11. Lots of Daemons

“That looks different than before”, Titus commented flatly. “And it will take more than a frag grenade”, he estimated. The hall between the bridge and the chapel was awash with pink abominations. Twitching, wavering chaos milled around in the large space. Unfortunately, what looked like pure anarchy was nevertheless coordinated enough: The doors to the bridge were beginning to glow red under continuous fire lances.
Protected among the multitude was the larger daemon they had driven from the chapel. Under the current light, they could see that it was pink like raw, bloodless flesh. It had an unhealthy sheen to it. Apart from the tentacles, there were beaks and claws somewhere in there and, like its smaller siblings, it moved about all the time, changing shape. Seeing it clearly now, Titus was certain that it was heavily wounded, even though it was hard to tell which part of it was damaged and which was its usual abnormal state of being.
The Ultramarine looked around and thought for a moment. They needed Dankwart and Tiberius to hold the generator. There was no time for them to arrive in any case. The two of them would have to suffice.
“How many grenades do you have left?”
Vox lifted two fingers.
“I have five”, Titus said. “The big one can still sense you but not me?”
The brother confirmed this with a nod.
Titus drew his bolter. He knew he was a good marksman. Even his current weakness had not changed that. Vox, on the other hand, was rather below average with ranged weaponry for an Astartes, while none of them had matched him with the sword yet. Right above them was the rose window.
“Alright”, Titus said as he peered upwards. With the mass of opponents, it would be a risky plan but probably the best they would get in a hurry. “I’ll get up there and take out the big one if the grenades don’t suffice. You hit the rest of them as soon as the explosions are over and I’ll cover you.”
Vox nodded, held up a finger for him to wait a moment and handed him his spare ammo clips.
Titus smiled under his helmet. Specialists, who never stopped thinking. It turned out to be a pleasure to work with them.
He took the clips and pushed himself upwards. The window frame was easy to get hold of as he drifted by. When he had steadied himself, he contemplated how to compensate the bolter’s recoil with the stone wall rendering his mag boots useless. Seeing no other option, he settled for smashing two of the beautiful window panes and strapped his lifeline to the stone brace between them. The shards tumbled into the gravitated hall outside. He had a good angle on the proceedings below and saw that the falling glass got largely ignored. The daemons just continued throwing fire around. Therefore, he smashed a third glass to make sure he got everything in view.
“I’m in position”, he informed Vox. “Grenades at your leisure, brother.” He threw his explosives as well, hardly having to aim for the sheer mass of enemies. They went off in silence, without the usual fiery smoke effect but nevertheless ripped flesh apart and splattered the surroundings with daemon innards. All the time, he kept his aim on the tentacled big one. Spooked by the devastation, the swarm jolted in all directions but Titus saw that their violent assault had not taken out the main target. With the thing being badly hurt already, it took him only a few bullets to correct this.
“You’re clear!”
Even as he said it, Vox came into view, no weapon in hand yet. By leaving the chapel, he had dropped into the gravity outside. He moved arrow-fast, dodging fire lances, hurled by the pink enemies. A last push with his jump pack brought him in reach of the still impressive mass of daemons.
Now, he drew his blade.
Titus stared.
He had never seen Vox in action while equipped with a jump pack. The young man was a good sword fighter. Fast, precise and powerful, with the tactical finesse he needed to find the right time for his strikes. But what Titus witnessed now, was far, far beyond what he had ever seen from anyone before.
Vox never jumped high, he always stayed at ground level, pushing himself into and through the throng of the daemons, changing directions unpredictably, his sword dancing around him with hardly any effort. His blade went through the enemies without resistance, yet left devastation wherever it struck.
Titus already thought he could lean back with a few cynical comments, when the first daemon corpse shuddered and burst open. It folded itself into two new creatures.
For each foe he had thought down, two more crawled out of the disgusting remains. They were blue of skin and the first thing they did was to hurl a fire lance after Vox.
Hurriedly, Titus took up his aim but it was risky to shoot somewhere close to his brother. It was too hard to anticipate where the librarian would move next. When he tried to take out a few of the blue horrors further away from Vox, they burst into two more burning creatures each.
“Vox, get out of there!”, he commanded. This had been a gamble to begin with. They had to find another way.
But Vox did not react. He went on slaughtering daemons left and right.
“You haven’t muted your line, have you?”, Titus asked in shock. “You have… May the Emperor protect you, little brother!”
He considered getting down there but to his surprise, Vox was doing quite well. He had not been hit by the lances of fire yet. At least not directly and although he had about twice as many opponents now than to begin with, he moved on confidently and incredibly efficiently. Somehow, the sheer combined mass of all these foes tended to get in each other’s way. Flames sprang up everywhere but so far, the librarian had managed to arrange for mostly daemons being burned.
Watching this in wonderment, Titus suddenly noticed one peculiarity in the brother’s movement pattern: He never moved directly backwards. Once he had figured this out, he could just follow Vox’s path with his muzzle, often reducing the daemons one further stage. This way, he could spare Vox several enemies springing him. To his relief the small, burning ones seemed to be the last form. In the chaos down there, he lost sight of Vox several times but time and again, the black shadow re-emerged to bring destruction to the colourful multitude.
Like the brother on the ground, Titus kept up his concentration, always aiming for the most vulnerable parts of the foes to save bullets. He switched to his bolt pistol when his ammo ran out. Even with the additional clips Vox had given him, he ran out of that as well and still the brother fought on. Hacking, thrusting, killing, moving in circles around the remaining daemons now, penning them in.
Titus unstrapped himself from the window and pushed downwards. He swung around the gate of the chapel and landed heavily in the gravity outside. Right at this moment, the last daemon fell.
Without segue, Vox stopped.
Even under his armour, Titus could see him breathing heavily. He was covered in gore, his sword dripping with unspeakable juices. For the first time, Titus saw the weapon clearly just before it was put away. He had noticed the magnificent hilt before but Vox had never drawn it in his presence while he had been in a position to watch. The handle was long enough to put a second hand on it if the need arose and the counterweight of the pommel had the form of an intricately carved skull. The cross guard was formed by six golden wings, stretching their detailed feathers to both sides. The blade itself had an elegant, symmetrical curve to it and in the fuller, close to the base, half a dozen clear crystals had been set right into the metal. The light shone through them, causing odd reflections and as he watched, the blade seemed to drink up the remains of the daemons until it gleamed again. Clean and deadly.
Sadly, the wonderment at the magnificent weapon took second place to other considerations as Titus strode towards his friend.
“Vox, do you read me?”
“Aye, captain!”, Vox said, turning around, his breath slowly settling down. Something strange happened to the young man when he put his sword away. He seemed to shrink. He had been standing tall and proud. Now, he hunched his shoulders a little, ducked his head, maybe bent his knees. They were small motions, so subtle that they hardly counted but they all transformed a shining hero into a harmless little brother. In power armour. Amidst the unbelievable carnage.
Titus had reached him and eyed him over.
“Are you hurt?”
“A bit singed”, Vox said good-humouredly. “And the machine spirit of my left arm is taking a nap. Otherwise, I’m fine.”
“The damn things were suddenly multiplying!”
“I thought you fought them before? Didn’t they do it then?”
“No!”, Titus burst out. “The ones on our way here didn’t do it either, if you remember!”
“Yes, we got rid of them quickly enough”, the librarian said as if this was an established fact.
“So, what you’re telling me is that you threw yourself happily into combat against a horde of opponents which you knew would multiply by four?”, Titus summed things up.
“It would have been a factor of eight, had the herald been left alive”, Vox said unfazed. “I must thank you, actually.”
“You’re welcome”, Titus replied in a stunned voice. “What for?”
“For letting me handle them”, Vox clarified. He shrugged one shoulder and looked around for a moment.
“It does you good to let your hair down”, he said in a satisfied tone.
“Yes, I did that to do you a favour…”
Titus was sure he could hear Vox grinning under his helmet.
“I tried to call you back, you moron!”, he burst out, letting his temper get the better of him.
“Yes, I thought you might try that”, the brother said amusedly.
“And that’s why you muted yourself?”
“Since breaking my flow could have proved quite deadly, I thought I’d rather not risk it.”
“Alright, Vox. Who are you?”, Titus demanded. “Who am I working with here?”
“Me?”, Vox asked innocently. “I’m a black shield, serving the Deathwatch, captain.”
Titus started cursing at him. He had just enough honour and shame left to do it without engaging the vox but the rage carried him away. It took him several seconds to calm down behind his helmet.
“Better?”, Vox inquired kindly.
“Did you hear me?”, he asked in shock.
“No, but you looked like you were cursing.”
“I want a list of your powers by tomorrow!”, Titus demanded, trying to get a grip on himself. “Now, let’s see if we can get some air in here! Team two, come in! Report!”

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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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