was divided -- with each portion embracing a specific aspect of the Eldar nature. The Haemonculus theorised that the Exodites embraced the purity of the Eldar Goddess Isha, and therefore, the dark energies extracted from their torments would be far more potent than those harvested from their Craftworld cousins or the lesser races such as the Mon-keigh (humans). He believed that by harnessing these captured energies one could potentially resurrect a mortal after he or she had been dead for millennia.
Known Haemonculi Covens
There are many Haemonucli Covens amongst the Dark Eldar of Commorragh. The most infamous are listed here, though there are a great many more less powerful or newly established covens whose names remain unknown in current Imperial records:
- The Altered
- The Black Descent
- The Coven of the Crawling Dark
- The Coven of Twelve
- The Dark Creed
- The Ebon Sting
- The Everspiral
- The Hex
- The Prophets of Flesh
- Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition), p. 37, 54, 60-61
- Dawn of War: Soulstorm (PC Game)
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 206-209
- Path of the Renegade (Novel) by Andy Chambers