So, we're finally done with the rules at long last. Besides one glaring mistake I had to later omit, those two parts sum up my personal verdict on each side, from their strengths and weakness to the purely fun stuff. Better yet, it finally allows us to get back to the story and get to something people have been asking for a while now:
How would you have done it?
It's a fair question in all honesty, as it's easy to criticise poor storytelling without giving answers or alternatives, For as often as critics or reviewers stop to really discuss how poorly handled a subject was or where things went horribly wrong, once in a while they really need to pause and actually pitch an alternative to how things played out.
In order to be completely fair to this book, this analysis is going to align as close to the new canon as possible. It's ignore how many problems the Wulfen retcon causes and sticking with the major players. This isn't so much focusing upon how citing which problems they could have so easily avoided as, following the same path and same elements but sidestepping some of the inherent stupidity or missed opportunities.
To be even fairer to the writers of Curse of the Wulfen we're also going to be skipping the most obvious solution to the entire story - The Space Wolves do the job they were made for and kill the mutants on sight. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense that they wouldn't go full heretic purge given they have no connection to the posthuman werewolves, or even want to kill what they would see as a blight upon their chapter's honour, but what the hell. It's a cheap response, an easy way out of this situation and ultimately that's what i'm trying to avoid here.
Anyway, with that intro done, here's a few ideas of how the story could have gone were it a little better thought out:
So, for starters, let's just say that the majority of the introduction went unchanged. We still had Wulfen emerging from the Warp, still had them showing up out of seemingly nowhere to combat a daemonic infestation and also that it was Harald Deathwolf's company who met them. Things would play out as normal with the groups meeting, speaking to one another and the wulfen bowing before them, but let's then consider how the Space Wolves might respond to this.
In the middle of a major Chaotic incursion, creatures which are obviously heavily mutated and malformed members their chapter have emerged. While fighting against the daemonic hordes, they are quite obviously far from pure and many retain the stink of Chaos about them, leading back to the very days of the Heresy itself. Oh, and they just happen to be wearing he ruined armour of the "Wulfenkind" also know as the single most ferocious and savage members of their legion. These are by no means figures who are relatively unknown to the chapter, and their existence is openly talked about from one marine to the next. More importantly, the book establishes in the opening pages that their fate, disappearing into a Warp portal during the Burning of Prospero, is well known among their kind; so you can't argue that passing on their sagas by word of mouth might lead to confusion or lost details.
So, let's consider Harald's position. He is the chapter's hunter, the scalp-taker sent after the worst of foes the Space Wolves battle. Solitary and uncompromising, in most circumstances he would be ready to kill such mutants on sight. The only thing which would stay his hand is the fact that these mutants bow before him, and that they are actively refusing to fight the loyalists. Obviously this is a decision he cannot make alone and, being Grimnar's right hand in the chapter, would wish for others to have a greater say in this. As such, he continues to secure the world as tasked, purging it of taint and any remnant daemons from the system, but sends word for Fenris, asking for word of Bjorn, Grimnar and his superiors. Why not just take them there? Two reasons -
Firstly, Harald is very familiar with the trickery and deceptions of Tzeentch's followers. One of his most famous tales, the hunt for Mordant Hex, showed him how their relentless nature and rash responses could lead to disaster or be used against them. Their emergence from the Warp and the obvious affect it has had upon their bodies means they are possible pawns in some gambit by the Architect of Fate's followers. He's hardly about to lead possible infiltrators or Chaos worshipers directly into the halls of the Fang itself after all. Even if he did however, there would be a second problem - This is set ten thousand years after the Horus Heresy, and by rights this should be right in the middle of the Thirteenth Black Crusade. At the very end of M41.999 vast swathes of the Imperium are fighting to desperately hold back the Traitor Legions. Multiple forces are directly engaged in pitch battles, and being a chapter whose homeworld is on the Eye of Terror's doorstep, the Wolves would hardly be idle. Their companies would be repeatedly engaging traitors on every front and they would be lucky to gather together three Wolf Lords, let alone recall every single last one of their kind to Fenris.
Even perhaps giving the book the benefit of the doubt, saying that it's a few years prior to the final Black Crusade and that the Wolves are not yet fully committed, they still have big problems. Massive numbers of worlds, entire systems according to this book, are being turned into daemon worlds, at least two of which are within spitting distance of Fenris itself. Remember, every single world they show up on where the Wulfen are emerging have giant Warp portals with daemons spewing out of them, so they need to be out there combating these things. Keep in mind, the tides of the Warp in this book were so bad that the Grey Knights lose multiple vessels just trying to fly after the Wolves, and the storms are so numerous that they required almost sending out every Grey Knight on Titan to deal with them. Something is obviously up and, ultimately, the Wolves would hardly be blind to this fact or willing to ignore so many incursions.
As Bjorn cannot be woken, thanks to combating daemons above Fenris, Grimnar would likely depart with his own company to Nurades (the world the Wulfen were found on). Being Chapter Master, rather than simply relying upon astropathic communications for news he would want to see these mutants for himself to better decide their fate. As this would be a trial for them, he would bring those best suited to judging their purity, potential corruption or knowledge of the chapter's past. In other words, an ensemble of the oldest dreadnoughts besides Bjorn, Rune Priests most experienced with divining corruption and the wyrds, and Wolf Priests experienced with the chapter's gene-seed.
As the expedition is assembled and ancients awoken, Ulrik emerges and effectively demands to be allowed to join this expedition. He claims to have seen signs of Russ' return and believes that the Wulfen may somehow be connected, as the Wulfenkind were last seen when the Wolves first fought against the Imperium's traitors. Grimnar is naturally dubious of this and argues that the Wolf Priest would better serve them guarding the Fang until they can return with more definitive proof, but eventually relents. If he is truly right on this matter, then the faster they uncover proof of this fact the better. However, before he leaves Grimnar orders two other companies recalled to Fenris to assist those already there, and places the Fang's guarding forces on high alert. Ordering their vessels to continually patrol the system and remain vigil, he makes it clear that he wishes to avoid Ironhelm's mistake, spreading their forces too thin and allowing Magnus to once more attack the Fang while they are weak.
Back at Nurades, Harald has forced the Wulfen to be corralled away from the rest of his Great Company, kept under heavy guard. While respectful, he makes it clear to their leader that they are to await the coming of the Great Wolf and explains their situation. Given that Curse of the Wulfen establishes that Wulfen leaders are not only fully sentient but can speak at least semi-coherently, the pack's leader Yngvir naturally understands and accepts this albeit begrudgingly. Harald is still naturally curious as to whether Yngvir is truly one of the Thirteenth Great Company's warriors and asks him of Russ' fate, the events within the Eye of Terror and what ultimately changed them. Yngvir cannot or will not respond to some of these, offering only vague terms and speaking of a great eternal conflict. However, some clarity seems to break through when he speaks of the Fang. The mutant promptly describes its inner halls with the kind of familiarity and detail a member of their chapter would have, even some of their innermost treasures.
However, all is not entirely well on the planet and there have been growing difficulties among the Deathwolves. The Blood Claws they initially stationed to help guard the Wulfen break out into sudden acts of aggression or even minor brawls until Harald is forced to leave only Grey Hunters keeping watch over them. The Wulfen themselves are restless as well, and the distrust does not sit well with pack, retaining obvious discomfort at being treated little better than prisoners. While they have yet to openly challenge the Grey Hunters to combat, more than one veteran swears that they are silently gauging the Space Wolves' strengths. It is unclear whether this is to judge what kind of astartes defends the Imperium in this new age or for darker reasons.
Most alarming of all however, the Warp incursions are worsening with every passing day. As Grimnar's vessels approach the planet, reality becomes ever more unstable. More rifts open upon the world, with daemons of the Ruinous Powers pouring through, harrying the planet's defenders and slowly corrupting the land upon which they stand. As the Rune Priests desperately try and fail to understand would could possibly be allowing them to retain such a strong anchor to the material world, more Wolves meet their end at the blades of Bloodletters. After several days, the attacks become so bad that Harald is forced to remove the quarantine separating the Wulfen from his company, and allows them to join him in battle. While Chaos is driven back once more, even slaying a Greater Daemon of Khorne in the process, the Deathwolves are hard pressed to simply remain on the planet. As they fight to push them back and finally close the portal, Harald swears he can hear something laughing at them from beyond the veil of reality.
A few sectors away, the world of Svardeghul is combating its own incursions from the forces of Chaos. With waves of rotting daemons serving the will of Nurgle bearing down upon the planet's defenders, Egil Iron Wolf's Company seeks to break the back of the invasion. Launching repeated armoured assaults upon the new incursions, the Space Wolves are slowly but surely turning the tide against the daemonic horde, allowing their Rune Priests to gradually purify and close each portal. However, the sons of Russ are not alone in this effort and the battlefield is shared with representatives of the Dark Angels chapter. Having been forced out of the increasingly turbulent Warp on their way to Nurades, and to protect their secrets there, the Ravenwing have been dragged into the conflict. Believing that ending the daemonic incursions will allow them to quiet the Warp and continue onward, seeks to rapidly end the battle. While both sides have largely avoided one another, they are finally brought into conflict over an alarming discovery.
Engaging teeming hordes of Plaguebearers infesting one of the world's vast industrial mines, the Dark Angels are brought into conflict with a new foe. Clawing their way through a Warp portal and scything through the ranks of daemons, frenzied lupine figures emerge screaming into reality. As several are clipped by the Dark Angels as they try to focus upon the daemons, the Wulfen fall upon the astartes as well, resulting in a bloodbath before each and every last one is finally slain. Already incensed at having lost several Black Knights in the furious melee, the Dark Angels are outraged when they discover these mutants wear the ruined armour of Space Wolf astartes.
Dragging the corpses before Egil, they demand answers from the Space Wolves as to what these things are and their link to them. Egil's refusal and sheer inability to truly answer them only incenses them further, as is the news that his Great Company is departing the battle. Having received word to immediately return to Fenris and with the majority of the daemonic horde purged from the world, they are leaving the remainder of this campaign to the Dark Angels. Even in the face of the Ravenwing's bitter mockery at their retreat, Egil simply answers that he cannot refuse the Great Wolf's orders. Unbeknownst to them however, Egil is simply helping to buy what time he can for his company. While they did indeed receive Grimnar's command, his warriors encountered other bands of Wulfen besides those who fell upon the Dark Angels. Unwilling to leave them to the tender mercies of El'Jonson's scions, the Ironwolves opted to bring the warriors with them back to Fenris' system and decide their fate there.
As the Ironwolves' strike cruiser departed and the Dark Angels readied themselves for a long war, the daemons rapidly dispersed from the world; then the Warp itself quickly calmed, allowing for rapid transit through the Immaterium once more. Certain that this was far from any mere coincidence, the Ravenwing stayed just long enough to contact The Rock to inform them of these events before pressing onward to Nurades. The Wolves and whatever accursed nightmares followed in their wake could wait, their duty was still to guard the chapter's secrets before all other tasks.
At Nurades, Grimnar's force tore free from the boiling sea of souls and his battle barge entered orbit over the planet. Quickly deploying his forces to assist with Harald's bedraggled Great Company, the Space Wolves united to secure what they could of the planet's capital before turning their attention to the Wulfen. As the Rune and Wolf Priests set about their work and the dreadnoughts questioned Yngvir of past events, Grimnar spoke in private to Harald, wishing to know his thoughts on the matter. While still highly suspicious of any claim that they were the lost Thirteenth, Harald was certain that they had once been Space Wolves. Their innate pack tactics, their knowledge of the Fang and the traditions of Fenris' tribes were simply too extensive for any other answer. Yet, did that even matter? Whatever loyalty they felt towards the Emperor, whatever role they had played in breaking Magnus' legion, it was the duty of the adeptus astartes to kill the heretic, alien and mutant wherever they were found. Would the Space Wolves refuse that command now, after ten thousand years of service? To this Grimnar had no immediate answer.
In order to buy their forces time to fully interrogate the Wulfen, the two Lords planned a strike against a location which the daemons had been intrinsically drawn to: A crumbling fortress ruin towards the city's far north. Established in ancient times, the castle retained no shortage of ill fated legends of dark pacts and atrocities performed by the nobles of ancient times. Certain that there was some truth to these myths, and that some remnant of their ancient crimes was assisting in weakening the veil between worlds, the Space Wolves made this fortress their target. Attacking it with the amassed forces of two Great Companies, the astartes held their ground against the neverborn, pushing through the unending tide of abominations until their Whirlwind artillery vehicles were in range. The bombardment they unleashed lasted well over three hours, and reduced the ruin to little more than a fragmented crater of crumbling masonry.
As legions of daemonic foes faded from reality, their tentative link to the mortal realm seemingly severed, the Space Wolves consolidated their forces once more within the city. Upon their return, it soon became clear that the situation involving the wulfen had become rapidly more complex. As Harald had before them, those interrogating Yngvir were suspicious but could hardly deny their origins as Space Wolves, but far more alarming was the fact that the Wolf Priests could find few true impurities within their gene-seed. Despite their bestial forms, extensive analysis had failed to produce any telltale signs of Warpborn mutation or direct malformations spawned from Chaotic influence. At worst, their appearance seemed to have been born from sheer age and overactive secondary organs, and that this might well have been the fate of the Space Wolves of old.
This revelation that the Wulfen were a core part of the old legion seemed to be further reinforced with Yngvir's surprise that the modern chapter retained no such warriors. From what little they could make out, the wulfen themselves had served as Russ' ultimate sanction against the Emperor's foes. While no dreadnought could speak on this matter, having never seen such a warrior before, few could dispute the ancient tales of feral warriors overcome by Russ' savagery which seemed to match this description.
As the assembled warriors spoke, a lone wulfen loped over and almost casually hefted up one of the relics brought by Ulrik. Used in their rituals, the item was an obscenely massive axe forged in the days of the Great Crusade and regarded as a ceremonial weapon thanks to its massive size and weight. Too large and unwieldy for even an astartes, it and a small arsenal of similar weapons had remained within the Fang's vaults or adorning their walls. Yet as the Wulfen wielded it the blade seemed to be perfectly balanced, almost tailored to its misshapen body, and there was a glint of familiarity in its eyes. To the Wolf Priests this was a final deciding factor, announcing that their return had indeed been ordained by their lost primarch and a sign of his return. Before Grimnar or one of the other warriors could speak further on this matter, Yngvir spoke up once more, confirming this fact. They had returned upon hearing a howl within the Warp, heralding the dawn of the Wolf Time and the final War against Chaos itself. What surprised him was that Russ himself was not there to meet them, and that he had not already met with the Space Wolves.
Before matters could fully continue, the orbiting battle barge contacted Grimnar. Other vessels were approaching amid the brief calm, breaking into orbit and bearing down upon the world. Each bore the sigil of the Ordo Malleus and among them was a strike cruiser adorned in silver livery. An uneasy hush fell upon the warriors at this news. While centuries had passed, the Months of Shame still remained a bitter source of discontent between the Daemonhunters and the Wolves, even more so when encountering their pet chapter. They had barely avoided censure once, and being seen courting mutated astartes would risk another war over again. Even assuming the Inquisition merely wished to confirm the Priests' findings, Grimnar had no wish to let them become the plaything of some Magos Biologis or be left to the torture devices of Interrogators.
Herding the Wulfen onto an awaiting Thunderhawk Gunship, the astartes barely managed to close the access ramp before the reality ruptured around them. In a searing flash of light, the world turned in upon itself for a scant moment before reassembling itself, now with a group of massive figures standing opposite to Grimnar's warriors. Two full squads of Grey Knights, each clad in bulky Tactical Dreadnought Armour stood with their weapons at the ready and Brother-Captain Stern himself at their head. Behind them, Thunderhawks and Inquisitorial troop transports were descending through the atmosphere, landing at the outskirts of the city, a safe distance from the Great Companies. Their distrust of Grimnar's warriors is evident, each tensed and expecting the Wolves' to draw their weapons at a moment's notice. Yet this is more than merely the Inquisition's typical paranoia, and Stern himself seems even surprised to find them there uncorrupted.
Coldly greeting one another, Stern begins questioning the Space Wolves on their reason for arriving here in such force and their recent efforts to halt the Chaos incursions. While Grimnar and Harald both answer as honestly as they can without directly mentioning the Wulfen, no single answer seems to satisfy Stern. As he began to question them over the chapter's movements, and even how quickly they had moved to counter the threat of the Ruinous Powers, caution turned to growing anger. After serving as a bulwark against Chaos for ten thousand years, just who were the Knights to question the loyalty of the Space Wolves, or their dedication to the Emperor? Upon seeing this reaction, Stern seemed to relent somewhat. While still judging Grimnar's every reaction, he informed them of the growing conflicts throughout the sector.
By this point world after world was locked in a meat grinder of attrition against massive daemonic legions. Growing stronger with every passing hour, more powerful servants of the Ruinous Powers had been emerging in force, and some within the Ordo were even beginning to fear the direct involvement of a traitor primarch in these events. What truly concerned the Inquisition however, was the pattern these outbreaks had followed. The growing Warp disruptions were centered specifically upon war zones the Wolves remained active in. The longer a Great Company fought there, the stronger each wave of neverborn would become.
More damning still was the fact contact had been lost with multiple Ecclesiarchy and and Inquisitorial strongholds close to these war zones, many Lords of which had been highly critical of Grimnar's chapter over the past centuries. Now, among loyalist troops, there were even claims of feral mutants adorned in grey-white armour slaying all in their path. Even in the face of a possible Black Crusade, this was enough to have many Inquisitors calling for a through investigation of the entire chapter. Many had attempted to contact Fenris directly only to be met with silence, and the few vessels which had attempted to enter the system had been seemingly lost with all hands. Grimnar's blood grew cold at this news, and even in the face of Stern's objections, ordered his forces to depart.
With Fenris potentially facing a full scale invasion, Grimnar was willing to once again risk the wrath of the Inquisition to ensure his home was defended. Stern knew that Grimnar would fight his way out if forced to do so, and he was not so foolhardy as to force the Great Wolf into direct combat. Nurades itself would still need to be fully purified and with the Wolves departing and their own ships in need of repairs after braving the turbulent Warp, that was left to the Grey Knights. Before the Great Companies left however, Stern was at least able to force a concession out of Grimnar, convincing him to leave two of his Wolf Guard and several units of Blood Claws. Each quietly hoped that they would be enough to prove the Wolves' loyalty, if not by answering the Inquisition then through their actions on the field of battle.
As the small Space Wolf flotilla departed from Nurades, the Immaterium began to quiet once more, and with it came new arrivals. A midnight black strike cruiser bearing the sigil of the Dark Angels joined the Inquisitorial fleet, demanding to meet with those in charge. Stern's Knights were soon joined by scarred warriors of the Ravenwing, several of who are carrying a casket between them. Outraged at the very presence of the remaining Space Wolves, the Dark Angels accuse them of open corruption and harboring mutants among their ranks. Opening the casket, they unveil the body of a Wulfen within, still wearing its ruined plating.
The Wolves protest against this display, howling insults and accusations of treachery alike at the Dark Angels, protesting their innocence. Seeking to quickly resolve the matter, Stern draws his blade, offering the Wolves' a single chance to surrender themselves into his custody so they might uncover the truth. Yet, even dead, the presence of the Wulfen has some curious hold over the sons of Russ. Even as the older Wolf Guard attempt to keep them in line, several lunge forwards at the casket and those carrying it. The crack of a bolt round fills the air, and one of the Blood Claws falls to the ground headless. With a primal roar, the already barely contained packs charge into the Imperial lines, even the Wolf Guard joining them. Frenzied and screaming, their eyes are filled with a savage, hateful and inhuman light, bereft of any and all sanity. Uncoordinated and acting no better than slavering monsters, they quickly fall before the guns of the Grey Knights and Dark Angels.
With physical proof of an apparent generic instability and having witnessed firsthand as they turned upon Imperial forces, Stern is given no choice but to accept the Wolves as corrupt. With the Dark Angels already amassing what units they could alongside the Rock, and calling for demi-companies from any available astartes forces not engaged within this conflict, the call was given out to bring the Space Wolves to justice, dead or alive. As the Grey Knights decree this, a handful of Ravenwing Knights quietly depart from their company. Unseen by the Inquisition, they make for the ruined castle the Deathwolves purged mere hours before...
Oblivious to this turn of events, Grimnar, Harald and Ulrik's forces raced back to Fenris with all speed. Even with the Warp against them and the Navigators exhausted from the effort, the fleet manages to reach their homeworld within a few days. Yet, those few days are enough to keep Grimnar questioning the truth behind the Wulfen. Even as Ulrik speaks more and more often with Yngvir, the more Grimnar questions how truthful the mutant leader's statements truly are. The legion he speaks of is the antithesis of the Space Wolf chapter, caring less about the common man than annihilating all in their path. If their primarch is the warrior the Wulfen describes him as, he cannot help but think their father is a stranger to the very warriors he helped forge those thousands of years ago. While still pressing, such thoughts are soon swept aside by the sight which greets them.
Littered with the hulls of loyalist vessels, a massive invasion force of daemonic vessels dominates the skies over their home, laying waste to world after world. The entire Fenris system, from their icy home to the most distant moon, is burning.
Now, I want to make one thing clear: This was largely written on the fly. Why? To help prove a point more than anything else. This is basically a first draft, something I threw together after downing several bottles of cider and in a couple of free hours between writing other projects. Just consider that fact when comparing this with the original, as while it's not going to win any awards any time soon, I wanted to prove that I was aware enough to focus upon creating a more dynamic storyline.
In the original, the Wulfen are basically a means to an end. They're the princess in another castle, dragging each Great Company from world to world and introducing them to new and interesting fights. The fact they can talk is never made a prominent factor in the story, and there's never a push to actually try and take advantage of this fact for character development.
In the original, the Dark Angels' deeming them traitor comes down to a lot of very obvious ploys, a massive overreaction while ignoring multiple daemon worlds and even a canon-breaking daemonic infestation on the Rock. In this one, it's down largely to the Wulfen themselves, various circumstances and Chaos merely pushing their pawns in the right direction. Tzeentch might be the puppet master, but we've seen before that he's a big fan of setting people up to be their own hangmen. What's more, it takes more than a few vague suggestions to turn a Segmentum level battlefleet against Fenris.
In the original, we had cover to cover action which rushed through anything else so we could have more explosions. In this one, I tried to present it as retaining constant fighting but also breaks between events. Rather than splitting up the whole story and turning it into a blur of constant fighting, I made sure to push genuine character moments as much as I could and further Grimnar's story. The closest we got to that in Curse of the Wulfen was Grimnar saying "it's complicated" to the Grey Knights while harboring mutated space marines.
Finally, the original spelled out every single little last detail to the reader and never left anything to keep them guessing. There was no mystery to events, no hints as to what might follow or trailing plot threads to keep people hooked past the big cliffhanger. In this one, I pushed to make sure several were unresolved. Is Yngvir really loyal? What happened to the Ironwolves, and are they even responsible for Fenris' state? What sort of foe will Grimnar face on his home system? What kind of curse have the Wulfen brought with them, and how are the Wolves linked to the Warp disturbances? Top this off with both an Imperial Retribution Fleet and something watching them in the Warp, there are lingering threats to help bring people back. It might not have ended on a bang like suddenly bombarding Fenris, but it ended on a big, sudden reveal.
Again, I want to make it clear: I basically churned this out overnight in free time, while tanked, and limited to the original story elements. Yet, even with this, I still pushed to make more of a story than what a full, professionally paid writing team did, and treat it as a first act. This isn't "I'm so much better than Games Workshop!" this is "Hell's teeth, even I could do a better job than these guys!"
In all honesty, this was actually going to contain two versions. The first one you see above, sticking to all the new elements present, and then a list of general ideas and stages for a story not bound to the Wulfen retcon or forces involved. Given how long this is, and the fact this is the first part of a story though, that's going to be saved until the final book. For the moment, this is all you're getting.
If you have your own story suggestions, ideas or even want to bring up alternatives as to how this could have played out, i'd be interested to hear them. If you agree with the original Curse of the Wulfen story and say that it's great, please say so. If you think that this version is terrible and screwed from the start, go ahead and say it, really. Please though, actually discuss the lore and treat it as a core part of this setting; because by this point I get the feeling all too many fans and designers are accepting Michael Bay level storytelling as "absolutely fine".