With the sudden death of the Emperor and the dawning of the Age of Unreason the Sons of Russ continued to fight as they ever had done. Great Companies in far flung parts of the galaxy, after concluding business of their own, immediately set their sails for Fenris. All took years and many took decades without the great lighthouse of the Astronomican. With the wider galaxy now all but cut off from them the Space Wolves vowed to hold a line against the encroaching night. The news of the Emperors death was bitter to swallow, many rejected it at first claiming it was some sort of deception. Worse, maybe, were those who accepted it without question seeing it as a punishment for their failings. But as the years passed and the Astronomican remained dark and news from the worlds of the greater Imperium stopped almost overnight even the strongest denial wavered and fell. The Emperor was dead, The Imperium had fallen. This begged the question of what their purpose was, now that he to whom all oaths were ultimately sworn to and by was dead.
Were it not for Bjorn the Fellhanded the fate of the Space Wolves might have been twisted into something more sinister.
It was Bjorn, oldest and wisest of his kindred, who reminded them of their purpose. Their order stretched back, back to the days when the Imperium was just a dream in the minds of a precious few. Back when Russ had walked amongst them, back when they had been given their duty by the Emperor. Although the Emperor was dead and his realm in ruins their own purpose had not changed. All that had happened was that new obstacles had been placed in their path, and when had insurmountable tasks ever worried any true Fenrisian man?
They set out on patrols of the worlds close to Fenris, the warp was too wild and dangerous to travel deep and fast. All the worlds that swore loyalty to the Great Wolf Ragnar, all those that would provide the means for savage Fenris to aid its other neighbours would be welcomed as brothers and sisters in the new Protectorate. As Old Night closed in on the worlds of humanity and the chill of the void was felt all the keener none refused. The brutal order and protection of barbarians could only be preferred to what might dwell between the stars.
For a time things were almost happy in the Halls of the Fang and the worlds that fell under its rule.
But it was not to last. Emboldened by the death of the Emperor the followers of gods too dark and terrible to name began to rise out of the shadows. The Wolves were forced to spread themselves thinner and further to protect their flocks. Uprisings, rebellions and insurrections were rife and worst of all the savants of the Ruinous Ones were relatively unhindered by the loss of the Astronomican. They had never relied upon Navigator trickery to sail by. The uprisings had reinforcements from outside.
And any son of Russ instantly recognised what form it took. The Thousand Sons, children of Magnus the Red. Upon every contested world the Wolves fought the foul warp magic of the Apostate Sorcerers, deamons met axe blades, traitors met sword points and rebels met bolt-shells as war raged across the light-years. The more the odds were stacked against them the more Space Wolves seemed to relish the taste of battle.
New legends were born in those times as the Wolves carved their way across a hundred worlds, the stars seemed to burn red as they drowned in blood and a hundred new mountains were created as the bodies formed heaps that would have put the Blood God's throne to shame. The people of the ravaged worlds took heart from the example of their protectors and the PDF armies, citizens militias and remnants of the Imperial Guard regiments seemed for a time to stride like the titans of old. But the wars dragged on, it seemed a war without end.
The war raged for nearly five hundred years in one form or another and it taxed the Space Wolves to their utmost to drive the last of the heretics from their Protectorate. But at last, upon the surface of Garm the Great Wolf Ragnar held the chapters banner high. That heavily industrialised world held considerable significance to him and tears of joy and triumph ran freely down his cheeks at having the honour of defending it again.
And it was all a diversion.
Winter snow gave way to nuclear fire as whole continents were torched from orbit by atomic warheads. What the radiation and the ignited atmospheres did not kill the nuclear winter did.
Only in the void-shielded, fortified halls of the Fang did any endure. Not without cost. As soon as the bombardments started High Wolf Priest Siguard ordered all the chapters aircraft to be launched and as may members of the primitive tribes as possible brought into the fortified halls of the Fang. He knew what it was the enemy were trying to do. Only native Fenrisians had the correct genetic structures to accept the gene-seed of Russ, without a population to recruit from they would dwindle by time and attrition.
This was not without risks. Using their foul sorceries the Thousand Sons had spotted where all the hidden entrances were to be found. All the secret tunnels that circumvented the void-shield.
Every initiate, aspirant, serf and Blood Claw capable of holding a gun were given a weapon and a tunnel to protect. Even the tribal men were given the most basic and rudimentary instructions in how to handle the "Weapons of Thunder and Fire" and were pressed into service, a duty for the most part they accepted without complaint and even some with a feral eagerness.
Using everything they had they held out just long enough for their brethren to return.
Many had died. Of the Sons of Russ only a handful of Blood Claws led by Lukas the Trickster and two of the dreadnaughts survived, Ulrik the Slayer and Bjorn the Fellhanded. Lukas was, for his relative seniority, promoted to the rank of Wolf Lord; the four Blood Claws were the only other surviving members of his Great Company.
Were it not for the arrival of the Space Wolf fleet the annihilation would have been complete. With fresh warriors on the ground the fate of the blasphemers was sealed, but in space things were looking dire. New stars lit up the heavens and the sky itself seemed to burn as fusion reactors detonated and caused brief new suns to burn so briefly. Despite the Space Wolves tenacity, cunning and savagery they were being pummelled. The heathens had the blessings of their Dark Gods and the God-Emperor was dead. As it looked like the children of Fenris had finally met a foe they could not kill salvation came from a very strange place; Skyrar's Dark Wolves.
An echo from another time, a Great Company exiled for crimes both wicked and debased by the standards of a brotherhood of savages.
And they had come to parlay.
It says something of the nature of those dark days that the Great Wolf was even willing to talk to the old betrayers, but he did something far worse. He granted them amnesty, their sins forgotten if not forgiven.
It was not an act born of kindness. The chapter was in ruins, their homeworld was dead, their Protectorate was on its knees and their brotherhood was down to just over four hundred surviving members.
They simply could not afford another battle so soon, whatever wretched scheme the Dark Wolves were planning could not be helped and anything that stalled them was welcome. As the days, weeks, months and years passed it became abundantly clear that the Dark Wolves were serious, deathly serious, in their desire to repent. Their quarrel was not with their brothers and they, like all Space Wolves, loved their old homeworld dearly. Their detestation had always been towards the Emperor, and now he was at long last dead. Although the Dark Wolves deeply mourned the passing of Fenris they shed not a single tear for the Emperor.
This was the time of the Great Reformations for the Space Wolves and their Protectorate. They could not allow such a tragedy to happen again, there would be no more killing of worlds.
The Protectorate was divided into thirteen fiefdoms and each of the now thirteen Great Companies was given one to protect. Every hundred Fenrisian years each Great Company was to send a representative back the Fang to draw names out of a helmet to determine which fiefdom their brothers were to defend for the next hundred years. Colonies of Fenrisians, descendants of those who were given shelter in the halls of the Fang were seeded across near every world of the Protectorate, a human crop to be harvested when ready. All the Great Companies had to send their aspirants back to the Fang for training and transformation.
The Dark Wolves, by the time of the Reformations known as the Repentant Thirteenth, were never again allowed to have any Rune Priests amongst their ranks. Furthermore their gene-seed was stored separately from their brothers, but they did not seem to mind, it was the course they had chosen.
In the years that followed the Reformations and the long struggle of rebuilding the chapter to anything like its former glory Orks, Necrons, surviving splinter fleet and other post-Imperial emergent empires often attacked the Protectorate. Possibly the most dangerous of these were the Warbands and Legions of the Cadian Commonwealth and it was none other than Emperor Abbadon who narrowly defeated and killed the Great Wolf Ragnar in the winter of 995M44 on the planet Garm.
By the dawning of the 45th millennium the Space Wolves represented one of the few shining lights for humanity in the galaxy.