The most insidious of the Chaos Gods, Slaanesh embodies the dark fates born from obsession. His will does not descend screaming upon his victims, nor manipulate them like some uncaring cosmic force. Instead it nestles intimately within the soul, corrupting the secret hearts of mortals until they ultimately doom themselves.
Long ago, when the dreaming cultures of the realmspheres took form, the glimmering potential of the Mortal Realms attracted the eyes of a wanton god. That entity was Slaanesh, at that point grown powerful beyond measure on a stolen ambrosia of aelven souls. At the time of the shattering of the world-that-was, Slaanesh had glutted himself on the spirits of that ancient race to the point that only a pitiful few survivors escaped his hunger. He was all but incapacitated by the act of gorging himself so deeply. Where once he might have savoured each sinful soul that fell into his clutches, by eating so many millions of spiritual essences at one time he became vast and swollen well beyond the limits of Khorne’s rage, Tzeentch’s machination, and even Nurgle’s cosmic corpulence. Yet still Slaanesh longed for more, always more. His appetites could never be sated, just as the stars would never cease to burn.
The Time of promise
As Slaanesh looked upon the Mortal Realms, he felt a yearning as never before. Tongues of solid ichor licked at tapering fingers that could feel every known sensation in the universe at one time. The god shuddered in eager anticipation of the feasts to come, cascades of liminal un-light rippling through the aether to glimmer in a thousand skies.
Though he was all but stupefied by his epoch-ending feast, he had minions aplenty to do his perverse work in this new cosmos of realmspheres and criss-crossing portals, for Slaaneshi daemons of every kind had sprung into being as his power had grown. Here was a new beginning, a new stage for the endless acts of the Great Game to take place upon, to be performed with fresh vigour and imagination by those that would fall under his sway – and never break free from it. Eight realities were slowly spinning in the void, each linked to the others by the works of long-lost civilisations – the Realmgates. They represented eight futures for Slaanesh to corrupt in his own image – eight never-ending festivals of sensation to sample, to devour, to sully and spit back out as twisted reflections of that which once had been pure. To the wide and avaricious eyes of Slaanesh, here was enough fodder to pass several aeons of decadence without once falling into repetition and ennui. Together the Mortal Realms represented a prize beyond measure.
And so Slaanesh emerged from his digestive lethargy to leer over that which would one day be his. He sent forth his minions in glorious cavalcades of excess, whooping and shrieking as they pressed hungrily against the veil between worlds. But then Slaanesh spoke, and they fell silent, billions of daemons prostrate or sprawling as his words stimulated every nerve, every sense, to the point of ecstatic agony. His command was for them to insinuate, to seduce, to inveigle and enchant – to bring about the corruption of mortals. So was the Subtle War begun, and the demise of empires put into dread motion.
The dark one cometh
The minions of Slaanesh hunted out those individuals who would fall most easily to his influence, and softly spoke into their minds. Their whispers, these seeds of disaster, found fertile ground in which to lodge and grow – for the mortal dwellers of these new realms were no more immune to temptation, obsession and excess than the people of the world-that-was.
At first, Slaanesh sent only echoes of sensation, strange compelling scents and lilting tunes to presage his coming. As he grew more fascinated by these new realms, he bent more and more of his power towards his new feeding grounds. For a time, the mortal pitfalls of self-interest, wilful delusion and naivety did much of the work of concealing his influence. By the time Slaanesh’s victims grew aware of his dark work, his cruel stoking of their obsessions had brought them to the point that they became all-consuming. As once simple people developed their civilisations, they no longer found pleasure in simple things. The laughter of their kith and kin, the feel of sunlight upon the skin, and the joy of an ale well-earned at day’s end became no more thrilling than a spatter of mud as they trod their road to damnation. Slowly, but with gathering momentum, cults of luxury and selfishness blossomed behind closed doors.
Through gilded halls and exotic debauches, Slaanesh’s daemons found their way in. The hidden cultist activity in the highest echelons of society, that worship that-was-not-yet-worship, came to a head. Cities writhed with vice. Secret cliques revealed themselves, exposing the extent of their spread through civic and military subcultures alike in shocking bloodbaths. Entire societies fell into downward spirals of murderous excess. The corruption of new empires accelerated to the point that even those who had no part in it found they could not escape. When the stuff of the Dark Prince’s realm started to seep into reality, the patron god of all this degradation revealed himself through twisted works of art and mind-bending prose. Soon the name Slaanesh was spoken aloud in every realm. Daemon and mortal supplicant rode side by side, vying to cause the most carnage possible in the name of the ever-indulgent Dark Prince of Chaos.
So it was that the Hedonites were born, and a great portion of the Mortal Realms came to be claimed by Slaanesh.
The Prince of Chaos
As with all Chaos Gods, Slaanesh is given animus by mortal emotion. Where the other dark powers are crystallisations of specific elemental concepts, Slaanesh is lent form and power not by the nature of feelings and desires, but by their degree. Everything taken to excess empowers Slaanesh.
Slaanesh is hence indefinable by mortal standards, perhaps more so than any other Chaos God, for his form and substance shift upon a whim. In the art of the depraved he is sometimes presented as a parody of human desire. The deity is often shown as a horned hermaphrodite with one half male and the other female, or a perfect, smooth-limbed youth, without flaw but for the abyssal darkness of two staring, hypnotic eyes. The Dark Prince is usually clad in sumptuous finery that exaggerates rather than conceals, though unlike his fellow gods, he takes pains never to appear the same way twice. Stranger portrayals can be found in the sculptures and drawings of Slaanesh’s devotees. In the artwork of the Gelded Vizier he is Oslaan, an immensely obese glutton of indeterminate gender with every inch of flesh covered in obscene tattoos. In the scrawlings of the Lunatic Adayahn, Bhan Gaddr, he is Shlarranesh – a great white serpent made of writhing bodies, with four knife-tipped arms and a screaming face hidden by the stolen features of an impossibly serene woman. In certain Hyshian schools of enlightenment, he is represented only by a melody, a strain of music written upon a six-bar stave – for many aelven survivors fear that the very act of speaking his name could draw his gaze. The Seraphon often depict him as an angular spiral, each twist in the icon symbolising an act or decision that leads further downward into the abyss of corruption. The Stargazers of Ulthar refer to him as Slaa-Nulthé, She who Devours, an ever-staring eye surrounded by a vortex of shrieking maws. The Dark Prince is all these things and more.
Slaanesh is drawn always to the peripheries of the Mortal Realms, for there the nature of that reality is at its most extreme. At the Perimeter Inimical can be found the purest and most lethal incarnation of that realm’s nature. For a mortal to stray there is to court a transformative disaster of the most spectacular kind. These instances amuse Slaanesh no end; of all the Chaos Gods, it is Slaanesh that seeks to claim the mutable, volatile territories at the edge of each realmsphere for his own. In many places these surreal landscapes lead straight into Slaanesh’s domain – and likewise, the domain of the Dark Prince bleeds ever out into the Mortal Realms.
The scions of Slaanesh
Those who pray at the altar of excess come from all walks of life, from primitive shamans and the warlords of bloodthirsty tribes, to the richest sophisticates of the new cities. The wanton indulgence of primal lusts appeals to many barbaric cultures, as well as many civilised ones. Musicians, artists, poets and dancers can all be seduced by the desire to perfect their skills. In doing so to the exclusion of all else – even their own humanity – they find Slaanesh.
The ranks of these artful sinners are swollen by lost souls addicted to certain substances and unwholesome acts – those who gain momentary fulfilment from debauchery, only to find that they must surpass each former iteration of their indulgence to find true satisfaction. Some of those who keep their double lives or vices carefully hidden, upon reaching the point of no return, turn from secrecy to joyous and open celebration of that which they once sought so hard to hide. Those who think themselves infallible, or who rule with absolute authority, also gravitate towards Slaanesh, for the only thing true tyrants respect is an even greater tyrant with the power to depose them.
The inevitable truth
Though Slaanesh is arguably the youngest of the Chaos gods, he was once the most powerful of their number, and will be again. He has learned to thrive on being underestimated, using the predictable contempt of Khorne, the generous sentimentality of Nurgle, the treachery of the Horned Rat and the self-defeating complexity of Tzeentch to his advantage. In their more paranoid moments, his brothers have watched Slaanesh’s conquests with great trepidation. They secretly fear that their own obsessions empower their brother, for at their simplest and most profound level, the Dark Gods are the embodiments of all-consuming ideals, mindsets and emotions. There is always a suspicion that the Dark Prince will rise like a sin-soaked phoenix from the fires of incarceration to one day eclipse them all in power – or worse still, absorb them, making their excesses and obsessions part of his own and subsuming their territory into his sovereign realm.
Each of the Chaos Gods tells himself that could never be, but in the darkest nights of the immortal soul, scintillas of doubt glitter even in their black hearts. And with that tiny concession to his supremacy growing within the minds of each of his rival gods, Slaanesh’s journey to ultimate conquest has already begun.
Bound by magical energies, Slaanesh is trapped utterly, forced to relinquish those souls he consumed when the world-that-was fell.
Trapped somewhere between the Realms, Slaanesh has also had an insight into the dark future that could await the Mortal Realms, and is deliciously tormented by what the visions foretell – for one, it would make escape that much more difficult, and for another, the dominion of Death would just be unbearably dull.