Arena is a ‘pure fiction’ piece and one of the first that I wrote which wasn’t intended to reflect a game that had taken place, introduce some models etc. It’s pure 40k ‘fluff’ if you will. At the time it was written there was a lot of discussion about Commoragh and what it might be like and so on. The Dark Eldar, in later books and codices were eventually far better defined, but so far, Arena still holds up pretty well, despite its age and the materials that have come along since its writing.

In the groined darkness, the screams never stopped.

They were a cacophony of anguish, the music of pain filling the dim streets of the alien city. Far and near, loud and soft, shout and whimper the city was alive with pain.

“Kilo six to kilo one nine, over.”

“Kilo one nine receiving, over.”

“What’s your position, Slick? I’ve got Eldar raiders all over the place!”

“Not too different here, Colonel. We’re keeping ‘em back so far but it looks bad. Can you take some pressure off us?”

“That’s an affirmative, one nine. We should be in position any time now. Senekal out.” The Colonel turned to his bodyguard. Wulfgang remembered the look in his eye. That strange combination of eager anticipation and fear that Arcturan always had before entering a man to man fight. “You heard the man, boys. Time to earn our oversized paychecks, eh Wulf?” Wulf had smiled as his friend and commander clapped his arm. They’d fought together for over a decade. Few men could be closer than those who shared that bond.

“Let’s get ‘em, sir!”

The Chimera ground to a halt, the back gate dropping as the driver called out his customary, “Give ‘em hell, sir!” Then the world turned to thunder as Wulf rushed onto the field trying to keep up with his commander. He turned to engage a slender armored figure carrying a rifle – he deftly blocked a blow from the bayonet on the end of the weapon and then reversedhis powersword into her throat, only realizing as her head came off that he’d just killed an eldar woman. He kept moving, his sword a whirling arc in amongst the raiders, pausing briefly now and again to fire his plasma pistol into some target. The eldar around them ran and they pursued over a hill and into this THING.

It looked like a scorpion, made of metal and hovering above the ground. Claws and tail bristling with weapons, spikes and chains on its hull bristling with trophies. Pausing, the Colonel and his bodyguard laced into it with plasma fire ripping glowing pits into its armored sides and then closing with swords. Arcturan had leapt atop it, smashing an arm off with his powerfist before reducing the operator to red mist as Wulf barely parried a sweeping arm. The Talos crashed to the ground a heap of wreckage.

To his side, there was a brilliant flash and a HOLE opened in time and space. A glittering purple ring twisted with otherworldly lightning and quickly vomited forth a horde of eldar raiders. One dropped low, his huge squad support weapon blazing with light as he scythed fire through the Danikan Colonel’s bodyguard. Splinter cannon rounds sparked off the Colonel’s refractor field and then toward Wulf. Instinctively he rolled but an iron triphammer caught hold of his side and smashed consciousness away…

Wulfgang’s scream was added to the sounds of the city as he woke from the throes of his nightmare. His crimson jacket crackling with flakes of his own dried blood around the hole the splinter cannon round had left. Nine times he had slept. Nine times the dream had come. A nearby scream was suddenly loud as the clear panel that sealed the entry arch slid aside. Two shabby slaves, one human and one eldar, carried a tray into the cell, setting it down near the door and quickly clearing out as the slender armored form of the guard turned its impassive head and stared at the filthy prisoners. He grabbed one nearby and pulled, the woman howling in terror and writhing in the warrior’s grip as he pulled her out the door. The guardsman understood her terror. No one taken that way had been returned. And the nearby screams had intensified after any captive was taken. Sometimes – sometimes they could recognize the voice. As the door closed, the prisoners shambled in their chains toward the tray. Each took a small plate of food (if you could call it that) and an equally small glass of water. Wulf collected his own and two others and returned to his corner placing the extra trays near a pair of blanket covered forms nearby. He devoured his own before beginning his exercise for the day, ignoring the squabbling of the others as they fought for each other’s sustenance.

One man eyed the tray by his companion and reached for it. Wulf whirled and brought his foot down on the man’s hand, breaking a couple of the small bones. The man retreated quickly, clutching his hand. Periodically, Wulf had to reinforce his “lessons” in that way. Leave him and his alone.

As time went on, the prisoners began to drop off to sleep. There was little more to do in the tedium. It was sleep or listen to the screams. With a quick glance to the dim archway to ensure no watchers, the guardsman switched his own, empty plate for the full one by one of his “charges” eating a second time. Later he would do the same with the other. The two forms nearby, an old man and a younger woman, had both died some days ago and Wulf had seen no reason to enlighten their captors. He needed more strength than he was getting from their near starvation level diet were he to be able to make a play.

It was the next “day” when Wulf decided that there was no longer any point in waiting. He would gain nothing more by doing so. Grabbing his chains, he moved nearer the door, placing himself in a dark corner behind a few other prisoners. He carefully picked at the gold braid on his battlejacket sleeve, lifting it from the underlying red reactive flak armor. He pulled a pair of spare buttons off the inside lining and attached the golden braid to them, snapping the assembly tight. Waiting.

He wasn’t sure how long it was before the crystal pane slid aside again and the warrior entered followed by the slaves and the tray. Tall and imperious, the eldar fighter stood with haughty mien examining his charges with no more fear or concern than a person enjoying the Imperial Zoo. Wulf carefully looped the golden cord and waited.

As the slaves filed out, the eldar, also, turned to go. The human leaped for the being’s back sliding the cord down over the smooth expanse of helm, careful not to become entangled in the decorative mane that ran down the back. There was a faint twitch as the cord slipped off the smooth bottom edge of the helmet and into place on the being’s neck. Wulf pulled outward on the crossed cord with all his strength and was rewarded with a spray of bright red blood as both main arteries were brutally and cleanly cut. The eldar’s head nearly came off. Wulf carefully caught the body, lowering it to the floor and taking the guard’s keys, pike and pistol. Unlocking his own chains he threw the keys back into the room and moved out into the dim streets.

He hadn’t seen the city during his capture, having awakened during wound treatment in the cell he’d just left. He’d no idea where he was, what planet or anything else. He didn’t like what he saw. The dim city stretched up with giant buildings that seemed to virtually grow from the ground in sleek but disturbing shapes, reaching up to claw at a billowing purple sky that reminded him more than anything else of the inside of the warp.

Gods! Where the hell was he? It didn’t matter. Time to move. Ghosting from shadow to shadow Wulf walked through Commoragh, the hidden city. It wasn’t long before the howling of the warp beasts on his trail alerted him to the pursuit of the dark eldar.

The city was huge and dim. Wulf’s resourcefulness had gotten him out, but now he was lost in an unfamiliar city full of enemies on a strange world. Escape might be an option, but first, he’d have to deal with the hunters. He chose his place. The end of a narrow alleyway. A low wall at the end would afford him a barrier to the hunters and additional space to run if he needed it. He could vault it, defend it briefly and then flee. It would be an option that he would have to be careful of, for if he fought for too long here they would cut that retreat off. He took cover behind a crude barricade of garbage and waited.

The first beast came slowly. Not quite material, it phased – half in and half out of reality – snuffling his blood scented trail. He silently cursed the damned guard for bleeding so much as he died. Halfway down the alley, it caught his actual scent and came for him with a great howl. Wulf blazed away at it with the dead guard’s pistol cutting it down before it had gotten ten feet. He readied himself for the rush that was sure to come. Sure enough it was followed by three more, loping down the alley toward him as though they had all the time in the world. He shot two as the third leaped for him with unnatural speed.

Wulf’s training took over, slamming his foot down on the carefully placed pike. It pivoted on the old bedframe he’d braced it on, the point coming up as the beast came in – skewering itself but still clawing at the guardsman’s arms and trying to bite. Wulf cut its throat with the long blade mounted on the butt of the eldar pistol.

Two humanoid forms accompanied by more dog things moved at the end of the alleyway, the keepers calling to one another in their musical voices. They started down the alley, opening fire with their own weapons to keep the fugitive’s head down. Projectiles and energy bolts sparking the walls around and behind him, Wulf returned fire on the scantily dressed eldar.

These wore little but some straps and decorative armor plates along with minimal clothing. One of the pursuers dropped, clutching an arm and Wulf shifted fire back to the beasts dropping two more before his pistol ran dry of whatever it fired. He ducked, freeing the pike from what little remained of the dead beast. The attacker’s fire ceased as the beasts made their attack.

Remaining behind the crates and junk, the guardsmen simply hewed whatever appeared. Beasts and another eldar fell before the position became untenable. He slashed at another of the lightly armored warriors, forcing him back before leaping onto the crate to fight with some extra height on his side.

The fighting was not going well. These eldar were GOOD. Only his defensive position gave him any chance at all. That and the longer reach of his pike. A whip snaked out and wrapped around his weapon’s handle. Before the alien could try a disarm, the human pivoted his body, lining up the pike head with the wych’s body and then throwing his own weight backwards. The eldar stumbled forward, pulled by his own weapon and Wulf brought the blade down to smash his skull. Swinging his butt around to trip his last combatant, he noticed the crowd growing at the end of the alley. Time to go.

Wulf completed the turn that had tripped the eldar, hooked the head of his pike on the top of the wall and leaped, twisting in the air to land on his feet on the other side. About damn time, he thought, for this city to have some residents doing the screaming! Not wasting any time he dashed down the alley, turning into a dim courtyard. He glanced quickly around, taking in the strange plants and unbalanced architecture – looking for enemies, before sprinting for the archway on the other side. He disappeared into darkness, panting straining for the light on the other side when the very shadows of the walls came alive and swarmed over him. Something went around his own throat and all of the city faded.

To his side, there was a brilliant flash and a HOLE opened in time and space. A glittering purple ring twisted with otherworldly lightning and quickly vomited forth a horde of eldar raiders. One dropped low, his huge squad support weapon blazing with light as he scythed fire through the Danikan Colonel’s bodyguard. Splinter cannon rounds sparked off the Colonel’s refractor field and then toward Wulf. Instinctively he rolled but an iron triphammer caught hold of his side and smashed consciousness away…

Wulf woke again with a cry. The dream, back again. Was his escape also a dream?

No. His throat hurt too much.

He sat in a room. This one was not the strange material so much of the city appeared to be built of but stone. Weapons lined the walls in racks. Crude things. Pikes, swords, axes and the like. Made of iron. Stained and corroded but all had clearly seen recent use if not care.

A chain around his ankle tied him to a staple set into a stone block. To his right, another block sat. Also occupied with a chained man. Wulf studied his new cellmate.

The man was not particularly tall. A bit under Wulf’s own six feet, which made the rest of him surprising. His barrel chest was mounted with the black plastic carapace that usually signified a space marine. But of course they were always giants of men, not shorter than Wulfgang was. The other prisoner’s skin was a pale fishbelly white, like it had never seen the sun and was stretched over giant muscles – THOSE at least appeared to belong to a space marine! He wore tiny black briefs and slippers. Strangest of all, he wore a helmet. That covering was a great ceramite thing shaped like a skull with black sensor opticals for eyes and ridges for teeth. It was coloured an ugly tan, and trimmed with black and gold decoration including a golden skull on the forehead. The odd marine, if that was what he was, sat placidly with legs crossed and arms straight out in front of him as though in supplication. He could have been carved in stone for all that he moved. Wulfgang cleared his throat. For long seconds which seemed to drag on forever there was no reaction but then the arms came down and that fearful helmet turned toward him like a turret gun on a battleship.

“You wake.” The synthesized voice came from a voder set behind the “teeth” of the skull. “That is good. Are you prepared for the trials to come?”

“I’m sorry?” Wulfgang was still rather muzzed from his capture and his voice came out like a croak.

“Have you consigned your soul to the Emperor?”

“I’m not consigning anything while I live and breathe.” Wulf replied, his voice starting to return to normal, ” a soldier’s duty is to escape. Failing that to do as much damage to the enemy as possible while a captive. Not that it comes up often or anything. There aren’t a lot of beings out there who even take captives.”

The skull stared and then slowly nodded. “So you are then prepared to fight the Imperium’s enemies still?”

“Damn straight. We Danikans are like that. Cranky bastards.”

The skull stared more.

“Who are you, anyway?”

“I am Battlefather Carpathia. Of the Desolation Angels chapter of the Legiones Astartes. And you?”

“Wulfgang von den Loewen, 4th Danikan Imperial Guard regiment. I’m assigned to Colonel Senekal’s personal guard.”

“A Bloodcoat?” the marine asked.

“You’ve heard of us?”

The skull nodded. “You have a reputation as a fierce group of loyal fighters. Your Colonel is very soft hearted, however.”

“Hey, watch what -!” He broke off as the self proclaimed battlefather raised his hand.

“Our views on this do not matter. Agreed?”

“Umm, okay.”

“Very well. That will have to do. We have been consigned to the arena. Do you know what that entails?”

“I can guess.”

“Indeed. When I give the word, we will make an attempt to escape. The Emperor will guide us out of the city. I have faith in that. He has seen fit to allow me to accumulate sufficient intelligence that we may be able to leave this place. The Dark Eldar call it Commoragh.”

It was Wulf’s turn to stare. This “battlefather” was clearly a bit nuts. But if he knew a way out, well that was good enough for him!

“What’s the plan?”

“Just go with what I do. And do not forget me when the time comes. This is not a good place to discuss it.”
As if on cue, their manacles snapped open. The marine moved to the wall and selected a pair of swords and a couple of pikes. He tossed one set to the Danikan. “Are you comfortable with these weapons?” Wulf nodded and together the two of them set off down the one open corridor.

The end was barred when they reached it but through the rotted iron they could see the bloody sand of the arena as a group of warp beasts finished off a group of small human children and ork grots. The creatures began to worry the remains, dragging them with them as their handlers (more of those lightly armored eldar, Wulf noted) drove them back into their kennels. The battlefather commented that the handlers were called Wyches.

The arena, itself, was an expanse of sand about a hundred meters across and surrounded by a 12 foot wall of that same stone the corridor was built of. The stone was scored, pitted and stained with old blood. Above the wall, a great amphitheater spread out, crowed with strange eldar in festive clothes. A few, mostly those in and around the main view box, wore elegant and decorative armor of the raider type. All carried weapons of some sort as far as Wulf could tell.

Shortly, a gate opposite the two humans opened and a group of orks was driven in by whip wielding wyches. The orks stood about, their long arms nearly brushing the ground while the eldar in the audience began to chant one word over and over. Finally a masked eldar woman in baroque armor stood from her place near the main box and leapt into the ring. She landed with a flourish moving with the grace of a dancer and a speed that Wulf knew he could never really match. He watched her fighting style carefully as she tore into the ork warriors. Looking for flaws or habits that he could take advantage of. He thought he might have noted one or two, but it was an awfully narrow thing to bet his life on. He drew a deep breath of the blood scented air, better to die in battle than in the torture chambers of these fiends! Even better to take some with him when he went.

The orks fought like a wave from the ocean. No discipline but a tremendous amount of raw fury and size. In short order the sand was painted the green of ork blood, the arena floor littered with motionless corpses. The eldar woman, herself coated in foul ork viscera, turned and bowed to the eminences in the central box.

One of them, a woman, stood and spat a tirade of musical eldarish to the other who seemed to be trying to placate her. Finally, he stood and shouted her down and she sat.

The gate before the two men began to slide open.

“Follow my lead!” Carpathia whispered. Wulf just shrugged.

The guardsman followed the marine to the filthy sand at the center and stood quietly while the marine propped a foot upon the corpse of an ork,. He leaned on his polearm and began a stream of what must have been profanity in the eldar tongue directed at the two in the box. The woman leapt to her feet in response, shouting back, but the other simply waited until the marine finished before replying.

“Please don’t bother soiling our tongue with your foul accent, human,” he replied in perfect gothic, “there is no need. You are here because you may prove entertaining. You are in no position to make demands or utter threats.” He smiled, amused.

“And you shouldn’t soil good Imperial with your decadent mouth, filth. Are you so cowardly as to deny so simple a request? Or do you fear for your warriors if the fight is too close to fair? Look at you, hiding behind your box while others do your fighting for you. Some Archon. You are naught but a coward.”

The woman nearly went berserk again and might well have leapt into the ring herself to join the champion there had the man not restrained her. She spat a long line of eldar at the marine, drawing herself up to her full height, her demeanor so haughty that she could have frozen water. Carpathia simply spat a single word in return. Her face underwent an amazing transformation to a mask of pure fury and she snatched up some type of polearm from the floor of the box and hurled it at him, the point of the thing blazing with power. The marine simply stepped to one side and allowed it to embed in the ork corpse he’d been standing on.

With no warning, he turned far faster than his burly body would have indicated that he could and hurled his own corroded weapon at the eldar champion who waited in the ring, snatching up the powered weapon from the corpse as he did so.

The eldar woman was blindingly fast in her evasion but far closer than the eminence in the box had been to Carpathia. The old poleweapon drew a line of scarlet along her side as she dodged. The Crowd roared in response and the champion quickly recovered and moved toward the marine who began to circle, elbowing Wulf out of his reverie as he did so.

As the guardsmen backed up, he carefully watched the beginning interplay of the fight. The woman moved slightly slower now. She also favored her wounded side just a bit. From the way she treated it, he decided that it wasn’t pain that she found a problem but the actual loss of activity that was afforded by the damaged muscles.

She and the Chaplain continued to circle, warily. Wulf synched his movements to Carpathia’s, matching him step for step as though connected by an invisible belt to the marine. He noticed that the woman was largely ignoring him. He allowed himself a small grin. Her first mistake.

Carpathia also noticed. He whispered to the guardsmen, “Only when I call to the Emperor, Bloodcoat. Not before.” Wulf nodded.

The first pass was blindingly fast with the eldar darting forward, her blades striking lightning off the Chaplain’s eldar weapon. She also threw a feint at the marine that tried to turn into a decapitating strike at Wulf which he easily parried. Clever, but clearly aimed for someone with no real experience. This babe was WAY overconfident. Wulf turned the parry into a quick strike which cut part of the woman’s cloth streamers from her body.

She spat and broke contact as the crowd roared its delight. The two humans continued the delicate testing with the blindingly fast champion. The battle danced across the sands with both humans taking a couple of minor cuts and the eldar now sporting a slash over her right eye which bled profusely, nearly blinding her.

Finally, as though she’d had enough, the woman launched into a furious attack that both men gave way before. Blades flashed and rang, the mob screamed in delight and the men backed some more. Pressed against the wall of the arena across from the main box, the battle became even more furious.

Wulf couldn’t figure it out. There’d been no reason to allow her to force them against the wall and their mobility was now somewhat compromised. What the hell was that marine doing?

Suddenly, Carpathia stiffened and muttered, “By the Emperor!” From the corner of his eye, Wulf noticed the blade driven deep into the shorter man’s chest, the Chaplain gripping the arm that had stabbed him. The guardsmen didn’t forget his cue, pivoting on his heel and driving the blade of his glaive deep into the champion’s thigh and then curling it ‘round and slamming it into her head with the force of his entire body backing it.

Blood and brains sprayed across the wounded Chaplain and the wall behind as the man, amazingly, pulled the blade from his chest and grabbed hold of Wulf.

He was so surprised he barely had time to react as the marine flung him through the air toward the top of the wall. Years of training paid off as Wulf hooked the edge of his glaive on the parapet and swung up it and over the top. Remembering Carpathia’s words he took a quick look down to see the marine waiting with his “borrowed” pole weapon upraised to catch hold of Wulf’s. Hooking his long weapon on the wall edge for the marine to use he drew his sword and quickly cut down a pair of eldar in fancy dress advancing on him. Most of the others hadn’t started reacting to the sudden change of entertainment to melee. Wulf kicked one into the pit as he helped the marine over the wall, pausing to acquire another pistol from a spectator who would no longer have use for it.

“This way!” bellowed Carpathia as he began to hew through the crowd in the direction of the exit.

Across the arena, Archon Engwasulion lounged back in his silken seat as he watched the two prisoners disappear into the exit tunnel. A smile caressed his saturnine features.

“Well?” his companion shrieked, her face gone purple. He rolled his eyes toward his fellow Archon, wondering how she had EVER conquered with such an out of control temper.

“Well?” he responded quietly.

“What are you going to do!?”

He gestured to a slave for some more wine. The unfortunate eldar hustled to obey. “Relax and enjoy, of course, my dear. That was FAR more entertaining than ANYTHING that I could ever have devised!” He smiled again, the expression chilling as he looked at the champion’s body down in the pit. “FAR more entertaining.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s