Blood and Iron
The thirteen chosen of the XIXth Grand Company entered the chamber one by one, in no particular order of rank. It was a plain room, dominated by a quadradecagonal table made of highly polished steel, tall enough to reach the waist of an astartes – bright lights shone down on it, casting the rest of the room in darkness. At the edge of this table, opposite the door, stood the Warsmith, watching them as they took their places around the table. They moved with well-practiced efficiency, smoothly sliding into the positions marked for their rank with the faint hiss of well-oiled armour servos, not a word uttered between them, waiting. The tension in the air was palpable as they watched one another, probing their fellows for weakness while the Warsmith’s eyes slid over each member present with cool appraisal. Though they ranged in shape and size, Pelegon towered over the proceedings, exceeding all of them in both height and bulk, despite being stooped over the table, both armoured hands resting on its surface. He enjoyed the fact that those junior in rank to him had to look up to him in every way.
“You know why you are gathered here” Pelegon began, his voice a heavy, mechanically-altered growl “and today, I bring you welcome news. Consider this campaign a gift.”
The Warsmith brought up his left forearm, into the vambrace of which was built a large, complex-looking cogitator array, and tapped a few keys. In the centre of the table appeared a miniaturised planet, though it was so clear and solid that it could have been a model suspended before them – with so clear a picture, and no visible projectors, the technology producing the hologram was a far cry from the simple flickering images that most Imperial commanders had at their disposal.
“Pelexis III is a simple agricultural world, the only one considered habitable in its system – Pelexis II and IV were mined dry of ores during the latter days of the Crusade. It has a population of seventeen million, deemed too awkwardly situated to draw a tithe for the Imperial Guard. A world like this would normally offer us nothing, but for the unusual garrison it has acquired”
Pelegon tapped another key on his cogitator, and a spot on the northern hemisphere began to glow red. The symbol that floated above it was one familiar to all of them, showing a wolf’s head over a diamond. The VIth legion, now reduced to a chapter; the Space Wolves.
“Some eighteen years ago this world was attacked by the Word Bearers, an offshoot from the seventh Black Crusade – the intelligence I acquired did not specify the leader of this invasion, or the reason behind it, but the incursion, minor as it was, was put down by the Space Wolves”
Pelegon looked around to ensure that his captains were following what had been a very simple speech so far. His eye lingered in particular on the Primus Medicae, Lugerev – he appeared to be lucid for the time being, but the man’s forays into madness were a cause of concern for Pelegon. If he did not manage to correct himself, Lugerev would have to be removed before too long. Of course, that would upset the brothers Coeus and Iapetus. The loss of a pure-blood, especially the one tasked with ensuring the propagation of their line, would not be received with any measure of good cheer. However, while the state of Lugerev’s mind did not interfere with the quality of his work, the problem could wait. His face and mind inscrutable, Pelegon returned to the task in hand and tapped another button on his cogitator; the hologram of the planet was replaced with a fortress.
It was a fairly simple structure, forgoing complex architecture and advanced defensive structures for rugged high-faced walls and heavily-armed gun batteries. It appeared square as viewed from above, with four corner bastions narrowing down to a central keep. There was one gate, on the most heavily-armed, south-facing, wall, large enough to accommodate the stature of a Reaver battle titan. Of course, it had never held so prestigious an artefact, and nor would it.
“I will upload what architectural plans and layouts I have of the bastion to your cogitators. It is named ‘The Wolf’s Claw’”
At this there was a quiet collective rumble from the gathered senior officers, felt through the tremor of the floor rather than heard – the Iron Warriors were not given to humour, but even they found the somewhat repetitive and predictable nomenclature of the Space Wolves amusing. Pelegon did not partake, but his upper lip was raised a little in the closest he muster to a smile.
“When they defended this world and destroyed the invaders, the master of the 9th Company, Thorgarr Redtooth, swore to the then governor that he would see it defended until the world was brought back to strength – or, as is their interpretation, its pre-invasion population of twenty-five million. So they have remained here, an idle garrison. Their love for mortals” a rare hint of derision entered Pelegon’s usually neutral voice “is what has left them vulnerable to us, and it is what we shall exploit to bring them down without so much as firing upon the walls of their fortress. The mortals think themselves invulnerable while they have their guard dogs – as is proven by their lack of even a token planetary defence force”
It was a well-known fact to all the assembled officers that their commander harboured a particular dislike for the Space Wolves, though none, except perhaps Tyranus, knew its origin.
“We will ensure that the Space Wolves will not speak of this battle, for I will see them so utterly humiliated that any boast that they could muster will die in their throats – doubtless you will be wondering how I acquired this information, and the specifics that apply to each of you in turn. To that end we will have another rendezvous on the bridge of the Ferra Perpetua. I expect your units to be fully mobilized and in orbit by then, except for” Pelegon pointed toward the 4th and 5th Captains “you and your men will remain to guard the Eisenschloss in our absence”
Pelegon straightened up and slid his Spartan-style helmet over his grim features, the muted glow of the red orbs that constituted its visual receptors washing over his captains one by one.
“For this, we stand to acquire no material gains, but our foe stands to lose everything – humility, pain and loss are the lessons we will teach them. Lucian, Iapetus, Lugerev, remain. The rest of you are dismissed. Iron Within”
“Iron Without” came the reply.
Two of the Tyranthikos, a unit of soldiers so elite that they are no less now than an extension of your body and will, fall into step beside you as you leave. Though their power fists are disabled and their combi-bolters hang from their thighs, you know that they could ready and throw themselves at an opponent in a fraction of the time that it would take most astartes, despite their heavy cataphractii plate. As paranoid as they are hardened, their heads twitch as they constantly take in and filter their surroundings for the slightest hint of a threat – in their presence you are safe, though you know that your strength and ability to lead must remain unquestionable to stop them turning on you.
The 1st Company has its own keep, a somewhat squat structure to the East of the Eisenschloss. Though the fortress was designed to accommodate the movements of armour-clad astartes, the corridors and rooms of the 1st Company’s quarters are especially enlarged in order to allow the easy movement of large numbers of soldiers clad in terminator armour. They will be expecting you to relay the news, knowing that the summoning of all the XIXth’s senior officers can only mean a campaign.
As master of the guns, the movement of units into orbit is the most arduous task for you, out of all the captains. In addition to the deadly firepower at your command, you must have available enough ammunition to keep those guns firing constantly for periods that can extend to weeks, months, and even years. It is no mean logistical feat, and one to which you are clearly uniquely suited.
The Iron Havocs, marksmen and heavy weapons specialists beyond compare, constitute a significant portion of your infantry presence, and are distinct from your other infantry specialists, the Destroyers, by their relatively unblemished appearance. Both are specialists, and competent in concocting, managing and executing complex fire and assault protocols, and answer to your command as well as a fine set of tools will to a master craftsman. They are strange within the IVth legion to the extent that they do not require great shows of strength in order to remain sated, satisfied much more by the intelligence and planning of a commander than his ability to keep insubordinates (of which there are few) in line. So far you have certainly proved adequate. However, you are aware that the Master of the Forge, Adriun, acquired a Fellglaive tank, a result of a trade arranged by the Warsmith. It is clear to you that, as the master of arms, you should be in possession of the ancient weapons platform. Whether it was given to Adriun as bait, an insult, a test of strength or merely because it is so temperamental and technically advanced a weapons system, you do not know.
Lucian, Iapetus, Lugerev
After the last man has filed out of the room, you find yourselves alone with the Warsmith, who taps away on his cogitator. You know that he is perfectly aware of the tension between Iapetus and the non-Olympian members of the XIXth, and his request to ask you to stay together seems completely deliberate.
“During the ground assault, this will be your target” the Warsmith manages at length, the image of an Astartes Strike Cruiser appearing on the hologram table. It appears no different from a standard model, its markings showing the relatively lightly armed craft to be of the Space Wolves chapter.
“The Fist of Russ. It is currently in orbit over Pelexis III. The crew is mostly human, with the bulk of the 9th planetside, but there is, to my knowledge, still a strong Space Wolf presence aboard – destroying it would be no hard task, but I want it captured. This is a task for a needle” Pelegon nodded toward Lucian “and not a hammer, Iapetus. How the two of you co-ordinate your resources is up to you, but I expect the crew to be killed and the ship under my command by the end of the siege. Any damage I see on that ship, once you present it to me, I will reflect upon the two of you”
The Warsmith turned his full attention to Lugerev, ignoring the other two as the hologram disappeared without a flicker. The downcast lighting served only to accentuate Pelegon’s size and the aura of power that radiated from him like a sick heat.
“You are to accompany them, Lugerev, for I know that a unit of Salamanders was struck down some time ago, and their gene-seed collected by the 9th. Why the XVIIIth have not seen fit to relieve their comrades of that most precious resource I could not answer – perhaps the Wolves are keeping it for themselves. You know that we do not use Space Wolf gene seed, but that of the Salamanders is acceptable enough – and an additional ten marines at our disposal is something not to be dismissed. I wish you to personally oversee the recovery and delivery of the gene-seed to the vault on the Ferra. After that you will join us on the planet to sort the prisoners we will have taken for prospective recruits. Now…”
Pelegon turned his head to take in the three that stood before him.
“Are there any questions?”
You know that it will be your duty during the course of the siege to ensure that all equipment is functioning to the best of its ability, as well as the recovery of usable materials from the fallen enemy. By far the youngest member of the senior officers, you know that the Warsmith has a respect for both your ability and ambition, and how quickly you rose through the ranks, and is cautious of you for the exact same reason.
Several servo skulls accompany you, each bringing news from different men under your command of matters requiring your attention – mostly shortages of particular machine parts, or suboptimal furnace temperatures. Though none are urgent, the manufacture and maintenance machine of the Iron Warriors being too well-made and managed to provide major incidents, they still chip away at your time, of which you have little to spare.
In the meantime, you must inspect a Fellglaive tank given to you by the Warsmith a mere handful of hours ago. You were informed that it was a gift from Barban Falk of the 235th Grand Company, though the fresh scorch marks and gouges in its armour indicate that its previous owner may not have handed it over so willingly.
The ancient weapons system, the volkite carronade, awes you – only a handful of such old and complex ordnance exists in the material universe, and this is a gift handed to you by the Warsmith in the expectation that you will be able to analyse and replicate it in due course. You also know that the 2nd Captain may well want this for himself, though whether you want to keep the ancient weapons system for yourself is up to you.
The meeting room leaves you feeling unsatisified. You pride yourself on your strength of will and the inability of other telepaths to read your mind, but it would be only natural for a psyker to be able to challenge the power of another. The Warsmith’s mind remains to you anathema, unable as you are to read it – every attempt that you have made has been rebuffed, and you do not know whether the Warsmith actively resists and is aware of your attempts, or the effect is passive – he never mentions it to you, or indicates awareness of your efforts. It is likely this that has helped him resist the taint and urge of Chaos for seven millennia, even in the face of social intercourse with your daemon primarch.
As Epistolary, you know that the mental purity of the XIXth is your responsibility. It sounds like the kind of religious, soulful rubbish espoused by the followers of the Emperor, and the motives that the two factions share behind their wish for purity are similar – there must be no possible division of loyalty. Each man must be utterly sublimated to his desire to wage war, but the reasons must not be incorrect; earning the favour of one of the Dark Gods falls into that category. Beyond that, whether it is personal vendetta, a raging bloodthirst or merely the job to which one finds oneself (somewhat unsurprisingly as an astartes) best suited, does not matter, as long as their willingness to fight, competence and loyalty to the XIXth are beyond question.
Today you have two marines, or to you two tiresome tasks to deal with. The first is one of your librarians, who was reported after tomes marked with the eight-pointed star, and more worryingly, eye of Tzeentch, were found in his possession. He argued that it was for the purposes of research and countering the power of the Changer of The Ways – the investigation and judgement fall into your hands.
The second is a battle-brother of the 2nd Company, who was cited for possible corruption by an apothecary after unusual abscesses were found on his left forearm, which refused to heal. He denies worshipping Nurgle, and is currently, as is the suspect librarian, detained and awaiting investigation and judgement.
Gentlemen, you have until the 28th to write what you get up to. After that, there will be an update, and things will move onward to glorious orbit. If you have any questions or requests, or if I haven’t written/clarified something vital, please message me.