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(part 5 of 5)
Alarm klaxons were sounding aboard the enemy vessel. Volstag pulled himself up the open access ramp, having to jump up to reach its edge as the grounded ship was cocked backward on its damaged landing gear. He paused there in the doorway in a low crouch, chainsword across his back, guns on his belt. He could hear very little below the howling of the fire alarm, but he did smell someone nearby; the tang of mutation was in the air.
A thin figure appeared from around the corridor, robed in dark blue with shining orange eyes. The wolf pounced and dispatched him in an instant, easily snapping the mortal’s neck. Limp in his arms, he could see this was a serf like those that crewed loyal Space Marine ships, though here they were more likely slaves. This one appeared to also be a plaything of the depraved apothecary, having several scars and surgical augmentations.
A memory flashed in his mind: breaking free of his bindings and slaying two such slaves with a few brutal swipes of his clawed hands. He felt the sweaty humidity again, smelled the oil and burning flesh, heard the painful cries of those dying.
Volstag looked at his hands now. Had those really been his taloned paws? No time to consider that now. He tossed the slave’s body out the hatch, pulled his sword and bolt pistol, and proceeded into the shadowy labyrinth of the ship.
The hot, narrow corridors were strangely familiar to him. With his general knowledge of Imperial ship designs combined with his unconscious memory, it wouldn’t take him long to locate the radio tower. Along the way he’d seen only a couple more serf slaves, who had gone about their regular maintenance duties without noticing the scout creeping among the shadows. Most of the Night Lord warriors were no doubt scattered across several kilometers, searching for their lost prey. The rest of the ship’s company and crew would be fighting the fire in the rear engine departments, though by now that situation was likely under control. Still the alarms sounded, giving him cover and assurance.
On the third deck of the ship, Volstag finally located the radio tower sealed behind a standard vacuum hatch. Just as he was prepared to enter, the hatch doors parted. A robed figure slouched through the threshold dragging a twisted appendage that may have once been a leg. The slave’s pale face flashed surprise as the chainsword swung in and tore into its throat. Volstag bounded inside.
This was a cylindrical chamber no more than ten meters in diameter with the ceiling lost in the antenna arrays several meters above, all lit an eerie green by blinking lights and waveform screens. Two mortal servants and a Chaos Marine stood inside, one slave yelping with surprise. The Night Lord turned from receiving the latest report on the hunt and smiled. One thick finger clicked a switch on the panel. “Nevermind, Squad Five. I have him.” He clicked off the channel.
“You’ve led us on quiet a chase, little pup,” the Night Lord said. His face was an irregular grid of scars, the chest piece of his power armor almost matching. He pulled a jagged combat blade from his belt. “But the game is over now.”
One mutant slave raised an arm and his dark robe’s sleeve fell back. The bionic arm beneath unfolded with a mechanical whir, extending into three thin metal limbs, two with claws of various size, one with a long drill that whined as it spun up. The other slave stood still, waiting to see what would happen next.
“Shall we?” the Chaos Marine said.
Volstag hesitated, listening to the alarm klaxon continuing overhead. He realized it could stop any second but would cover any noise until then. “I’d love to,” the wolf snarled, “but I don’t have much time, and you’re wasting it.” He dropped the chainsword to the deck with a loud clang. The renegade’s mouth twitched into an even broader smile, but only briefly. Vostag’s now free hand seized the boltgun that hung at his side, tugged it free from his shoulder, and opened fire. The weapon’s report echoed around the walls of the small chamber as its vicious bolts spattered tainted blood on the walls and instruments. After two seconds of bolter fire his ears were ringing, the room was choked with smoke, and three enemy bodies lay on the floor.
That was stupid, he told himself, moving forward to inspect the radio controls. One misplaced shot could have destroyed the very equipment he’d come to use. It was the wolf inside that made him so anxious to spill blood, so careless with his weaponry. The wolf. His teeth clenched tight, eager to bite, to feed. There was little doubt now; Volstag knew he was tainted by the wulfen. A sharp-toothed grin touched his lips as he fished the voice-corder from its belt compartment. He realized that he had no regrets about the darker side of Russ and would give himself willingly to the creature’s full fury, when his business was done. But not yet.
Quickly assessing the radio panel, he found the appropriate link, plugged in the voice recording device, tuned up the standard Imperial distress frequency, and pressed the play button. The fire alarms ceased at that moment, leaving only his own voice in the room: “...I shall do what damage I can, then see you in the mead halls of the afterlife.” Volstag set the device in a repeating loop and gathered up his weapons.
One more task, he told the beast within, leashing it with his will. The signal’s out, we’ve little else to live for now. But I have to be sure. Something the traitor PDFs had said under his tree resonated in his head, something about being rewarded with the gene-seed of Kurze, thus made into the Night Lords Space Marines. What if Abaenon had stolen the gene-seed of Russ from his tortured captives? He had to find and destroy the apothecary’s lab. Then he’d unleash the beast. Then he could die in blind, furious combat with honor in his heart.
The wolf’s unconscious memory guided him easily to the place of its birth; he therefore knew where the laboratory could be found. But now that the fire had been squelched the ship’s passageways were busier with robed slaves and servitors returning to their usual duties.
That suited Volstag fine.
He heard mumbled conversation around a corner and sped his pace to meet it, his bare feet pounding hard on the steel grid of flooring. The Night Lord Space Marines and their servitor were not expecting a half-naked beastman to come bounding around the bend, chainsword growling in both hands. With two swings and a howl of bloodlust, Volstag beheaded one Marine and cut down the other two. Their bulky bodies would choke the passageway, slowing down any pursuers.
He climbed a ladder to the fourth deck and shot two slaves waiting there with his bolt pistol. Subtlety was falling away. Something in him was no longer being cautious.
Two more robed figures saw him coming down a long corridor; there was no way to hide himself now. One was a half-machine servitor. It leveled its inhuman limb at him and fire poured forth, filling the hallway with orange flame. Volstag leapt through the wall of fire, bare skin singed, the hair on his face and chest burned off or smoking. His chain blade hacked off the offending limb and his massive body smashed the other man against the bulkhead. The servitor stared in shock as his severed arm’s promethium fuel squirted on the walls and deck plates.
“Another fire,” the Space Wolf said, himself burning with several tiny flames. “Just what we need.”
He lowered his pistol and shot the mutant he’d knocked to the floor. The exploding bolt scattered the slave’s brains and sparked the lost fuel. A new barrier of flame roared to life. Volstag’s chainsword gave the servitor its death.
A savage eagerness within told Volstag that he’d reached his destination. The laboratory doors slid open. It was a large chamber with two metal medical slabs in the middle of the room. Still strapped to one was the cold corpse of the wolf scout Holm Blackfoot, left to decay in disgrace. Each of the three walls were dedicated to profane equipment: one a bank of instrument cabinets; one displaying tanks of chemicals and vials of drugs; and the third alive with mechanical medic arms and warp-infested growths pulsing with white eyeballs and gibbering mouths. Standing at that wall, feeding a monstrous mouth with a lump of flesh cut from Volstag’s lost pack mate, was the depraved apothecary Abaenon. He was cloaked in black. His face and exposed hand were more dark metal bionics and black tubing than pale flesh. Two augmented slaves were also present in the room. All three stared to see what had opened the door.
The smoldering, wounded wolf stood in the threshold, highlighted from the right by the flickering orange fire outside. His body smoked, his chest heaved, his eyes shined, and he showed his teeth.
“Quickly,” Abaenon snapped, directing the nearest slave to grab the Claw of Agony from a pedestal in the corner.
Volstag paid no attention. His glare was locked on the bank of glass tanks and bubbling vials, a wall of multi-colored potions lit from behind. Somewhere in one of those alchemical elixirs could be a captured Space Wolf gene-seed.
The second attendant stood in front of that chaotic aquarium, frozen in the intruder’s sights.
Volstag raised the boltgun held the trigger, spraying explosive bolt rounds in wide arcs until every bolt was spent and every tank was shattered. The mutant slave that had stood between him and the tanks was now a warm heap lying atop broken glass.
The gun’s barrel smoked. The sound of a heavy rain rushed through the steel grid floor, a mix of alchemical soups and blood.
The boltgun clicked several times, empty. Volstag dropped it.
The first slave retrieved Abaenon’s weapon and held it up in front of his master. The Night Lord shoved his spindly metal hand into the bionic glove. Its thin scalpel blades hummed to life and took on a blue-ish glow.
BOOM. A single bolt pistol round exploded inside the slave’s forehead. His remains slumped to the floor.
Volstag dropped the pistol.
Abaenon showed his teeth, some dark iron, others rotten bone. His bladed fingers twitched playfully.
The Space Wolf paused to lock the laboratory door behind him. He revved his chainsword a couple times, making slow sweeps with it through the air, then dropped it too.
It’s time, he told himself. The wolf within stirred and stretched, as if it’d been lying in its bed after a nap, patiently waiting for its turn at the hunt. Volstag flexed his fingers and felt a pleasant ache as they grew a full centimeter longer, the nails thickening and curling into claws. His senses sharpen even further: he heard alarmed voices in the hallway outside; smelled the stinging chemical fumes dripping through the floor; saw more clearly the scars and bionics of Abaenon’s altered face, the single yellow eye flinching anxiously, a bead of nervous sweat rolling down his cheek.
“You’ve met this side of me before, haven’t you?” Volstag growled. “You remember better than I do, and you fear it. Good, traitor. Fear redemption. By the time your servants cut through that blast door I will have torn out your throat and spit it out.”
Abaenon side-stepped over his dead servant, never taking his eyes from the transforming Space Wolf. His glowing, bladed fingers scratched at the air between them. “You think you’ve destroyed my reserves, my samples,” the Night Lord said, “but I still have you. And what a wonderful specimen you are. The gene-seed I take from you will be far more valuable than everything I took from your brothers—”
This was too much for Volstag to bear. The beast within snapped its mental leash and the Space Wolf lunged forward. He moved fast but had to dart around a steel table. That obstacle allowed Abaenon the chance to react. The Claw of Agony met Volstag as he pounced around the table, four humming blue blades slicing easily through the knotted muscles of his left shoulder. Volstag threw himself to the right, smashing against a cabinet of medical instruments and torture toys but successfully avoiding the Claw’s follow-through, which certainly would have severed his entire arm. Four deep cuts sizzled and smoldered, the smell of burnt flesh overwhelming all else. Abaenon’s mechanical smile shined from beneath his hood.
The apothecary then danced backward to a small arms locker in the corner. He tore off the cabinet door with his Claw and seized a bolt pistol from within.
But when the Night Lord turned to fire the Space Wolf was already there, centimeters from impact. Both bodies slammed against the sundered locker and the bulkhead behind. Savage instinct took hold and Volstag tore at the throat before him with elongated fangs. Instead of flesh he found a mouthful of fragile tubes which now leaked their black fluids down his bearded chin. The wulfen claws of his right hand dug deep into the flexible ribs of the Night Lord’s power armor and found a spring of red blood there. But Volstag’s full charge made him vulnerable as well; the four scalpel-like fingers of the Claw of Agony were now buried deep into his bare flank. The searing heat of the blades pierced his vital organs.
The Space Wolf pushed himself away, dragging some of Abaenon’s innards out as they parted. Four streams of blood broke from the wounds left by the Claw of Agony, wounds that would not clot, despite his superior Astartes anatomy. Just like the torture scars on his chest, the Claw’s power defied all healing. And Volstag’s left arm now hung limp and nearly useless, vital muscles and tendons having been cut in the first attack. But at least he was standing.
Abaenon’s dark form slumped to the floor. The mechanical side of his face seems frozen now, as did the entire left side of his body; the hoses Volstag had bitten through must have provided his artificial parts with whatever they needed to function. The black fluid mingled with red blood across his exposed intestines. The pale, human side of his face seemed even whiter now. With great effort, Abaenon raised his bolt pistol in an unsteady hand. Volstag stepped forward again, paused. The Night Lord’s hand shook, the pistol’s muzzle flashing wildly at and away from its target. Volstag slapped the weapon away with his good arm and returned with claws to finish the job, ripping under the collar and hood and all but severing the dark apothecary’s head.
Three more bodies leaked blood and organs, the room stunk of death and chemical fumes, broken glass littered the floor. And despite the gory scene, Volstag felt a calmness come over him. It was done.
There was pounding at the door and angry voices outside. A few seconds later came a hissing sound, followed swiftly by green sparks spitting through the edge of the door. A plasma cutter, Volstag realized.
He looked around at the wrecked lab and ruined bodies, drew a deep breath.
“It doesn’t matter,” he told himself aloud. He had done all he could. That which he had denied himself hours before he could now succumb to: it was time to give himself fully over to the Wulfen. Perhaps I’ll wake again in another tree, he thought. The beast managed to escape before. Though Volstag really didn’t care if he ever awoke from the rage again. It wouldn’t matter now. The traitors of Tundra Station would be found and dealt with by his coming Wolf brothers. He’d destroyed any stolen gene-seed of Leman Russ and he’d had his vengeance. All that remained was an honorable death.
He rolled his head about, feeling the muscles of his neck tighten and swell as his jaws bit down in anticipation. The green sparks continued and the stink of burning metal added to the chemical bouquet of the room. Pain flowed from each digit along the bones and into his wrists as the beast readied its claws. His head started swimming. Was it the fumes or was he simply losing domain over his own body?
The Space Wolf that was Volstag Dragonclaw faded back into the darkness of his mind, trusting the beast within to finish his legacy for him.