This is another ‘birthday’ story although unlike the others no specific mention of a birthday is made. It was written 6 October, 2015 for my best friend Christian (Lord Whitewind is his character.) The event in it was from a ‘doubles’ event where one of the armies that we had to face playing together was Thurston’s cool ‘Astral Claw’ army. That game is what inspired the setting. I hope you like it!
The light patter of water droplets on canvas woke him. It was unusual. Foreign after so long in a starship and before that on a world where most of the warzone had been sun blasted desert. Rain might well have fallen on Middeheim, but not where they had been.
Sound differences – they were the kinds of things that woke a soldier. The huge crash of earthshakers that thundered as he pulled himself to his feet, those he would have slept through. As long as they were firing like that, the battle was where it was supposed to be, not somewhere unexpected.
Senekal shook his head a bit and regretted it. His vision swam, and the back part of his head just above his neck felt like it was clamped in a vise. It didn’t actually hurt, but the pressure was hugely uncomfortable. The feeling was wrong and cold sweat broke out on his forehead. His heart pounded for no particular reason. Rain. Something about rain. He tried to force calm and mostly succeeded.
Sitting again, without realizing how he had. He eased his head back and gazed at the wet spots on the other side of the camouflage painted canvas. It was local material – primitive but effective. Mostly it matched the colours of the vegetation here.
“Is that bloody head of yours bothering you again?” The voice was deep with an underlying snarl, the words slightly twisted by their journey past the huge fangs. The Astartes filled the doorway of the tent, his wolf headed backpack bowing the canvas and catching on the door. With a dexterity few would credit so huge and heavily armored a being, he lightly pirouetted freeing the pack from the door without tearing the canvas and moving within. Clean shaven, short haired. Great wolf helm hanging at his belt. Angarald Whitewind didn’t look much like his fellow Wolf Lords who tended toward a more barbaric and intentionally feral look. To Whitewind a high and tight buzzcut and no facial hair meant an easier time getting his helmet on quickly. Practical. Fast. Deadly. These things were more important than looking like the vanished Leman Russ.
The Wolf Lord eyed the other camp chair in Senekal’s tent, the one not occupied by the Colonel, and remained standing.
“It’s rated strong enough to support you, you know.”
“THAT flimsy thing? I doubt it. Even if it was the small feet it has would likely sink straight into the dirt and tip me over on my arse. Thanks, Arcturan. I’d rather stand.”
The Colonel chuckled at the image of the dread Wolf Lord tossed on his butt by a recalcitrant chair. He went across the room to the samovar. “Tea, Whitewind?”
The Space Wolf snorted. “Meek stuff. Got anything stronger?”
“Well it’s not like I keep mjod around here. It’d kill a normal person. I can spike the tea though.”
“If that’s what you have, I’ll take it.” He moved over to the table, pointedly looking down at the map displayed on it. The Danikans called this kind of table a ‘map box’. The table surface was essentially a large dataslate which was used for displaying maps and other tactical overlays. Astartes could manage things like this within their helmets, particularly some of the older and better equipped archeotech ones such as his own. Even so, for those without such equipment such as the Imperial Guard, map tables were very useful for planning. A sort of small, mobile strategium display which could go a lot more places than a full set up could. Places like this tent. He had even seen this same table used inside a Chimera, mounted on either the central seat dias or on the firewall at the front where the driver compartment was closed off. The Wolf Lord tapped the table and the region he’d touched zoomed in to show more detail. “Here, I expect.”
The Guard Colonel handed him a cup which looked ridiculously tiny in the massive armored paws of the Astartes. Whitewind took a sip and his eyes widened a bit. “That’s a bit of a surprise!”
“Well you said you wanted strong.”
“I did, but – never mind. You overspiked it in purpose didn’t you?”
Effecting an entirely innocent look and almost succeeding the guardsman replied, “Would *I* do something like that?”
The returned snarl had more amusement in it than anything else. “So?”
Considering the details of the table for a moment, the Colonel looked at a different dataslate briefly before replying. “I think you’re likely right. I can bring the Griffon platoon in up through here. Their fire is by far the most accurate – the best to support your Skyclaws. Wouldn’t want to miss and drop a shell on you. We’ll keep them pinned down while you advance and mop up what the explosives don’t finish off. Against the Astral claws, that’s likely to be a fair bit, so you’ll have your work cut out for you.”
“Indeed. And they have been sighted with Sicaran tanks.”
“Yah. Good vehicles those. I’m wishing my Annhilator Russ wasn’t still in the shop. We could use her.”
“No worries. We have powerfists and melta bombs aplenty. Seems a shame to destroy such ancient vehicles, but I suppose there is nothing for it.”
“I can see about keeping a couple of Ithaca recovery vehicles in the rear. They’re ancient Astartes so my folks won’t have the means to fix them, but your armourium might if we can recover the hulls.”
“Hah, Arcturan. Always ready with a contingency.”
“Just as you always have a detailed plan, Lord Whitewind. We’ve always made a good team when not arguing over generally meaningless minutiae. And before you say anything I can be as guilty of that as you. It’s meant as a comment on the situation, not a slam.”
“Truer words, old friend. Truer words.”
Senekal looked down again at the intel spec markings shown in one corner of the map box. “Funny thing, Whitewind, these vehicles. They aren’t re-done in red like most of the Corsairs. They’re still blue and gold. Lion style markings. What do you make of that?”
“Simple enough. Note the other marking. The star held within a lion’s paw?”
“Yes, I’m not familiar with it though.”
“That’s the Tyrant’s Star. The heraldry of the Tyrant of Badab. Lufgt Huron himself before he threw himself over the brink into the arms of Chaos and his Astral Claws became Huron’s Red Corsairs. From noble Astartes to heretical pirates. But these, these still bear their original livery. That of the Astral Claws from the Badab War.”
“Over before I was even born,” Senekal muttered.
“True, but we know what the warp can be like, sometimes. Like as not, these are still fighting that war. Delayed in the warp and fighting it long after the rest of their Chapter turned Legion went completely dark.” He moved around the map box, lost in thought over these Astartes who must have thought that they were still fighting for a good and noble cause.
The Colonel frowned. “Sad isn’t it? It changes nothing though.”
“No, no it does not. While originally there may have been some ‘grey’ in the matter of the Tyrant of Badab, his decision to start expanding his chapter to Legion size when denied reinforcements was enough to damn him. And rightfully so, particularly given how it all turned out.” Whitewind turned his eyes outward as though he could see through the tent walls to the vehicles and Astartes beyond that faced them across their battlelines. “It does make me sad. It may be that most of the individuals here believe themselves to be doing the Emperor’s needed work.”
“But they aren’t.”
“No, not anymore, and even when they were still doing it – they did it in such a way that threatened the greater Imperium. It could never have been allowed to stand. I feel for them, though, in that difficult choice.”
Nodding the Colonel sipped his tea. “I was speaking with Liche, not overly long ago. He said that even now sometimes the line between right and wrong is not very clear and it’s easy for the honorable to wind up on the wrong side of it, fighting for their beliefs. It can happen, to good men. To good people. To want to do the right thing and find yourself doing something very wrong and then not know how to get out. He’s always felt that there was hope. Redemption possible.”
The Space Wolf shook his head. “Not for these, I’m afraid. I wish it could be so, but not for these.” He finished off the spiked tea and set the cup down with a smile. “It’s been too long since the 1st Great Company fought shoulder to shoulder with the 4th. Over ten years. I’ve missed it.”
Senekal allowed himself a rare smile. “Me too, old friend. Me too. Now, before you go, there’s a little someone I want you to meet.”
The Wolf Lord looked confused. “A little someone?”
“You’ll see.” He called out louder, “Harlow? Send her in.”
The tent flap was thrown aside with great speed and a little form – skinny and all leg, barely four feet tall came rushing in. Her clothing was dark red and the soft high topped boots a deep purple. “Daddy!” She stopped looking at the huge Astartes with a bit of a surprise. “Is this the wolf you promised?”
Whitewind simply stared, utterly shocked. “Daddy? Arcturan is she..”
“Hugs!” the little girl yelled leaping up against the huge Astartes’ chest and forcing him to catch her or let her fall. His stern face was utterly shocked.
“I told you I had a surprise. Wolf Lord Angarald Whitewind – my daughter Melissa. Melissa – yes this is the ‘wolf’ I told you about.”
Getting over his surprise, the huge wolf swung the child around in an effortless arc. The tent echoed with little girl laughter and the joyful howl of a wolf.