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[Space Wolf 02] - Ragnar's Claw, страница 1

 

[Space Wolf 02] - Ragnar's Claw
 


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[Space Wolf 02] - Ragnar's Claw


  A WARHAMMER 40,000 NOVEL

  RAGNAR’S CLAW

  Space Wolf - 02

  William King

  (An Undead Scan v1.0)

  It is the 41st millennium. For more than a hundred

  centuries the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne

  of Earth. He is the master of mankind by the will of the

  gods, and master of a million worlds by the might of his

  inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly

  with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the

  Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom a thousand souls are

  sacrificed every day, so that he may never truly die.

  Yet even in his deathless state, the Emperor continues his

  eternal vigilance. Mighty battlefleets cross the daemon-infested

  miasma of the warp, the only route between distant stars, their

  way lit by the Astronomican, the psychic manifestation of the

  Emperor’s will. Vast armies give battle in his name on

  uncounted worlds. Greatest amongst His soldiers are the

  Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, bio-engineered super-

  warriors. Their comrades in arms are legion: the Imperial

  Guard and countless planetary defence forces, the ever-vigilant

  Inquisition and the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus to

  name only a few. But for all their multitudes, they are barely

  enough to hold off the ever-present threat from aliens,

  heretics, mutants — and worse.

  To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold

  billions. It is to live in the cruellest and most bloody

  regime imaginable. These are the tales of those times.

  Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has

  been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of

  progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future

  there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars,

  only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the

  laughter of thirsting gods.

  PROLOGUE

  As the shell seared past, Ragnar threw himself flat behind the low pile of rubble, trying to make himself as small a target as possible. That had been close, too close. The shot had almost parted his hair. Only his lightning-quick reflexes and the microsecond’s warning provided by his superhuman senses had got him out of the way. If he had ducked half a heartbeat later, his head would have been an exploding fountain of gore and bone. Ragnar had seen it happen too often to have any doubts as to what his own fate would have been.

  Now, however, was not the time to brood on what might have been. Now was the time for action, the time to teach the infidel cultists trying to slay him the penalty for attacking one of the Emperor’s chosen Space Marines. He raised his head slightly, lifting it just above the parapet of rubble, his superhuman senses taking in the entire scene. Everything imprinted itself in his mind in one split second, then he ducked down once more before his enemies could fire.

  He sorted through all the impressions he had picked up; not just the sights but also the sounds, the smells and the less tangible cues from the mixture of senses in his altered brain. He recalled the ruined city, stretching as far as the eye could see. The enormous blackened stumps of the smashed skyscrapers, the burned out wreckage of ground-cars and tanks which filled the street. The infernal blaze of the fuel pumping station that had been hit by a missile and which had now burned on for days, sending huge tongues of flame leaping into the darkening sky He remembered the crimson and purple clouds contaminated by chemicals from the mighty industrial plants which had once provided this city with wealth and importance to the Imperium.

  He recalled the earthshaking roar of distant artillery as Basilisk tanks shelled the rebel positions, and the stutter of small arms fire in the near distance. He could hear the guttural shouts of rebel officers ordering their unruly troops into new defensive positions and the faint scrape of ceramite boot on stone, inaudible to normal human ears, that told him his own troops were close by. He even recognised the footfalls as belonging to young Brother Reinhardt. He made a mental note to remind himself, after this engagement was through, to have a word with the Blood Claw. He was supposed to be moving stealthily. Not even his leader should have been able to pick out his position by the noise he was making.

  Of course, Ragnar had other ways of spotting his troops. The wind carried their distinctive scent to his sensitive nostrils even over a gap of fifty paces. He could pick their clean, cold aroma out from all of the tangled mess of background stinks — the rotten-egg taint of industrial pollution, and the even subtler, sicker taint, which marked the Chaos-touched presence of heretics.

  Bones of Russ, how he hated that foul stench! He had never got used to it, though it had assailed his nostrils on countess occasions for over a century. There was something deeply offensive to him in the very odour of those who had forsworn their souls to Chaos, a thing that made the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and filled his heart with a red desire to kill and rend. Not even the fact that he suspected that this was a deliberate product of the process of alteration that had turned him into a Space Marine, could alter the basic, primal nature of his hatred. The unquenchable anger affected him as instinctively as the urge to seek its prey drives a wolf. An apt analogy, thought Ragnar, for he was a human wolf, and the Chaos-worshipping scum were his rightful prey, fit subjects for the Emperor’s vengeance, delivered by he and his fellows, humanity’s superhuman protectors. They had turned their backs on humanity and offered themselves up to the gods of darkness in return for power, or more likely the promise of power. Ragnar knew that it was a false promise. The only reward most of those deluded fools would receive would be the stigmata of mutation, and a degeneration of mind and spirit until their souls matched their twisted bodies. It would be a mercy to kill them before that happened, although most of them would never appreciate the natural justice of such an end.

  Here, amongst these blasted rains, the stink seemed worse, even, than before, for along with the taint of Chaos was the stench of sickness, of some foul pestilence that had infected the heretics, and the people of Hesperida alike. It was a sour, unclean reek that made his throat constrict. It brought back too many old memories, ones he had thought long buried. He pushed them to the back of his mind; now was not the time to lose himself in reverie.

  These reflections had taken less than five heartbeats perhaps. In the midst of battle, Ragnar’s mind worked at a speed far beyond the merely human. He realised he had only been keeping himself occupied until his troops were massed in position for the final assault. He focussed his mind back on the problem at hand, selectively editing the memory of the scene he had just witnessed, using his superhuman abilities with a skill born of long decades of practice.

  Using ancient meditation techniques taught to him in the fortress-monastery of his order, he concentrated upon the impression of the one part of the battlefield that was currently important to him: the rebel position directly ahead. He consciously selected all the crucial details. The walls of sandbags hastily thrown into position to plug the gaps in the building walls. The heavy bolter team ensconced in the twisted wreckage of a tank just in front of the building. The edge of a peaked cap which marked the presence of a rebel officer glaring out of the barred windows on the remains of the second floor. All was more or less as he had expected it to be when he had surveyed the enemy stronghold earlier. There had been no important changes in the heretics’ disposition. His basic plan remained sound.

  It would simply be a matter of hitting them
at their weakest point, blasting the sandbags out of the way and then scouring the building of every last Chaos-worshipping wretch. Nothing too difficult, he thought — even though his force was outnumbered at least five to one. Such numbers did not really matter, Ragnar knew. In battles such as this, the quality of the troops counted for far more than the quantity. His men were Space Marines, Adeptus Astartes, hardened warriors drawn from a world of fierce fighters, put through the toughest testing regime ever devised, then subjected to a process of genetic re-engineering which had transformed them into supermen, many times faster, stronger and tougher than mere mortals. They were armed with the best weapons and equipment the Imperium could provide. They lived lives of monastic discipline; when they were not fighting in the Emperor’s service, they trained to fight. They were the best troops the millions of worlds the Imperium of Mankind could produce.

  And their opponents? Scum, pure and simple. They were conscripts, pressed into the service of a rogue planetary governor; men so lacking in faith that they had forsworn their oaths of allegiance to the Emperor, and given themselves body and soul to the dark powers of Chaos. Of course, they had some military training and they were not without a certain desperate bravery, but there was no way they could withstand an assault by the Space Wolves.

  Ragnar knew the rest of his force was in position. He sensed that the Blood Claws, ferocious young assault troops, were in cover in a shell crater not too far from him. Within moments Brother Hrothgar’s Long Fangs would open fire and that would be the signal for the assault to commence. Ragnar smiled wolfishly, lips curling to reveal the huge canines that were the genetic marker of his Chapter. The coming few minutes were always the times he loved the most, when combat was up close and personal, and a man could take the measure of his foes, hand to hand.

  A flickering vapour trail was all the warning he needed that Brother Hrothgar had opened fire. The enemy heavy weapon vanished in a sun-bright explosion as the missile launcher did its work. The staccato roar of bolters filled Ragnar’s ears as the remainder of his men opened up on the enemy position. They were throwing down a curtain of fire in the way that only Space Marines could, shooting with a speed and precision unknown to lesser warriors. Ragnar risked another glance up and saw huge chunks of masonry being shattered to stone chips by the torrent of bolter shells. He could hear the screams of the enemy wounded and dying smell the blood and the sour stink of spilled guts. The enemy were well and truly suppressed, pinned down by the unexpected hail of shells, unable or unwilling to stick their heads over the parapet and risk having them blown off. Ragnar knew that this would not last for long, that soon they would regain their courage and return fire — or at least, they would if they were given the chance. Ragnar was not about to allow them that.

  Now was the moment to attack.

  The Space Wolf sprang lightly to his feet, the servomotors of his centuries-old power armour whining inaudibly to all but his own razor-keen senses. He leapt towards the enemy position, confident that his own highly trained troops would recognise him and hold their fire. He knew that the pack of Blood Claws, twenty strong was forming a flying wedge behind him. They were directed at the pile of sandbags in the breached wall, the weakest part of the enemy line. In another moment, the Wolves had ceased firing at that area and concentrated their shells on the defences surrounding and overlooking it. For a few brief moments, Ragnar and his assault troops had a clear run up to their objective, a safe corridor through the rain of fire.

  One of the enemy officers, wearing the peaked cap and long greatcoat of a lieutenant, dared to stick his head above the parapet, obviously wondering why bolter shells had ceased to impact on his part of the line. A look of surprise and fear flickered across his face as he saw the oncoming wave of Space Marines. Ragnar gave credit where credit was due: the heretic did not remain frozen for long. After an instant of hesitation he turned his head and began screaming instructions to his troops.

  It was a mistake. Without breaking stride Ragnar raised his bolt pistol and put a shell through the man’s head. It exploded like a melon hit with a sledgehammer, a puddle of brains and blood filling the peaked cap as it fell from his head. Shouts of confusion echoed from behind the wall of sandbags, then a few heretics, braver and perhaps more experienced than the rest, stuck their heads up in order to take shots at their attackers. But a wave of withering fire from the Wolves behind Ragnar scythed through them, sending their corpses tumbling back amongst their comrades.

  With a single mighty bound, Ragnar cleared the wall of sandbags and dropped into the rebel position. It was dark but his altered eyes adapted instantly and he took in his new surroundings in a glance All around were the enemy, clad in the crumpled and filthy uniforms they had once worn so proudly as part of the Imperial levies, but their insignia had been ripped off and hastily replaced with the evil symbol of the Ruinous Powers, eight arrows radiating outwards from a single watchful eye. The stink of disease was strong, more powerful even than the reek of unwashed bodies and death. All of the heretics looked emaciated and unclean. Some showed the signs of something far, far worse. Most of the men looked superficially human, only slight bulges and blisters indicating where they were about to change. A few, however, were more twisted and warped, corrupted by the evil power they served.

  One mutant close to Ragnar had scaly skin and clutched its lasrifle with fingers that resembled small tentacles; his eyes extended on long, slug-like stalks. A second heretic was huge: his chest barrel-like, his arms as thick as a normal man’s thighs, his fingers ending in long cruel talons. His face was pockmarked with craters of glowing, greenish fungus, which wept an oddly luminescent pus as he opened his mouth to shout a warning.

  Ragnar thumbed the brass ignition switch on his chainsword and the mighty weapon leapt to life, shuddering in his hands as the potent micro-engine in the hilt brought the rotating blades up to speed. Without thinking, he snapped off a couple of shots, sending the taloned giant straight to hell with a hole in his guts big enough to put a fist through. The force of the second shot blasted Slugeyes backward three yards into the wall. Ragnar snarled in satisfaction, then ducked as two of the rebels regained their wits enough to fire at him. The glittering trails of laser fire passed over his head. Screams sounded behind him as the beams seared the flesh of other heretics who had been attempting to sneak up on him.

  He threw himself forward, bringing his chainsword around in a long sweep, beheading one mutant and hacking the arm off a second, before burying the duralloy blades deep within the chest of a third. With one swift kick, the Wolf dashed the corpse from his blade and raced on, heading for the chamber’s exit. Triumphant howls and despairing cries from behind told him that his fellows, the Blood Claws, had arrived and had already begun the bloody work of butchering their foes.

  Ragnar raced into the corridor. The head of a heretic officer appeared round a door. “What is going on?” he shouted, in oddly accented Imperial Gothic.

  The man’s face was pale and he looked ill. His body had the lean look of one who had suffered a long sickness; his eyes burned with a feverish light. He obviously had not recognised Ragnar for what he was. Ragnar took his head from his shoulders with a sideways cut of his blade. Blood fountained, splashing the ceiling with red. Ragnar heard screams as the corpse tumbled backwards into the room beyond. Swiftly he holstered his pistol and tapped the hilt of the microgrenade dispenser on his belt. The small oval disk of a frag grenade dropped into his gauntleted fingers. He pushed the timer three times to set the detonator to go off in three seconds, then lobbed the grenade into the room. He doubted that the terrified men within even realised what was happening until, a few heartbeats later, they were torn apart by the force of the explosion.

  Ragnar poked his head around the doorway and surveyed the mangled corpses. Amid all the rain one man still moved, frantically trying to bring his lasrifle to bear on the Wolf, his breath coming from his ruined chest in horrible gurgles. Before the wounded cultist could draw a bead on him, R
agnar whipped his bolt pistol from its holster and put him out of his misery with one swift, precise shot, before he could even offer a prayer for aid from his Dark Gods.

  The Space Wolf paused for a moment to listen. All around he could hear the sounds of combat and death spreading through the building, like ripples in a pool after a heavy stone has been dropped into it. He knew that all through the building his warriors were passing like a cleansing flame, scouring out the dark taint of heresy. Nothing could resist their relentless onslaught.

  His nostrils caught the stink of burning flesh and opened wounds, of blood and spent bolter charges, of bone marrow and brain tissue. The convection currents in the air brought him other subtler scents: the faint pheromone traces of fear and anger, the distinctive scent of his battle-brothers, the foul taint of Chaos-contaminated flesh and once again the sour tang of some strange disease. He knew without being told that victory was within their grasp.

  The scent of Brother Olaf reached him, approaching fast from the rear. Olaf was the youngest of the Blood Claws and the least stable. Of them all, he had come closest to devolving into a Wulfen during his transformation into a Space Wolf, and he shared with those cursed men-beasts a terrible rage and an unslakeable thirst for combat. Ragnar knew that with time, the young man would settle down and make his peace with the beast within him. All Space Wolves did eventually — assuming they survived all of their initiation.

  Ragnar risked a glance back over his shoulder and saw that the beast was almost in control of young Olaf as the young warrior charged up behind him. His eyes were wide, the pupils dilated; froth foamed from his lips and spittle drooled from his mouth. His neck muscles writhed like great cables as he howled his fury and bloodlust like a challenge. At this moment, he was definitely out of control. The spirit of the Wolf was in him.

  Ragnar stepped aside to let him pass and the Blood Claw raced past down the corridor towards another wave of heretics drawn by the sounds of battle. Ragnar followed in his wake, content for the moment to observe, to intervene only if the youngling got himself into more trouble than he could handle.

 
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