Their journey lasted another three months.
Vox recovered slowly and Titus was concerned that she might not stand the two weeks guiding the ‘Hammer’ towards her home planet. To compensate for her weakness, she pushed herself hard during the day and this meant that she was exhausted at night. It was only a blessing that they undertook these short jumps. It still was a test of endurance for her. While Grimfang was on healing duty Vox and Titus often spent the nights with him. Simply talking, keeping her awake.
The situation with the sergeant normalised astonishingly quickly. However much he hated the hierarchy, once it was established he seemed to tick with it nicely. Had he been rough and tough and loud before, he now was eager to adapt to Vox and Titus. They gently mocked him when he started to take up their vocabulary and mode of speech. The white wolf took this calmly and continued to learn. All in all he was pleasant company and when he was released from the apothecarium, Titus offered him to continue his participation in their forced watch. To his surprise, the Space Wolf proved reluctant and after a few awkward exchanges, they decided that he would join them every second night. Titus was confused about this until Vox mouthed the suspicion that Arrick might have tried to give the two of them time alone.
Due to the overall circumstances they did nothing special with time alone but this was a nice move nevertheless. Titus found, he deeply appreciated the thought.
Since they had so much time in the nights, they spent their evenings with the others and Titus took care to continue his efforts to establish connections himself instead of relying on Vox to hold everything together. He took time to get to know his new and old team members alike and, apart from the physical challenges Vox faced, they had a relaxed time.
After the incident with Grimfang Titus’ new status as captain was irrevocably established. His two nightly companions sometimes teased him by calling him “Ultrimate Alpha”, which he was quite content with. It was surprisingly good to be back in charge. He could not fool around with the others like the two of them but he allowed himself a certain high standard of humour by day and enough desperate nonsense during the nights to get him through.
When they had time to think about it both Vox and Titus noticed that being in love was strange. It had very little impact on their actions. Maybe except for their constant and probably slightly stupid grins.
They trained during the day, conversed with the others, wandered the ship at night, talking, joking, just spending time like they had done when they had been brothers together. Arrick joined them on and off.
It was different, however. Titus had never felt so connected and close to anyone. Just standing next to Vox made him happy in a way he had not known before. It also still made him feel nervous and alive.
Vox for her part had never felt as secure as with Titus at her side. The mere possibility of fleeing into his realm of existence if the need arose made her relaxed and calm like she had never been before. She only refrained from testing if she could sleep while holding his hand because she was quite certain that sleep would be impossible for the excitement of having him in the room.
When they reached their last stop beyond Ynnen, Vox had recovered to her own satisfaction. Her black carapace had taken up all its functions again and she felt ready for the challenge of guiding a ship through the warp. When Titus and Arrick inquired about how this would be done, Vox proved quite unable to tell them details. Piloting a ship usually meant that a navigator oriented himself by the Astronomican on Terra, the beacon the Emperor sent out. In relation to this, it was possible to find a way through the warp. Both the men already knew that the Jericho Reach was too far away from Terra for this to be feasible but not that other points than the Astronomican could provide guidance. They just usually were left alone. Things that distorted the warp enough to be visible for a long way were mostly warp anomalies and they were neither stable nor well-disposed towards anyone looking into them too deeply. Although navigators were practically immune to the tides of the warp, they still were not as suicidal as that. Every other thing usually was too small to be singled out in the mass of chaotic swirls in the warp but, apparently, Vox was able to perceive her home world as long as there were enough minds known to her there. It was a difficult arrangement and a rather large uncertainty that they could hit the right spot. Especially with all the disturbances raging through the warp lately but when they entered real space and Vox had gone to talk to Nostromo, there was a certain glint in her eyes. She was sure she would be able to span the distance.
After that, things got rather unspectacular for the brothers. Vox asked to get one night of sleep. The next morning she and Nostromo locked themselves in the navigator’s cabin and nobody saw them for two weeks. When they had fallen out of the warp again, the two of them fell out of the small room in turn. Nostromo looked alright but Vox was completely incoherent and disoriented. She spent a whole day in the apothecarium with Dankwart fussing over her. At least, this recovered her enough to initiate the next part of the mission.
For a civilian vessel the ‘Hammer’ carried rather a lot of personal weaponry, some of it even suitable for Astartes. Thus, Aegis and Gladius displayed an interesting assortment of weapons after their visit to the armoury. Especially hings that had been frequently used in the past were waiting for their usual wielders. Dankwart got his storm shield and power sword and Tiberius had a flamer at his disposal. Apart from that, every one of them would have to expand their expertise with another artefact of destruction on the run. None of them was unhappy, however. The weapons were all of extraordinary beauty and prowess. For Vox, Corven and Xavor the ranged weapons were only side arms in any case.
The long-term members of Aegis started to suspect that something was going on when Vox refrained from taking a jump pack along.
Despite this pattern break, they were all in quite good spirits when they entered the ‘Cornix’.
Like Tiberius had mentioned, Titus indeed remembered the ship in its black and silver glory. The compact fuselage combined with the short wings made it seem stocky but Tiberius claimed that it could practically turn on the spot. The ship might look a bit like a flying brick but all of them had to admit that it would probably have a much larger impact.
After almost four months of travel, they were eager to see something else than the bowels of the ‘Hammer of Destiny’ again and it was a pleasure to experience the discipline and focus of eleven true warriors, entering unknown territory.
They had left the warp in a non-established exit point and drawn closer to the outermost planet in the Thetis system during the previous day. As soon as the ‘Cornix’ was on her way, the ‘Hammer’ would retreat to safety.
It took a long time of journey through the void before Tiberius informed them that the surveillance of the ‘Cornix’ had found the first defence stations. They were single, satellite-sized energy weapons, powered by solar panels.
“Vox?”, Tiberius asked a few seconds later and his tone alone caused all of them to tense. “You said they don’t log on to objects our size.”
Vox sat leaned back at the wall. She had her hair tied together and a very small smile stole into her features when she answered: “No, I said they will not shoot at us. Important safety tip: Don’t open fire.”
Silent minutes went by and after even longer they heard the air friction get up outside.
As the outermost planet in its system, Thetis was rather cold for an inhabited world. Its axis was hardly tilted, which resulted in a lack of seasons. The weather around the fortress was mostly determined by the wind cycles on the planet, which made them rather unpredictable. Apparently, the only thing you could rely on in Jericho Keep was that the next snow storm would come.
When the ‘Cornix’ had sunken low enough to fly under radar, Vox started to give directions. The brothers had held up well until now but from here on they got restive. They all had known that she was able to sense the fortress but somehow the peaceful picture of her leaning back with closed eyes was greatly unsettling for the men.
After more than an hour, the atmosphere in the ship had developed so much tension that Titus, Grimfang and Corven started to exchange meaningful glances. So did Rogan, Yorg and Caregar.
To everyone’s surprise, it was Xavor who saved the day. He loudly and confidently declared his utter boredom and urged all of them to form a choir. This was met with so much bafflement that thoughts of violence quickly dwindled. All of them refused at first but the black wolf demonstrated how obtrusively friendly he could be. His first targets were his fellow Space Wolves who, to everyone’s surprise, turned out to have wonderful singing voices. Apparently, it was common among Space Wolves to chant battle songs but Corven and Grimfang had a capacity and range that was actually wasted on the confined space of the ‘Cornix’s’ cargo bay. After Xavor had the two of them singing bonfire songs, Corven took over and taught all of them a saga he had written himself. Working with call and response, this epic was excellently fitted for their purpose. Corven sang the verses and then it was just a matter of getting everyone to reply. Titus joined them to support the endeavour even though he felt that his chances of hitting any tone were very slim. Vox meanwhile just sat and smiled while she gave directions.
It crossed the captain’s mind that her singing voice might have given her away immediately.
He wondered how she would play it when they arrived. Would she reveal herself to the others at all?
The saga had progressed to the point where the hero had faced down all but the last, mightiest opponent and was just about to reach its climax when Tiberius suddenly flew a tight circle, interrupting anything going on.
Vox’s soft snigger wove itself through the shocked silence.
“Fly on, brother”, she said.
“What’s the matter?”, Titus wanted to know.
“We have reached the fortress”, Tiberius informed them rather excitedly and stabilised their flight.
All of them turned to Vox, who looked back at them with amusement in her half opened eyes.
“Did I hear that correctly, you want me to fly on?”, their techmarine asked and he sounded quite unable to believe what he had heard.
“Yes”, Vox confirmed unperturbed. “Land in the courtyard.”
“Vox, there were more than three dozen logs on us just now.”
“Did they go off?”, she asked sweetly.
“Then fly on. This is your leap of faith, Tiberius. Land in the courtyard.”
Behind his helmet, they could not see their pilot’s expression but they all felt that it was with extreme reluctance that he turned them around again.
Vox leaned forward and her blue eyes twinkled in sudden delight.
“Let me give you a short security briefing, brothers”, she said and all of them knew that this was not their brother Vox addressing them anymore. “You will enter Jericho Keep. It is the fortress of the Wings of War and you are welcome here but I suggest that none of you draws a weapon unless I specifically ask for it. Any questions?”
“Yes”, Tiberius could be heard from the front again. “There’s a whole company down there. Do you still want me to land?”
“Has anybody shot at you yet?”, Vox wanted to know in delighted amusement.
“Not that I noticed”, Tiberius said testily. “I’ll set her down then, shall I?”
“Good man”, Vox encouraged him. “Any more questions?”
Xavor raised a hand.
“What about these chains?”, he inquired and everyone who could reach him punched him on the shoulders but at least they grinned.
“Let’s not rush into things”, Vox counselled with a placating gesture. “I’ll inquire after them in a convenient moment.”
“Great, thank you, brother!”
Her smile widened as she stood up. She looked down on Xavor as the ship touched down with a slight thump.
“I can’t tell you how satisfying it is that I will never have to be called that again.”