Wolf hunt, p.1
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       Wolf Hunt, p.1

           Graham McNeill
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Wolf Hunt


  Book 1 – HORUS RISING

  Book 2 – FALSE GODS

  Book 3 – GALAXY IN FLAMES

  Book 4 – THE FLIGHT OF THE EISENSTEIN

  Book 5 – FULGRIM

  Book 6 – DESCENT OF ANGELS

  Book 7 – LEGION

  Book 8 – BATTLE FOR THE ABYSS

  Book 9 – MECHANICUM

  Book 10 – TALES OF HERESY

  Book 11 – FALLEN ANGELS

  Book 12 – A THOUSAND SONS

  Book 13 – NEMESIS

  Book 14 – THE FIRST HERETIC

  Book 15 – PROSPERO BURNS

  Book 16 – AGE OF DARKNESS

  Book 17 – THE OUTCAST DEAD

  Book 18 – DELIVERANCE LOST

  Book 19 – KNOW NO FEAR

  Book 20 – THE PRIMARCHS

  Book 21 – FEAR TO TREAD

  Book 22 – SHADOWS OF TREACHERY

  Book 23 – ANGEL EXTERMINATUS

  Book 24 – BETRAYER

  Book 25 – MARK OF CALTH

  Book 26 – VULKAN LIVES

  Book 27 – THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE

  Book 28 – SCARS

  Book 29 – VENGEFUL SPIRIT

  Book 30 – THE DAMNATION OF PYTHOS

  Book 31 – LEGACIES OF BETRAYAL

  Book 32 – DEATHFIRE

  Book 33 – WAR WITHOUT END

  Book 34 – PHAROS

  TALLARN: IRONCLAD

  THE HONOURED

  THE UNBURDENED

  PROMETHEAN SUN

  AURELIAN

  BROTHERHOOD OF THE STORM

  CORAX: SOULFORGE

  SCORCHED EARTH

  TALLARN: EXECUTIONER

  THE CRIMSON FIST

  PRINCE OF CROWS

  THE PURGE

  RAVENLORD

  CYBERNETICA

  WOLF KING

  GARRO: VOW OF FAITH

  Many of these titles are also available as abridged and unabridged audiobooks. Order the full range of Horus Heresy novels and audiobooks from blacklibrary.com

  It is a time of legend.

  The galaxy is in flames. The Emperor’s glorious vision for humanity is in ruins. His favoured son, Horus, has turned from his father’s light and embraced Chaos.

  His armies, the mighty and redoubtable Space Marines, are locked in a brutal civil war. Once, these ultimate warriors fought side by side as brothers, protecting the galaxy and bringing mankind back into the Emperor’s light. Now they are divided.

  Some remain loyal to the Emperor, whilst others have sided with the Warmaster. Pre-eminent amongst them, the leaders of their thousands-strong Legions are the primarchs. Magnificent, superhuman beings, they are the crowning achievement of the Emperor’s genetic science. Thrust into battle against one another, victory is uncertain for either side.

  Worlds are burning. At Isstvan V, Horus dealt a vicious blow and three loyal Legions were all but destroyed. War was begun, a conflict that will engulf all mankind in fire. Treachery and betrayal have usurped honour and nobility. Assassins lurk in every shadow. Armies are gathering. All must choose a side or die.

  Horus musters his armada, Terra itself the object of his wrath. Seated upon the Golden Throne, the Emperor waits for his wayward son to return. But his true enemy is Chaos, a primordial force that seeks to enslave mankind to its capricious whims.

  The screams of the innocent, the pleas of the righteous resound to the cruel laughter of Dark Gods. Suffering and damnation await all should the Emperor fail and the war be lost.

  The age of knowledge and enlightenment has ended.

  The Age of Darkness has begun.

  Yasu Nagasena stands by a window of the square tower at the north-eastern corner of his mountain villa, letting the cold cut into his face. Built on the flanks of a mountain known as Cho Oyu, the villa has been his home for fifty years, and memories surround him like restless ghosts. Mournful winds from the far corners of the world sigh through the tower, each bearing the sound of pounding hammers, a billion migrant voices and the fear of an entire planet.

  The mountains crowd this continent, rowdy giants standing shoulder to shoulder as they reach to the heavens. Sunlight spills over them in a golden tide, gleaming from the exposed quartz and feldspar.

  The mountains are saying goodbye, giving him a last sight of their glory.

  The villa occupies a fortuitous position, looking out over the Palace at the crown of the world. Through the windows, he can see its triumphal processionals, its high towers and its fresh-wrought defences. Beyond the Palace walls, the Petitioners’ City. Once a place of pilgrimage, now an overcrowded slum of people desperately seeking protection.

  Nagasena turns from the window. The wooden stretching frame still sits here, undisturbed since he last let his heart bleed out through his brushstrokes. The silk is still strung to the frame, still taut and bearing his painted image of the Palace.

  It no longer looks like the Palace visible through the windows.

  The Emperor is remaking the galaxy, but Rogal Dorn is remaking the Palace.

  Once it was a thing of beauty, but it is ugly now, the craft of the engineer pasted over the vision of the architect.

  ‘It is not a harmonious union, Lord Dorn,’ says Nagasena, surprising himself by speaking aloud.

  He has spoken little since the end of his hunt for the escaped warriors of the Crusader Host. What began as a hunt ended in sanctioned murder, and he does not yet know whether the truth was served by its execution.

  Nagasena hears the slap of sandals on the marbled stairs, accompanied by the heaving breath of Amita. She has maintained his household for as long as he has lived here, and is as robust and solid as the mountains.

  Amita reaches the top of the tower, her skin ruddy from the climb and strands of grey-streaked hair hanging loose over her face. She frowns at Nagasena’s clothes – a lacquered breastplate of black and bronze, reinforced canvas leggings tucked into leather-faced boots. But something has changed within him since his return from the Petitioners’ City and she lets his improper attire pass without comment.

  ‘You asked to see me?’ she asks.

  He nods, looking back down over the sprawling immensity of the Palace. Far below, a towering siege Titan is lifting vast ouslite blocks from the Dhawalagiri elevation, the workmanship too precious to be destroyed or built over. He wonders if that stone will ever see the light of day again.

  ‘Yes, I have something to give you,’ says Nagasena.

  ‘Here?’ replies Amita.

  ‘No,’ says Nagasena. ‘In my private chambers.’

  ‘You couldn’t have summoned me there instead of making me climb all these stairs?’

  ‘My apologies, Amita,’ says Nagasena. ‘I lingered here longer than I intended.’

  ‘That doesn’t make my old bones feel any better.’

  Nagasena smiles. In any other household, Amita’s brusqueness would see her dismissed, but her blunt honesty matches his adherence to the truth over all things.

  ‘Have I been a good master to serve?’ he asks.

  Nagasena likes the fact that she takes the time to think about her answer instead of simply voicing a platitude.

  ‘You have always been courteous and grateful. The staff think you cold, but you are just sorrowful. More so now.’

  Nagasena nods. It is a fair assessment.

  ‘Come with me,’ he says, moving past her to begin the long descent of the tower. Amita follows, and they emerge into the rose garden where he wishes he could have spent more time.

  They follow the hypaethral aroun
d the garden and into the well-proportioned chambers of the villa. He cannot call it his home, not any more. Not now that Lord Dorn has charged him with this last hunt.

  He opens the doors to his private chambers, and beckons Amita to enter. She reluctantly follows him within, barely registering the silk hanging scrolls depicting ancient maps of long-forgotten realms: Atlantea, Hyperborea and Dalriada.

  Nagasena makes his way to shelves laden with papers and heavy textbooks. He pulls out a wax-sealed document and sits cross-legged behind his narrow desk. Writing implements are arranged neatly on its polished surface and he beckons Amita to sit as he breaks the seal.

  Nagasena dips a sharpened eagle feather in a pot of ink and signs his name at the bottom of the document. He turns the paper around and holds the quill out to Amita.

  ‘Sign your name next to mine and you will be the owner of this villa,’ he says.

  ‘You’re giving me the villa?’ she asks.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Why?’ she asks.

  ‘You have more than earned it.’

  Amita does not reach for the quill.

  ‘You are going on another hunt?’ she asks.

  ‘I am,’ he confirms, placing the quill on the desk.

  He rises smoothly and runs his hand over the wall behind him in a series of complex gestures. It slides back, revealing a deep compartment filled with gleaming armour and racked weapons. It is an armoury worthy of a Legion quartermaster.

  ‘Who is it this time?’

  Nagasena removes a hand-tooled long-las and a silver-chased volkite pistol, weapons capable of harming the man he is to hunt. These are not implements of pursuit and capture, but execution.

  ‘A Luna Wolf.’

  ‘A warrior of the Legions?’

  ‘A warrior of Horus’ Legion,’ clarifies Nagasena.

  He slings the long-las over his shoulder and holsters the pistol before reverently lifting a scabbard of lacquered wood, jade and mother of pearl from a rack of rich cherrywood. The sword’s handle is wound in leather of the palest cream and its blade was crafted with love and an attention to detail that no machine will ever replicate.

  Nagasena knows the weapon as Shoujiki.

  ‘You do not expect to return,’ she says.

  ‘A reasonable expectation,’ he says.

  ‘Who gives you this hunt?’

  ‘Lord Dorn.’

  She nods, knowing Nagasena could not have refused a primarch’s order.

  ‘If I am to die on this hunt, I do not wish to leave loose ends in my wake. The villa is to be yours. This is my wish.’

  Amita pushes the document away. ‘If I am told you are dead, I will sign it, but not before.’

  Nagasena is humbled by her fierce devotion and belts Shoujiki around his waist. His hand settles naturally on the textured grip.

  ‘Sign it,’ he says softly. ‘Even if I kill this man, I do not think I will return.’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘Because the mountains have said goodbye,’ says Nagasena.

  Amita nods, accepting his cryptic answer.

  ‘This Luna Wolf, does he have a name?’ she asks.

  ‘His name is Severian,’ says Nagasena.

  The wolf was in the fold, but none of the sheep had seen him or even suspected he was there. The hab-tenement in which Severian made his lair existed in a perpetual state of incremental collapse. Tremors shook the dust from its walls with every hammer blow of titanic machinery on the construction fields before the Palace.

  Two thousand people crowded the building, taking what privacy they could with tarpaulins hung on a complex web of intersecting clotheslines. Severian was a ghost, unseen and unheard over the building’s moans and the crack and snap of the partitioning tarps.

  Three days he had hidden between the walls and in the rotten ceiling spaces of the tenement, listening to the static hiss in his helmet and fighting the urge to keep moving. The hunters expected him to try and break the cordon around the Petitioners’ City. They hoped he would flee the slaughter at the Temple of Woe, but stillness was his cloak now, not action.

  Hundreds of Black Sentinels had flooded the city, sweeping through the despairing streets in search of him.

  He had seen no sign of Imperial Fists or Custodians.

  What could be important enough to keep them from the hunt?

  The mortal soldiers moved through the city like beaters on a game hunt, but it was simplicity itself to evade them.

  These men had never hunted a Luna Wolf before, and they–

  No, not a Luna Wolf, a Son of Horus…

  The Warmaster was no stranger to the value of ego displays, but even he had balked at the renaming of an entire Space Marine Legion in his honour.

  It seemed that his reluctance had now been overcome.

  Severian still thought of himself as a Luna Wolf; the lone predator hunting in the gloaming light of the moon. A Son of Horus would fight his way through this city, but only a Luna Wolf could pass unknown through its streets.

  He still wore the armour he had stripped from the Thunder Warrior’s enforcers. The plates were ill-fitting, fashioned in an age where immediacy was a greater concern than functionality. The helm-vox buzzed with static, bubbling with the ghost voices of long-dead warriors.

  He could tune out the static, but it was harder to ignore the voices of the people around him.

  The subject on everyone’s lips was the Warmaster’s rebellion and the massacre on Isstvan V. Trembling mouths told and retold tales of murder and atrocity. Lies and speculation masqueraded as fact.

  But every taleteller agreed that Horus was a betrayer, a vile and faithless son.

  Severian could not bring himself to believe his primarch had turned against the Emperor. What reason could the Warmaster have to embark upon such a calamitous course? Severian could think of nothing grand enough to warrant betrayal, his mind rejecting every possibility as too petty, too improbable or too mortal to justify a galaxy-wide rebellion.

  Atharva had seemed so certain of Horus’ betrayal, but that was always the way with the Crimson King’s sons. They lived for certainty, but Atharva was dead, a primarch’s bullet in his brain. What did his certitudes count for now?

  Severian heard the crunch of approaching footsteps and slowed his breathing, letting himself merge with the rotting lath and plaster of the ceiling. The footsteps stopped beneath him; three men carrying plastic drums to be filled with water from the pump. Severian’s ability to remain hidden in plain sight was superlative, an affinity with shadows that came to him as naturally as breathing.

  It was a risk concealing himself in an area frequented by the people that called this block home, but the risks were outweighed by the morsels of information he could gather.

  The first man, thickset and with the build of a metalworker, placed his drum beneath the pump and began working the handle. The water that came out was brackish-looking and gritty.

  The other men took turns at the pump, and their talk was banal and mundane. Inevitably, their discussion turned towards the fighting in the Isstvan System.

  ‘It’s that bastard, Horus,’ said the metalworker. ‘He’s the one that started this. Changing the name of his Legion like that. Too big an ego that one, and no mistake.’

  ‘I reckon you’re right,’ agreed a skeletal man with eyes as big as saucers and whose sweat stank of an addict’s hunger.

  ‘What did the Emperor expect?’ asked a balding man with a hooked nose and a withered right arm. ‘I mean, you give a man that much power and it’s bound to go to his head.’

  The men nodded at the sagacity of their companion.

  The metalworker spoke again. ‘Yeah, you get that many guns and all you want to do is shoot ’em off, right? Look at Isstvan Three, wiped out with virus bombs. Madness.’

  ‘I heard Ho
rus killed three of his brothers single-handed,’ said the addict. ‘Vulkan, Corax and Leman Russ. All dead as dust.’

  ‘The Wolf King weren’t on Isstvan,’ said the balding man. ‘It’s Ferrus Manus that’s dead. They say the Phoenician killed him. Cut his head right off.’

  ‘Nah,’ said the thin man. ‘I don’t reckon anyone could kill that tough old bastard. Got bones of iron, he has. How you gonna cut through that?’

  ‘Horus could do it,’ said the metalworker. ‘Got bad blood in him, ain’t he? Everyone says so. I heard he got poisoned. Some cult got him sick and twisted his mind. Shoura says she heard Horus is one of this cult now, him and all his warriors. Sacrifice women and children, I hear. Throw them into the fires and let them burn in the name of some god or other.’

  The man leaned in conspiratorially. ‘Yeah, no better than savages now, she says. Cannibals they are, eating the flesh of the dead and making trophies from their bones.’

  Severian ground his teeth. To hear his beloved primarch and Legion being slandered with such obvious nonsense was almost more than he could stand. His fingers tightened on the rusting rebars and pipes, and the metal squealed as it buckled beneath his strength. The metalworker looked up, and their eyes met through the sodden ceiling structure.

  Severian willed the man not to see him, focusing every ounce of his determination. The man looked away with a curious expression on his face, as though suddenly bewildered. Severian exhaled softly, seeing his breath feather the air in front of him.

  ‘I heard that said too,’ the balding man agreed. ‘They say Horus has gone mad, that he’s been… you know… possessed.’

  The others laughed.

  ‘Possessed?’ said the addict, his voice reedy and laced with need.

  ‘Y’know, by aliens or something,’ said the metalworker.

  Severian could stand it no longer, and dropped to the floor with a heavy crash. The metalworker and the addict jumped back from the pump in shock, but the balding man turned tail and ran for his life. Severian’s hand shot out and a piece of brickwork, no larger than a pebble, flashed from his palm.

  It struck the balding man like a bullet from a slingshot. The impact spun him around, and he collapsed with an egg-sized lump on the back of his skull. Drool and blood leaked from the corner of his mouth.

 
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