(part 4 of 5)
Decision time, Dragonclaw, Volstag told himself.
In the confusion of the hunt, he’d been able to escape the valley undetected. He now stood at the precipice of a wooded peak overlooking two scenes under the dim purple sky. To the north was the heart of Tundra Station. From here it looked like a quiet town with simple buildings and snowy streets. There were no structures higher than three stories and several columns of furnace smoke dissipated into the sky. The remote outpost was not important enough to have its own astropath for telepathic communication, but he knew there was a long-ranged vox transmitter somewhere down there, probably at the very headquarters building he’d visited when the wolf scouts first approached the PDF with their plan. After to the scout ship, Tundra Station’s radio was the next obvious choice.
Therefore, the enemy was likely to be expecting him there, too, and ready to receive him.
To the west, separated from the town by a couple kilometers of snow-covered grox fields and skeletal corral fencing, was the Night Lord’s ship. It was a dark vessel of smoking vents and twisted metal spires, several times the size of the stealthy Void Stalker scout ship. This was a mobile platform of war, home to a renegade war band, and at least as big as all the structures of Tundra Station put together. It was also a tomb where four of his pack mates had been deprived of an honorable death and where the sinister apothecary had tortured Volstag with the intention that he die as painfully as his brothers. The ship was the den of the enemy, a nest of poisonous vipers, and the last place they’d expect him to go. And being a space vessel, it would have the communications equipment he needed.
His decision was made.
Among the herds of huge grox sleeping on their feet stalked something even bigger, a hulk of steel and ceramite nearly five meters tall with a three-taloned claw on a mechanical arm and twin autocannon barrels fixed to the opposite shoulder. A daemonic iron mask hung over the front of the Chaos dreadnought’s sarcophagus, two thick horns curling outward from its horrific face. The earth shook as the metal beast stepped forward, shouldering around the giant sleeping grox, who stumbled to one side or the other against their herd brothers, trying to avoid the monster while still half-asleep on their hooves. It moved forward again and spun forty-five degrees on its axel, shoving the flanks of another wooly beast. The grox gave a low moan and shuffled sideways, bumping the animal next to it, who then stumbled into two more. The whole herd groaned and sidestepped, much to the dreadnought’s amusement. A deep, mechanical chuckle could be heard just above the animal noises.
The creature’s mad, Volstag thought. Centuries, maybe millennia entombed in that metal monstrosity had obviously reduced the mind of the Chaos Marine inside to that of a cruel child. But a very dangerous cruel child.
Volstag remembered the ambush. Two of the wolf scouts were leading a platoon of Tundra Station PDF troops through a rocky crevasse toward the enemy ship, executing the wolves’ surprise assault on the Night Lords. The party had rounded a bend within the crevasse and crouched down to take pause. Behind the pair of Space Wolves were twenty mortal soldiers of the Planetary Defense Force, some toting heavy weapons. The plan was to have platoons attack the Chaos ship from two directions with heavy fire while a third team of wolf scouts planted melta charges in the confusion. The enemy was not supposed to know they were coming. Femyr, the pack leader, took a knee and checked his com-bead. The second party was in position but the third, the scouts with the bombs, were not responding.
“Could be the weather,” the PDF platoon sergeant said, a strange sneer on his lips. The wind was blowing above their heads but nothing severe. “That happens here from time to time,” he said.
Femyr and Volstag shared a look but decided to go ahead, that their scout brethren would know what to do when the time came without a verbal order. Femyr got to his feet and moved around the rocky turn. As soon as his head came around the boulder they had been crouching behind, reaper autocannon fire erupted into their midst. The crevasse became a deathtrap, heavy shells and rock fragments exploding in the confined space. Blood spatter painted the stone walls as the leading PDF troops were hit. Femyr fell back away from the fire lane but even his superhuman reflexes had been too slow; his left hand was gone, blasted to splinters in the first autocannon burst, and his left leg had been torn up by shrapnel. He fell back into Volstag’s arms, gripping his bolt pistol tightly in his right hand. Above the din was the metallic laughter of the Chaos dreadnought as it filled the stone corridor with heavy weapons fire. Volstag turned to the platoon sergeant and ordered one PDF squad to fall back the way they’d come, but the trooper just grinned in his face. In the next moment the treacherous soldiers were on top of the two wolves. The traitors came on confidently, mistakenly thinking that they had the advantage. They soon found out that a wounded wolf is ever more dangerous than a healthy one. Femyr kicked two into the dreadnought’s firing line and killed several more. Volstag’s combat blade worked in and out quickly and fiery bolts from his plasma pistol burned clean through its conspirator targets. The two wolves were bloodied but victorious, having killed or routed nearly all of the fragile PDF troopers.
Then the Night Lords entered into the fight. Six of them leapt into the trench on jump packs, just meters from the now wounded and drained wolf scouts. Two raptors died before the fight’s end, as did pack leader Femyr. Bleeding and wounded, Volstag could not out-muscle the remaining Chaos Marines, who grabbed and bound him. He became their prisoner and was soon introduced to their apothecary and torture-master, the bionic renegade Abaenon.
Twin barrel blasts echoed over the twilight corrals, bringing Volstag back to the present. The midsection of a sleeping grox exploded in a gory star of blood and bone. Those dreadnought’s sick laughter rang out over the night. Panicky grox moaned and scattered, but those still half-asleep moved too slowly. The dreadnought’s spotlight switched on, finding a sluggish animal on the outskirts of the herd. The grox broke into a run and gave a fearful cry, as if it knew what terrible fate the spotlight beam foretold. The metal monster giggled to itself, tracking its prey with smoking barrels but holding fire for the perfect moment.
As it turned on its axel, the dreadnought exposed its back to Volstag’s hiding spot. This was his chance.
The wolf broke sprinting from the brush, bare feet pounding the snowy ground, chainsword in hand, boltgun jostling at his side from its shoulder strap. He met the high fence and bounded over it, then leapt again onto the dreadnought’s back. His long fingers found purchase between metal plates and his chainsword buzzed to life. With two tight swings of the whirring blade he severed several tubes and wires and tore open a rear repair hatch. The metal monster roared furiously and fired its twin cannons but hitting nothing but earth. Grox scattered and moaned even faster now, adding to the cacophony. Volstag dropped off the hulk and into a crouch, slapped a krak grenade under the crotch of legs and axel, then dashed away again. Two seconds later the explosives detonated, hurling hydraulic rods and pinions in every direction. Shards of debris bit into Volstag’s exposed back but he ignored the pain. When he turned around again the dreadnought was still facing the opposite direction, unable to walk or turn. His chainsword had rendered its clawed arm useless and opened up access to the firing mechanism of the reaper autocannon. The monster cried out like a wounded bear, unable to move or avenge itself.
Volstag strode confidently back to his victim. “Not so damned funny now, is it?” he said. He lifted off a rail from the corral fence and used it to lever the upper body of the dreadnought one-hundred-twenty degrees to the left. The broad side of the Night Lord’s ship sat only a couple hundred meters away.
The dreadnought moaned like the grox he’d been torturing.
“And thanks to your cruel games, anyone who hears you moaning will just think you’re still having fun.
“Until the ship’s damage alarms go off.”
The Space Wolf hauled himself back up to the open compartment on the dreadnought’s rear. Twelve seconds of trial and error and he had complete control of the twin autocannons. The creature entombed within complained with bestial noises but could do nothing to stop him. This should give me just the diversion I need to get aboard, Volstag thought as he triggered the firing mechanism. The heavy shells detonated against the hull just to the left of the primary engine cones.
“But a space ship’s hull is built to take more punishment than that,” Volstag said aloud. “Let’s try this instead.” He adjusted his aim and fired again. This time twin trails of fire shot right into the engine cones, followed by explosions deep inside. He fired another volley. Green-blue plasma belched out from deep within his target, indicating an engine breach.
“And while we’re at it...” The dreadnought’s body ground and clicked in an arc, the cannons roaring off several more rounds as it turned. The earth around one landing leg exploded, then the leg itself. Volstag directed the fire to a second leg and destroyed it, too. The whole ship listed backward, tilting the whole ship into further confusion.
“I know you’re wracked with guilt over this,” Volstag told the dreadnought, “but don’t worry, you won’t have long to live with it.” He clicked another krak grenade inside the beast’s hull, set it with a long fuse, then dropped back to the ground.
“In Femyr Longspear’s name.”
The wolf rushed back into the darkness. Thirty seconds later there was an explosion within the dreadnought’s body, followed by several more as his remaining munitions went up and finished him from the inside out.
The conclusion in just a few days...