Sanctus Reach: Stormclaw Video

warhammer 40000 logoNow I’m the first person to admit that I’m a little out of touch with the 7th edition release. One minute there was no new box set and a rulebook with Dark Angels on the sleeve and now a new boxset with Space Wolves and Orks, putting lie to the persistent rumour that the box set would contain Blood Angels. Well done Games Workshop, you’ve finally managed to hoodwink us.

So here’s this new boxset with an add on campaign book which effectively catapults the start up costs from a fairly steep £75 to a stomach churning £105. Just a frame of reference – the second edition boxset from 21 years ago cost £40 with roughly the same amount of plastic. That’s an 87% increase in price. Granted it’s at least an 87% increase in quality of models but that’s still very rich tea.

Looking at the boxset whilst it may not wow many compared to the previous two boxsets, it’s actually not bad in terms of relative value. Grumbling above aside. By my sums there’s roughly £134.50 worth of toys in there, plus the slim rulebook. Which makes it fairly good value verses its price tag – if we ignore the over inflated prices in the first place. Oh and it’s just about legal on both sides for a change.

I also love the Space Wolves captain model. Many may not remember the cover art to the third edition Space Wolves codex or the Forge World display piece that was made of him, but I most certainly do.

SWvsOrksIt’s great to see the old boy still fighting the good fight with nothing more than a little less hair, one less eye and a lot more trophies…

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A Thousand Sons – Review

Cast your mind back. It’s 2002 and Games Workshop are preparing for the Eye of Terror campaign. A fledgling Black Library released Storm of Iron, a book by Graham McNeill, who at the time was perhaps best known for his work on the Games Workshop Design Team. It was good. Like, really good. The community’s reaction was pretty positive. Yet since then, it feels like that same community seems to have soured on him, if only for the crime of liking Ultramarines. [Fuckers! – Ed.]

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For my own part, I’ve not always enjoyed everything Graham has written, but he’s one of the few writers that seems to be experimenting and testing his limits with each new book he writes. His books often don’t quite work for me, but his ability to mix of 40k battles and more nuanced exploration of the universe wins me over more often than not.

My pre ramble is important, because if there was a way of describing my gut feeling of A Thousand Sons, it’s “Mostly works, if not quite as much as it should”. It’s going to take the rest of this review to explain why.

Now, how go best go about it? If you are familiar with the history of the 40k universe at all, you will know the Fall of Prospero is one of the defining moments of the Horus Heresy. A Thousand Sons starts sometime before that and allows us to get to know the legion, as it explores the galaxy trying to increase mankind’s knowledge, which they see as the real purpose of the Great Crusade.  Censured at the Council of Nikaea for treading a dangerous path, events soon spiral out of control and the Imperium will never be the same again.

The main drive and focus of the book is secrets. Everyone has them, from our humble Remembrancers, the human element of the book, to Magnus, Primarch of the Thousand Sons himself. Even the Space Wolves, usually portrayed as being as subtle as an axe to the face, are keeping back something, which suits a book about a Legion that one day will become the servants of the trickster god Tzeentch.

The novel is certainly very effective at allowing you to empathise with the 15th Legion, as by allowing you to see their triumphs through to their lows, you gain a real sense of the tragedy of the situation, as two Primarchs refuse to back down from one another until it’s too late. Getting to see the glorious paradise of Prospero and how the Space Wolves appear as alien invaders allows for a great contrast to A Thousand Sons sister book Prospero Burns. It really makes you root for a legion that could otherwise come off as more arrogant and monstrous than the Emperor’s Children.

McNeill is good at penning an action scene and the description of the fall of Prospero as one continuous piece in the latter half of the book manages to capture both a personal scale of Magnus’ folly and the larger more epic of the war around him, that an event like the Horus Heresy demands. The only real failing of the book is its human characters. Whilst fairly prominent at the start of the novel, the Remembrancers seem to be lost and forgotten by the second half, until suddenly they become prominent characters at a time that is disruptive to the more interesting narrative of Magnus and his son’s discovery of Horus’ plans. By the time of the invasion the characters have any further involvement cut off, in a sentence that seems to hint they make it back to Prospero, without any follow-up. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but it’s an odd ending to characters that have been written to make us care about them, only to have them dropped as any hint of a future absent once the big fighting scenes kick in. [I think the point was that fate can call upon even the lowliest soul to change the galaxy, but be just as quick to discard them. But that’s just me. -Ed.]

All in all, apart from the odd bit of clunky dialogue, I really have no actual complaints about the book. It flows well, and Graham manages his usual trick of making each battle about more than just cool explosions and bolter porn. A real blast from start to finish and a nice counterpart to Dan Annett’s  Prospero Burns. It’s probably the best work I’ve read of Graham’s yet and I look forward to reading his further contributions to both the 30k and 40k universe.

A Thousand Sons is available via The Black Library as an E-book or physical copy, or is available from all good high street booksellers. And Waterstones.

The Tragedy of Leman Russ

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Continuing my series on the Primarchs, I thought I’d look next at the Wolf King, the Lord of Fenris and Primarch of the Space Wolves and inventor of a bad ass battle tank; Leman Russ.

I rather suspect that Leman Russ was at his happiest when he was on the ice fields of Fenris busting heads and uniting the clans under his rule. It was a simple existence that suited his martial prowess and his sense of courage and honour. It bore none of the burden that his true calling would entail.

Whereas all of Russ’ brothers possessed a facet of the Emperor’s magnificence to a greater or lesser extent; Lorgar possessing his father’s single-minded devotion, Vulkan his compassion. Russ was born apart on a genetic, physical and psychological level for the very simple reason that he was created to kill them. He was the Emperor’s executioner: held in reserve for the very worst foes faced by the Crusade fleets, capable of unleashing extraordinary amounts of violence but displaying a level of cold control that Angron’s bezerkers could never come close to. And when necessity demanded, that controlled savagery and channelled rage could be directed towards an entirely more familiar target.

Leman Russ was created to be fiercely, violently, loyal to the Emperor. He and his legion were the Emperor’s protectors just as much as the Custodian Guard. If not more so as the legion had to not only be ready to defend the Imperium from aliens but domestic threats as well. Although he was happy to wage war on Magnus and his Thousand Sons, because he above all other Primarchs loathed psykers, but because he was ordered to do so. The sheer scale and brutality demonstrated by the Space Wolves wasn’t killers gone mad, sociopaths unchained or even hate filled bezerkers slipped from the leash, it’s the understanding of the level of force required to stop a legion of Astartes. It’s also worth noting that it has been referenced that Space Wolves have a particular resistance to psychic influence which suggests the Emperor was very much covering all the bases.

Russ, I believe, was a pragmatic and philosophical soul, despite his outward appearance, and was very accepting of his role in the galaxy. He bore it with typical Fenrisian stoicism and understood more than any of his brothers that he was a product of a process rather than a son to a parent. And as such saw his relationship much more as master and servant forever separating him from his brothers but at the same time earning him no favour with his father which, despite everything, he still sought. And despite all that, Russ had a great fondness for his brothers despite their petty manoeuvring and imagined slights. However, his true calling prevented him from forging any strong bonds concealing it behind the borish and barbaric personae that all his brothers believed he possessed although that was as much a defence mechanism on their part as none could ignore the efficiency with which he and his legion broke the 2nd and 11th legions.

Had the Heresy not burned the galaxy from arm to arm Leman Russ knew that he and his legion had no place in a unified Imperium. Their method of waging war and their true purpose would become obsolete. They would be disbanded and cast amongst the galaxy as peacekeepers and enforcers being reduced to little more than tattle tailers and political heavies worse than an Imperial Commissar. The bitterest truth is that the destruction of the Thousand Sons was a manipulation by Horus and his cohorts to eliminate the two Legions that could truly oppose him. And in so doing Russ failed in his duty as both executioner and protector, unable to reach his master in time to prevent his demise or cut the head off the snake before it struck. And as the legion counted its dead above the burning remains of Prospero he knew it too. Russ would have been forced into impotency knowing that he would never reach his father in time, and caging an animal such as Russ is a cruel trick indeed.

The true tragedy of Leman Russ wasn’t that he was mistreated, delivered to a world in Chaos, given too much responsibility too soon or lacked the mental faculties to do what was asked of him. The true tragedy of Leman Russ was actually just as capable as Guilliman or Dorn and saw the patterns as the cogs of the Imperial Drama turned and is crushed his soul. So much so he chose to close his eyes to it lest he betray his orders and unleash his Wolves without orders. His own sense of honour and duty, and his genetically hard-wired obedience prevented him from acting as, for all the Space Wolves overt acts of rebellion, not a single one would ever defy the Emperor. Even in the 41st Millennium the Space Wolves are a law unto themselves but they would never defy an edict if they believed it in line with the Emperor’s wishes.

Leman Russ was arguably his greatest triumph – the pinnacle of what he was intended to be. But in reality, he was made too well, the yoke about his neck too tight and it choked him from giving the order he knew needed to be given.

An Interview with Chris Wraight

It’s been a wee while since I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with a Black Library author so who better to interview than the author of the awesome Battle of the Fang and the upcoming Brotherhood of the Storm. Of course I refer to none other than Oxfordshire chap, Chris Wraight.

TSC: Chris thanks for taking the time to speak to me, I know how busy you must be with the White Scars novel. Now, you had the great fortune and great challenge of writing the utterly awesome Battle of the Fang which came out shortly after Dan Abnett’s revolutionary Propsero Burns. What was it like working on a Space Wolves novel with the background so recently redefined?

CW: It was both fun and frightening, as you’d imagine. The Space Wolves were ripe for a reboot, and the work Dan did on Prospero Burns was incredible. I was already writing Fang while Dan’s book was going through production, and only saw a copy halfway through the first draft. Encouragingly, the direction I’d taken was similar in some respects, though nothing like as deep and imaginative as Dan’s treatment. A rewrite followed, in which I tried to keep some level of continuity going. I hope the results make some sense.

TSC: I think so. Although you wouldn’t want it to be identical as you’re broadening the lore further. You’ve also written novels about Kurt Helborg and Ludwig von Schwarzhelm, two of my favourite and most iconic characters in Warhammer and the Empire. What considerations did you have to make when writing about such an important part of the canon?

CW: I wanted them to be different in character but equal in interest. It’s a classic theme: brothers-in-arms at war with one another as much as the enemy. In terms of the canon, there was very little actually written down about either of them, so I felt quite free to come up with my own ideas (in contrast to, say, Bjorn or Magnus). I’m glad that people seem to have liked what I did with them. The omnibus edition of their exploits, Swords of the Emperor, has just come out, which is a first for me and something I’m very proud of.

TSC: I’ve got the separate books but I have to admit the anthology looks beautifully put together. Jumping back into the 41st Millennium, your second Space Wolves novel is out in March entitled Blood of Asaheim. What can you tell us about it?

CW: Blood of Asaheim is the first in what I hope will become a new Space Wolves series. In terms of its tone and theme, it’s more like my e-short Kraken than Battle of the Fang. The Imperium is a very different place in the 41st Millennium than the 32nd, and the Wolves are a darker, more compromised breed. The story follows a single pack of Grey Hunters of Ragnar Blackmane’s Great Company. Having written a big set-piece battle narrative with the Wolves in Fang, I wanted to delve into the detailed mechanics and characters of the warriors fighting the Long War. I’ve aimed to make it an immersive, sombre look at the Sons of Russ in the gathering darkness of the Imperium.

TSC: Sounds awesome. Your audio drama, The Sigillite is out in the new year and further fleshes out one of the most pivotal and enigmatic characters of the 40k universe. What was it like writing for such an important character?

CW: Just great. I love the character of Malcador, and think there’s a lot to be written about with him. He’s enigmatic – and that needs to be preserved – but there’s also scope to uncover so much about the Emperor’s plans for humanity by looking at his role. He’s the ‘human’ face of the Imperium; not a Primarch, not a Space Marine, not a living god. Set against all of them he’s so weak, and yet, in more subtle ways, so unbreakably strong.

TSC: Not to mention the fact that his humanity keeps the Emperor grounded and guides him in the matters of mortal men. And, you know, founded the Grey Knights. Sort of. So, 0n top of the Sons of Fenris and the Children of Sigmar you’ve also written about the Iron Hands, specifically in the exceptionally well received Wrath of Iron. What drew you to such a culturally complex chapter?

CW: The Iron Hands were a bit of a departure. I’d written the short story Flesh, and was asked whether I’d like to write a Space Marine Battles book with them in. I love the core idea of the Hands, though they’re not a very attractive Chapter in psychological terms. They’re about the darkest of the Loyalist Chapters, showing how in 40K the boundaries are blurred between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. After all, who would you rather have a drink with: Ferrus Manus or Ahriman?

TSC: Fair comment. Beyond the work you’re doing for the new year, what can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on?

CW: Aside from more Space Wolves and White Scars at some point, I’m really looking forward to returning to the Old World with the Time of Legends title Master of Dragons. This will be Book II of the War of Vengeance series, which kicks off with Nick Kyme’s fantastic The Great Betrayal. I’m really stoked for this at the moment, and bursting with ideas for it. The central character will be Imladrik, one of the great heroes of the conflict. Plans are at an early stage on this one, but expect to see a truly epic tale of bloodshed, tragedy, forbidden love, vengeance – and, of course, armies of dragons turning the sky dark.

TSC: Sounds epic. I interviewed Nick a while back when he was still working on The Great Betrayal so it’s great to see the story progressing. Writing licensed fiction is a great way of indulging in all your favourite IPs in a very personal way. What IPs would you love to work on in the future?

CW: I don’t have any plans to work on non-GW IPs in the near future, mostly because my schedule is full of BL stuff I’m dying to get started on.

TSC: Understandable. Plus there’s no shortage of material to write about. Being an established Black Library author you’ve no doubt been invited to cool planning meetings with Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill et al. What was the moment when you suddenly realised that you were a part of the very exclusive and very awesome club that is the Black Library authors?

CW: I still see myself as one of the newbies, but I guess I’m going to have to stop that soon. Next to guys like Dan and Graham it’s easy to feel very green, but the list of books with my name on it gets a little longer every year. It was a great experience being invited to my first Heresy meeting, something I hope happens again at some point. In the meantime, it’s a privilege being involved with the franchise. All the guys, new and old, are just a very nice bunch of people.

TSC: I won’t ask who your favourite is. As a treat to the readers, what little tid bit can you give us about the next phase in the Horus Heresy series?

CW: They’d have my eyes if I spilled the beans. Let me tell you what I’m most looking forward to discovering: what Guilliman’s up to, what the Emperor has been doing since Magnus interrupted him, and (of course) the Khan’s role getting fleshed out.

TSC: You wicked tease. Next time I’m in Oxford I shall have to get you outrageously drunk and get it out of you. And finally, Chris, what advice could you give budding writers out there?

CW: 1. Take criticism on the chin. 2. Think hard about how the stories you like work. 3. It’s the characters, stupid.

TSC: Thanks again Chris, it’s been a pleasure. Good luck with the Brotherhood of the Storm and all the other projects. Keep up the outstanding work.

The Emperor and the Wolf

The rumour mill has been working over time today with chatter that Forgeworld will be releasing a Horus Heresy supplement in the coming year or so. This is of no surprise to me at all. If anything I’m a little surprised it’s taken them this long to do it. But the clues were there with all the power armour and pre-heresy tank variants coming out.

There’s also rumours of a supplement that, basically, is the early years of the 42nd millennium. The Emperor is dead, and his body is in the hands of the Ultramarines. The Imperiuam has been torn asunder and is now a group smaller empires controlled by the Astartes who are at war with one another. Needless to say the Ultramarines and their successors control the biggest chunk of space. Terra is in the hand of the Imperial Fists and believe the Emperor’s body needs to be laid to rest so he may be reborn. The rumours prattle on at length but the point is that the supplement, if it ever comes to light, would take 40k from 5 to midnight to about quarter past. The commercial sense is clear as the majority of players have Space Marine armies and therefore a high percentage of games are Marine vs Marine and it’s just a ‘training exercise’. This would allow players to legitimately play one another.

Anyway, I wonder how the Heresy supplement will tie in to the books. I’d like to think there’ll be rules for Primarchs and, therefore, models. But more importantly a balance needs to be found between what the Astartes were and what they become, especially in respect of the traitor legions. I’m a little apprehensive if I’m honest as the Horus Heresy novels are doing a fine job of fleshing out the events. An IA book, if allowed to, could run roughshod over everything Dan Abneet, Graham McNeill and the others have cultivated.

The talk of the Horus Heresy supplement got me thinking about, once more, the fluff. Specifically about the Space Wolves as I think they’re probably one of the hardest Legions to capture in game and more so for Warhammer 30,000 (as it’ll inevitably be dubbed) – the chapter of the 41st millennium being fairly different from their Heresy incarnation. More than that I started thinking about the Space Wolves and their relationship with the Emperor.

We know that the Space Wolves were the Emperor’s executioners. His attack dogs. It’s also fair to assume that the other Legions were aware of the the secondary role the Space Wolves had beyond prosecuting the Emperor’s Great Crusade. But the question I’m throwing out there is what was the extent that the Primarchs and the other Legions aware? Did they believe that the Space Wolves were given the task because they were eager to please savages or because they knew the strength that the Space Wolves possess.

Those that had read the Horus Heresy novels will know that the Wolves were unleashed on three separate occasions. Once against each of the lost legions, the third time against the Thousand Sons obviously to great effect. The thing that has always made the Space Wolves more dangerous than the World Eaters was their self control. Their savagery in combat was always tempered by strategy and an awareness of the violence they unleash. It’s almost a grudging acceptance of their savagery. They see a problem and their mind immediately leaps to the most expedient way of dealing with it. Such as throwing a space station at planet. It’s brutal, mind bendingly violent but the undertone of logic is what makes them so terrifying. Whereas the World Eaters would and did descend into mindless slaughter. The World Eaters were content to wreak havoc for havocs sake. To butcher all before them because they liked it.

The Space Wolves were designed to be able to take on any of their brother legions. They’re psychically resistant, their ferocity and lupine heritage makes them difficult to scare and even hard to put down. Their tactics are uncompromising and unpredictable and their savagery tempered by reason and cold logic. It is a terrifying cocktail of traits. And makes me ask the question; to what extent was Leman Russ truly a brother to the other Primarchs?

All the other Primarchs possess obvious facets of the Emperor’s personality. Some even share traits. Roboute Guilliman, it is said, was almost a straight up clone. I’ve always thought that Leman Russ possessed the animal, bestial nature of the Emperor that lurks within all of us. But the more I’ve thought about it the less I’m sure. Considering the task that the Emperor had in mind when he created Leman Russ and the Space Wolves it would make far more sense for Leman Russ to not share the same familial bonds to make his task that much easier. His loyalty had to be, first and foremost to the Emperor.

It tracks as the Legion/Chapter is fiercely loyal to themselves and the Emperor. They had disdain for the bureaucracy of the Imperium as a whole and although close to his brothers Leman Russ never shared the kind of bonds of kinship that, for example, Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus shared. Granted that didn’t end well…

It makes me wonder what the Emperor had in mind for the Space Wolves after the Great Crusade. Or all the Legions for that matter. It makes me suspect that the Emperor intended for the Space Wolves to be a galactic patrol force. A force brutal enough that it would quell insurrection and keep the other Legions in line.

However the far more likely thought is that the Emperor created the Space Wolves because he always suspected something could go wrong, whatever that may be. The Space Wolves were an insurance policy, for want of a better term. But it all comes back to that decisive moment when the Primarchs were scattered denying the Emperor the chance to nurture the Primarchs into what he needed them to be. But I suspect that Leman Russ was created exactly as he was intended to be. He was the Emperor’s greatest creation and most devastating weapon.

It occurs to me of all the loyalist Legions the Space Wolves would have been most feared by the traitors. As not only were they the most capable to bring the fight to the traitors but they already had experience of doing just that. They would have also been fired by a righteous indignation that the Emperor was defied, rather than the hurt of a brothers betrayed.

The funny thing is that the Primarchs spend an awful lot of time not trusting the Space Wolves because of their tribal nature, unkempt appearance and savagery in combat, but of all of the Emperor’s creations they were the only ones that ever acted with wholeheartedly the Imperium’s best interests in mind, the Emperor’s fullest support and his unwavering approval. For all the power games, manipulations and rivalries that went on amongst the other Primarchs, Leman Russ was the most trusted and equally the most loyal of all the Emperor’s sons. This despite Leman Russ never seeking it out or even acknowledging it. If anything I rather feel that Leman Russ, incorrectly, believed the Emperor tolerated him in the same way a father tolerates a dog bought to keep the children safe. A necessity rather than something to be loved.

I suspect the opposite to be true. He loved Leman Russ precisely because he was the immovable rock beneath his feet. He knew that Russ would do what he could not – to protect his children and his subjects, even from themselves, no matter the cost.

Incoming Tyranids & Space Wolves

Courtesy of a very naughty Games Workshop member of staff, or a very quick-witted and equally naughty customer, in the European corner of the Empire we can get a glimpse of the long overdue Space Wolves Thunderwolves and some big fat Tyranid Beaties such as plastic winged Hive Tyrant and the Tervigone.

I apologise for the quality of some of the pictures, they were presumably snapped rather quickly…but take a look, have a bit of a dribble and then re-mortgage the house.

Shell Case Shorts Winner

The time has come to announce the very first winner of the Shell Case Shorts writing competition. There were 10 entries in total which isn’t a bad start to what will be a regular feature on The Shell Case.

Although the entries were of a very high standard, for me, there was one story that stuck with me even after I read it and that was The Bone Carver by Patrick Burdine, aka @somnicidal.
His Warhmmer 40,000 story wasn’t your typical slaughter-fest but it was well written, well paced and compelling from start to finish, so I’m pleased to say that he will be receiving a signed copy of The Gildar Rift by the lovely Sarah Cawkwell. And a massive thank you to her for agreeing to provide the prize.

Special commendations must go to James Wilson (@JamesMEWilson) for his Dystopian Wars story Traitor, and Michael Barnes (@elblondino) for his Warhammer 40,000 story Escape From Madness. Their stories will be included in the Shell Case Shorts anthology released the beginning of next year.

The next competition will open on February 1st so keep your eyes peeled. But for now, please enjoy the winning entry…

The Bone Carver by Patrick Burdine

A gust of wind shoved the old man like a belligerent drunk. He staggered back and slipped to his knees in the deep crust of snow. Rime caked his beard, the frost turning his graying red hair even lighter. Clusters of hair had frozen together like dreadlocks on both his head and beard. One of his eyes was covered with an old leather patch. His bushy eyebrows had none of the gray strands which wove through his beard and hair and glowed like embers though one was half hidden under the patch. Leaning his weight onto his walking staff he rose and looked up at his destination.

The cave stood out against the white crested mountain like a black lightning strike frozen in time. An avalanche had revealed the cave just a week ago as the old man had predicted. His Vision was almost always true. It was close now. Less than a mile. He turned and looked back down at the village which had been his home for these last months. The wind spun the spiraling black smoke of the cooking fires like a dancer led by a furious partner. He knew that soon the smoke would vanish and snow would bury the entire village as surely as any grave digger.

In his mind’s eye he pictured the village as he had left it. The bodies lay where they had fallen though he had visited every single one of them taking the talismans which filled the wolf-bladder sack hanging from his belt. The blood from the bodies of the villagers had begun crystallizing even before he left. When the weather began to turn and the ice thawed run-off from the Spring break up would sweep away the structures. To anyone who noticed, Fireholme was just another casualty of the Fenrisian winter. This brought to mind a Fenrisian proverb. “An oath written in snow will melt in the Spring.” His own oath didn’t last even that long.

A fierce howl brought him from his reverie. The wolf was tall, even by Fenrisian standards though it was painfully thin. The bones of its ribs stood out like icicles hanging from a bony spine. Like the old man, one of the sockets which should have contained an eye was as black and hollow as the cave behind it. Its fur was matted and there were long jags of scar where the fur refused to grow. It howled again and this time the man heard the discordant notes of fear and desperation. And under it all, hunger.

The smell of the meat in the sack at his belt had summoned the wolf. Or perhaps it had stumbled upon the cave and intended it to be a tomb where it could lay down and die and it resented this intruder. In any case, its hackles were up and its teeth bared.

Despite the threat, or perhaps because of it, the old man felt an immediate kinship with the wolf.

He kept his eye on the wolf but slid his pack off of one of his shoulders. He felt through his pack and pulled out a slab of smoked meat, gifted by Vala Vendotter just last night at his Moving On celebration.

He threw the food on the ground as far from himself as he could. The wolf crept toward the meat and though its tail was low its predatory eyes never left the old man. The wolf gulped the smoked meat down in two quick bites.

The wolf growled at the old man. It seemed to be weighing its hunger for fresher meat against the smell of power surrounding the old man. The old man raised his staff over his head and threw back his head with a howling cry. He pointed back down at the village with his staff and the wolf set off down the hill at a lope. The beast couldn’t understand how it knew, but its mouth began to water and the prospect of the meat that the stranger’s howl had promised. It would gorge and then, perhaps, pay the old man a visit in the night when the man-things were most vulnerable.

The man watched the wolf as it slipped and tumbled in the snow and then righted itself and kept running. He smiled, imagining that the wolf had looked just the same when it was playing as a pup and then turned back toward the cave. The wolf might be back and it might not. One might be able to touch the mind of a beast, but one could never understand it

The old man stopped at the entrance to the cave. He took a deep breath and tasted sulphur on the air. This, then, must be a vent for one of the many volcanoes nestled within the mountain ranges of Fenris. Wind had piled snow up into the cave for several feet but the old man walked into the darkness until he felt solid stone under his feet. He stomped his feet and shook his head and snow fell down like dandruff.

He took the pack off his back and pulled out the two fire logs he had brought with him from the village. He set them at his feet and unwrapped the emberstone from the oiled kraken skin that kept its heat contained. It glowed warm in his palm and would soon be hot enough to sear him. He used the feeble light it gave off to build a small fire pit from the rocks strewn about on the floor. He added two small rows of stones and laid the fire logs on top of them. He stuffed some kindling into the gap under the logs and slid in the emberstone. It began to glow more brightly as it activated and the cave walls flickered as shadows sought what shelter they could from the hungry light.

The old man took off his heavy traveling cloak and laid it on the ground near the fire. Hopefully it would dry be the time he needed to use it as a makeshift bed. He found a largish stone and moved it in front of the fire to use as a seat and found another that he set up as a work area. Satisfied with his arrangements he unstrapped the large pot that he had bound with sinew to the outside of his pack. He took the pot to the front of the cave and scooped it full of snow. He packed it down with his fist and added more on top, which he packed down again. He spared a quick glance for the lone wolf but even its paw prints had been swallowed by the storm.

He returned to the fire and set the pot on one of the rocks of the flame pit and the snow quickly began to return to water. He removed an iron knife from his belt and set it on the makeshift table and sat down. He took the sack off of his belt and squeezed it gently. The trophies inside had frozen together on the walk, sealed, no doubt, by icy chains of blood, and felt like a massive lumpy ball. He hit the bag firmly on the ground and he could tell by how it flattened out that many of the chains had been shattered. The warmth near the fire would thaw the rest.

He reached into the sack and pulled out a handful of fingers like a fisherman reaching into a pail of worms. He set them on the rock table and picked one up to inspect. He felt the calluses and though rigor mortis had tried to make it curl, the arthritis swelling the knuckles had stymied that motion in death as surely as it had in life. The finger likely belonged to one of the three elders of the village and that was certainly a good sign. He pulled out two more fingers. It was best to do three at a time. The second one was also callused though he could still feel the greasy sheen of seal fat. The woman had tried to keep her hands supple despite the hard labor of her life. He reached in to complete the first and most important trinity of grisly offerings.

The final one belonged to a child. The fates were indeed pleased. The seasons of life were each represented.

He took up the knife and began sawing through the joints and separating the knuckles one by one and then tossing them in the pot to boil off the flesh. He continued in clusters of threes sometimes seeing some mark which identified the owner – here was Ulf Seawarder, his third finger halved by a predator fish tangled in his net – here was Girda Vulfwife, flesh scarred by a fire that had claimed her husband. The pot was soon full and his sack empty. He watched the roiling water and as the flesh and fat peeled off the bone and several times the old man carried the pot out of the front of the cave. He sloshed off the floating meat and much of the water and then repacked the pot with snow.

He did this for several hours before the bones were clean. He was exhausted but knew that he couldn’t sleep before he was finished. His time on this world was almost over and he had much work to do. He drained the water from the pot and set it to cool and took out the knuckles. He picked a suitable one and began to use his knife to carve in runes in ancient Fenrisian. Each bone got a single rune. The knife would occasionally slip, drawing blood from the old man and ruining the rune, but that was why he had collected all of the fingers, not just enough for the hundred or so knuckles he needed.

He worked through the night and as the fire began to burn low he noticed that there was enough light coming in from the mouth of the cave to see. He decided to take a quick break and pulled a salted strip of fish from his pack and walked to the entrance of the cave. The snow had stopped falling sometime during the night.

He was surprised to see the one-eyed wolf curled up in front of the cave. The wolf had obviously eaten the snow where the old man had been dumping the refuse from the pot. It raised its head to look at him and then smiled as wolves do, its long pink tongue lolling wildly. The old man took a final bite of the fish and tossed the little bit that was left to the wolf who snatched it out of the air and then laid his head back down.

The old man returned to the charcoal that remained of his fire pit. It was still giving off a bit of warmth as the man completed his work. He inspected each of the runes looking for the tiniest of flaws but was unable to find even one. He filled the sack with the runed knuckle bones and tied it off with the same sinew with which had bound the pot to his pack. He found a crevice big enough for a single person to shelter in within the cave and tucked the runes in the far corner.

He then wrestled one of the stones from the fire pit over into the crevice and used it to shelter the runes. He knew it would be a very long time before the runes were destined to be discovered by an aspirant to the Space Wolves but he didn’t want a curious animal to thwart his hard work and planning.

Finally the old man laid down his staff and the rest of his belongings near the fire pit. Clad in a simple woolen shift he walked out of the cave for a final time. The wolf raised its head questioningly as the old man walked over to it. It raised its lip in a snarl but didn’t growl. The old man placed his hand on the wolf’s head – he felt it only proper to reward its loyalty. He spoke a word of power and the wolf stiffened as eldritch forces flowed through it. “Guard this place. Wait for him to come. No new scars will mar you, though the elder ones will mark you.”

A new light glowed in the wolf’s eye as its sentience shifted and something ancient took hold.

His work done, his vision made manifest and a trap set, Magnus the Red spoke a final word of power to shed the form he had assumed and return to his home in the Warp.