It was Agrino's scent that Jaigen Dire Heart noticed first as his boots thudded down the Thunderhawk's ramp. It was clean and untainted, with only the smell of pollen and distant crops giving it any real substance. The Jarl suspected that nearer the larger cities, at the planets equator, it would be different. There were vehicles and manufactories down there, meaning chemicals and fumes would spoil the air but that was not the case here in the Northern Hemisphere. Here it was still fresh and clean with only few smaller farming towns dotting its landscape. Agrino was a civilised world, still finding its feet in the Imperium proper. So far its biggest exports were food and refined minerals, having both perfect farmland in the North and in the Southern mountains there were deposits of raw minerals accessible only by deep mining shafts. Agrino sat far in the galactic west of the Imperium, quite a distance from any other inhabited systems but that meant it was out of reach of the wars that plagued the rest of the galaxy. Its exports however made it important and it was quickly gaining wealth and power on its own. It's people had, for the most part at least, lived in relative peace. That had changed however when the first Dark Eldar raiders had struck.
Jarl Jaigen's boots touched soft earth, a barely perceptible breeze tugged gently at the twin braids of black hair that hung from the right side of his otherwise shaven scalp and caused the necklace of bleached wolves teeth and rune stones to tap lightly against his armoured breastplate. His cragged features creased further as his brow furrowed into a frown, his eyes the colour of silver moonlight scanning the horizon for movement. There was nothing to be seen in the East, South or indeed the West. His goal was North, beyond a series of rolling hills that obscured his view of the farming village he knew lay nestled on the other side. He walked forward out from under the overhanging prow of the Thunderhawk; draped from his wide set shoulders a thick wolves pelt the colour of charcoal rustled softly with the movement. He stepped fully into the sun, the golden runes inscribed on the dull blue grey plate of his power armour shining intensely in its harsh light. His grip on the Frost Axe Sjaelafis loosened slightly, its ice blue edge glowing softly; there were no enemies here. Not yet anyway but there was something else on the breeze, something so thin even his enhanced senses were struggling to pinpoint it.
"Jukka." Jaigen announced into his squad vox net, addressing the Thunderhawk pilot, "Await us here but be ready for rapid extraction."
Jaigen turned to regard his Wolf Guard squad, Morkai's Teeth, descending the Thunderhawks ramp. First was the hulking Loken Blackpaw, the units new Vaerangi after Jaigen had been given position of Jarl. He stood taller and broader than his fellow Wolves, his power armour modified to fit his impressive frame and as befitting of his name the gauntlets were painting entirely black. His head was shaven save a closely cropped grey Mohawk down the centre. His ears, eyebrows and bottom lip were pierced by steel rings and bars, which only added to his already fearsome visage. A goatee the same grey as his hair, circled his mouth and his eyes were wild, bright bursts of yellow; the black of his pupils a vertical slash down their middle. In his oversized hands was the Thunder hammer Helvede, a weapon he had forged himself under the watchful gaze of the legendary Arjac Rockfist.
"This is an unassuming place." Loken muttered as he took in the blank landscape. "Why must we always fight on the most boring of worlds?"
"It won't be boring when the Dark Eldar arrive." The new voice belonged to that of Sven Irontooth, another terrifying figure with an eye patch of black leather and teeth made of polished metal. He carried Ubarmhjertig, a custom Storm Bolter fitted with an extended magazine and recoil reducing stabilisers, he could fire it with one hand and not compromise accuracy. He grinned, teeth glinted from beneath thick blonde whiskers.
Loken laughed darkly, "Bring them on I say. It has been too long since I have tasted Xenos blood."
Jarno Redclaw followed Irontooth off the ramp, in one hand a bolt pistol with a drum magazine, the other encased in a glittering wolf claw. "So butchering traitors for the last month and a half hasn't slaked your lust for violence Blackpaw?"
"Never." Loken smiled menacingly, showing his fangs.
Jaigen allowed them their banter, he knew when the fighting started he could rely on them completely. There were few among the Vlka Fenryka as vicious or as deadly as Morkai's Teeth. Before his ascension to Jarl, Jaigen had been their Vaerangi and that bond of brotherhood had not diminished . They remained at his side where ever the Great Company made war, serving as his personal body guards; and in the times between battle they were his closest friends.
Jaigen waited until the entire squad was assembled before him. Nygard came next followed by Egil Stonehand, his power fist crackling with energy. Then Heagar, the one they called Deathwish. His body and face were covered in burn scars after an unfortunate incident involving a flamer he had tweaked exploded in his hands, despite this though his unusual obsession with fire had never dulled. After him came Jesper, he was more technically minded than his fellow wolves and in the absence of an Iron Priest he was the next best thing. He was a better marksman than most Wolves and carried a newly customised Bolter with a scope and extended barrel.
Finally the last remaining warrior aboard the gunship descended, he was not one of Morkai's Teeth and his left shoulder guard did not display the red wolves head in profile that would have marked him as a member of Jaigen's great company. His ancient armour was black, edged in gold. In one hand a Crozius Arcanum shaped as a winged wolf skull. A heavy Rosarious pendant hung from a necklace of bleached teeth, its shape, a sapphire wolves paw. His battle helm was a bone white wolf skull, its mouth set in a permanent grimace, as if it were judging all those it looked upon with its eye lenses of glittering emerald. This was brother Vidar, a Wolf Priest.
"No sign of the Xenos?" Vidar asked, his voice deep and intimidating.
Jaigen inclined his head slightly, unfazed by the Wolf Priests presence. "None. It's possible they disappeared back into the Webway."
"They will return." Brother Nygard interjected, "I have fought them before. I know their ways well enough." He thumbed a small black skull was tied about his other wrist on a thick leather chord.
Despite his many years as an Astartes, Jaigen himself and indeed many of his great company had yet to face the Dark Eldar in combat. The were elusive and swift often disappearing before retaliation could be brought upon them. Jaigen knew of them and had fought their cousins from the Craftworlds but the Dark Eldar were different in worst kind of ways. Nygard however had far greater experience with them after he had served with the Deathwatch for a time. His knowledge would be invaluable.
"They will raid smaller towns first. Then, once they have gauged the planets defences they may hit the larger settlements in greater force." He paused thoughtfully, "Though this information is based from one specific group I cannot guarantee all factions behave this way."
"Faction?" Sven growled.
Nygard nodded, "They are not all unified, from what we can gather the Dark Eldar fight amongst themselves just as viciously as they fight us."
"It matters not." Jaigen replied, "If they return we'll be waiting either way."
"For now." Vidar said nodding to the hills. "We make for the farming town as planned."
Jaigen nodded. When the distress call had first been received he despatched the troops closest to the system. A unit of scouts had landed to run reconnaissance and gather information from the locals who had witnessed the initial raids. They had not been in contact since they had arrived at the town Vidar had referred too. Jaigen needed to discover what had happened to them personally, it was duty as Jarl to discover the fate of his men first hand and should the worst come to pass, exact vengeance as only a Son of Russ could. He had left Fenrir, his battle leader, to deal with the planetary governor back at the capital, Fenrir had a way with diplomacy though he wouldn't admit it.
It quickly became apparent as they neared the squat houses sitting snugly in the hills, that the place was deserted. It seemed the Dark Eldar had been and gone. Smoke drifted from piles of ash and embers. Many of the white washed buildings had collapsed, wooden roofs caved in and windows blown out. As the Wolves walked along the cobbled roads they found very few corpses. Those they did discover lay split and sliced asunder by needle thin projectiles and diamond sharp blades. Their deaths had been horrifically brutal and judging by the number of lacerations upon their flesh, terribly slow and extremely painful. Jaigen knelt by one body, his eyes searching the corpse with a disturbed expression.
"They do not kill quickly." Nygard remarked seeing the look on his Jarl's face. "These creatures are the foulest of all xenos I have ever encountered my Jarl, even more so than the Greenskins. They live only for torture, death is sport to them. They seem to find the suffering of others…," He paused searching for the right word, "Invigorating." He finished helmet bowed.
Loken snarled. "We will find only hatred and death here."
Behind him Heagar wrinkled his nose, "The air is rank with it."
Vidar stood off to one side, Crozius held loosely by his waist. "At the centre of town the smoke is thicker. I smell the blood of Astartes."
Jaigen closed the eyes of the corpse and inwardly asked the Allfather to watch over the man's soul.
"As do I." The Jarl muttered quietly.
A gruesome scene met the Wolves as they entered the town square. There had once been a statue in its centre but that had been smashed apart, its stone pieces scattered across the plaza. In its place was a new monument, one dedicated to pain and suffering.
"Russ' Teeth!" Nygard growled his eyes unblinking.
A wooden structure had been erected from the remains of market stalls that had obviously once filled the square. Tied or nailed to it were the bodies of Brother Hogun's Scout unit. Ten corpses in varying states of dismemberment, their faces locked in silent screams of agony. A Space Marine did not usually give in to torture and Jaigen dared not imagine what kind of abhorrent acts had been inflicted on his brothers to gain such a reaction.
"There will be a reckoning!" Loken bellowed. He turned from the gory spectacle and looked to the sky. "Do you hear me scum? You will all die here! In Russ and the Allfather's name we will have vengeance!" he roared his voice echoing across the landscape.
Jaigen and Vidar approached the body of Hogun, bound by the hands to hang as if crucified. He had been stripped to the waist, his flesh peeled aside, fused ribs cracked open and parted. There was nothing left inside his torso, his organs were piled at his feet.
Vidar examined the corpse. "There is no progenoid to remove." He stated simply.
Jaigen sighed, "Check the others, perform funeral rites and I will have Heagar put this abomination to the torch."
Vidar nodded, "My thoughts are the same."
Jaigen walked away leaving Vidar to his task. He found Jarno still staring dumfounded at the Scouts.
"They would have been alive when they did this?" Jarno asked no one in particular.
"Aye." Nygard nodded, "I have borne witness to fouler acts committed by the xenos filth." He seemed almost ashamed of his words and Jaigen regarded him carefully. "These creatures, as I mentioned before, live only to cause anguish. The harder their… prey… fights, the greater the pleasure seems to be, sometimes to the point… of… of arousal." Nygard looked away from his comrades, glanced once at the Scouts and then left, his black skull pendant held in his fist.
Jaigen watched him go. A cold feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. "Loken." He muttered.
Blackpaw leaned closer, ensuring Jarno was out of earshot. "Aye?"
"Keep an eye on Nygard. I worry that encountering these creatures is stirring some unsettling memories from his service in the Deathwatch." Jaigen explained quietly.
Loken nodded, "I understand."
"I will not see another brother fall prey to the Wulfen curse, we have suffered enough of that already."
Blackpaw stood straight. "I will not allow it my Jarl."
Jaigen smiled. "I know you won't. Nygard is strong willed but you and I both know he has never truly been the same since his return."
Blackpaw cracked his knuckles, "He'll be fine under my eye."
"Jarl Dire Heart." Vidar announced. "My rites are complete. Let us set our brothers free."
Jaigen gestured to Heagar, "Put this monstrosity to the flames and see our friends souls given over to the Allfather."
Heagar grumbled sadly and ignited his flamer. "We will meet again brothers." He whispered and sent a gout of promethium across the structure.
For a while the Wolves watched as the fire consumed the scouts bodies. It did not take long before there was little but ash and smouldering cinders remaining.
Jaigen turned from the scene, his expression grim. "Come brothers, let us return to the capital. There is nothing else for us here."
They trudged back towards the Thunderhawk in solemn silence. Vlka Fenryka were a proud and honourable race and the knowledge that such heinous acts had been committed on their battle brothers weighed heavily in their hearts. Making matters worse was the thought that the Dark Eldar had succeeded in breaking Hogun and his men. Astartes were notoriously difficult to crack given their super human pain threshold and mental fortitude. There would be vengeance and Jaigen could feel and impatient thirst for blood in his battle brothers. Rage and sorrow were draped over them like heavy wet cloaks. The Jarl himself was enraged but he kept his emotions in check. He thought on Nygard's words, could it be true that the Dark Eldar had inflicted such pain simply to satisfy their own twisted desires? He understood the need to torture for information but his warriors mind could not fathom a race that thrived on it. He was a soldier and it was true that he lived for the thrill of battle and gloried in the deaths of the enemies of mankind but he did not experience pleasure in the way Nygard described. It made him uncomfortable to even consider it.
He heard a sound, a noise so small even his super human senses barely registered it. A quiet intake of breath. Jaigen turned, eyes searching the row of ruined houses to his left. He sniffed the air getting nothing but smoke at first but there was something behind it. He paused striding slowly towards a small farm house, its walls pitted with small arms fire, the door at the front kicked off its hinges.
"Jarl?" Jarno asked stopping behind Jaigen.
The Jarl raised a hand, "Quiet. I hear something."
By now the rest of the pack had stopped, eyes regarding their Jarl curiously.
Jaigen clumped forwards, his boots disturbing the ash on the ground into little clouds of grey at his heels. He saw movement.
"Contacts?" Loken whispered.
Vidar watched impassively.
"No." Jaigen replied, "Survivor."
He approached the house more confidently than before now certain this was no enemy trick. Something moved inside, quick like a mouse scampering for cover. Jaigen eased himself through the narrow doorway, the door itself lay on the floor of the hallway beyond. There were two bodies, a man and a woman. The male was sprawled on the stairs, a primitive looking shotgun held in one hand, he had been torn apart by the splinter weapons of the Eldar. His wife, at least Jaigen assumed it was his wife, was slumped against the wall nearer the kitchen her torso slashed from throat to naval, innards pulled out and left to cool in her lap. Jaigen grimaced at the cruelty of it. He heard the noise again, the fearful gasp and the shuffle of small feet. Jaigen turned his bulk and squeezed into the living room. A table had been over turned in the corner and behind a young girl crouched. She was six years old, maybe seven, Jaigen couldn't really tell. Her hair was raven black, her hazel eyes wild with fear and shock. Her pixyish features were smeared with blood. Jaigen stopped in his tracks, fully aware of how terrifying he must have appeared to her. He crouched, attempting a warm smile and failing when his fangs slid from behind his lips. She withdrew further into the corner, her stare told him everything he needed to know. She was in complete shock, he guessed the xenos had been too busy killing her parents to have noticed her hiding. At least he hoped that was the case, the alternate scenario that she had been forced to watch them both die and left to suffer made even Jaigen feel nauseous.
"I'm not going to hurt you little one." He said softly. "I'm here to fight them."
She continued to stare at him, unblinking, tears welling up and falling silently over her cheeks.
"I can take somewhere safe. What is your name?"
She still didn't speak.
Jaigen offered his hand, "Come with me. I promise I will not harm you." Jaigen didn't fully understand why he was putting so much effort into helping the child. Things such as this weren't usually an Astartes main concern. His job was killing the alien and let the planetary officials deal with the orphans and survivors. There was just something about her. He couldn't place the reason why but he needed to help this one, the more he looked into her eyes the stronger the need became.
"Please, take my hand, let me help you." He tried again.
She blinked, tentatively she inched forwards.
Jaigen's comm beeped. "My Jarl we are detecting movement." It was Loken speaking. "Jesper's auspex is going mad."
"I copy." Jaigen replied quietly, "Come little one, we need to leave. I'll protect you I swear it in the Allfather's name."
His comm beeped again this but time the voice was from his battle leader in the farmlands capital. "Jarl, this is Fenrir! We have enemy contacts approaching the city limits! They're fast, this is alot larger than any previous force in the reports."
Jaigen growled in frustration, the girl flinched but he made a calming gesture with his hand, "Fenrir you and Canis must hold the city till I get there, try and keep the Xeno's off the civilian's we have our own contacts but we'll meet you as soon as we can. You're in command Fenrir."
"Yes my jarl." The line went dead.
A small hand rested in his palm, Jaigen gripped it as gently as he could. She stared at him so intensely with her wonderfully hazel eyes that Jaigen felt as if she was searching his soul. "When we get outside, stay at my heel. There are more like me, we will protect you."
"Have no fear little one." He added.
"They are all around us." Jesper announced.
"Keep the pace!" Jaigen commanded. They needed to get to a clear, wider street where Jukka could bring the Thunderhawk in for extraction. Jaigen was running, this place was dead and gone, he needed to be at the front at the bigger assault in the capital, that was more important than defending a ghost town.
Jaigen and Morkai's Teeth were sprinting full pelt down another dusty ruin of a street. As she was unable to keep pace with the super humans Astartes, Jaigen had lifted the girl to his shoulder and told her to hang on. He'd received more than a few startled and confused looks from his fellow wolves but none had said anything when he'd brought her out of the house.
"Keep here safe." Was the first order he'd given before contacting Jukka for pick up.
"I think they are toying with us." Nygard said, eyes searching the roof tops. "They think it will scare us."
"Then they're wrong." Loken growled, hefting Helvede.
Jaigen caught sight of flittering black and red shapes dancing over the rooftops. Heard a cackle of laughter every now and then.
"Keep them in your sights my brothers kill any that dare show it's face." Vidar rumbled. "Russ is with us!"
Ahead of them the street widened out into a plaza, perfect for a Thunderhawk extraction.
"Jukka!" Jaigen growled, "Home in on my signal, come in guns blazing my brother!"
Brother Jukka just roared in reply.
"I have multiple fast moving contacts coming up on our six!" Jesper announced.
Loken and Iron skidded to a halt. "We'll cover it!" he smiled savagely.
As one the rest of Morkai's Teeth fanned into the plaza, weapons tracking anything that moved. Behind them Jaigen watched as Sven unloaded a brutal barrage of Storm Bolter fire at a number zig-zagging shapes hurtling down the length of the street. They zipped between the stream of shells with un-nerving ease until even Sven's extended magazine ran dry. They barrelled forwards with greater zeal as the wolf began to re-load. Jaigen's sharp eyes picked them out as they came closer, jet-bikes, the riders were bare armed and cackling, one was trailing a chain with a wicked curved blade at the end. What happened next made Jaigen more proud than ever to be amongst warriors such as these. As the lead bike bore down on the duo, Sven took a knee and Loken sprinted forward, Helvede lifted above his head. Howling into the sky he placed a boot on Sven's shoulder who lifted himself from the ground and threw Loken into the air. Helvede hurtled down with breathtaking force and slammed into the front end of the lead jet-bike. There was an eruption of shrapnel as the bike flipped end over end, first in the air and then across the ground coming apart spectacularly as it rolled. The rider, having been thrown free of his doomed vehicle, slammed into a wall some distance away, his body crumpled like wet paper with a sickening crunch and flopped messily to the dirt. Loken landed on his feet and bellowed long and loud.
"Any more!" He held Helvede above his head once more as the other bikers veered off either side of him.
A cry of delight sprang up from the darting figures forever in the corner of Jaigen's vision. Now the fight was on. A burst of sharp needle like projectiles buried themselves in his left pauldron with a triple thunk. Small enough to hide behind his greave the girl cowered and covered her ears as Jaigen replied with a burst of Bolter fire. He hit nothing but the wall, the figure flipped aside and sprang out of sight.
"Russ' teeth!" he cursed.
The girl cried out, Jaigen span around, a figure darted towards him. She was far too tall, to lithe to be human. Her bone structure to narrow and fragile looking. Her skin was white as Fenrisian snow, her body armour covered nothing more than her modesty, leaving little to the imagination, was dark red like old blood and decorated with a few silvered spikes. Her hair was bright blue and her eyes black like the pits of Hel. She wielded a vicious curved knife in each hand. They flashed down faster than even his super human senses could follow. He barely brought Sjaelafis up to parry in a flurry of sparks. She twirled away smiling wickedly. So they truly were as hideous as he had been told. She sprang in again, catching his fore arm with one blade but his reversed strike prevented a second blow from landing. Once more she darted aside before he could launch an attack of his own. Jaigen frowned grimly, he would not be kept on the defensive. She danced from foot to foot, eyeing him, waiting to see what he would do. Jaigen fired a volley from his bolt pistol and she dodged left, Sjaelafis leapt around to catch her midriff but she leapt clean over the icy blade. As she landed she kicked the back of his knee, in the weaker joint of his armour. Jaigen didn't buckle as she perhaps expected but he was certainly off balanced. Seizing the opportunity for the kill the Dark Eldar leapt up and onto his chest, bracing her feet against his belt she raised the knives over her head to drive them into his neck. Against anyone other than an Astartes, especially one of the Vlka Fenryka, this tactic may have worked. This time Jaigen head butted her in the chest throwing the xenos off him, she flipped in the air but Sjaelafis was waiting for her. His frozen blade bit clean through flesh and bone and her torso landed separately to her legs, a spatter of crimson rubies spilling around each.
Jaigen turned to the girl. "Are you alright?"
She nodded, her eyes still filled with fear but admiration also.
"Stay with me!"
Jaigen looked back to his brothers. Alien bodies were strewn about the plaza but the xeno's were a hard fight. Sven blew a jet-bike out of the air as it zipped over head and Jesper was picking shots at warriors riding blade winged hover boards. They were fast and agile but Jesper was a deadeye. He knocked two from their boards with unbelievably well placed shots Jaigen knew he'd never match.
Jarno Redclaw growled a curse to Jaigen's right, the Jarl twisted to see his brother fall to his knees, a spear through his primary heart. It's wielder snarled in Jarno's face thinking him dead but the wolves claw pierced his body and then ripped him apart. Another xeno leapt upon Jarno slitting his throat a split second before Jaigen's bolter blew a hole in her torso. Jarno remained upright, one hand clutching the spear even as blood poured from the wound in his neck. His claw flashed out, taking another alien apart. Bolter flaring the Jarl stepped into aid his brother but Jarno gave a strangled howl, his body tipping forward with the weight of one last xenos on his back, its punch daggers ripping through his armour and destroying what organs remained. Jaigen's furious bellow drowned out the melee, the reflection of Jarno's spurting blood, bright in his eyes. Enraged beyond reason now Jaigen turned on the next xeno to draw near, he blocked the aliens flail weapon with is forearm, letting it wrap around his wrist and hauled the Eldar towards him. He kicked the xeno full in the chest as it came in range and its broken form sprawled bonelessly twenty metres away from him. Dropping the flail, which left several deep gauges in his fore arm guard, he put a bolt shell in a Dark Eldar advancing on Loken from behind. Too busy pounding an alien into the dirt with Helvede, Loken didn't realise his Jarl had probably saved his life. Another female threw herself at him, this one armed with a punch dagger and forearm blade. Jaigen blocked and side stepped her fluid, precise attacks and she wove easily around his own seemingly clumsy strikes with Sjaelafis. Sparks danced around his head as he blocked another overhead strike, then he roared in rage when the punch dagger broke through his chest plate and buried itself in the black carapace beneath his flesh. Jaigen's bolt pistol dropped to the ground and he reached up with his now free hand wrapping it around the aliens wrist. With a deft twist it snapped and she wailed in pain. Hauling the blade out of his chest he threw her against the nearest wall, the impact stunning her, Sjaelafis cut her head from her shoulders a moment later, the spray of blood bright on the white washed stone. Jaigen scooped his pistol from the dust turned and sighted the xenos that had finally killed Jarno. A triple burst of his weapon pulverised the alien into little more that wet chunks of meat.
"Incoming!" bellowed Jukka on the vox.
Suddenly Jaigen was violently buffeted by the downwash of the Thunderhawk and he crouched, using his bulk to shield the girl from the worst of it. Then the aircrafts bolters opened and a storm of noise assailed his ears. He cupped the girls head in his hands, hoping it would be enough to defend her tiny ears from the howl of engines and the roar of death. Even though the sound was utterly horrendous he could still hear Jukka chortling on the vox as he unleashed death on the Dark Eldar. Eventually the guns fell silent.
"They're falling back!" Sven shouted.
"Cowards!" Loken called into the seemingly empty street.
Nygard shook his head, "They're letting us go."
Jaigen settled on his haunches, the girl was shaking but unhurt. He settled a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. "Thank you little one, had you not called out that first xeno may have killed me." Though not entirely true he hoped it might give her a little courage.
"Come let's get you safe."
Jaigen rose to his full height. "Brothers. It's time to take the fight to the front."
No one else had been killed but all wore fresh scars. Jaigen nodded to Sven and Egil Stonehand.
"Carry Jarno to the Thunderhawk. He will receive the proper burial rites once we return to the Aett."
Vidar nodded, "I will take his gene seed now."
"As you wish."
Morkai's Teeth began to file onto the Thunderhawk, some casting sorrowful glances to Jarno's body as he was lifted respectfully by his brothers. Loken paused at the edge of the ramp his eye on the girl as Nygard strapped her as best he could into the oversized restraint couch.
"Why bring her with us?" he asked, voice low and un-accusing, simply curious.
Jaigen shrugged his massive shoulders. "Truth told, I don't know. There's something about her, I sensed something when I found her. It felt… right." He looked Loken dead in the eye, "I believe the Allfather has some plan for her, I need to ensure she gets off this world safely, that is all I can say."
Loken nodded, "Good enough for me."
Jaigen thought on his words to Loken. He looked at the girl, swallowed by the restraint couch, there was something in her hazel eyes. Sorrow yes but something else. He could not place it but even as he looked upon her a distant yet mournful howl, carried miles on the winds of Fenrys echoed in his mind. She was destined for greatness, he could feel it in his blood.
Jaigen stood on the front ramp of the Thunderhawk as it descended over the capital city. Below him his battle brothers engaged the enemy in the once picturesque streets, among them were the great loping shapes of Fenrisian Wolves as they hunted alongside the Astartes. He could see the Dark Eldar clearly from here too. Armour deep red like old blood, weapons polished silver and gold, visors shining emerald. Those who went without helmets had hair either lime green or vivid blue, their skin was pearly white and slashed by red markings, which Jaigen assumed were tribal. Some herded civilians into dagger shaped craft that hovered above the ground on anti-grav engines. Jaigen growled, the transports would not get away.
"Take us over that craft!" he yelled to Jukka.
Loken appeared at his shoulder.
"I will fall upon them like a great eagle of Fenrys." he hefted Helvede emphasise his point.
"Not before me Black Paw!" Jaigen replied baring his fangs.
The Jarl looked back into the troop compartment and made a decision. "Nygard!"
"Look after the girl! Keep her alive at all costs!"
Though he did not voice it, the disappointment on Nygard's face was obvious. "Yes Jarl."
Jaigen regretted keeping him out of the fight but he was too close to the enemy, Jaigen worried something would tip the warrior over the edge and closer to the Curse. This way he could ensure the girls safety and prevent any dishonour coming to Nygard.
Without a backward glance Jaigen threw himself from the ramp. His bolt pistol roared on the way down, killing three xenos outright. His boots crushed another, folding the creature like paper beneath him, Jaigen revelled in the sound of snapping bone. Sjaelafis bit through another in a spurt of blood, parried a return strike and sliced a head from its shoulders. Loken landed like a meteor, throwing xenos aside with the impact, Helvede whirled around him, smashing yet more to paste. Egil Stonehand followed Loken, his power fist crashing down on the last of the xenos manning the vehicle.
"Break open the cage!" Jaigen roared dropping the spent clip from his pistol.
Stonehand ripped the metal bars apart and the people trapped inside spilled out with yells of gratitude.
"Get to cover!" Sven ordered ushering them towards the southern quarter where the local arbites had formed a cordon backed up by Grey Hunters from Kyron's pack.
Jaigen turned and was greeted by a hulking black Thunderwolf. Fur like steel cable rustled as she moved and hard muscle slid beneath her scarred flesh, her fangs dripped blood and her yellow eyes were wild with the killing thirst. One foreleg was a bionic and Jaigen could see the flesh where it joined was still pink with fresh scar tissue. She was Skadi the Thunderwolf mount of brother Fenrir, Jaigen's battle leader. Fenrir sat atop his beast, wolf claws dripping with alien gore, his bright red beard and wild mane of hair decorated with an assortment of trinkets, teeth and braids. His scarred face wrinkled into a fang filled smile. "Glad you could finally join us." He remarked.
Jaigen grinned in reply, "What news?"
"The fighting is heaviest in the Northern quarter, we've taken out most of their slave ships but I think that's just pissed them off." He looked back over his shoulder, "Most of them fled back through sthe webway but the ones dressed in the least armour have stayed put, perhaps the others have trapped them here or they're enjoying the fighting as much as we are."
Jaigen said nothing at first, he ran a hand over his bald head, thinking, "Nygard said they enjoy slaughter. Perhaps this will work to our advantage, if they focus on fighting us we can get the civilian's clear."
"My thoughts are the same." Fenrir replied.
"That's why your my Battle Leader brother." Jaigen slammed home his fresh clip. "You and the Thunderwolves can move the fastest, try and herd them into the centre of town, if you see any of these slave barges destroy them and free the prisoners."
"Aye my Jarl."
Before Jaigen started moving another figure emerged from the smoke. His Thunderowlf mount bigger still than Skadi, its fur white into dark brown across the back, its right eye a glowing red bionic. Fangir. Jaigen nodded respectfully to the warrior sat on his back. Canis Wolfborn, beneath his hooded brow his eyes blazed with feral rage, his golden mane and beard matted with the blood of the enemy. He nodded back to Jaigen, his expression grim then he turned, following Fenrir back to the fight. There was no love lost between the two warriors. Canis had been wounded severely fighting the Orks on Cultio after going up against a Deff Dredd alone. He had not been present when Jarl Harald had fallen victim of the Wulfen curse, nor had he been able to attend Jaigen's ascension to Jarl as Harald's successor. It was well known that Canis was Harald's most trusted warrior and Jaigen suspected Canis found it difficult to accept the Deathwolf had fallen. He had not voiced any objections to Jaigen's command but there had been a look of suspicions in the warriors eye when Jaigen had told the story of Harald's death. He was a man of few words but he had spoken.
"Your axe took his head?" He had asked.
Jaigen nodded regretfully. "Aye."
"He died with honour?"
"As honourably as he could given the circumstances." Jaigen replied tersely.
Canis growled, "It should have been me."
"To take mantle of Jarl?"
Canis turned his back, "No. To take his life."
They had not spoken since unless Jaigen had given orders. Canis was already withdrawn from his brothers, since Harald's passing he had become more so. Jaigen expected a day when Canis would simply become a Lone Wolf and leave to seek a glorious death. As yet he remained with the great company and still held title as its greatest champion.
Jaigen grunted, he gave no more thought to it. He twirled Sjaelafis in his fist, splattering the ground with alien blood.
"Into the fight my brothers!" he roared and charged toward the sound of battle.
Jaigen broke through the smoke and saw his brothers engaged with the enemy, packs of wolves leaping between the duelling warriors, taking down aliens as they would giant elk. His bolt pistol snapped up and he fired twice, killing one of the xenos before it could sink its blade into a Grey Hunters back.
"Our Jarl fights with us once more!" a Blood Claw named Hikevan yelled when he caught sight of Morkai's Teeth charging into the fray.
A triumphant howl spread through the assembled wolves and Jaigen felt his blood sing in his veins at the sound. Loken had promised a reckoning on the xenos, that time was here and it would be terrible to behold. Sjaelafis bit the head from another Eldar that dared come within in range, his bolt pistol ruptured a second as it leapt across the rubble. They were fast and agile but the Wolves had gotten their eye in and the Eldar were finding the fight was only getting harder. Jaigen back tracked a few steps as another xeno landed in front of him, its twin sided spear whirling in its hands. Jaigen took a few strikes to the shoulder and fore arm that left nasty rents in his armour but did not find flesh. Sjaelafis flicked up to parry the attacks, knocking the blades aside in brief flashes of sparks. Jaigen snarled swiping the frost axe down, his blow took the feet from under the xenos and as he fell Jaigen whipped Sjaelafis up and around to cut back down through the alien's waist before his body hit the dirt. Behind him Jaigen heard the repeating thunder clap of Ubarmhjertig as Irontooth let loose on a cluster of xenos taking cover in a store front. None of them survived. Loken slammed Helvede down onto another xenos, her body folded beneath the mighty blow and burst against the ground as the weapon slammed down with a deafening boom. Jaigen kept walking through the combat, needle thin projectiles glancing from his armour or sticking in with a metallic thud, his reply came in the bark of a bolter shell at whoever was dumb enough to be shooting at him. He killed dozens of aliens that came into close combat, each fight however brief left scores of new scratches and dents on his armour some of which were deep enough to cut flesh but he would not be slain by these wretched creatures. With Morkai's Teeth at his heels, Jaigen butchered his way to the heart of the enemy.
Jaigen could swear he felt victory was near, there was desperation the enemies attacks now. Those who had dug in were being routed out and destroyed. Lone close combatants engaged the wolves from the shadows or from above but only a few managed to earn a kill before the wolves tore them apart with Bolter and chain blade. On the outskirts of the fight Fenrir rode down any of them attempting to flee or hide. In the air, enemy warriors on hover boards or jet bikes were being hunted by brother Jukka and other Thunderhawks. A few of the more enigmatic Sky Claws leapt from roof top to roof top, occasionally catching one of them in mid air with a well timed burst of their jump packs. It seemed the Dark Eldar they fought had indeed been left behind, betrayed by their supposed kin to be butchered by the Wolves. Jaigen grinned, a reckoning indeed, enemy blood was thick on the ground and the Vlka Fenryka had once again proved why they held title of the Allfathers Executioners.
A shout of alarm snapped Jaigen from his thoughts. He swung around, Sjaelafis ready. Deathwish Heagar had been the one to raise his voice in surprise, his weapon poured a gout of burning promethium but his target nimbly avoided immolation by leaping above the flames. She was even more sparsely garbed than her comrades, wearing little more than knee high boots and gauntlets of dark red inlaid with glittering gold. Her hair was impossibly long and dyed the same lime green as some of the others. In one hand she wielded a halberd tipped by a wickedly curved powered blade. She somersaulted perfectly over Heagar's head and landed in a crouch at his back, her halberd lashed out behind her biting through the back of the Wolf Guards knee joint. He howled in rage as his leg gave way beneath him. Faster than an eye blink she twirled the weapon around her head, before stabbing it through Heagar's ribs. Its blade punched straight out through Deathwish's chest plate and the warrior snarled through blood stained teeth. With another deft movement the Eldar was back on her feet and in front of Heagar a look ecstasy on her thin features. Her halberd flickered and Heagar fell, his head parted from his neck.
"Die whore!" Vidar spat, his Crozius lashing for her head.
She didn't move, instead another female warrior, her armour too embossed with gold, stepped in and blocked the blow with a narrow single edged sword, she lay on the offensive and forced Vidar to back track as he blocked a dozen viciously quick strikes. Within moments a dozen more similarly clad women were upon Morkai's Teeth. Only Jaigen remained un-challenged by what he guessed were a more elite version of the scantily armoured warriors they had already fought.
The killer of Heagar turned, Jaigen figured this one must have been in charge of the raid, or at least of the faction that dressed like gladiators. She looked him up and down a smile of amusement on her black lips. A flash of lust perhaps danced across her void like eyes and Jaigen shuddered, despite his hatred there was little he could do to deny she appeared a perfect creature. Her lack of armour allowed his eyes to take in all of her flawless assets, subtle muscle tone and smooth silky white skin that seemed to have barely a single scar. Even her face, though marred by eyes like black pits, was striking in its narrow beauty. It was as if she had been created by some master craftsman and not born this way simply by chance. Jaigen's grip tightened on Sjaelafis. All of this mattered little, if she was indeed a champion or commander of the Eldar on this world then she had to die and Jaigen would see it done.
Her halberd lashed for his head with such speed he barely avoided it, the blade scraped his right shoulder guard trailing a flash of sparks in its wake. Sjaelafis rose up lightning fast in response to take her arm at the elbow but she twisted aside, her smile widening. She came in again, her thrusts and slashes too fast for mortal eyes to follow but Jaigen was no mere mortal. He ducked and parried, attacked and gained ground but in return, so did she. To both Jaigen and his opponent the world around them melted away into little more than faded blurs as their focus narrowed on one another. They duelled for what felt like an age but in reality was mere seconds. Sparks flashed brightly as blades rebounded off each other. Armour was cut and slashed, flesh was torn leaving bright ruby trails on power armour and alabaster flesh alike. Both warriors were invigorated by the pain, spurred on by the clarity it brought them. Finally Jaigen blocked a downward strike intended to take his head from his neck and delivered a swift uppercut in his opponents stomach. She lurched away from him, dancing over the dirt ground and slid to a halt a few metres away.
"You're good." She said in accented but surprisingly good gothic.
Jaigen spat in reply.
"What no words for me? Nothing to say to your killer?"
Jaigen's blood boiled, she was taunting him but she would get nothing in response.
"How disappointing." She sighed and lunged in again.
Jaigen was ready, he feinted his parry and instead let the halberd punch through his left pauldron, the tip of the blade nicked skin but he didn't care. He rotated his body pulling the halberd with him and rammed his elbow against the side of her head. He earned a screech of frustration in reply, blood pouring from a gash in her temple. Jaigen snarled ready to punch Sjaelafis into her guts but the Eldar tucked her knees tight to her chest, planting her feet on his breast plate she sprang away from him, wrenching the halberd free and forcing him off balance. She rolled in mid air and landed on her feet the halberd lashing out before she had straightened. Jaigen felt white hot pain explode in the left side of his skull and he went blind in that eye. Blood poured down his cheek and into his mouth. Jaigen howled in rage, the bitch had taken his eye out! Thinking herself victorious she lunged in again but Sjaelafis was there to greet her, its freezing blade tearing through the haft of her halberd, finally snapping it in two and sending both halves spinning off in separate directions. A hidden punch dagger sprang from inside her gauntlet letting her fend off Jaigen's next two blows as he pressed what he believed to be an advantage. She whistled, yelling something in her own harsh tongue and one of her warriors, still fighting with Vidar, tossed her a sword. Jaigen growled in frustration as she deftly blocked each blow, wielding her new weapon with the same ease as her previous one. She came in again on the offensive and forced the Jarl onto the back foot. She used his new blindside to her advantage and he barely avoided the strikes that came from the left even as he blocked those from the right. She was fighting with two hands now, a punch dagger and sword. Jaigen only had Sjaelafis but it would be enough. In the Allfather's name it would be more than enough!
They continued to duel for long minutes, neither warrior able to truly gain an advantage over the other. Even as his limbs burned and the blood in his ruined eye began to coagulate, Jaigen did not slow or falter. He used the pain to focus his mind and the fire in his muscles to help fuel his rage. She stabbed for his chest, Jaigen twisted as the blade slid along the front of his power armour, cutting a groove through the metal and severing the necklace of teeth with a clatter of bone on ceramite. Jaigen once again slammed his elbow into her face but this time lashed down with Sjaelafis before she could recover. Blood poured from her nose but the Dark Eldar looked up in time to see the frost blade falling for her head. She stabbed up with the punch dagger and the blade pierced armour then flesh and then armour again. Jaigen's strike stopped dead, cold steel twisting in the bones of his forearm, flesh blood spilled down his blue grey armour. Sjaelafis tumbled from his unfeeling grasp. She thought she had him now, her expression triumphant. Jaigen bared his fangs his free hand rising to catch her sword arm at the wrist as she swung it in to finish him off. She struggled in his grip for a second before he squeezed and crushed the bones in his gauntlet. Now it was her turn to howl in anger and pain, her sword slipping from her limp fingers. Despite the pain it caused Jaigen yanked his wounded his arm back pulling her closer to him, the punch dagger stuck fast in his armour and between bone. She kicked and thrashed but with a snarl that would have put even the biggest thunder wolf to shame, Jaigen grabbed her by the throat. Strangely she didn't appear afraid, nor relieved as some did when faced with inevitable death. If anything she looked positively aroused be the prospect, her eyes wide and glassy. Jaigen showed her his fangs and squeezed slowly. She choked and retched but did not struggle. A smile split her lips and a dribble of blood spilled out, her dying breath sounded more like a moan of pleasure, then there was an audible snap and her body went limp. Jaigen let the corpse drop, disgusted by what he had just witnessed. He wrenched the punch dagger free of his arm and retrieved Sjaelafis with his other hand. She was dead but the fight was not yet done.
It would take another two days to finish the fight, not long really but long enough in Jaigens mind. Many more Wolves lost their lives during the final hours, even with the death of their leader the Dark Eldar did not simply break and run. They fought to the bitter end even as they were hunted down and destroyed one by one, they did not stop fighting. On the last day the battle had spilled out into the farmlands beyond the city. There were very few of the Dark Eldar left by now and they hid among the tall wheat plants that grew over kilometres of land thinking they could catch the Wolves in ambush as they followed them in. Jaigen knew better. With a whistle he sent the Fenrisian wolf packs in instead. After an hour none of the aliens remained alive.
The Great Company was ready to leave but Jaigen was not with them yet and they waited patiently for their leader to return. He stood on the landing platform where a bulk Imperial transport squatted, wide access ramps lowered as scores of children were shepherded aboard by stern looked Sisters of the Ecclesiarchy. He approached one such woman, her robes were white and her face was hidden behind a blank red mask. Jaigen spotted the raven haired girl he rescued earlier as she was lead up the ramp. He felt a strange sensation in the pit of his stomach. It felt wrong letting her go, he still felt he should be protecting her himself but this was the best option, no, the only option. He still regretted not saying goodbye but the logistics of getting a Great Company back in orbit had demanded his attentions. Only now had he a moment to spare and she was already gone. He wondered if she had hoped to see him again and the thought of disappointing her was a weirdly unsettling.
"Sister?" he said quietly.
She seemed to jump slightly when she looked up, Jaigen doubted the bloody rag tied around his ruined eye socket was doing anything to diminish his fearsome visage. "Yes?" she replied, composing herself.
"That girl?" he said gesturing to her just before she disappeared into the cavernous hangar. "What will become of her?"
The sister glanced at the transport, "Like the rest she will be taken to the Schola Progenium on Nidus. Is she known to you?"
Jaigen shook his head, "Not really. I pulled her from the wreckage of her family home. I do not even know her name."
The sister shrugged, "It would not matter now, she will be given a new one when she reaches Nidus."
"She will be looked after?"
The sister gave him a strange look over the top of her mask. "Of course. Though she will be put through the same selection process as the other orphans. She may end up a Battle Sister for all I know, no if you'll excuse me I have duties." She left.
Jaigen stared at the ship for a long moment, wondering just what had compelled him to help her, why he cared so much for one child he had known for less than an hour. He had a gut feeling he would meet her again, though when and where he could not guess. He wondered if she would remember him or whether he would know her.
He turned on his heel banishing the thoughts until the time they were needed. Right now it was time to leave. They would return to the Aett, he would have his eye fixed and his ships re-armed and re-fuelled. There were plenty battles to be fought, enemies to slay. Many things threatened the Imperium both from within and without but in the name of Russ and the Allfather he would bring death to them all.