Arjac Rockfist stood on the bridge of the Claw of Russ and watched as Thunderhawks and Drop Pods spilled from the belly of a Strike Cruiser1. Engines fired and the rate of descent increased. The transports rushed through the stillness of space, mere fireflies against the madness that was the planet’s atmosphere.
The dead giant filled the majority of the Claw of Russ’ enormous viewport. The planet’s surface was shrouded by storms. Diagnostics that flowed across the screens to the right and left of Arjac repeated what had been revealed moments after his fleet had established orbit above the planet five days ago. The storms were not entirely naturally occurring. The hurricane curls that measured thousands of miles in diameter were being bent by rifts within Chaos and some shattered remains of what the Imperium called the Shadow in the Warp2. Other readings said the power of those storms was increasing and that more storms were forming over other areas of the planet.
As he watched, the transports were consumed.
Arjac turned his back to the viewport and walked the gangway that split the cavernous command centre. Light from hundreds of data screens in the crew pits below cast odd shadows across his features. His jaw clenched as he considered what was to come. While the Claw of Russ and its sister Strike Cruiser—Ire of Grimnar—had launched its troops over the northern hemisphere, other Strike Cruisers had done likewise over other positions deemed to have strategic importance. The might of the Space Wolves had been unleashed to accomplish a single goal: Bring the heretic Frans Ruldolf to heel.
Arjac’s Space Wolves had already clashed with the traitor Ruldolf. Strike Cruiser Hammerfall had fixed on a Light Cruiser whose orbit had been less than a hundred miles above the planet’s angry atmosphere. It might have gone unnoticed if the Rune Priests aboard Hammerfall had not quested into the broiling clouds. The presence of the Light Cruiser3 was read as blankness against the powerful and unpredictable Chaos charged backdrop.
The commander of Hammerfall– Woldermort Wolftongue– had ordered an assault on the Light Cruiser. Fire from the Strike Cruiser provided cover for the transports that delivered troops to the outer hull of the smaller vessel. The troops cut their way in and proceeded to cleanse the ship of enemy combatants. Space Marines killing each other is sour business, but every Wolf under Arjac’s command knew and understood the task at hand. This was not brother killing brother. This was cutting out heresy.
Arjac may have found Frans Ruldolf on the planet below, but the Space Wolf had been hunting the heretic for a number of years. He had been on the trail ever since whispers of Ruldolf searching among worlds destroyed by the Tyranids had reached his ears.
What Arjac had learned from the prisoners taken on the Light Cruiser confirmed what he already suspected. Ruldolf was using Psykers to try to bend the will of a Tyranid mind separated from the Hive Fleet from whence it came.
That thought filled his mind again as he turned and started back across the deck. The bulk of the planet swung out of view as the Strike Cruiser changed its bearing. The Claw of Russ and Ire of Grimnar were moving into a higher orbit, a range deemed optimal for bombardment should the need arise. As he watched, one of the planet’s three moons entered from the right. It was the smallest of three, as barren as the giant it circled.
The moon held Arjac’s gaze. He was once again standing among his own array of screens. A flick of his eye revealed the Claw of Russ was some 230,000 kilometers from the moon. He knew the Ire of Grimnar was following in the Strike Cruiser’s wake. Far below, Thunderhawks and Drop Pods were touching down, having been guided by beacons sent screaming ahead from the underbellies of the Strike Cruisers like fireflies into the blackest of nights, each beacon marking a position from which war would be raged.
Rune Priests on each of the Strike Cruisers had sent messages to Arjac Rockfist as preparations were made for the planetary assault. The storms that shrouded the planet were increasing, but even more troubling was that deep below the surface of the planet there were seismic rumblings. The Rune Priests could not pinpoint the source of the planetary distress but the eldest among them urged Arjac to not assault the planet until answers were discovered.
Arjac sent each of the Rune Priests away. There could be no delay. Arjac was the predator and his long sought after prey was on the planet below.
These were the thoughts going through Arjac’s mind when the small moon at the centre of the viewport exploded. The fire of enslaved star gods was an expanding ball of pulsating green, the light of which caused the viewport to go dark a split second before the shockwave hammered the Claw of Russ.