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Literature / The Path of the Eldar

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A series of Warhammer 40,000 novels focusing on the Eldar. The series is split between two separate branches.

The first is a trilogy written by Gav Thorpe revolving around three individuals from the craftworld Alaitoc. Each book tells the same story, but from the perspective of one of these three. The first, Path of the Warrior, is from the perspective of Korlandril, a dissatisfied artist who takes the Path of the Warrior. The second, Path of the Seer, is from the perspective of Thirianna, a former warrior who finds herself drawn to a new Path. The third, Path of the Outcast, revolves around Aradryan, a former steersmannote  who is drawn into becoming an Outcast through wanderlust, and then into darker waters.

The second is a trilogy written by Andy Chambers about the Dark Eldar. The first, Path of the Renegade, revolves around a plot to overthrow Asdrubael Vect by summoning a former ruler that Vect defeated long ago. The second, Path of the Incubus, is about the chaos (and Chaos) unleashed in Commorragh by the events of the previous book and the efforts of multiple factions to survive and possibly end the damage. The third book, Path of the Archon, revolves around Asdrubael Vect's efforts to bring the unrest in Comorragh under control, his foes' efforts to undermine his rule, and the efforts of some to simply survive the horror.


These books provide examples of:

  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Aradryan leaves Alaitoc and the Path because he is afraid of it trapping him, realizing that the universe is so much bigger than he is. From his first cautious steps as a ranger, he slowly grows in confidence, eventually joining up with a pirate crew, and working his way up in authority until he becomes a leader figure in an entire pirate fleet, learning to love the freedom of the lifestyle and developing a craving for excitement and danger. However, with his growing confidence is growing pride and arrogance, becoming increasingly conceited and developing feelings of invincibility. This pride eventually leads to his downfall as he Kicks the Dog in a spectacular way, and an Even Bigger Dog Bites Back on his entire home craftworld.
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  • Ambiguous Situation: In Path of the Incubi it turns out that there's significant variance in how the legend of Ahra, the founder of the Striking Scorpions and Incubi, is portrayed. The Craftworlders use him as a cautionary tale of the dangers of unrestrained emotion and how anyone can fall to Chaos, while the Incubi insist that his way of holding nothing back was necessary to defeat their enemies, and that while his body was corrupted his spirit remained pure and helped his followers defeat the beast he became. Motley notes that while the two accounts are similar up to a point their endings diverge dramatically, and wonders where the actual truth lies.
  • Anti-Villain: Morr the Incubus. A martial warrior who prides himself on his abilities, he's originally a bodyguard to another Archon, but ends up killing him when he realises that he's been possessed by a Daemon, and later sacrifices himself to stop a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch emerging on an Exodite World.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Both Yllithian and Kraillach in the Dark Eldar books are descendants of the old noble houses overthrown by Vect in his rise to power, seeking a way to restore their bloodlines to absolute power. They're every bit as evil as any other Dark Eldar, with a sense of narcissistic entitlement to boot.
  • Art Reflects Personality: Korlandril is insulted when Aradryan isn't impressed by his most recent sculpture, and cuttingly remarks that Aradryan's comments show he doesn't know what he's talking about. Aradryan replies that the work is self-indulgent and that it is more about Korlandril's skill and technique than anything, and begs him to leave the craftworld and take up the Path of the Outcast so he can grow beyond his current confines. Korlandril dwells on this, and the upheaval it causes in him eventually causes him to abandon the Path of the Artist and seek the Path of the Warrior, where he eventually becomes an Exarch of the Striking Scorpions.
  • Asshole Victim: Technically every Dark Eldar who dies in the Dysjunction, but special mention to Ythillian, Xelian and Kraillach.
  • The Atoner:
    • Thirianna becomes this as she tries to come to terms with the horrible things she did as a warrior.
    • Aradryan is drawn into the Path of Mourning after the Imperial assault on Alaitoc is called off.
    • Sindiel comes to regret betraying his fellow Rangers and eventually rescues the kidnapped worldsinger.
    • Morr the Incubus ends up sacrificing himself to stop a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch manifesting on an Exodite World after a Dark Eldar attack he took part in screwed up the planet's World Spirit enough for the Daemon to materialize.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Korlandril's slow (and initially unknowing) descent into this as he loses the ability to remove his psychological war mask is what makes him able to take on the mantle of the Exarch Morlaniath.
    • In the Dark Eldar books the Archon Xelian is this in such a big way she's become an Unwitting Pawn of the Khorne by the end of the third book, with fatal consequences for her once Motley catches on.
  • Body Horror: Part and parcel of Dark Eldar existence, especially among the haemonculi, who experiment on themselves with the same gusto that they do for others.
  • Body Surf:
    • Yllithian does this to one of his younger relatives in order to save himself from the Glass Plague. As punishment for effectively causing the Dysjunction, Asdrubael Vect arranges to have him transferred back into the glass husk of his old body at the conclusion of Path of the Archon.
    • Bellathonis does this to Khabayr.
  • Break the Haughty: This happens to Aradryan, when his gambit against the Dark Eldar raiders backfires and leads to his ship being destroyed and when he has to thoroughly debase himself before the Space Marines.
  • The Cameo: Drazhar in Path of the Incubus - he shows up for precisely one chapter to curb-stomp Morr in combat, then disappears for the rest of the trilogy.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Dark Eldar Path novels rely on original characters, but as time goes on some of the Dark Eldar's tabletop characters show up in major roles, such as Lady Malys and Kheradruakh the Decapitator.
  • Cassandra Truth: Thirianna has a vision of Alaitoc's destruction, with the craftworld dying in flame. Such a dire situation coming from such unlikely circumstances and discovered by such a junior seer is something that the elder seers of the craftworld find hard to take seriously. It is only through desperate and careful manipulation that Thirianna can get others to investigate her vision and back up its validity.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
    • Aradryan in the Craftworld books gains this as he becomes more arrogant and hedonistic as an Eldar Corsair. The entire invasion of Alaitoc happens because he betrays both the Dark Eldar and Governor De'Vaque for no reason other than pride and arrogance, leaving them both seeking revenge in a big way.
    • It's a fact of life among the Dark Eldar, but it's noted several times in Path of the Incubus that the massive disruption to Commorragh caused by the Dysfunction has made it even worse, as the constantly-shifting power structures among the Kabals are thrown into complete disarray.
  • Costume Porn: The Craftworld characters always dress splendidly, and it is always described at length.
  • Cliffhanger:
    • Warrior and Seer's endings; Path of the Outcast provides the actual ending.
    • Path of the Renegade ends with the prophesied Dysjunction's beginning.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The Harlequin Motley in the Dark Eldar books. His clownish appearance and gibbering dialogue style lead many characters to underestimate him, but he's capable of taking out multiple Incubi in combat and battling Lady Malys to a standstill.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • As soon as their Warboss is disposed of, the Alaitocii battle against the Orks degenerates into this in favour of the Eldar.
    • Xelian is such a ridiculously lethal fighter that virtually any one-on-one combat in the books tends to go in her favour, especially after her resurrection. Though that last is likely due to being an unwitting champion of Khorne.
      Yllithian was a highly trained swordsman, a fine fighter even by Commorragh's unforgiving standards. Xelian beat him as easily as she would have defeated a child.
  • Death Is Cheap: Invoked by its absence: it's mentioned several times in the Dark Eldar books that the permanent death of so many powerful Commorites, who'd normally be resurrected by Haemonculi after physical death, is one of the things driving the warfare between rival factions jockeying for power during the Dysjunction as everyone scrambles to occupy the new power vacuum. Even Xelian, who does have her body restored after getting killed by her Wych allies in the first book, dies a final time at the hands of Motley when he realises she's touched by Khorne.
  • Defector from Decadence: Maensith, a former Kabalite who broke ties with her Kabal and is now a corsair. There's also Becareth, a former Incubi in Korlandril's squad who came to Alaitoc after being offered life and a shot at redemption by one of the Scorpion Exarchs that defeated him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Imperial invasion of Alaitoc is prompted due to Eldar privateer raids on Imperial shipping. Such acts by unaligned Eldar vessels so rarely inspire this kind of response, particularly to this degree, that the Council of Seers consider it almost not worth investigating. Path of the Outcast eventually reveals that the attack is prompted by a corrupt Imperial governor who was in league with Dark Eldar raiders, whose son was killed by Aradryan. When the Space Marines learn of the governor's illegal actions and deceit, they promptly kill him and call off the attack.
  • Downer Ending: Path of the Outcast. While the Imperial forces call off the attack and leave, Alaitoc is grievously damaged, there are thousands of dead Eldar, and Aradryan and Thirianna are left with the knowledge that they are responsible for it all, along with losing Korlandril to the role of Exarch.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: As Kraillach is crippled by his paranoia of Xelian's revenge, Morr becomes this, essentially running the Kabal of the Realm Eternal as his leader hides away.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Dark Eldar may be twisted, amoral psychopaths, but even they draw the line at worshiping Chaos. At least knowingly...
    • Pointedly averted with Asdrubael Vect. That he'll do things even other Dark Eldar wouldn't dare to (like creating the Castigators from looted Eldar soulstones and siccing them on his own race, then using the power of Commorragh's stolen suns to annihilate the rebels) is one of the main reasons he's in charge.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death:
    • For Seers who abuse their power and/or influence sufficiently, it's having the parts of their brains that tie them to the Warp lobotomized. Thirianna's mentor warns her of this when she pulls strings to have her vision of the Imperial attack on Alaitoc taken more seriously, although it's more of a lesson than anything.
    • For the Dark Eldar, it's the True Death, when the body is too badly damaged for the haemonculi to resurrect, and the soul is forever lost to Slaanesh.
  • Greater-Scope Villain:
    • Asdrubael Vect in the Dark Eldar novels. It is Yllithian's need to reclaim the power he feels Vect denied him by destroying the old noble houses that drives the Dark Eldar books' plot.
    • The Chaos Gods, excepting Slaanesh, in the same series - El-Uriaq's Daemonic possession is what kicks off the Dysjunction proper in Renegade, Tzeentch's attempted corruption of Lileathanir forms the climax of Incubus, while the attempts of Nurgle and Khorne to gain influence in Commorragh is a running subplot in Archon.
  • Gunship Rescue: Subverted; several warships from other craftworlds arrive to take on the Imperials in the nick of time, but it's ultimately unnecessary.
  • Head in a Jar: Done to Angevere in Path of the Renegade.
  • Human Resources: It's revealed in Path of the Outcast that this is the true nature of Soul Stones - they are made from the souls of Aeldari caught in the Fall, which is why they can only be found on Crone Worlds.
  • Hunter of His Own Kind: The Dark Eldar as a whole certainly try to if given the opportunity - it's explicitly said at one point in Renegade that Eldar slaves are much more highly prized than any other race - but the raid on Lileathanir makes it clear they're wary of direct military confrontation with their Craftworld cousins. Path of the Archon reveals that Vect is this for very pragmatic reasons - he's destroyed numerous Craftworlds in order to harvest their Spirit Stones to create his Castigators.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Zig-zagged with Bellathonis. He betrays all of his allies for personal gain and ends the Dark Eldar trilogy with his mind and new body intact along with good resources from Vect. However he lost all of his allies, had several attempts on his life, one of which he only survived due to being able to Body Surf and eventually caused his loyal right-hand Wrack Xagor to stop being loyal and resent him, which could lead to a sudden promotion for Xagor.
    • Played straight with Vect; it's revealed in Path of the Archon he's destroyed numerous Eldar craftworlds and slaughtered their populations so he can get his hands on the Spirit Stones needed to create his Castigators - souls which, lacking the peace of the Infinity Circuit, survive in barely-aware misery. Both attacking craftworlds and stealing soul stones are mentioned here and elsewhere to be crimes the Harlequins will hunt the perpetrators down for, no matter the cost. Yet Vect ends the trilogy unpunished by them and with his rule in Commorragh even more secure than before (though it's implied this is only because Motley recognises Vect is the only one ruthless enough to keep the Dark Eldar race free of the grip of Chaos).
  • Knight of Cerebus: The Sons of Orar Space Marines. Prior to their entry into the narrative, the Eldar are giving ground but inflicting massive losses on the hapless Imperial Guard, giving the Hope Spot that they might at least stop the Imperial advance. The Sons' arrival and ability to match the Aspect Warriors makes it obvious the Eldar have no chance of winning conventionally, leading to all hope being pinned on their final gambit with Aradryan.
  • Large and in Charge:
    • The Ork Warboss encountered in the Eldar books is much bigger than its subordinates, in keeping with 40K's background lore for Orks.
    • The Mandrake King is absolutely titanic compared to his subjects, possibly due to the influence of Nurgle.
  • Living Bodysuit: Kraillach and El-Uriaq, for something daemonic brought over during El-Uriaq's resurrection.
  • Love Hurts: One of the minor plot points in the Craftworld trilogy is the sundering of the friendship/sort-of love triangle between Korlandril, Aradryan, and Thirianna as each is drawn down his/her own Path and away from the others.
  • Mental Fusion: This happens when Korlandril becomes an Exarch, as his mind and personality become a gestalt with those of all the previous Striking Scorpion Exarchs of his temple, with the first as the most dominant. And again when he's absorbed into Karandras near the end, with no trace of his former personality surviving.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Thirianna experiences this during her Farseer training when she has to break the mask which she used to keep the memories of her time as a warrior at bay and sees her bloodlust and ruthlessness fully, and when she realizes that she is just as responsible for the Imperial attack as Aradryan is.
    • Aradryan is hit with this when he fully confronts the death and destruction on Alaitoc, as it was his actions that led to the attack in the first place.
  • The Needs of the Many: One flashback, showing an earlier death of Morlaniath's, shows the forces of Alaitoc using the cover of an Imperial invasion of an Exodite world to kill a particular Space Marine whose future would have had him go on to destroy much of Alaitoc's fleet. The Exarch is disturbed they're leaving so many Exodite Eldar to be killed but the Farseer insists their fate was to kill the human to protect their own in the future, not protect their kin in the here and now.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Morr. Unswervingly loyal to Kraillach, an incredibly skilled warrior, the leader of the Kabal in Kraillach's paranoia-induced absence and enough of an Anti-Villain that he ends up sacrificing himself to atone for the effects of the Dark Eldar raid on Lileathanir to stop a Lord of Change corrupting it.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In Path of the Incubus Motley the Harlequin, upon having to deal with first Morr and then a squad of Dire Avengers, speculates that there's far less difference between Aspect Warriors and Incubi than either would care to admit.
  • Odd Friendship: The sellsword Kharbyr and the Wrack Xagor - even more notable as they're both Dark Eldar.
  • Oh, Crap!: Morlaniath's Striking Scorpion squad have this reaction when the Sons of Orar Space Marines show up, being stunned to realise there are warriors in the universe as skilled and dangerous as themselves.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Dark Eldar, in an exceptionally cruel and twisted way, with their emphasis on martial prowess over the psyker abilities of their uncorrupted brethren.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Each novel in the Craftworld series, while focused on the lives of the individual Eldar and how their Paths change them, revolves around the same series of events, culminating in an invasion of Alaitoc by the Imperium. While the factual details are the same between books, no one character will have all the details, changing the implications of things that are said and things that happen depending on who is witnessing the events.
    • One notable example is a tempestuous meeting where Thirianna tries to steer Korlandril away from the Path of the Warrior, bursting into tears when she fails. Korlandril's viewpoint (in Warrior) shows he regards this as a pathetic attempt to emotionally manipulate him, but Thirianna's viewpoint (in Seer) reveals it's because she realised too late that their meeting has only enraged Korlandril and pushed him further down the path to becoming an Exarch - the exact opposite of what she intended.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Farseer Kelamith rapidly becomes aware of Thirianna's manipulations to prove the veracity of her vision of Alaitoc's destruction, but chooses to let her go unpunished, as she was acting out of concern for Alaitoc's fate.
    • The Sons of Orar Space Marines' Chapter Master. While he's as xenophobic as any other Space Marine, he's at least willing to listen to Aradryan's explanation of the manipulations of Governor De'vaque and the Dark Eldar. When he realises he's led an invasion against an innocent party (one that's caused the deaths of hundreds of his Marines and likely tens of thousands of other Imperial troops to boot) he kills De'vaque on the spot and calls off the attack.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Imperial Governor De'vaque sought satisfaction for the death of his son at Aradryan's hands, and when he discovered Aradryan's craftworld of origin, he manipulated the Imperial sector authorities to blame Alaitoc for the recent pirate raids, claiming it was their source and weakening the Imperial hold there. The Imperial invasion of Alaitoc is the result of this.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: In the end, Thirianna realizes that the prophecy of Alaitoc's invasion she had was this. She realized that Aradryan's actions precipitated it, but her attempts to warn him of it are what drew him back to Alaitoc at the time he did, allowing the Dark Eldar to follow, and thus the humans to know where he hid. Speaking the Cassandra Truth caused itself to come about.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Kharbyr's story. He starts off as an amoral sellsword, but begins to show traces of a more sympathetic personality through his Odd Friendship with the Wrack Xagor, and the two work together to survive the initial events of the Dysjunction. Then he gets bodyjacked by the Haemonculus Bellathonis, and spends a good chunk of the novels impersonating him and working towards finding Bellathonis and getting his revenge - then he's unceremoniously killed by a Talos gunning for Bellathonis just as he finally locates him.
  • Spock Speak: Typical Craftworld Eldar dialogue. The Dark Eldar, particularly the Archons, also show traces of this.
  • Taken for Granite:
    • Thirianna's mentor's body is starting the crystallization process that is the inevitable fate of Farseers.
    • The Glass Plague, a virus that turns living tissue into a brittle glass-like substance.
  • Unusual User Interface: Eldar technology is controlled through both physical and psychic controls and Thirianna is shown learning how to forge a mental link with her witchblade so it responds to her desires, while Korlandril's anger accidentally activating his chainsword in a duel is one of his first steps towards Exarch-hood.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Both sets of novels revolve around actions taken by the protagonists having severe and unintended consequences.
    • The love triangle between Korlandril, Aradryan and Thirianna, and the decisions and Paths all three (especially Aradryan) take, lead to an Imperial invasion of Alaitoc that leaves thousands of Eldar dead and much of the craftworld in ruins.
    • The desire of Archons Yllithian, Xelian and Kraillach to overthrow Asdrubael Vect leads to their decision to resurrect El'Uriaq, the Tyrant of Shaa-Dom - which in turn leads to a Daemon possessing El'Uriaq and hijacking their scheme, Commorragh being rocked by a Dysjunction that leads to near-anarchy among the Kabals and Chaos almost gaining a foothold in the Dark City.
  • Unwitting Pawn: A Chaos specialty.
    • Judging by his inner monologue, Kraillach seems to genuinely have no idea he's been possessed by a Daemon before Morr kills him.
    • The Eldar Warlock Caraeis realises far too late that he's been manipulated by a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch.
    • Xelian never actually realises she's been tainted by Khorne before Motley kills her.
  • What Measure is a Non-Eldar?: ZigZagged. Thirianna struggles with this during her Farseer training; see The Atoner and My God, What Have I Done? above. She later tries to save a human child during a strike meant to destroy a Chaos artifact, but the child becomes a daemonhost. During the Imperial invasion, she is disgusted by the invaders and has no qualms about killing them.
  • Worthy Opponent: She may hate the humans during their attack on Alaitoc, but Thirianna is surprised and impressed by Imperial void shield technology on their warships, which she'd originally thought was beyond humanity's comprehension. She also respects the strength of the Sons of Orar Librarian's mind, noting it's almost as powerful as that of an Eldar.
  • Worf Had the Flu: That a highly psychic race like the Eldar, whose fluff background has them constantly manipulating events in the present based on their reading the strands of future disasters, could miss a full-scale Imperial attack on Alaitoc is explained in Path of the Seer: the confluence of events needed to bring it about was so unlikely none of the Seers thought it worth looking into. Unfortunately the Korlandril/Aradryan/Thirianna love triangle causes things to spiral into a catastrophe.