(part 3 of 5)
Twilight soon came. It was mid-spring in this region of Theta-Crom IV and night never truly fell this time of year. Instead the twilight would last for hours before becoming dawn again.
The scout craft Void Stalker was exactly where they’d left it days before, landed in the clearing of a wooded valley ten kilometers from Tundra Station. Approaching from the rough terrain at this distance allowed the wolf scouts to come in quietly and unseen. The valley was also an easily defensible position, if it ever came to that. And now that Volstag was returning as a potential attacker, the shuttle’s hiding spot set him at a disadvantage.
But his stealth was unmatched by man or beast on this icy world, and he came close enough to the small scout vessel to assess the situation undetected. There were two PDF troopers standing outside the ship, trudging a path through the fresh snow as they paced in circles. Only two? Volstag thought. The patrol he’d killed and another he’d silently passed by were both made up of five troopers, and he had yet to see a Night Lord Space Marine out looking for him. Five troopers against a single, naked, unarmed Space Marine was almost reasonable. But two? Either Abaenon was betting on his not coming as far as the Stalker, and thus not needed many men to guard it, or this was a door being deliberately left open.
Volstag’s grey eyes scanned the scene. The ship’s hull was frosted by a thin layer of snow, interrupted at the rear boarding hatch. The snow there had been knocked free, which meant the hatch had been opened. It was doubtful that the PDFs had the technical ability to force the door open, though the Night Lords might. Aside from the path worn by the two men patrolling, there were several other disturbances in the snow that had been footprints not long ago. It was difficult to tell in this light and after several centimeters of falling snow, but it seemed to the wolf scout that some of those footprints could have been made by large armored feet, as opposed to the thin boots of poorly-equipped mortal troops. Coming back to the ship was the most logical course of action for the lone Space Wolf. Most likely the pair of troopers outside was meant to be an obstacle easily overcome. They expected Volstag to kill theses two and go straight inside his ship, where there was no doubt a waiting cadre of Night Lords bearing the arms and armor of real warriors. This whole scene stunk of a trap.
Literally. The wind scattering snow through the trees carried a new scent to his nostrils. Volstag’s keen eyes quickly scanned the forest up-wind. A tiny red light winked at him, flared, and then swung around in an arc. Some idiot trooper was smoking a lho stick.
“Who the hell is that?” a harsh voice whispered.
Volstag crouched low. The speaker was close by.
“I’ll take care of this,” another said.
“Do it quietly,” the first ordered.
Something heavy crunched through the forest ten meters from Volstag’s position. He saw the faint gleam of twilight on ceramite armor. A Night Lords Chaos Marine was moving away from him toward the smoker. Two more armored figures rustled in their positions. Volstag’s eyes adjusted and focused on two more Night Lords in hiding. One wore a winged helmet and had a boltgun in hand, the other was bulkier with a chainsword propped on his shoulder. The faint smell of promethium told Volstag that the bulk was a jump pack that hadn’t fired in a while.
Two Chaos Marines only ten meters away. How had he missed them? You’re allowing yourself to get distracted, old man, he told himself. Although, the Night Lords were hit and run experts. It seemed he had underestimated their own stealth and patience.
As an experienced scout Volstag could wait in silence indefinitely. Then again, while the mortal PDFs would eventually tire, the Chaos Marines would not and when the sun rose he’d be trapped in the valley with Emperor knew how many enemies. The time to act was now.
Seconds, he told himself. This must be done in seconds.
Volstag crept closer. His targets were watching the third Night Lord on his way up the hill to deal with the smoker.
There were mumbled words where the lho stick ember burned, the red glow flashing around as the trooper tried to explain himself with panicky gestures, then the crack of armored gauntlet against flesh and bone. The pair here chuckled.
That was his cue. Volstag leapt from hiding and drove a bayonet down hard through the back of one Chaos Marine’s neck, the blade penetrating the thin, flexible armor joint there and severing the spinal cord at the first two vertebra. The second Night Lord, the raptor, reacted quicker than Volstag had expected and his chainsword buzzed to life and swung down in no time. Volstag dodged under the whirring teeth and rolled on the ground, coming into a crouch with his stolen lasrifle in hand. The raptor cursed loudly and brought his growling weapon around again.
All stealth was lost now. No reason to hold back.
Red lasbolts lit the scene for an instant at a time, leaving three scars on the Night Lord’s chest plate but failing to penetrate. The Chaos Marine laughed at him. “Is that all you have, Wolf?” he cackled, the eyes of his helmet burning an amused green.
Outside of the immediate fight, Volstag’s sharp ears picked up cries of excitement all around the valley and bodies smashing through undergrowth toward their position.
The chainsword swung down again. Volstag caught it by blocking with the lasgun in both hands but after a second and a half of sparks, the sword chewed clean through the PDF rifle. He fell back, allowing the sword to pass by, then grabbed the Chaos Marine’s belt, pulled himself up to his feet, then spun and fired. A bolt pistol round exploded in the back of the raptor’s head. The green light in his eyes faded out.
“Yes,” Volstag growled, “that’s all I had.” When he’d swung himself up by the renegade’s belt, he’d also taken the pistol from the raptor’s own holster.
More bolter fire. Debris filled the scene like a grenade blast, shards of rock and tree splinters thrown in every direction by exploding bolts. The third Night Lord was charging back down the hill and firing blindly, apparently without concern for his comrades that might still be down here.
Volstag fired a volley from the bolt pistol, but not at his enemy—he fired up a different hill away from the scene. He then stooped down, pulled the dead raptor to his feet, aimed him as best he could, and triggered the jump pack. The armored corpse rocketed up the other hill in a blazing arc, leaping through and above the canopy of fir trees and then crashing back down to earth some distance away. The wolf scout then dropped silently to the ground and waited.
More weapons fire, this time in the other direction.
It worked. Whether the enemy believed the Chaos raptor was in pursuit of his prey or that the wolf himself had stolen the jump pack, the forces that had been converging toward his position were now all headed up the other hill in the direction of the human flare. Volstag snatched up the dead renegades’ chainsword, boltgun, and grenades. He glanced back at the Void Stalker one last time, then abandoned all hope of ever getting back aboard his ship.
There was no doubt now: he would die on this world. But he would not die alone.
Two more installments to see the fate of the lone wolf. After all the episodes are issued I’ll post the whole thing on a sub-page of my blog Brink’s Chaos Theory so anyone interested can read it all at once (instead of in bite-sized portions with interruptions).
Thanks for reading!
J. D. Brink