Morkai’s Keep, Frostheim
Harald Deathwolf’s roar came too late. Glacius was embedded in the chest of a disintegrating plaguebearer and his storm shield was raised as rusting blades stabbed and slashed. Canis Wolfborn knelt, bleeding his last at the far end of the corridor. Harald saw the wyrd-wrought black steel of his executioner, a Khornate Herald, rise above the press.
Then Fengir struck. The thunderwolf moved like a charge of lightening through the melee, painted red with the gore of the swordlings it had torn apart. As the hellsword fell the faithful beast slammed into its wolf-brother’s side, knocking Canis over. The daemon’s sword struck, and there was a yelp of pain.
‘Canis!’ Harald repeated, shouldering his way through the manic fight, the shock of his storm shield blasting combatants from his path. Ahead Canis lay unmoving, blood pooling beneath him. Fengir writhed beside him, the Herald’s sword lodged deep in its shoulder. With a snarl of fury the Khorne daemon wrenched the weapon free and struck the huge thunderwolf again, cutting into the meat of its flank. Fengir twisted and howled.
Harald wasn’t going to reach them in time. He cleft apart a brace of capering pink wyrdspawn, grunting as the frost axe carved through their shimmering, ever-changing flesh. They were getting tougher, stronger, faster. Reality in the vaults of Morkai’s Keep was starting to disintegrate, unravelling beneath the sheer, stinking, gibbering weight of the daemonic onslaught.
The Khorne Herald stabbed Fengir again, seeking to lance the monstrous thunderwolf’s heart. Protecting Canis with its own body, the huge beast was unable to attack properly. Its fur was dark with its own blood. Harald couldn’t get close enough.
An explosion rocked the corridor, throwing the Deathwolf into the shoulder plate of one of his Wolf Guards. A section of wall to his right came crashing down, the rubble burying the nearest daemons and splitting the skull of an unfortunate Blood Claw. Harald braced himself, ready for yet another flood of wyrdlings to come bursting through the gap.
But instead of gnashing, shrieking horrors, the swirling smoke of the breach was ripped apart by the thunder of bolter fire. Muzzle flashes and the lightning-crackle of activated power fists lit hulking shapes as they pushed through the rubble, their sheer size knocking the breach wider. Terminators, armoured in black, a white gauntlet sigil adorning their right pauldrons. Iron Hands.
The tide turned. Trapped in the corridor’s confined space, the daemons could do nothing but throw themselves at the new arrivals. Standing firm, with legs braced and backs straight, the Iron Hands gunned the unarmoured monstrosities down, the hammering of storm bolters and the whir of assault cannons almost too loud even for Harald’s autosenses to filter.
’Wolf Lord, this is Sergeant Baalor of Clan Company Haarmek. I advise you to fall back on our position immediately.’
‘Not without Canis,’ Harald snarled at the Iron Hand over the vox. ‘Deathwolves, to me! Ravening Jaw pattern!’
His Wolf Guard, the Riders of Morkai , snapped shut around their lord, using the space torn by the Terminator’s fusillade to finally establish some sort of cohesion. Like a fang piercing rotting meat, the small wedge of Wolves punched through the last remaining daemons between them and Canis.
The Khorne Herald was waiting. It stood over Fengir’s prone body, dripping with the thunderwolf’s blood, its guard down and arms outstretched in challenge.
‘Face me, Wolf,’ it hissed, looking directly at Harald. ‘And die.’
‘Maybe next time, daemon,’ Harald spat. His Wolf Guard stayed locked around him, power weapons crackling with lethal energies, as their jarl knelt beside Canis.
His visor was still reading vital signs. The Wolfborn’s hearts were labouring, and his eyelids flickered as his sus-an membrane forced him into a regenerative hibernation. It looked as though the daemon’s thrust had severed his spine.
‘You need a Wolf Priest,’ Harald told Canis, hoping he was still capable of understanding him. ‘Don’t try and move.’
‘Fengir,’ Canis murmured, the words barely leaving bloody lips.
‘He’s coming too,’ Harald assured him, and then turned to his Wolf Guard.
‘Send that thing back to hell,’ he snapped, nodding at the breach. But the Khornate wyrdmaster had already gone. The rest of its kin were dissolving. Harald slung Glacius across his back and bent to heft Canis across his shoulders, his armour’s strength-enhancing servo bundles whining in protest. ‘Bring the thunderwolf,’ he added. Two of his Riders, Gunnar Felsmite and Denr Longblade, hefted the limp animal between them.
’We are departing, Wolf,’ the monotone voice of Sergeant Baalor crackled over the vox. ’With or without you. None of us can remain down here any longer.’
‘We’re with you,’ Harald growled, grunting with the strain of carrying the Wolfborn. ‘Deathwolves, withdraw to the Iron Hands.’ The Terminators parted to allow the retreating Space Wolves through, never once interrupting their mechanically precise bombardment of the daemonic creatures scrambling after them.
Outside Morkai’s Keep a storm was building. It had come from the east, heralded by a wind that howled and bit with the feral savagery of the World Wolf itself. Thick, ugly clouds had turned day to night, and snow had started to swirl and eddy across the glacial plateaux where the bleak fortress hunched.
Iron Captain Terrek of Clan Company Haarmek stood like a statue forged from black cermaite and silver steel, impervious to the elements that clawed at him. He gazed up at the fortress’s bastions, the lenses of his bionic eyes peeling away the thickening snow to reveal weapons damage and battle scars. Outside the walls the corpses of traitors and heretics had been heaped in dark, rapidly-freezing piles, awaiting a flamer’s kiss. The remains of others still lay scattered across the great glacier’s surface, uncollected. The Space Wolves had been interrupted before they could finish their purging.
’Clan Commander, we have him,’ clicked a voice in Terrek’s ear. It was Brother-Sergeant Baalor, normally commander of Tactical Clave Baalor, now leader of the composite squad of Terminators assembled to retrieve the Wolf Lord Deathhowl. Terrek acknowledged the message with a blink-click of his lenses.
‘You’ve found him?’ asked a sibilant voice. Terrek glanced briefly down at the Shadow Haunter Scout Sergeant, Arro, crouched at his side. He and his four Initiates had drawn their camo capes up over their heads like cowls, leaving only the pallid flesh of their lower faces and the nubs of their nascent fangs visible beneath the snowy folds.
‘We have,’ Terrek confirmed.
The Shadow Haunter infiltrators had returned five minutes earlier, with news that Terrek had already guessed at. The defences of Morkai’s Keep were no longer tenable. The Iron Captain had deployed his Terminators on the recommendation of the other Chapter’s scouts, teleporting them into the Keep’s vaults to retrieve the Wolf Lord. He’d served alongside the Shadow Haunters before, and though their combat doctrines and personal outlooks were inefficient by the standards of the Iron Hands, their disparate approach to warfare had yielded some analytically exceptional results. If his grey-clad allies said Morkai’s Keep was lost then it undoubtedly was, regardless of all the fire and fury of the Space Wolves.
The sounds of combat within the fortress reached Terrek’s audio receptors, carried by the howling wind. Bolter fire, chainblades, throaty warcries and the unnatural sounds made by the neverborn as they fought, bled and died. The noises were eclipsed momentarily by the shriek of three afterburning turbofans as a black-plated Thunderhawk gunship banked overhead, coming in to land beside the three already occupying the glacier’s edge. The warriors of Terrek’s strike force – six Claves – stood at parade rest in the shadows of their heavy transports, the snow piling up on their towering, immobile frames.
’We are at the gates,’ Baalor voxed. Terrek and the Shadow Haunters waited. The main entrance to the Keep lay open before them, the rail lines that would have sealed the huge adamantium blast doors sitting inert. The enemy had come from within.
‘I have a visual,’ Arro said. The Haunter’s advanced eyesight had detected movement – shapes emerging from beyond the gate, striding implacably though the deepening snow. Soon Terrek could discern three of his Clan Company’s Sergeants – Baalor, Zernn and Naamiel – bedecked in the archo-mechanical glory that was Tactical Dreadnought armour. Behind them came a bloody mass of figures in the blue-grey ceramite of the Space Wolves. The three remaining Iron Hand Terminators, Krevvin, Horst and Thall, brought up the rear.
Terrek’s steel-plated jaw clenched as he saw the ichor-stained creatures loping in the midst of the Space Wolves. Too savage-looking even for their barbaric Chapter, the animal’s distended, muscle-bound frames were clad in archaic scraps of armour and their limbs bristled with dark fur. Even at rest their features were contorted into beastly, leering snarls, their fang-filled maws drooling with spittle. They moved hunched over, stooped like predators, almost as though they mocked the firm and unbending posture of the Iron Hands leading them. These then were the mutants the Dark Angels had warned them about. He fought to swallow his disgust, and opened a vox channel with the motley pack.
‘Wolf Lord Harald of the Deathwolves,’ he said. His bionics scanned unfamiliar runic markings and pelt totems, picking out the figure most likely to be the leader. The one he settled on carried one of his pack kin over his shoulders, the fallen warrior’s blood streaming down the Wolf’s grey armour to leave a red trail in the snow. Behind him two more Wolves hefted the carcass of a huge, furred Fenrisian beast between them.
‘I am Harald,’ the Wolf said, stopping before Terrek as his Terminator Sergeants took post either side. ‘And who in the Allfather’s name are you?’
‘Iron Captain Aleron Terrek, Clan Company Haarmek, of the Iron Hands.’ The words issued flat and lifeless from the bionically augmented warrior’s vocaliser. ‘And this is Scout Sergeant Arro of the Shadow Haunters’ 10th Company.’
With a grunt of effort Harald laid the body he’d been carrying in the snow before the Iron Captain. A quick optical scan by the Iron Hand revealed, to his surprise, that the Wolf still lived. Just.
‘He needs an apothecary,’ Harald said. ‘As does his wolf-brother.’ He nodded back at the huge beast being reverently lowered by his packmates.
‘That creature is his brother?’
‘We are all brothers, machine-man.’
‘Where are your own apothecaries?’
‘My Wolf Priest is with the rest of my Great Company,’ Harald said, his impatience with the Terrek obvious. ‘Still fighting inside the keep. I am going to rejoin them.’
‘You will do no such thing,’ Terrek said, his voice remaining monotone. ‘You will vox your squad leaders and order them to withdraw immediately.’
Harald took a step towards him, visor’s red lenses level with Terrek’s optical hardware.
‘We’ve fought all day to purge this fortress of wyrdtaint,’ the Wolf said, the words a snarl rasping from his helmet’s vocaliser. ‘Morkai’s Keep belongs to the Vlka Fenryka, given by oaths and secured by blood. We will not abandon it, not after so many sagas have been written in its defence.’
‘Then you will all die,’ Terrek said simply. ‘Morkai’s Keep has been target-locked from orbit by my Battle Barge, Iron Requiem. I have instructed its gunnery crew to open fire in exactly… twenty-one minutes and eighteen seconds. The ship’s bombardment cannon will level this glacier, and seal any of the warp filth that survive far below the surface.’
‘You cannot,’ Harald said, turning from the expressionless visor of the Iron Hand to the silent, cowled menace of the Shadow Haunters. ‘You would not dare strike at the sovereign territory of the sons of Russ!’
‘My Clan’s most senior Iron Father will attend to your dying brother,’ Terrek said. ‘We will make… repairs… But only if you cooperate.’
‘This is outrageous!’
‘This is logical. Your keep has fallen. You require my assistance. I, however, do not require yours. Extracting you was merely a courtesy, and one that I extended with considerable risk. Had my Terminators not successfully teleported into your vaults and brought you clear, my Claves would have lost their Sergeants at a stroke.’
It was apparent the Space Wolf wasn’t listening. He was pacing in the snow like some caged animal, every distant howl and clash of steel still echoing from the keep attracting his gaze. Terrek had taken more than enough of the hot-tempered warrior’s foolishness.
‘Our fleet intercepted a transmission from this world’s moon, Svellgard,’ he said. ‘It seems the Wolves of your kinsman, Sven Bloodhowl, are also beset.’
Harald stopped his pacing and faced the Iron Hand once more.
‘The World Wolf’s Lair is under attack again?’
‘Yes. Seemingly with even greater force than before. As soon as we have dealt with the incursion here, my Clan and I will be bound for Svellgard. There are already other elements of the crusade fleet en-route.’
‘What crusade fleet?’
Terrek’s response formulae faltered, and he glanced at Arro. The Shadow Haunter Scout simply shrugged.
‘Wolf, we have much to discuss.’