- Dark Elves (Warhammer)
In Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy fictional universe, the Dark Elves are a race of harsh, warlike and vicious Elves. They are also known as the Druchii in most Warhammer fiction books. They cruel, sadistic raiders with much disdain for all other races, especially their lighter kindred the High Elves. After a bitter civil war, the Dark Elves were driven from their homeland and settled in Naggaroth. Many believe they are the most pure evil of all races in the Warhammer World.
Unlike Dark Elves in most of modern fantasy fiction (such as Drow in D&D), Warhammer's Dark Elves do not dwell underground, nor are they dark-skinned; instead many of them are pale skinned and have raven black hair as they are descended directly from High Elves. Their Warhammer 40,000 analogue is the Dark Eldar (as a foil to the Eldar, which was added by Games Workshop in 1998, although the Eldar-Dark Eldar back-story is far less detailed.
History of the Dark Elves
Thousands of years ago, the High Elves were a unified race living in the island kingdom of Ulthuan.
The first Phoenix King, Aenarion the Defender, was the greatest warrior to walk the earth. It was by his hand that the first great invasion of Chaos was thwarted. Aenarion was married to Astariele the Everqueen who bore him two children, Yvraine and Morelion. During the war Astarielle was murdered and Oakheart the Treekin took the children and hid them safe within the Gaen Vale. Thinking them dead, Aenarion in a bloodthirsty rage, drew the Sword of Khaine from its resting place and waged a new war of vengeance on the forces of Chaos. During the next war, he rescued an Elven seeress from a Slaanesh warband. Her name was Morathi, and she was beautiful beyond description. Aenarion fell deeply in love with her, and she bore his son Malekith. Under the tutelage of both his father and mother, Malekith became a formidable warrior, a skillful general and an accomplished sorcerer.
According to birthright, Malekith was the rightful successor to the throne of Ulthuan. But when Aenarion died, everybody gathered in the Glade of Eternity to decide who the next Phoenix King shall be. It turned out that Yvraine was now the Everqueen and she had decided to marry Bel Shanaar of Tiranoc, saying that Aenarion's line was tainted by the Sword of Khaine's bloodlust and despite Malekith's claim and achievements, Yvraine could not marry her half-brother. Morathi was outraged, yet she soon found they had tried to make her part of this decision, but she had had no part of it. Malekith was the first to accept the successor and bent his knee to the new king, silencing a major outcry from his people and mother in support of him.
Malekith was relegated to the rank of High General and supreme commander of the armies. This suited him well, as he was an outstanding warrior and peerless general in the manner of his father. During his time in the army he wandered the globe, and with his mother's guidance, started experimenting with Dark Magic. After a few years Malekith became discontented. In his mind the Elves must be a warlike people to face the ever-growing menace from the forces of Chaos. He became increasingly critical of the nobles, who grew soft and complacent under the protection of his armies. Worse yet, the Cult of Pleasure; a society of poets and artists founded by Morathi herself; had become a front for a Chaos cult of Slaanesh, was taking root in Elf society, being particularly strong in his homeland of Nagarythe. Malekith took personal command of the investigation and used this power to eliminate his political enemies, accusing them falsely of being cultists and executing them without trial.
Then events turned critical. Malekith claimed Phoenix King Bel-Shanaar was a worshipper of Slaanesh and Bel-Shanaar died of poisoning shortly afterwards. Those loyal to the Council accused Malekith of assassination. Those loyal to Malekith claimed Bel-Shanaar committed suicide because he couldn't live with his failures. The argument between Malekith and the Council of Princes turned violent and Malekith and his followers ended up killing most of the Princes in the name of saving Ulthuan (or to simply destroy all opposition to his ascension; both sides say different).
Now the Council was out of the way, there was only one thing left to do in order to become Phoenix King. Malekith had to pass through the Sacred Fire of Asuryan, king of the Elven gods. Malekith stepped forwards, confident he would pass the ordeal just as his father had done. Yet the Sacred Flame would not suffer Malekith's polluted body and it burned him, scarring him horrifically. Malekith's followers claimed treachery - that the Sacred Fires of the Creator God Asuryan must have been corrupted to reject even the rightful heir, while his enemies claimed Asuryan would never accept an elf with as tainted a soul as Malekith's as king. Malekith's vassals fled back to the province of Nagarythe with their leader. In confusion over the death of their king and council, the High Elves did not pursue.
Near to death, Malekith was taken to one of his mother's temples. His body had healed sufficiently, but, according to the High Elves, his mind was destroyed beyond repair and Malekith was completely lost to insanity. He knew of the need to lead his followers into battle against the High Elves, but also knew his withered body would not survive the rigours of battle. To that end, Morathi commissioned Hotek, a renegade priest of Vaul, the Elven smith god, to forge a suit of armour that would give life and strength to Malekith's flame-ravaged body. Malekith had the armour, still white-hot from the forge, fused directly to his skin, forming a sorcerous shell granting him immense supernatural powers. From that day forth, Malekith was known as the Witch King, for he truly had become a figure of dread.
Once healed, Malekith was consumed with a bitter hatred for those who had resisted him. He summoned those Elves who were loyal to him to aid him in taking the throne by force. This included a large part of the standing military, most of his home province of Nagarythe and many other Elves throughout the kingdom who believed in Malekith's cause.
Meanwhile, the High Elves started organising themselves and elected a new Phoenix King, Caledor the First. Caledor gathered his armies to him and a bloody civil war erupted between the High Elves and the followers of Malekith. Great victories were won on both sides, but in the end the scales tipped in the favour of the High Elves. Although their stronghold in Nagarythe was nearly impenetrable, Malekith's followers were slowly becoming outnumbered, and Caledor was proving himself to be as skilled a general as Malekith himself. Finally Malekith and Caledor faced each other directly at the head of their mightiest armies. Finally Caledor managed to defeat the Witch King, driving his army into the marches of Maledor.
Desperate, Malekith decided on a final gamble: he gathered his sorceresses and attempted to unravel the Vortex of Ulthuan that prevented the return of the full force of Chaos. As Malekith and his coven began this dark ritual, the mages of the Isle of the Dead intervened, weaving powerful counter spells. The resulting magical backlash caused the cataclysm known as The Sundering; a tidal wave a thousand feet high struck the northern coast of Ulthuan, drowning thousands of elves and submerging great parts of Nagarythe and Tiranoc beneath the sea.
As the province sank, several of the great fortress-cities of Nagarythe were pulled from the bedrock by sorceresses and kept afloat by their magic. Malekith and the surviving loyalists sailed their fortress-ships, which would become known as "Black Arks", to the continent called the new world and established a new kingdom that they named Naggaroth in honor of their destroyed home.
As a result of the Sundering, the overriding obsession of Malekith (and by proxy much of the Dark Elf society) is the death or subjugation of the High Elves of Ulthuan and the restoration of Malekith to the throne of the Phoenix King.
Naggaroth, Land of the Chill
When the Dark Elves were driven from the Elven homeland of Ulthuan following a cataclysmic civil war, they fled northwards on giant floating citadels of rock to the dark and forbidding lands of Naggaroth, "the Land of Chill". The name is an appropriate one, for the unwelcoming home of the Dark Elves is a harsh wilderness of frozen tundra and great forests of black pine trees.
After exterminating the native barbarian tribes of Naggaroth they constructed six heavily fortified cities:
- Naggarond: the Tower of Cold, Dark Elf capital and seat of the Witch King
- Ghrond: the North Tower where the sorceresses study the Realm of Chaos
- Karond Kar: the Tower of Despair, largest slave port of the Dark Elves
- Hag Graef: the Dark Crag which is never touched by the sun's rays
- Har Ganeth: the City of Executioners and religious capital of Cult of Khaine
- Clar Karond: the Tower of Doom and largest Dark Elf shipyard
The Dark Elves also constructed a series of fortified watch towers along their northern border to ensure the forces of Chaos did not trespass into their domain.
These cities have innumerable black towers rising like pinnacles of ice from the cold, hard rock of Naggaroth. Due to the harsh and unforgiving nature of Naggaroth, few live outside the cities and so the Druchii cities are some of the most densely populated centers in the world. All of these cities are dark and evil places. Their dungeons are crammed with captives whose wailing fill the air and whose moans seep through the thick walls of the high towers, saturating the place with pain, despair and the souls of the dying. At the tips of these towers, the Sorceresses of Naggaroth cast their malign magic over the world.
The society of Naggaroth is a hierarchical one, with their Witch King, Malekith, at the top. At his right hand is his mother and rumoured consort, Queen Morathi. It has been argued, however, that the Dark Elves are in truth a Machiavellian society, with one man at the top and several powerful underlings in competition with each other, all vying for power but simultaneously preventing others from getting it. Malekith allows this to continue because it keeps all sects strong by culling the weak, but also keeps them under his complete control.
Dark Elf economy
Dark Elves have one major source of income: slave labor. Dark Elves raid all other lands, particularly Ulthuan, home of their enemies the High Elves. They take food and treasure, but the main purpose of their raids is to obtain slaves. Slaves play an important part in Druchii society, as they perform the menial chores that an enterprising Druchii deigns to be below him. Slaves also make up the bulk of the ritual sacrifices to the god Khaine. Dark Elves do not value their slaves' lives, and often kill one or two to show the other slaves their brutality. Slave revolts are rare, harshly suppressed, and due to the brutality of the Dark Elves, usually only the "new stock" have the will to participate in any revolt. The only "successful" revolts usually occur at sea, aboard either the slave ships or the Black Arks. In the former case, the surviving slaves tend to sail the captured ship to their freedom. In the latter case, the slave revolt is usually focused on stealing ships and escaping rather than taking over the Black Ark.
The Dark Elves take to sea in their Black Arks which are huge floating citadels of stone. Kept afloat by magic, the Black Arks travel far and wide to procure slaves. Each Black Ark is home to a small army of Dark Elf raiders and a small fleet of raiding vessels. These forces can be landed on the coast of an unsuspecting kingdom, perform a lightning raid, and be off before any of the local defence forces are able to react (the raiders do not do well in stand-up fights). In this way, countless millions of doomed souls have been taken back to Naggaroth to a fate worse than death.
The Druchii primarily worship the Elven god Kaela Mensha Khaine, the Bloody-Handed God and Thousand Faced Lord of Murder. While their kindred, the High Elves of Ulthuan, only invoke this wrathful god in times of war, the Dark Elves are wholly devoted to him. Each city has temples and shrines devoted to Khaine where blood sacrifices are made. Dark Elves are required to donate a percentages of the slaves they capture on raids to the temple but most Dark Elves make several additional sacrifices a year.
The most savage sect of Khaine worshippers are known as the Brides of Khaine, more commonly called Witch Elves (or Maibd in the Dark Elf language). They are an all-female cult of warrior priestesses. Witch Elves consider the battlefield to be a holy place and are suicidally fanatical in proving their worth to Khaine by spilling the blood of their enemies. The cult is led by high priestesess called hags, who bathe in blood to retain eternal youth. Although they are cruel and savage in combat they are still extremely beautiful and many weak-willed men have told them secrets in a foolish attempt to make her love him. Morathi founded the cult of Khaine, but on a day-to-day level her rival Crone Hellebron, eldest of the hags, rules the cult, although in truth, the vast majority of the cult are loyal to Morathi.
The holiest time of the year for Dark Elves is Death Night. During this night the Witch Elves rule the streets of the Dark Elf cities, capturing anyone they find (whether they are slaves or Dark Elves) and either dragging them back to the temples or simply killing them on the spot as sacrifices to Khaine. The Witch Elves will even go so far as to break into houses, which has led to Dark Elf families barricading windows and doors during this night. On Death Night, the Witch Elves will also steal away a number of children and babies from their families. Girls captured like this will be trained to become Witch Elves while boys are tossed in a cauldron of boiling blood: those that survive are trained to be true adepts of Khaine- the feared assassins. As dawn breaks after Death Night, it is customary for those who lived through the night to make a sacrifice from their own household (usually a favoured slave or elderly relative) as a thanks to the Lord of Murder for sparing their family. It is doubtful that anyone would even attempt to defend themselves against the Witches, as the retribution for successfully doing so would be cruel even by the standards of the Dark Elves.
Besides the worship of Khaine, a sizeable portion of the population has also secretly kept alive worship of the Chaos God of Pleasure, Slaanesh. The Cult of Pleasure, led by Morathi, played a major role in the Sundering of the Elves of Ulthuan, but was considered heretical after the founding of Naggaroth and was brutally suppressed as the worship of Khaine became prevalent. Centuries passed, and the Cult grew stronger in the shadows and secret places of the six cities. The Convents of the Sorceresses, also headed by Morathi, are implied to be power bases for the Cult (this is why there is a sect enmity between the Convents and the Cult of Khaine). As the Storm of Chaos engulfed the Old World, the Cult rose to prominence once more when Morathi and her sorceresses raised a substantial army from warbands of Slaaneshi-worshipping Hung tribesmen (human followers of Chaos) to the Cult, and marched them through Naggaroth. In response to this, underground members of the Cult openly joined Morathi's growing war host. Using her supernatural beauty, shrewd political mind and powerful magic, she turned the Cult and its allies into her own private army and invaded the lands of Lustria to the far south, seeking to plunder the vast wealth of riches and magical artifacts kept by the Lizardmen and their Slann masters.
Though they were repulsed by the reptilian denizens of Lustria, the Cult of Pleasure returned to Naggaroth in strength, having acquired much physical and magical wealth from the invasion, and have openly displayed their status as devotees of Slaanesh. This open display of prowess and hubris enraged Hellebron, the current leader of the Cult of Khaine and Morathi's chief rival, who has begun to gather the Cult of Khaine to confront Morathi and her Slanneshi allies. Because of this, and with the armies of Malekith (who both hates Chaos and views the Cult of Slannesh as a threat to his power) attacking far-off Ulthuan and thus unable to intervene, Naggaroth currently stands on the brink of civil war.
Dark Elf armies are fast and dangerous but potentially fragile. They are more fleet of foot than humans and favour speed and maneuverability over heavy armour. Characteristics of Dark Elven armies include armour forged with all manners of wicked barbs, hooks and blades, and their uniforms tend to be dark sombre colours such as purple, indigo or black. Human skin is a highly prized material for durable military garb, and their graceful swords and spearheads tend to be hooked and serrated for catching enemy blades and inflicting severe injuries.
Druchii infantry primarily consist of spear phalanxes and repeater crossbow regiments, which are supported by elite infantry and shock troops, such as the deadly Har Ganeth Executioners, who wield two-handed blades called Draich, heavily armed Corsair raiders, scores of Witch Elves that enter battle in a drug-crazed killing frenzy, or a detachment of Malekith's personal guard, the implacable and lethal Black Guard.
Cavalry often plays a key role in engagements. The elite Druchii cavalry are the Cold One Knights: Druchii nobility that ride carnivorous reptiles known as Cold Ones into battle. Not used by the Elves prior to The Sundering, they are native to the caves beneath the Blackspine Mountains and are a separate breed from those used by the Lizardmen of Lustria. These fearsome beasts are also used to pull heavy Cold One Chariots. They are often deployed alongside Dark Riders; fast and highly manoeuvrable warriors swathed in black robes who ride upon swift Elven steeds.
The Dark Elves use a rather vicious war machine known as the Reaper. Similar to the original design for the Repeater Bolt Thrower of their High Elven cousins, the Reaper is a large, ballista-style torsion weapon. It is capable of hurling either a single harpoon-like projectile with devastating force or a volley of smaller bolts. They are usually found mounted on the bow of Dark Elf raiding ships or on the parapets of the city walls. However, they are also frequently taken into major combat engagements, as they are both lightweight and extremely effective in the hands of a skilled crew.
Dark Elves display a talent for taming and training the gigantic monsters that stalk the mountain ranges of their homeland. It is not uncommon for a Druchii Beastmaster to drive a monstrous, many-headed Hydra or a towering, winged manticore into battle. Off the battlefield, these Beastmasters are also responsible for training Cold Ones and elven steeds, and the subjugation of the endless supply of slaves.
Harpies often accompany Druchii forces into battle. These beasts have the appearance of winged women with talons and fangs. Possessed of a savage beauty, they are believed to be the reincarnations of slain Witch Elves of Khaine. Harpies are utterly untamable by the Beastmasters, and thus are somewhat unreliable. They follow large Dark Elf war parties to prey upon the fallen and wounded.
Magical power on the battlefield is supplied by the six Convents of Sorceresses, who refine the inherent magical aptitude of Dark Elf women into a deadly force. Though the Sorceresses are vulnerable in close combat, the sinister power that they wield is potent enough to ensure that almost every significant Dark Elf force will have at least one Sorceress.
Overall, the Druchii are devastating on the offensive. Every Dark Elf spends their entire life drilling and training in military maneuvers. Units working together in concert can break or destroy nearly any enemy that dares underestimate them, yet their fragile constitution means they are not able to absorb much damage in return. This forces Dark Elf commanders to rely on sound tactics rather than brute force. Thus Druchii generals are considered some of the best tacticians in the Warhammer world.
Enemies and Allies
The Dark Elves believe themselves to be superior to all. Their principal enemies are the High Elves for obvious reasons, but over the centuries they have been given reason to take up arms against all races of the Warhammer World.
Since they are situated north of the jungle covered continent of Lustria, the Dark Elves organize frequent raiding parties on the Lizardmen temple cities for magical items, gold, and slaves (although Lizardmen don't make good slaves due to their coldblooded stubbornness).
It has been known for Dark Elves to recruit Ogres, Greenskins, Beastmen or Warriors of Chaos as allies, though they would never see them as equals and send them to their deaths without a second thought.
- Johnson, J., & Blanche, J., 1998. Warhammer Armies: Dark Elves. Nottingham: Games Workshop Ltd. ISBN 1-869893-16-6
- Thorpe, G., Haines, P., & Hoare, A., 2004. Storm of Chaos. Nottingham: Games Workshop Ltd. ISBN 1-841544-60-4
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