Exfill Shaft 29.72, the underworld, Midgardia
Egil and his Ironguard had barely gone a hundred yards before their vox links picked up a squeal of transmission code. It was gone in a heartbeat, vanishing once more into Midgardia’s cavernous depths. Fifty yards later there was another blurt.
‘Press on,’ Egil ordered, fighting to keep the frustration from his voice. Logan Grimnar was down here somewhere. Some of his Kingsguard had to have survived as well. The Iron Wolf would find them, or his bones would remain beneath Midgardia for eternity.
The tunnel they were taking was painfully low and narrow, requiring the Space Wolves to stoop almost double as their pauldrons ground against its crumbling dirt flanks. The air was close and hot, and the scuffle of ceramite through muck, the hum of power armour and the panting of his packmates filled Egil with a claustrophobic, fang-baring impatience. Until the vox squealed a third time.
‘Come in,’ Egil snapped, click-cycling through half a dozen channels as he hunted for a solid connection. They could not be alone down here. There had to be survivors.
Ahead, Borgen Fire-eye added fuel to his hopes.
‘Bolter fire,’ the Wolf Guard said. ‘Not far away.’
Moments later the familiar thunder reached Egil’s autosenses, echoing down the tunnel to him.
‘Keep going,’ the Iron Wolf ordered.
They did so, snarling with the effort of forcing their way along the mining exfill shaft. Egil’s dirt-caked armour tracked his rising adrenaline, a growl building in his throat. His decision to come down into these infernal depths had been justified. There were still fellow Wolves down here. Surely Logan Grimnar was among them.
Finally, the vox made proper contact.
‘Not an inch, brothers,’ came a growl, followed immediately by the crash of more bolter fire. Egil heard the echoes of the shots bouncing down the tunnel ahead. He recognised the voice.
‘Brother Lenold,’ he said. ‘It is Egil, of the Iron Wolves. We are inbound on your location. What’s your current status?’
‘By the Primarch, it’s good to hear you, lord,’ Lenold responded. ‘We’re holding shaft intersection 29B. There’s wyrd-scum everywhere.’ The rest of his sentence was cut off by a howl, and the furious revving of a chainsword.
‘Hold fast, Champions of Fenris,’ Egil said, then switched to the inter-pack channel. ‘Borgen, how far?’
‘I can see the end of the tunnel’ the Wolf Guard replied. ‘More plague filth.’
‘Into them, brothers.’
Egil saw the light of lumen strips stabbing around the silhouette of Borgen ahead of him, and moments later the rasp of the Wolf Guard’s flamer and the sickly stench of burning promethium reached him. He followed his Ironguard out into Intersection 29B.
It was a cavernous meeting point for monorail lines and mining shafts, plasteel beams and bare wired lumen strips providing a hub for half a dozen separate excavation sites, along with grav-lifts to the surface, rappel-lines to lower levels, and rail routs to the nearest of Midgardia’s subterranean hive cities. Egil and his pack burst from one of the smaller exfill shafts running north to south, catching a brace of shuffling plague daemons in the flank as they dragged their swollen, rotting bodies towards the knot of Space Wolves at the intersection’s centre. Skol, Egil’s iron-plated servo skull, counted two dozen Adeptus Astartes as it hummed overhead, the image from its miniaturised caster transmitted directly to Egil’s bionics.
‘We have you, brothers,’ the Wolf Lord voxed as Borgen’s flamer ignited the nearest plaguebearers, their sonorous chants turning to deep-throated wails as their diseased flesh melted from their canker-ridden bones.
‘It’s coming again,’ Lenold voxed back. ‘Brace yourselves!’
‘What is,’ Egil began, but didn’t need to finish. He felt the earth around him shudder, dirt cascading from the intersection’s high, steel-ribbed ceiling. Then the ground a dozen yards ahead heaved upwards, splitting apart a monorail track with an ear-shuddering clang. Something surged through the blast of earth and shattered stone, fang-filled maw agape, dragging its long, prehensile body up through the hole it had burrowed into the intersection.
‘Plague wyrm,’ Lenold voxed. ‘Bring it down!’
‘Borgen,’ Egil snapped. The Ironguard was already bringing his weapon to bear, spearing a lance of liquid flame at the huge, nightmarish worm as it dragged the last of its fleshy folds from its maw-tunnel. It was at least two dozen paces long, and as thick around its centre as any of Egil’s warriors. The parts of it that weren’t caked with Midgardian soil were the corpse-white of a creature that had never known sunlight, and hideous, disease-blotched organs were visible pulsing through its membranous flesh. It made a gargling, squealing noise as it cringed away from Borgen’s flames, twisting with ghastly speed towards the Wolves fighting back-to-back at the intersection’s heart.
‘It’s headed your way,’ Egil voxed.
‘Destroy its burrow,’ Lenold replied. ‘Quickly!’
Egil saw why moments later. There were things crawling up out of the wyrm’s maw-hole – plague beasts and nurglings, clawing arm over arm, scrambling on top of each other as they dragged themselves up from Midgardia’s depths.
‘Changing canisters,’ Borgen said, anticipating his jarl’s orders as he screwed a fresh fuel cell into his flamer.
‘Grenades,’ Egil shouted. He hammered his boot into the spilled guts of the first plaguebearer to stagger up out of the pit, slamming it back down into the yawning, writhing hole. In the same breath he snapped a frag grenade from his belt clamp and pitched it after the wailing daemon. There was a crump and a blast of shredded, rotten meat and black ichor jetted up from the burrow.
‘Close it,’ Egil ordered. ‘Send these monsters back to the wyrdrealm.’ His Ironguard rallied to him, power weapons carving apart the plague daemons even as they scrabbled for a foothold in the intersection. Then Borgen stepped up to the edge, his flamer reloaded. With a thump-whoosh he flooded the hole with liquid flame, roasting the things choking it. The sickening stench of burning wyrdflesh filled Egil’s nose, penetrating even his armour’s filters.
‘The hole is losing integrity,’ Moln warned.
A second later Egil felt the earth shift beneath him. He threw himself back just in time as the hellish burrow collapsed in on itself, dragging the edges down into a sucking, crushing vortex of grey muck. Borgen, standing close to the centre, was too slow to avoid being caught in the earth’s unyielding grip.
‘Brother!’ shouted Orven, lunging after the falling warrior. He managed to snatch onto the edge of his backpack, but the pull of the collapsed hole was too strong. It dragged Borgen further down before Orven could get a better hold on him. The Wolf Guard choked on muck as he drew breath to bellow defiance. In just a few seconds he was gone, the settling dirt showing no sign of his passing.
Bjorn and Moln hauled Orven back before he too was dragged down. Egil cursed and spat. It was not the sort of death he’d have wished on the rashest, most obstinate Blood Claw, let alone a warrior whose sagas had filled the halls on many a feast night.
‘It’s escaping!’ Lenold’s voice over the vox tore his attention away from the dirt scar that had become Borgen’s grave. The wyrm had buried its hardened, fang-filled head into one of the intersection’s walls and was rapidly worming its way back into the underground. Egil saw the flesh in its side bulge and twist horribly, and realised that it had swallowed one of the Champions of Fenris whole. The warrior was struggling to escape the creature’s gut, even as its bile melted the flesh from his bones.
Lenold and his Wolves pursued it, chainswords ripping at pale flesh and bolt rounds blowing chunks from its body in bursts of stinking yellow slime. It regenerated every blow, its vile flesh reknitting seconds after each strike. With horrific speed, it had twisted itself into its fresh tunnel, leaving the Champions of Fenris behind.
‘That is the third time that infernal beast has struck,’ Lenold snapped. ‘I cannot say if it was the same one, or whether there are many. Its wounds heal as soon as we make them.’
‘It’s how the wyrdlings have been traversing the underworld,’ Egil surmised, eyes on the churned earth of the collapsed tunnel.
‘Your arrival was timely, lord,’ Lenold said, pacing across the intersection to clasp Egil’s arm. Around him the Champions of Fenris clustered. They were universally dirt-grimed and bloody, the armour not befouled by Midgardia’s depths scarred silver by the strike of blade and talon. Even the half dozen Wulfen slinking among their number were panting and breathless, their tough bodies criss-crossed with fresh wounds.
‘Where is the Great Wolf?’ Egil asked. ‘Where is Logan Grimnar?’
‘We do not know,’ Lenold said. ‘He pressed too far ahead with his Kingsguard and the Slayer. Going by our last vox transmissions he had penetrated Deepspark and engaged a large infestation of wyrdspawn there. Then the lower tunnels collapsed and we lost all contact.’
‘The surface is even worse,’ Egil said. ‘We could not hold what ground we gained. I ordered my Great Company to withdraw to the Magma Gates and then into orbit.’
‘Yet you are down here with us?’
‘Just my Ironguard and I. Would you have abandoned the Great Wolf in a place such as this?’
The question required no answer.
‘At least the air isn’t befouled down here,’ Bjorn observed. ‘Not yet, anyway.’
‘Where are the rest of the Champions?’ Egil asked Lenold. ‘If Grimnar was only with his Kingsguard?’
‘Lost, scattered. The vox links are almost useless this far down. What you see here are the remnants of three packs – my Wulfborn, Korvald’s Fangbrothers and Fjyr’s Stormbringers. We’ve been getting scraps of transmission from Tormund’s pack to the south. We were on our way to link up with them when that damn wyrm struck. The daemons follow in its wake.’
‘You’ve tried all available routes into Deepspark?’ Egil asked. ‘Are all the tunnels collapsed?’
‘All on these levels, and the lower ones. We hoped to try higher once we had consolidated our strength.’
‘I fear we will grow weaker rather than stronger the longer we delay,’ Egil said. ‘I have never seen wyrdlings attack with such relentlessness.’
‘They sense their victory is close,’ Lenold growled.
‘Then let us prove them wrong. Where is the nearest tunnel to the upper levels?’ Lenold pointed at a grav lift at the far end of the intersection.
‘This far down most of the mechanisms still seem to be intact,’ he said. ‘It will be faster than trying to take the tunnels, and risk the plague wyrm striking again.’
‘We will use the lift then. Will you and your pack come with me?’
‘Without a moment’s hesitation, Jarl Iron Wolf. I will not see the light of the Wolf’s Eye again until the Great Wolf has been found.’