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- ‘That’s far enough,’ said Lord Joros. He made no move to reach for a weapon. He was, as always, possessed of a most admirable calm. Galeo had often considered self-control to be our Grand Master’s most prized virtue.
- Jarl Grimnar obeyed, halting ten paces away from the gathered Inquisitorial retinue. He let the axe-head slam onto the deck, and leaned on the inverted haft, scarred gauntlets resting on the black iron pommel.
- ‘You betrayed an armistice,’ he said in that voice so like spilling gravel. His tawny hair, white-streaked and singed in places, was a matted mess framing his gnarled-oak features. He wasn’t ancient for a Space Marine, but he was certainly past his mid-life prime. Still, he emanated vitality even in his most modest movements; here was a tough old soul that wouldn’t easily fall. Even now, he showed no sign of capitulation.
- ‘Yes, we betrayed the armistice,’ Kysnaros conceded. ‘I pray you’ll forgive me, in time. You have to understand, great jarl, that your Chapter’s reputation with Imperial command hierarchy calls the worth of your sworn oaths into question. How many times have you come into conflict with the Ecclesiarchy? Or the Inquisition’s lesser elements? I wasn’t sure I could trust you.’
- Grimnar smiled, showing old teeth in a nasty grin. ‘You violated an armistice, killed thousands of my Chapter’s servants, and now name us oathbreakers when you – as always – fired first.’
- He looked back over his shoulder to his three remaining Wolf Guard. ‘This is why we so rarely speak to outlanders, eh? No manners.’
- The Wolves chuckled, as Grimnar looked back to Kysnaros. ‘You wished to speak with me? I’m here, boy. Speak.’
- Kysnaros was fast losing his feigned patience. ‘Your flagship is lost.’
- ‘We have other ships,’ said Jarl Grimnar.
- ‘Your Chapter cannot hope to stand against us.’
- ‘No? Hmm.’ The Great Wolf looked back over his shoulder at his men. ‘The boy-lord says we can’t stand against him.’
- ‘Strange, my jarl,’ replied one of the scruffy Wolves – a balding warrior with shaggy sideburns. ‘We were doing well before they wiped their arses with an honourable oath of armistice.’
- ‘Aye,’ Rawthroat agreed. ‘We were. Perhaps we should invite them to Fenris, jarl. They’d find a warmer welcome there.’
- Grimnar nodded to their words, turning back to Joros and Kysnaros. ‘Tell me, which one of you whoresons gave the order to open fire on our shieldless, weaponless vessels?’
- ‘It was I,’ said Joros. ‘It gave me no pleasure, but the deed was done for the greater good.’
- The jarl nodded. ‘I’ve marked your face, knight. I’ll remember it from now until the Wolftime. You have my word on that. No Fenrisian ever forgets one who violates the laws of sheathed blades and bared throats. Once those laws are broken, all rules of decorum and honour are abandoned. To betray a betrayer is never counted as a sin.’
- Kysnaros tied his long blond hair into a ponytail, keeping any stray strands from his face. ‘Enough of this. The Imperium’s woes will not bide while we stand here and make superstitious promises. Chapter Master Grimnar, you will surrender as agreed, and your Wolves will stand down.’
- Jarl Grimnar gave us his canine smile again, showing wet fangs. ‘That,’ he said, ‘will not be happening.’
- Lord Joros of the Eighth Brotherhood had ruled with a cautiously ambitious hand for seventy years. He was respected by those of us in his brotherhood, though scarcely loved; a warrior admired but rarely emulated.
- The list of his deeds was more impressive than his unapproachable exterior might suggest. While he lacked a great many commendations for command, as a duellist and a front-line fighter, it was acknowledged across the order that few could match his reputation and skills with two falchion blades. A vital aspect in any blademaster’s repertoire is the ability to read an opponent’s movements, and react with greater speed than they can act in the first place. Joros was a master, and his reflexes were renowned.
- And yet, his blades had scarcely cleared his scabbards when Logan Grimnar’s axe of blackened steel and burnished gold cleaved into our Grand Master’s breastplate and throat, ending a worthy, respectable life of service with a single crunching chop.
- Joros went down, felled by the axe blow and dead before he hit the ground. The Great Wolf’s axe – named Morkai after some heathen Fenrisian superstition about a god guarding the Halls of the Dead – ripped back out, blood sizzling on its active metal surface. In the time it had taken me to look back from Rawthroat to his liege lord, my own Grand Master was slain. That should explain, at least partially, how quickly the High King of Fenris moved.
- The teleportation flare flash-blinded several of the storm troopers closest to the aura of dispersion, and caused the deck to shiver beneath our boots.
- But we were ready for it. Joros had told us to stand in readiness, and the moment had come. As the distant machinery aboard the Scramaseax pulled at the physical forms of Jarl Grimnar and his men, we threaded our powers through the veil between worlds, and pulled back. It felt like trying to hold water between my fingertips; I had no idea if it was even working.
- The teleportation mist thinned and faded. Grimnar, Rawthroat and the other two Wolf Guard remained in place. I could see the jarl’s reaction in that moment – how his fingers tightened around the haft of the axe, how his eyes narrowed as his mind raced. Like an animal backed into a corner, he was ready to fight no matter what. Beneath the instinctive readiness was a deeper intelligence – he was more than a warrior, he was a general calculating how much destruction he would wreak amongst his foes before finally falling to their blades.
- I had no doubt he’d fight us even as we cut him to pieces. He’d gut a dozen of us before he breathed his last.
- Any hesitation at all would have seen them dead or captured. We were already moving forwards, already marshalling our efforts to pin them in place with kinetic force, when Jarl Grimnar’s storm bolter barked a single cry. His three Wolf Guard fired with him, each in different directions.
- The explosive bolts smashed against ceramite in a chorus of detonation, preceding a moment of gruesome silence. Four knights crashed to the decking, each of them killed outright, holes blown through their throats.
- ‘Hold!’ Kysnaros cried again. ‘Bind them!’
- We released the power we’d gathered, but even as a mere piece of the whole communion, I could feel the weakness in our shared grasp. Grimnar had known how best to hurt us. Four justicars lay dead, with their squads reeling in the bond-broken moments of psychic fallout. Their squad leaders no longer channelled their powers into a unified force. Worse, I could feel each knight struggling against the onset of pain and anger threatening to overwhelm them.
- Jarl Grimnar and his Wolves burst out of existence in a storm of light.
- The Emperor's Gift
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