Ferone watched Vox approaching with an unfathomable calmness in his pale, noble features. His usually so well controlled fingers played with the mug he held.
“Greetings, brother”, he said and generously nodded to the spot at the wall beside him. On a feast day it was allowable to chat, even though Corven was busy among the brothers somewhere.
“Greetings, commander”, Vox answered and followed his invitation. “I thought with you and me here for the last few hours, we could get a head-start on these negotiations”, she said.
The commander gave her a careful glance.
“Somehow, I thought soberness would figure somewhere in this talk”, he conceded.
“I’m sober”, she announced easily.
“Sober enough for the two of us?”, Ferone inquired but was in no mood to maintain his usual demeanour. “Oh, whatever!”, he said. “Why not? What do you have, what do you need and what do you want?”
Vox cocked her head for a moment. This was very unusual for the controlled, well tempered Ferone but she finally had arrived at a position from where she could take up the negotiations. She saw no reason to reject the chance he was offering.
“I have”, she started. “A thousand Astartes under arms. Eight companies of them on active duty in the Reach right now, plus vessels, war gear and support troops.”
“Impressive”, Ferone said in his deep, calm tones.
“I need”, she continued. “A bunch of files from your secret archive.”
“I’ll give you Corven”, Ferone said quietly and looked down. “He’ll have to leave with you in any case. He has all the clearances you need.”
Vox nodded. She was sorry to take his friend away again so soon but the rune priest had refrained from killing her today. It was better if he left quickly.
“I want”, she went on. “Any of our neophytes, who wish to make full Astartes, to serve for at least one standard mission in the Deathwatch. For those who are accomplished warriors already, we will work out a way how we can meet this requirement.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Vox Draconis”, the commander said with a straight face. Promising this amount of warriors to the Deathwatch was a handsome condition indeed. Vox was not prepared to tell him that she had reason to suspect someone having tampered with the hypno-conditioning of her chapter. She needed a second instance to have an eye on their warriors.
“What else?”, Ferone wanted to know.
“We will join the crusade as autonomous chapter, we will keep our colours and we will be allowed to go on recruiting.”
The commander folded his arms in so far as this was possible in power armour while holding a mug.
“I can do that”, he said slowly. “Provided that I still hold my position tomorrow.”
Vox smirked and sent a quick look around the room. A tumult had sprung up among the brothers. They were all gathering in one spot.
“You should look into the protocol of the trial for your predecessor”, she counselled.
“For Mordigael?”, Ferone asked.
“Yes”, Vox confirmed. “Zork has more than his skeleton in the closet but that’s one of the biggest. I asked Allarion to move them since I didn’t have clearance for the section. They’re with your file now.”
“How did you find something like that out?”
“Can’t tell you”, Vox replied solemnly.
“You’re a devious character”, Ferone said in astonishment, maybe harbouring a suspicion.
“On the field of law there is no justice, my friend”, Vox said calmly. “You use every dirty trick you can and hope like hell that you’re the better person, fighting for the better cause.”
“Then how, in the name of the Emperor, did you get Cumbersant to help you?”, Ferone demanded. “He’s so conscientious, he can drive me crazy!”
Vox shot him a glance full of an impish sort of confident calmness. “He is, isn’t he?”, she asked. “That’s why I approached him. I advised him to look into the files and decide for himself.”
Ferone shook his head and took a sip from his mug.
“Say, do you collect fallen inquisitors?”, he wanted to know. “Do you mark them down on your staff of office or something?”
Vox laughed pleasantly.
“I never brought down anyone”, she pointed out. “I always had another inquisitor to do the dirty work for me.”
“Not the worst approach I’ve heard of”, he conceded.
“There’s something else I want”, Vox said.
The commander’s blue eyes came to rest on her in silent attentiveness.
“I want to lay down the black shield.”
He stifled a humourless laugh.
“You didn’t tell me of any failing to your chapter when you joined”, he said. “As far as I remember that would be compulsory for something like that.”
“That was because I didn’t know of my failing”, Vox said softly. “The Emperor sent me here to gain the knowledge I need to free my people. I’m a high ranking librarian among my kind”, she admitted. “Not knowing what I know now, was a failing indeed.”
“It always amazes me how you manage to twist everything into legality.”
Vox shrugged with a smile.
“It’s my job.”
“You conduct it admirably well”, he complimented and returned the smile. “Lay down the black shield whenever you want”, he allowed her. “It was a shell to protect you in any case. I wish I could return your shoulder guard but that is something I can not do right now.”
“Don’t worry about that”, Vox said. “As long as I regain it at some point, my machine spirit should be happy. Until then, there will be others.” She took a deep breath. She was glad that there was no need to discuss the circumstances. Vox and Titus had to get off station and would seek shelter with Vox’s chapter. Corven had to accompany them. Everyone who had been closely associated with them in recent times would have a date with the Inquisition if the three of them vanished. Now, they just had to draw the line. She decided to start with the least obvious one lest he was forgotten: “If we take Corven, we’ll have to take Xavor.”
“Take Gladius as well. I hate to do it this way but I can’t expose myself this time or you’ll have no one here to broker for you. Aegis, of course, goes without saying”, he added.
“Can I do something else for you?”, she inquired.
The commander gave a humourless little laugh.
“Write me a report”, he said and gave his drink a despondent look before he finished it. “I always liked your reports. Especially the poems”, he almost whispered.
“I liked writing them”, Vox admitted and shot him a glance. Having been set free, she felt her apparent rank fall from her already. She allowed herself to speak openly: “We are all so very young, aren’t we?”, she asked. “I often think this and I’m only a quarter your age.”
“I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a librarian knows my age”, he said with a lopsided look at her.
“You know what I admire about you?”, she asked and let her eyes wander nonchalantly around the room. The hubbub among the revelling brothers had grown even louder.
“My good looks and razor-sharp wit?”, Ferone asked dejectedly.
“There’s that of course”, Vox conceded with a smile. “But more importantly: you always seem to have just enough time. A rare and powerful gift. Knowing when to act and when to wait. Our former Chapter Mistress was older than you are now and, even though she was a wise leader and a mighty warrior, she didn’t have this particular talent.”
Ferone looked down. He was bashful about this remark, she could see. Finally, he resorted to walking over to a close by table and refilled his mug from the jug that stood forlornly on it. When he returned, Vox hazarded a guess about what was wrong: “The dreams come every night now, don’t they?”
Ferone nodded and drank.
“It was the same with her in the end. Despair and sleep deprivation.” Vox allowed herself to stare unseeing into space, beholding this memory. Despaired and tired. She could relate so very well…
“What was her name?”, Ferone asked, bringing her back to the present.
“Mistress Arianne of Jericho Keep.”
“How did she die?”
Vox smiled a little sadly.
“She named her successor and led the charge of first against two battalions of Tau on Baraban.”
“When?”, he wanted to know.
“About eighty years ago”, Vox said, picking up on his surprise.
“We’ve been wondering where those Tau had gotten to”, he said distantly. “They were trying to jump over to Oertha again. How did your chapter get there?”
“We were called”, Vox told him. “We have established trading posts on Baraban.”
Ferone gave a disbelieving harrumph.
“How did you manage to keep a whole chapter hidden for all this time?”, he asked.
“We were hidden”, Vox told him. “That’s about to end.”
For a while, his gaze lost itself in infinity.
“Naming your successor and facing the end”, he said thoughtfully. “A good way to go. To Mistress Arianne of Jericho Keep.” He raised his mug to the ghost of a memory. “And to Ecurael”, he added a moment later.
The siblings in blood exchanged a meaningful glance.
“Did he ever mention it to you?”, the commander inquired.
Vox shook her head.
“Not in words.”
“I guess it was obvious.” He looked at her. “Afterall, you see my end looming over me right here…” He drank. Half bashful, half agitated. “Yes, the end”, he murmured then. “I’m already there but I still have my duty to maintain.”
“Who will replace you?”, Vox asked.
“Captain Quiores.” He shrugged and it looked like he had to lift a lot of weight with this simple movement. “Don’t worry. I’ll stay until your chapter is safe…”
“I never doubted that”, she said and their blue eyes met.
It was a private moment Vox and Ferone shared and somehow, he seemed to come alive in it. Strength flowed into him from the fragile connection they built. His voice was soft and thoughtful when he said: “When Dankwart said that our Primarch speaks through you, I caught myself thinking ‘He speaks to all of us constantly. It’s about time he spoke through someone’.”
“I never heard him…”, she admitted.
Suddenly, he turned to her and the mug clattered down to spill its contents unnoticed in the din of the hall. He grabbed her by the upper arms, almost shaking her.
“Then in the Emperor’s name listen!”, he cried. “If ever anyone might hear him, it’s you Vox Draconis! Voice of the Dragons. Do you think I didn’t spot that? You hear the dragons all the time, don’t you? The world is never silent for you, is it? If he is still out there, listen and speak for him!” He subsided and wanted to let go of her but she grabbed his arms in return.
“I found a way”, she said with quiet insistence. “I couldn’t hear him before, but I found a way to listen for him and I will. I promise!” They halted in breathless silence. “Maybe I will find some words for you”, she added.
Ferone looked at her and she could see the millennium he carried pressing down on him clearer than ever.
“Promise you will return and I promise I will wait for you”, he finally said.
“If I possibly can, I will”, she promised. “But the way home is long and I have things to do there.”
“Of course”, he said, well knowing that travelling through the warp alone was no guarantee that they ever met again. “Keep my men safe”, he asked her. “Use them wisely. Dock hundred and five should be unguarded tonight. Nostromo has communicated a while back that he is on his way here. With any luck, you should be able to meet him in real space already.”
“I thank you, my brother Ferone.”
“Goodbye, Vox Draconis”, Commander Ferone of the Blood Angels said. “Until we meet again.”
They let go, their hands sliding each other by, intertwining for a moment, giving pressure.
Then Vox returned to the others. They had about two hours left before the Astartes were expected to go to bed. After that they should have approximately one hour to get everyone off the station.
These heavy thoughts in her mind, she found out where the tumult originated from: Titus and Xavor had started a fist fight. They had stripped down to their loin cloths and rolled on the floor punching, screaming, sweating and occasionally spitting blood. She grinned.
Less than two hours then.
She saw to it that Corven stopped his bad-tempered skulking at the edge of the crowd and went over to Ferone to say his goodbye. Then, she found Arrick and pulled him to the front row. She briefed him that he had to separate the fighters as soon as Xavor yielded. Her friend gave her a quizzical look but stood ready.
They were just in time. Titus had managed to grab Xavor by the ankles and lifted him to smack him to the floor with force. The large man landed on his back and the captain was upon him in an instant to rain blows down on him. Xavor twisted to get out of the line of the captain’s punches. When this failed, he gasped a submission. Luckily, Arrick needed no prompting. He tackled Titus out of the way. He landed favourably and managed to get the raging captain into an arm lock. Drenched in adrenaline, Titus only registered the new attacker. Here was the second Space Wolf he wanted to have a go at and he managed to break the lock. Grimfang had to roll off him and for a moment, it seemed as if he would fight back but then, his gaze fleeted to Vox. Smoothly, he relaxed his stance and stepped backwards. This lack of resistance confused Titus enough to make him hesitate and the bystanders used this moment to flood the fighting ground. Titus was swept away by a tide of battle brothers who slapped him on the unprotected shoulders and gave their cries of congratulations. Blood ran down him, not all of it his own. Xavor had preferred left-handed punches and the whole right side of his face was starting to swell. The left was still black from her punch yesterday but when he spotted her in the crowd, Vox could see the fire burning in his eyes. With a smile she registered more than the white kind. There was an inner fire about him. An unquenchable strength that drove him forward. Away from his weakness towards greatness. She admired this in him.
Once again she felt how much she was drawn to him and a small sting of regret tinged her smile. It was unfortunate that it had come this far. From the moment she had met him, she had kept him safe. It had been a rewarding endeavour but at some point, Titus had gotten it into his head that she needed to be kept safe as well. He had exposed himself at the wrong turn and now they were on the run.
When Titus turned for a moment to congratulate his valiant opponent, Vox slipped away to the library. She had already found the star charts they needed when Corven joined her to let her into the forbidden sections. Together, they went through the secret archives and found the things Vox was searching for. Corven shook his head in surprise when he got a quick look at what she collected and she apologised that he would probably not be able to attend the trial these files would win for her.
They worked fast and efficiently and yet it was quite a bit after tattoo when they were ready to leave.
Titus waited for them outside. He was chatting to Allarion Cumbersant who was on guard tonight.
“What are you doing here?”, Corven wanted to know while Vox found herself blushing happily. He had made the right connections and worked out where to find her. What a man to stand by her side.
Her still heart had given the first, painful pulse during that terrible fight with him in the chapel of the ‘Aiolos’. Now, both her hearts leapt to see him and hear him say: “I was looking for you. Are you done?”
For once, she was at a loss for words and only nodded. They took a goodbye from Allarion that was a bit too obviously not just a good night. The keeper said nothing, however, only wished them good hunting and the three of them left the library.
“Captain, will you go to the apothecarium and pick up Ignatius?”, Vox asked. “Corven, as far as I know, his armour should be ready in the mechanicum. Can you go and get it? I’ll get the others. We’ll meet at dock hundred and five.”
The men nodded and departed. Vox made sure the bag with the files she was carrying was secure around her shoulders. She smiled. Yes, the others were on the run now, but for her the way home had begun.