Haldis stares at the reddening sky. All should be going well; this outpost they occupy now stands in far better condition than the pervious one. Patrols have reported no movements of the Orks that have assailed them relentlessly since their arrival in the Pass. Brother Duskeye even insisted his pack take the modified Rhino to maintain communication, a prospect Iron Priest Rockaxe was thrilled of; barely masking his excitement behind half-hearted attempts to insist taking Adeptus Mechanicus equipment was a bad idea. Yet one piece of information, or lack thereof, gnaws at the back of Hadlis' mind, slowly driving him mad as the Heretech nails the abominable World Eaters jab into their skulls.
Haldis flips his Vox open. "Brother Rockaxe, how goes the work on our new Rhino?"
"Nearly finished Brother Starblade. We have Skychanter's systems fully slaved to Snowhammer's, and are making the final adjustments to the targeting systems."
"I'll take any good news at this point. What about your...other project? Any luck with that?"
Hakan sighs rather loudly. "What little we've been able to find was clearly deleted by Imperial commanders present on the base; all they've been able to tell us is that the Adeptus Mechanicus came to this moon for unstated reasons. Everything else has been wiped by Tech-Priests; that data is lost forever to us."
Haldis grumbles softly. "I was afraid you would tell me that. I'm also guessing there has been no word from our Fleet on the subject?"
"Not one Brother Starblade."
Haldis grits his teeth before nodding to himself. "Have Brothers Goldmane and Icecutter report to the northern border of the outpost. I want one last sweep before we set night watch and hunker down for the night."
"I will let them know. Iron Priest Rockaxe out."
* * *
The first purple tendrils of night etch across the sky, snaking from the looming planet below. Bludmouf sneers behind his crimson metal maw at his small gathering of Boyz and Grots. "Listen up ya snivvlin Squigz! 'Erez da fing. Da Boss wantz us ta figer out wat deze Furry Marines are doin 'ere. Soz dis is wat wez gonna do. You Grotz iz gonna be all sneaky-like and find yerselvez some Furry Marines. Den youz gonna hear dem az dey talk about fingz and seez if youz can hear somefing useful. Me and da Boyz here iz gonna find us a Furry Marine datz by hiz self, den wez gonna krump da informashun oudda him!"
A pack of the Grots fiercely chatter amongst each other until one is shoved out by his fellows. He nervously looks around before squeaking out "But Boss, the Furry Marines have those callermajiggers. If one of 'em is getting krumped, won't he call for the others?"
Bludmouf roars as he brings his axe down on the offending Grot, cleaving the unfortunate Greenskin in half before it can scurry away. "I'm da Boss of dis here operashun, soz wat I sez wez gonna do iz wat wez gonna do! Doez any more of youz Squigz got any queschuns?"
The remaining Gretchin look at the splattered remains of their comrade, then shake their heads violently.
"Gud. Den get goin! And find out somefing useful!"
* * *
"But before Russ could draw forth Mjalnar from its sheath, the Wolf Guard cuts the line and the mighty Serpent slips back beneath the waves. To this day the great World Serpent sleeps beneath the seas of Fenris, until the Wolftime."
A clamor of claps and cheers erupt from the gathered Moon Fangs as Langer takes his seat around the holo-lamp in the middle of the cleared Command Room. "So, which legend do you wish to hear now?"
"That will have to be the last legend for tonight Brothers." Haldis reaches out and flips the holo-lamp off. "Brother Bloodrune, go relieve Brothers Wolfbreath and Doomweaver. You will be taking watch tonight. The rest of you get some sleep; I want everyone up and ready by O-four hundred. Understood?"
"Understood Brother Pack Leader!" The Moon Fangs settle themselves along the shadow-lined walls, Bolt Pistols close at hand. Geir storms through the door, muttering to himself and nearly running into Hakan on his way out. The two glare at each other before continuing on without a word.
Haldis rises from the floor to greet Hakan. "Brother Iron Wolf, I'm surprised to see you away from our Machines. Is something the matter?"
Hakan shakes his head. "No Brother Starblade. I just felt it might put your mind at ease better if we spoke in person rather than over a Vox."
Haldis tilts his head to the side. "Put my mind at ease about what? Our mission has been going just fine; we've only three more Outposts to clear before we are finished."
Hakan folds his arms. "You know it's not the mission I speak of." A heavy silence falls between the two before Hakan puts a gloved hand on Haldis' shoulder pad. "Haldis, the technology the Adeptus Mechanicus cares to is very old and very temperamental. Look what a 20 meter fall of a Thunderhawk Gunship has done to Snowhammer's communications array. Any information the Mechanicus gathers is kept out of the ordinary soldier's hands for both their safety and the safety of the technology."
Haldis looks to the floor as another silence falls over the Wolves. Finally, he raises his head. "So you do not believe there is any maliciousness behind the missing files?"
Hakan chuckles softly. "If there was any maliciousness left behind, all the files would not only be there but also be corrupted. I see a Tech-priest doing his job in protecting the technology he is charged by the Omnissiah to care for; nothing more."
A few more moments of silence, then Haldis' shoulder relax. He reaches up and puts a hand on Hakan's shoulder pad. "Thank you Hakan. Your words do bring ease to my mind."
Hakan bows slightly. "Glad to be of assistance Brother Pack Leader. Snowhammer and Skycaller will be ready for our departure at dawn. Sleep well Haldis."
With a final salute, Hakan departs the Command Room. Haldis returns to the middle of the room, curling up in a ball for the night.
* * *
Haldis looks up, familiar cold gray stonework filling his vision; the blackwood chairs, the unpolished metal command nodes, the pelts of beasts great and small, each was in its place from before he left.
"I'm...back?" Haldis pushes himself up from the holo-projector before him, bench creaking beneath his legs.
"I was about to ask you the same thing."
Haldis' head snaps to the right, the voice of his Wolf Lord booming in his ears. He hastily bows, palms flat on his chestpiece in the shape of two wings. "Brother Wolf Lord! I didn't expect-"
"Nor was I expecting you back so soon Wolf Guard." The Wolf Lord strolls towards Haldis, fur cloak swaying as if caught by an unnatural wind. "You may have completed your objectives, yet your mission seemed far from over. Why were you so eager to leave Issfjall IV?"
"So eager to...wait, you mean our mission is complete?"
The Wolf Lord snarls, placing a hand on the holo-projector. "The objectives you were sent to complete were met. However..." The holo-projector hums to life, casting a fuzzy emerald schematic of the moon covered in red dots and lines. "...the mission to secure the planet is far from over." The Wolf Lord shakes his head, sighing softly. "I am disappointed in you Space Wolf. I had expected far better of you."
Haldis reaches a hand up, a finger rippling through the emerald light. "But Brother Wolf Lord, I thought you just wanted us to...wait..." He turns to the hulking marine. "What did you call me?"
"Do your ears refuse to cooperate with me either Space Wolf? The fact at hand still-"
"No." Haldis rises to his feet and approaches the figure of his Wolf Lord, stopping mere centimeters away from the massive Marine. "Who are you?"
"Do your eyes fail you now too Wolf Guard? Is there no end to your incompetence?"
Haldis snarls. "You may look like my Wolf Lord, but you are not Bran Redmaw."
The Wolf Lord scoffs. "And what makes you say that?"
"First, Bran would never chastise me in the main Meeting Hall; he'd save that for his private quarters. Second, Bran would never show disrespect against one of his Guard by failing to use the term 'Brother'. Third, and perhaps the most telling of all, No Rout would ever use the term 'Space Wolf'; only outsiders call us that."
The Wolf Lord leans in to Haldis, stopping just short of the Guard's helmet. His lips curl up, white fangs glistening in the artificial light. Then, unexpectedly, the Wolf Lord laughs. He throws his head back as his laugh echoes through the chamber. "I know not if your own senses or your natural resistance to the Empyrean allowed you to see through my ruse. Still, I must commend you for your perception."
The visage of the Wolf Lord shimmers, as a calm pond disturbed by a single stone. Through the wavering armor, a slender, alien figure emerges. Colorful cloth drapes the willowy newcomer, each limb bearing a distinct pattern.
Haldis recoils, reaching for a bolt-pistol that cannot be found. "You...I've heard of your kind before. You are the travelers, storytellers of the Eldar. How dare you take the form of the beloved Wolf Lord you Xenos witch!"
The figure opens its arms, crouching slightly in a non-threatening pose. "Be at ease Wolf Guard, I am not your enemy in mind or in body. I act now simply as a humble guide, to point you down the path you must take."
Haldis sneers at the masked figure. "Why should I listen to Xenos filth like you? Your mere presence is a slight against The Allfather and The Mighty Russ!"
"Because," the slender figure coos, "Your enemies and mine will soon be one in the same. Dark dealings began on this moon long before your arrival. To ignore them will have grave consequences."
Haldis eases his stance, eyeing the figure with less anger but greater wariness. "Suppose I were to listen to your words rather than dismiss them outright as Xenos lies. What would you have me do?"
"There is much still to do on this snow-covered moon Wolf Guard. When the path before you splits, you must follow the road which keeps you here."
Haldis looks to the emerald image of the moon, following a red line with his finger. "Why should I believe you?"
The hall around Haldis slowly grows dark. His eyes fight to stay open, his body sore with exhaustion. As the world about him fades, the final words of the figure echo in his ears.
"If you do not; if you refuse to stay, many will suffer for it."
* * *
Haldis opens his eyes to the sound of small trinkets clacking against the refurbished metal floor. His optics adjust to the lack of light before his Occulobe can, reveling one of his Routs huddles over a small pile of runes.
"Brother Icecutter? I thought I told everyone to get some sleep."
"Appoligies Brother Pack Leader," Magnar keeps a steady eye trained on his runes. "But I was having trouble finding peace in sleep."
As quietly at Haldis can muster to avoid rousing the rest of his pack, he slides over to Magnar and gazes down at the cast runes. "What are you seeing in them?"
"I sense some darkness in their message, yet much is still hidden."
The two ponder the runes in silence, poking and prodding each trinket. Soon, Haldis turns from Magnar and opens his Vox. "Iron Priest Rockaxe, this is Pack Leader Starblade, do you read me?"
A few moments of silence pass before a voice crackles over the channel. "Brother Starblade, this is Iron Priest Steelarm. Brother Rockaxe is currently resting; is there something I may assist you with?"
"You certainly may. There's some information I hope you can find for me."
Elof murmers something Haldis can't make out before speaking up. "Haldis, I had hoped Brother Rockaxe had finally put your mind at ease about the deleted information and made it very clear that we will not be able-"
"No, no. It's not about that."
"Oh!" Elof chirps over the channel. "Then what information are you looking for?"
"Get in contact with our Rune Priests in orbit. I'd like more information on the Imperium's activity on this moon."
"I will get in contact right away. Shall I inform you as soon as the information is available, or wait until dawn?"
"Wait until dawn; the information is not that vital."
"Understood. Will there be anything else Brother Starblade?"
"No, that will be all. I will expect a full report on your findings at dawn. Pack Leader Starblade out."
Magnar looks to Haldis, picking up his runes. "Is there something you are looking for Brother Pack Leader?"
Haldis shakes his head. "No, I'm not sure what I'm looking for. But I have a feeling once I see it, I will know."