Iapatus's smile was absolute. To some, it would have been terrifying, to others, electrifying. The Space Wolves' vessel was floundering, her shields were dead. The Shipmaster ordered a spread of torpedoes, as he marched through the hallways of his vessel, a wrist-mounted communicator and hololithic display showing him the battle in real-time.
'Assault boats are ready to launch,' One of his bridge officers chimed. Iapetus reevaluated the range, ran a series of theoretical failures and victories through his head, and then decided upon his course of action.
'Target the Fist of Russ,' He purred, languidly. 'One last strike - Target the engines,' He entered a large, cathedral like chamber. A host of his Terminators, thirty in total, awaited. They wore cloaks of mail, carried axes and mauls and shields, some with lightning claws, some with thunder hammers, all warriors unrivaled. When they saw Iapetus, they bowed, striking a fist over their hearts. 'I want the assault boats launched, before the fires end, bridge.'
He killed the communicator. 'My brothers, my glorious Seventh,' He said, to his Terminators. These were his elite, at least, those not aboard the Lonesome Queen. 'The Sons of Fenris, the Wolves, await us. They are cornered, they are alone, they are desperate. They are dead,' His Terminators remained silent, unmoving, if Iapetus didn't know better - He might have mistook them for statues. 'But we must not underestimate our foes. An injured wolf is a fierce wolf, we know this well. We are going into their den, they know the decks, they know where to hide and ambush. We are, in comparison, blind. Lucian and his Third,' He spat on the deck. His Marines rumbled. 'Will be supporting us..'
He slammed the haft of his spear into the deck. There was a flash, as metal met stone. Olympian stone, harvested from the world before her destruction, a lifetime ago. Iapetus remembered overseeing the quarrying, towering over the mortals, issuing orders with deft flicks of his hand. He had been a God, then, spirited away from the Great Crusade to build his chariots, his prized possessions. Around the rooms, generators started to power up.
'If we are lucky, the Space Wolves will drive them into the dirt, and tear their throats out,' Iapetus lowered his helmet over his head, bathing everything in teal. 'If we are unlucky, Lucian and his brood of shadow-dancers will live, and when the time comes, we shall end them.'
His Marines began to form up around him, locking their shields together. To his left, came Argon, carrying a long, cruelly-hooked polearm. To his left, with his thunder-hammer and flamer, was Veros. Two of his oldest, truest friends, two of the greatest Marines that Iapetus had ever served besides. The room started to stink, of charred meat and ozone. Lightning crackled around them, and then-
A flash. Disorientation, disassembling, reassembling.
-Iapetus and his escort reappeared, thousands of kilometres away, aboard the Fist of Russ. His spear found the throat of a thrall, blood jetting over him, and then they were moving. Into the heart of the ship, towards their prey.
That so cruel a creature could feel anything amounting to displeasure from the suffering of the mortals would have surprised any one of Pelegon’s lieutenants, but the truth was that the Warsmith no more enjoyed causing them suffering than he enjoyed protecting or helping them. They were nothing to him other than resources to be expended, as much as bolt shell or astartes – only, perhaps, far more easily replaced than either the former or latter. It was often said that a surfeit of warm bodies was the Imperium’s greatest asset, and it was one that Pelegon was all too happy to tap into when needed.
The mortal he held now had once been a woman approaching her middle years – now she was a raw, skinless husk, too exhausted and blood-starved to even scream. Spent, he dropped her from the platform – the wet thud of her impalement on one of the spikes below was drowned out by the cacophony of screams that surrounded the encampment. It had scarce been a quarter-hour, and the corpse piles before the trench line were impressively small. His Iron Warriors, well-versed one and all in human physiology, knew how to get good use out of each screaming mortal body. Whether or not they enjoyed it, Pelegon did not know. This method of war did not sit well with him. It smacked of the skulduggery and backwardness of the VIIIth legion, something he could claim a fairly intimate knowledge of.
The miserable chorus that filled the air was cut in half by a mighty howl, one that Pelegon could recognise from his days on Olympia only as a war horn. Brief images of his distant childhood flashed through the Warsmith’s mind – his first, biological, father’s displeasure at his weakness, Perturabo’s establishment of Lochos as Olympia’s foremost power, and the decimation of the legion. A flicker of the sense of awe that the juvenile Pelegon, hidden high in an abandoned eyrie above the plains below Lochos, had felt watching those mighty warriors strangling each other, how they had so willingly died at the Lord of Iron’s command, returned to him now.
In the present, the Warsmith watched flinty-eyed as the huge front gates of the Wolf’s Claw swung open. From it marched the 9th Company of Space Wolves, led by their Wolf Lord, Thorgarr Redtooth, and his ten Wolf Guard – at the current distance, Pelegon could make out only some of the markings on their armour, but their weaponry was visible – huge, ornate power-axes and storm shields, bar one who had forsaken his axe for a stave; by his psychic hood, and the runes in his armour, it was clear that he was the libarian. Standard fare for Space Wolves, but what surprised the Iron Warrior most was their mounts – Thunderwolves, each standing as tall as a terminator, saliva dripping from their mouths, from which the lips had been drawn back, revealing wicked fangs easily capable of rending power armour. These had not been accounted for, and Pelegon inclined his head in acknowledgement that this battle might be over a little less quickly after all.
Flanking the Wolf Lord’s command squad were two more squads of Wolf Guard, both clad in indomitus pattern terminator armour – this caused Pelegon to suppress a laugh. The Imperium could no more produce further suits of the far superior Cataphractii or Tartaros patterns, though whatever survived this battle would be gladly taken into the XIXth’s ever-expanding arsenal. They were armed with a mixture of weapons, ranging from thunder hammers and storm shields to power fists and assault cannons – Pelegon spotted a cyclone missile launcher atop one of them, but they advanced without firing.
Behind the 9th Company’s finest came the rest; five ten-man squads of Grey Hunters, armed with a variety of weapons that each suited the man wielding them – from plasma guns to lightning claws, each marine’s arsenal was a reflection of years of service, dedication and prowess in combat. Covered in fetishes and trophies of their many hunts, their pomposity disgusted the Warsmith. True strength needed few displays, for it required not external validation to function. With no audience, these Wolves were nothing. Two of the squads were led by Wolf Priests, and even distantly Pelegon could hear them spouting the Emperor’s lies to their men – at that moment the Warsmith decreed that he would personally end at least one of them.
Flanking the Grey Hunters were four ten-man squads of Blood Claws, armed with chainswords, long, serrated combat blades and bolt pistols, with jump-packs mounted to their armour. They tested their thrusters as if almost nervous; if anything, they were waiting to sink their blades into the Iron Warriors before them. They believed that their training rendered them the pinnacles of astartes might in close-quarters combat. The XIXth would teach them that discipline and strength would crush raw bloodthirst and confidence.
Finally, bringing up the rear were two ten-man squads of Long Fangs, toting a plethora of heavy weapons that they carried with the ease of long-practice. Pelegon knew that his own Iron Havocs were far superior – none could match the IVth legion in their prowess with large volumes of firepower. But the aged veterans of the 9th Company would not bother them long; once his own 1st Company deep-striked into the gateway, the Long Fangs would be the first sheet of metal between hammer and anvil. They were confident and cool-eyed – whether that would last once they were charged by several tonnes of ceramite fuelled by seven millennia of hatred would intrigue the Warsmith.
“First Company, prepare for deep-strike” the Warsmith uttered the order coolly into his armour’s microbead, and received an affirmative. All hundred-odd of them would soon appear behind the Wolves while the rest of the XIXth advanced across the field toward them. As per the Hail of Fire doctrine, they would advance and charge while firing boltguns – this combination of murderous firepower combined with close-quarter savagery had won the IVth legion more assaults than Pelegon could remember.
“Kunzhardt, place the teleport homer” the Warsmith uttered, and then looked about him to see that his men had dropped the mortal and advanced upon the trenchline, weapons drawn. Clambering down the huge tower, now slick with blood, the distant report of an Earthshaker informed him that Kunzhardt had indeed fired the homer – it would land behind the Wolves, and there the 1st Company would arrive.
Now at ground level, Pelegon moved forward to the trench line, where he could see Coeus and Adriun stood side-by-side, discussing something. What, he did not know – they were over a private vox-net, and Pelegon was not yet paranoid enough to believe that tapping into those would do him much good. The Warsmith moved to stand between the two of them, patting the marines on the shoulders and directing their attention toward the battlefield. The Wolves were not advancing, knowing that to assault their defensive position would result only in a greater toll. They would not charge until the XIXth did, knowing that they could take a greater toll that way. This suited the Warsmith well, who with a final look around, raised his right arm over his shoulder and drew the enormous claymore from his back.
The blade was covered in sigils that any versed in the daemonic arts would have recognised as those of sealing and binding, designed to contain a roiling warp entity within a physical object – in this case, Pelegon’s claymore. However, it had no otherworldly presence beyond a faint echo of what might once have been empyrean taint, and appeared unaltered other than a slightly unnatural sheen to the metal that diffracted light in unusual colours and patterns not unlike an oil spillage. The Warsmith transferred it from hand to hand, testing its balance for the umpteenth time; it was, of course, perfect in spite of its size, and Pelegon was confident of his ability to parry with the blade. It had more than two centuries since he had taken to the field of battle, and now would be the time to change that. Though he primarily viewed the fire of his guns and the tenacity of his men as his strength, not his own prowess with a blade, they had all been built to kill, and to not exercise that for so long felt like a void in the Warsmith’s soul. Putting his sword in his right hand, with his left the Warsmith drew his other weapon; an ornate storm-bolter with a yellow-and-red colour pattern, and imprinted on the length of its squat body a shattered fist - it fit in his grip as easily as a pistol.
Raising the bolter, holding it before him, the Warsmith began to advance across the battlefield, his men following suit, and began to issue orders over his vox, his voice a low, calm murmur in their ears.
“Redtooth will have seen me, will know who I am – expect the Thunderwolves to come at us right away. I assign you personally responsible with disabling him. Do what you must; disarm, cripple, disembowel – I do not care, as long as he lives and remains lucid. Iron Within”
“This form of fighting is not your speciality, Adriun, but I expect you close at hand to oversee the salvaging of all useable equipment for our arsenal as soon as the battle is over. I want that iron masque brought down from orbit and ready for Redtooth once the fight is concluded. Move at my back and I will ensure that you will remain standing. I have yet to fight with you, and it is time for me to personally see the strength of your steel. Iron Within”
“Unbreakable, Kerberos has taken the bulk of the First Company into orbit and will be deep-striking behind the Wolves. Until the Tyranthikos arrive, hammer them with everything sub-106mm, shots to disrupt, not to kill. The men need to spill blood with their own hands, and I would not deprive them the trial. Should you wish to join the fray, do so at my side – I am curious to see how a Thunderwolf’s skull withstands a powerfist. Have the larger guns reposition to level the fortress once we have cleared it. Iron Within”
“Have your neophytes target only the Blood Claws; it would be folly for them to engage anything else. Any who bring me a Wolf’s head will be deemed to have passed their close-combat training – and may keep the spoils of their kill. Watch, oversee, show them how to gut one of the Emperor’s pups, as has ever been your duty. Any heavy weapons salvaged from the Long Fangs will be given to the 10th for training purposes. Iron Within”
Kerberos, and the rest of the Tyranthikos
“Target the Long Fangs – they will be closest to your position upon arrival. Whether you choose to fire or engage in close combat I leave at your discretion, but those Long Fangs take priority over all other targets. Do to them as you have done for centuries past. Iron Within”
The Fist Of Russ
You already know what you’re doing.
You find yourself in the engine-room of the Fist Of Russ, surrounded by servitors who do not react at all to your arrival, continuing to attend to the machines to which they are bound, or whatever repetitive menial task they have been purposed for. Mighty turbines fill the cavernous chamber, and at each stands a tech-priest wearing pale blue robes with red fringes. They are momentarily dumbfounded, but will shortly attempt to react. There is little that they will be able to do, however, themselves being poorly armed and the engine-room’s defences being almost entirely external. You know from the ship’s plans that two levels directly above you is the Grand Hall of the ship, where the Wolves would hold banquets for the entire 9th Company, and that the Captain will be either there or on the bridge. Security on this level is low, consisting only of serfs and ratings, with no astartes presence as of yet.
Are you still alive, m8?
A mighty horn rose up above the clamor that all the poor mud drenched souls conducted like a horrific symphony bringing the captain of the second companies murderous spree to an abrupt halt. The horn could only mean one thing and seemingly in response to Kunzhardt's thought the protective shell broke open and from it poured the angerry fur covered savages that prized human life above all else bringing a grin to the Captain's face. As though it were an afterthought the screaming soul clenched in his hand was thrust to the ground and crushed beneath the colossal metallic boot leaving only a sickening crunch. The impressive sight of the wolves brought an even more pronounced grin as he realized the battle that would be coming.
With a remarkably long sigh of relief Kunzhardt retrieved his archaic plasma pistol from its resting place on his hip and moved forward mouthing to himself, "Iron within, Iron without." The crackling of power surged through his right arm as the power fist and corresponding connections hummed and warped the reality around it producing a familiar stench-one that he hadn't experienced in far too long. It felt like centuries since proper battle engulfed the Immovable and the slight rush of adrenaline brought a sense of focus. In truth Kunzhardt had thought about remaining in the trenches to revel in the destruction from a distance and to watch his guns reduce the wolves to mush; that was until the voice of the Warsmith chimed in with revised orders for the Second Company and a remark that chided the Second Captain into battle whether intentional or not. Vhalos would manage the execution of the guns but he would have wolf entrails on his hands this day.
With firm purposeful steps the boots waded through the mud and grime unimpeded until he was marching at the right hand of the Warsmith. He made no comments but simply marched; beneath him the soil trembled before the might of the XIXths guns ringing out sending soil, smoke, and fragments from the Keep itself into the sky. His two hearts were thumping and his chest raised with an upbeat tempo. His colossal power fist clenched and unclenched sending furious crackles forth arcing into the air, "Iron within, Iron without."
The Wolves had finally left their den and were ready to fight. It was not a fair fight where two equals met and one might win by a clever ruse or sudden strike. The Wolves had come out to die in glory, and die they would. However even with their assured destruction, the VIth Legion were still deadly and these watered-down descendants would still prove a challenge to overcome. There was a murmur within several minds. They had not anticipated the Thunderwolves to be so far from their natural habitat. I wasn’t concerned. I remembered an anecdote I had heard with the XVth Legion; there are no wolves on Fenris. The meaning of that epitaph was still lost to me even now. Even if the beasts they rode were not real wolves, they would die all the same.
Pelegon forced himself in between myself and Adriun, clapping us both on the shoulders. He wanted us ready. I was sure Adriun would be better, now that the rest of the XIXth had stopped indiscriminately killing mortals. I had been ready since we made planetfall, the result of the Night Lords trial only serving to heighten my pleasure. I was still not convinced that this invasion served any purpose than to needlessly spend lives, but sometimes blood-letting in and of itself was healthy I found. It would be good to be able to face a foe worthy of our efforts, rather than slaughtering these fragile mortals.
I pitied the lone librarian that strode into battle alongside Redtooth. Fenrisian psykers were destructive by nature, and that power was formidable. It seemed to come naturally to these Rune Priests. However, no matter how powerful they were, they were still shackled by the Imperium’s petty notions of sorcery and heresy, unwilling to push against the confines of their fragile cages and learn to control greater power. I could face down this upstart by myself, but I had nearly twenty other Librarians at my command. One psyker would not be enough to stop our onslaught. I was happy to slay the man if Pelegon asked, but I hoped that was not all he expected of me. If he did, he had very low expectations of me indeed.
The unsheathing of Pelegon’s blade made my hairs stand up. The blade was littered with signal and wards of binding. Not worlds apart from those on Eternal Schism. Whereas Eternal Schism was made to sunder and break the power of the warp, including what humanity loosely termed souls, Pelegon’s weapon’s were for containing and controlling them. I still couldn’t feel any entity within the blade which struggled against its bondage. Whatever Pelegon’s intermittent powers were, I was sure he would not be able to mask such an entity. I was not certain I could if I wanted to. Then what purpose did the wards serve?
The Warsmith ordered them on, his bolter held outstretched and his weighty blade held at his side. He began to issue orders, I could feel attentions being turned towards him. Mine came soon enough. Pelegon wanted me to face down Redtooth and bring him to Pelegon, maimed but alive. What use did Pelegon have for a wolf captain prisoner, other than sport? Why did he not simply face…It dawned on me. The other captains had works to be doing, and a wolf captain was a formidable opponent. He was certain he would win but he also needed to be certain that he would land the killing blow. I thought I had worked out the purpose of his blade. It emitted no trace of a trapped entity because there was none. It was a soul harvester, a blade Pelegon could use to wretch men’s souls from their bodies and keep them for his own. To what purpose I couldn’t guess, but I was all but certain that explained both the runes and the lack of rebellion from the blade.
“You will have your prize Warsmith, but I will take one of my own. I wish to see what secrets Fenris might yield to us. Iron Without.” I spoke curtly back. There was no need for anything further. Pelegon would know my objective and he would either over-ride me or remain silent. All his refusal would do was force me or one of my librarians to tear the secrets of the Rune Priest during the battle. And if Pelegon was as concerned about Redtooth’s life as I perceived, he would not want me distracted with my own agenda. Far better to indulge me than to fight me I reckoned, but perhaps Pelegon felt he had given me too many liberties with the investigation and would refuse me simply to assert his authority. I hoped not, it would be a very foolish decision.
+Brothers…+ I reached out to the rest of my brethren. Their minds orbited my own like an invisible constellation. +…I take it you have noticed our foe.+ There was a tremor of amusement through our connections. One psyker was hardly a challenging foe.
+Shall we overwhelm his mind now, have it done with?+ Jarkos, from the 8th Company spoke, his contempt palpable. He was one of the youngest additions to the Librarium, still to be fully tempered.
+Have you learnt nothing of our Chief Librarian yet?+ Ordan, by comparison one of the eldest, spoke. +Coeus wants him alive, or at least for us to take what he knows from his wretched head.+
+Exactly.+ I felt each of them acknowledge my desire. I didn’t care which of them defeated the Rune Priest, only that at the end of this his secret laid bare before me.
With that decided, we began to work in concert. Pelegon wanted the XIXth to blood themselves, and we would do our best to protect them. Kine-shields advanced before the Grand Company, strongest in front of the command elements. I watched for strands of fate. There was an over eager Blood Claw that was about to charge as we closed the distance. I ordered a squad to fire, they knew better than to doubt me even though there was no one there. The moment they fired, the Blood Claw jumped and had his head taken off by bolt shells. “Redtooth!” I called, lightning crackling along my fingers and axe head. His wolf dropped low and growled at me. “On your honour, face me or die a coward!” I cared little for honour or bravery. If the other person was dead, you could be as honourable or brave as you said you were. But I knew the Wolf would face me. He would not die with dishonour hanging over him like a curse…
“Target the Long Fangs – they will be closest to your position upon arrival. Whether you choose to fire or engage in close combat I leave at your discretion, but those Long Fangs take priority over all other targets. Do to them as you have done for centuries past. Iron Within” The WarSmith's voice came over the vox issuing orders to Kerberos, who would lead the First Company in this mission. It was an honor to be given command, though the circumstances through which he had been given this interim command were less than desirable.
In his ornate armor, resplendent in silver and burnished brass, the gorget of his armor stylized and came up nearly to the top of his helmet's vox grille protecting his neck, his pauldrons were made of three plates each, allowing for the armor to be somewhat articulated and thus create an even smaller gap between his pauldrons and chest plate. Though his armor lacked the bulk of the Cataphractii terminator plate worn by the rest of his brothers his Champion's plate was easily more substantial than standard variants of Astartes plate, even those unfamiliar with its design would know his armor marked him out as someone of some importance, such ornate armors were not simply handed out to just anyone.
The floor beneath him glowed, his vision went white and then there was a loud hissing zap, the crackle of thunder and electricity and with a booming clap, followed by the loud fizzle of charged particles. The ground underneath his feet was Pelexis III, they had deep struck into the rearguard of the Wolf's defensive line. His left carrying his shield, his bolter was stowed on his rear magnetic holster, without a word, he motioned with his right hand forward towards their targets, several lines of Long Fangs. Cowards who chose to conduct themselves in honorless and imprecise ranged combat. The thud and boom of storm bolters came in response to his silent orders, tearing into the Long Fangs. The thrum and chugging of several assault cannons also roared out, ensuring that a steady volley of rounds tore into their enemies as they marched forward.
Kerberos' eyes however were taken elsewhere, "The Long Fangs have been dealt with." His voice was calm, controlled and almost distant from their actions. "We are advancing towards your position WarSmith, the First shall act as the back end of the pincer that you have set up for these dogs." His weapon had not yet been drawn, he marched, issuing orders, giving commands on which vectors to lay down covering fire, he directed the men under his command, and like a tide of destruction, they advanced forward at a steady pace, meeting little in the way of meaningful resistance this far in the rear lines of the Wolves' lines. There they stood, a line of proud warriors, warriors he would like to test himself against, the Wolf Guard, famed warriors of the Space Wolves Legion.
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