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The last of his scout pack, a lone wolf fights for survival and revenge against a band of Night Lords…
I wrote and submitted this story to the Black Library during its open submissions window last June. Since I haven’t heard anything in almost a year later, I’m guessing that I won’t. But rather than let this story go to waste, I thought I might as well share with the 40K blogosphere. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The cold was fierce, the wind howling, the snow blinding. It reminded him of home.
Volstag Dragonclaw drew a deep breath and released it slowly, the warmed air visible as steam from his nostrils. Would he see the icy peaks of Fenris again? As a Space Wolf he expected to die a thousand light-years from home but in the thick of battle, going to the afterlife with his honor intact and enemy heads in hand, trophies with which to greet his dead wolf brothers in eternity. That was how a Space Wolf was to die. Not like this. He was a hunter, not prey.
Volstag looked down at the snowy forest floor several meters below. He was seated in the boughs of a great fir tree, straddling a thick branch and leaning against the trunk. And he was all but naked. And though the cold gnawed at his skin, it could not penetrate it. This was a natural environment for him, so much so that he almost felt camouflaged in it with his bare skin as pale as the snow and dark body hair breaking up his human-shaped color. From a distance no one would notice him in the tree. But how in the Emperor’s name did he get up there? There was a foggy void in his memory. His instincts, however, told him he’d not be alone there for long; they’d be looking for him.
What is my last memory? he asked himself, closing his eyes. Behind his lids he saw the Night Lords’ laboratory: walls of metal and glass, dangling chains and glass canisters of bubbling, viscous fluids. The sweltering humidity and dim crimson glow of the room seemed to swell and recede as if the entire Chaos vessel itself were breathing. He was bound to a warm metal table, pinned there while heretical attendants in dark blue robes shuffled back and forth, preparing him for today’s round of torture.
Then the chamber doors scraped open. Abaenon stood in the threshold, face hidden beneath his hood, barely perceived lightning playing across the deep blue power armor beneath his robes. The depraved apothecary thought that standing there, prolonging his entrance, would somehow heighten his victim’s fear. It did not. Rather, Volstag’s jaw tightened in anger and his teeth ached. His tongue lolled impatiently against the back of his growing fangs. He felt an unusual hunger for more than vengeance. Abaenon finally sauntered in, pulled back his hood, and leaned in close to smile at Volstag—or what limited grin such a distorted and augmented face could manage. One yellow eye was still flesh, the other flickered red in a skull of black bionics and glistening wet tubing.
“Good morning,” the Night Lord said in his raspy metallic voice. “Allow me to tickle you.” He raised his hand and, on cue, an attendant slid on a heavy mechanical glove. The scalpel-like blades hummed and vibrated with a bluish hue. Abaenon’s crooked teeth showed in a one-sided sneer.
Volstag opened his eyes and the damp heat of the torture chamber vanished. He was outside again. His lungs filled with fresh, chill air. His sigh was steam.
The Claw of Agony, Abaenon had called it. Volstag traced the crisscrossing lines on his bare chest, thin slices through hair and flesh that still burned with a quiet fire. Even his superhuman biology could not heal these wounds. They were scars of shame he’d bare for whatever remained of his life. The thought angered him, and something beneath the surface of his mind stirred, its rage even greater than his own.
I was in the Night Lord’s torture chamber. Then what happened? he wondered.
He mentally assessed himself for pain and injuries. Aside from the mild burn of his torture wounds, his only real discomfort was… in his teeth. He licked his lupine fangs. Was that the taste of blood in his mouth? Was it his own? He looked down at his chest again, realizing what his eyes had seen but mind had been too preoccupied to notice: there was red-brown crust under his finger nails and dry gobbets of gore in his chest hair and beard. He remembered now the rage, the blind fury of Russ that had welled up inside him. As the poisonous sting of blades had raked through his flesh, the torture chamber’s crimson glow had seemed to burn even brighter. That red glow had consumed his vision just as the growing rage within him had consumed his heart, a terrible pressure that could no longer be contained. Something inside had broken free and reached out with elongated claws and hungry fangs…
Was Volstag Dragonclaw cursed by the mark of the wulfen?
Perhaps not a curse after all, he thought. If it were true, if he did bear the mark, it was the beast within him that had escaped captivity. And it might yet be by that beast alone that Volstag would avenge his fallen wolf brothers.
Another gust of wind. His ears perked, nostrils flared. Snow was not all that the wind carried.
Whiny mortal voices complained of the cold and their duty. He could smell them before he saw them, their collective breaths stinking of smoked fish and bodies ripe with fear: five traitorous Planetary Defense Troopers, clutching wooly grox skins over their uniforms, fumbling predictably down the well-worn trail and plowing deep ravines through the fresh snow. Beneath their long-haired cloaks Volstag’s keen eyes could see irregular paintjobs applied to their flak armor, the standard grey colors of Tundra Station hastily sprayed with dark blues and tarnished golds, the colors of their Night Lord masters. One even had hand-drawn white lightning zig-zagging around his now blue helmet. They clutched lasrifles fixed with bayonets in their gloved hands. Two men pulled their wooly hoods so far over their heads that they could barely see the man in front of them. But even that hindrance wouldn’t matter; the one in the lightning-helmet talked too much for the rest to notice anything about their surroundings anyway.
“I don’t see why I got stuck with you lot,” he complained.
“You said that already,” another remarked.
“I should be on patrol with some real Chaos Marines.” He slashed at the air with his bayonet, even imagining combat in a sloppy manner. “Bringing down the rogue wolf for some important folks to see, not in front of the lot of you.”
“Well, Bleakman, maybe if you stop thinking about yourself so damned much we can all get this wolf together, and all get the prize.”
“The gene-seed of Lord Curze,” another said in awe.
“Yeah, right,” grumbled one furry hood.
The lightning-helmet trooper, Bleakman, shoved the grumbler from behind. “‘Yeah, right,'” he mocked. “See, that’s my point exactly! That attitude is why you boys will never really join the ranks of the Night Lords. You’ll still be tending grox for the all mighty silent-one, Emperor Don’t-Give-A-Damn, while I’ll be waging war across the stars and pulling men’s hearts out through their puckered arses and such. After I bring in the stray wolf, Abaenon will make me a full-blooded Night Lord! And I plan to have that prize one way or another, even if I have to crack every one of you weaklings in face to do it.” He pretended to hit a fellow trooper with the butt of his lasgun.
The squad leader, a man who looked only a few years senior to his young charges, finally stopped in his tracks and turned around. “Bleakman, shut-up! I’m sick of hearing your mouth. Mosely, Ryker, pull your damned hoods down, how could you see a herd of grox going by much less a Space Marine on the run like that? And Meyer… Meyer, stop encouraging Bleakman’s blathering. Ain’t a damn one of you worthy of a gene-seed, Chaos or otherwise. From here out you better keep your traps shut and your eyes open!”
If only their leader had taken his own advice. The established trail took the squad right under Volstag’s tree. His thick bough creaked as the Space Wolf swung one leg around, prompting the traitor sergeant to look up, but it was too late. Even without armor, Volstag’s stout, heavily-muscled frame easily weighed one-hundred thirty kilos in this gravity. The trooper sergeant, maybe eighty.
The wolf landed on the traitor sergeant with a sickening crunch of bones, then sprang back to his feet while the other four were still looking on. They were all stunned by the sudden appearance of this monster of a man: a creature impervious to the biting cold, his face heavy with a snow-encrusted beard, hairy chest a map of red and white scars, and intense eyes burning with a fury of injustice their simple lives had never known. One fist struck a trooper in the face like a hammer, knocking teeth down his gullet and blowing the man instantly unconscious. His other huge hand snatched the lasrifle away from a second man and knocked him to the ground with the back swing. The trooper Bleakman jerked so suddenly that his painted helmet nearly fell off backwards, but he did manage to raise his weapon and pull the trigger. Two lasbolts sizzled wildly past the Space Wolf, panic throwing them off the mark. Volstag twirled his new lasgun around in his fingers and cast it like a spear, burying the rifle’s bayonet into Bleakman’s sternum. The last trooper gathered enough sense to run but tripped over his heavy groxhide cloak. The fumble cost him seconds and his life. Volstag leapt on top of him, pulled the man’s own knife from his belt, and eviscerated him. His gory contents spilled into the snow, turning the cold white carpet to a steaming red.
A flight of sparrows scattered. Scavenger birds cawed. A small deer was running away somewhere in the brush. There were no other sounds.