113. Executive

Vox did not even bother to confirm. As she stood up, she opened her mind wide to dive into the agony of fear and guilt. She drew her sword. With an almost gentle poke through his throat, she cut through the spine of the anyway dying high priest.
He twitched once.
Before the horror could sink in fully, she separated the heads of the other two priests from their bodies with flowing movements. After this, the other Astartes had to intervene because the humans tried to flee. There was no escape. The battle-hardened, gene-hanced warriors herded the terrified humans towards their Mistress of Secrets who found the guilty and brought them to justice.
Vox felt no joy for this slaughter. Her sorrow ran so deep that not even her blade dared to sing out in the violent shedding of blood. They had meant well and Vox had made them the scapegoats to serve her cause. This sacrifice would ensure the peaceful unification of her chapter with the Imperium of Man instead of the otherwise inevitable war. Vox never took the easy way but she took every way to success she could find and here was the smallest amount of blood she could shed. Still. They had meant well. All she could do was to share their horror and try to make their suffering as brief as possible.
A cut open human tended to spray and when they had finished, they all were covered in blood. Only seven of the more than fifty priests were left alive.
“Do you think we have all of them?”, Celeste wanted to know.
“Most, I believe. We keep records of all ordained priests for the rest”, Vox assured her. Her sword had disappeared into its sheath after the last strike. It would be drinking up the blood, soon hungering for more.
Celeste nodded curtly and turned.
“Later then. Sergeant Cephaya?”
“Yes, Mistress?”
“I want Remora guarding the entry to the archive until we can bring our librarians in. We will join what’s left of the even prayer and send them here afterwards.”
“Yes, Mistress!”
“Vox?” Celeste nodded towards the remaining priests and Vox turned. When the last convict had fallen, she had closed her senses and it took her a moment to understand what her friend wanted. When she saw the sad remains of the priesthood huddled in a corner, her grief transformed into compassion. These she had been able to spare. It was important not to leave them out in the cold now. She let her gaze sweep over them. Most of the survivors were covered in blood as well. Some were crying, some had wet themselves. Vox spotted one among them who was leaning against the wall with his eyes closed, praying a silent prayer. He was the only one at least remotely keeping his composure.
When she walked over, looming over them in her blood encrusted, black and silver power armour, they all cringed back in fear. Some even gave cries like terrified animals.
Vox slowed down, relaxed her stance and pointed out the man who had caught her attention. He was quite young. Early twenties maybe but she was bad at guessing human years. The others pushed him forward as if to offer the next sacrifice and he looked her in the face with terrified, brown eyes, still praying. This close, she could make out the words on his lips and she smiled a warm, wistful smile to hear them again. It was one of the litanies peculiar to the Wings of War. The theme was the darkness they had stood watch over since their founding. It called for the divine guidance of the Emperor without being so bold as to call him ‘father’ like the Astartes sometimes did and it was a prayer for everyone, not just a warrior. The man had just reached the end of it and started over. With a shiver running over her skin, Vox lent her own, vibrant voice to the hoarse whisper to carry it further.
“Oh, guide my step throughout the dark!
However long the night may be.
Oh, guide my heart in the face of the dark!
Wherever it shows itself to me.
Oh, guide my mind away from the dark!
Whenever trouble I should see.
Oh, guide me by the force of your light!
Forever your servant I will be.”
His voice had gained strength throughout the prayer and the other humans had fallen silent in their own whispers.
“Tell me your name”, Vox bade him, when they had ended.
“Gunnar Roughpoint”, came the answer. His voice was steady now, even though she could still see fear in his eyes.
“You made a good choice, Gunnar Roughpoint and spoke wise words where they were needed”, Vox said softly. “What is your rank among yours?”
“I have been fully ordained since last week.”
She nodded. So young. She must have been as young as this herself but right now, she could not even imagine how this felt.
“Not enough time to learn of the crimes committed here”, she said soothingly.
He shook his head mutely, still staring into her face. She did him the honour not to crouch down before him like one does to talk to a child but remained standing and extended her hand to him. When he laid his own, tiny hand in her massive one, she grasped it gently and said: “There are necessities each of us must observe to unmake what has happened today. The first and most pressing of it is that priests and Astartes alike must witness the magnitude of the treachery that has been committed by those who came before. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mistress of Secrets and Keeper of the Law”, Gunnar Roughpoint answered passably steadily. “We will assist you in any way possible.”
Vox smiled.
“We will send our librarians to you as soon as we can.”
“We will… stay put, I guess.”
Her expression softened even more.
“I’m sorry for all of you that you had to see this”, she said quietly. She knew how fragile human minds could prove in the face of violence. “We are supposed to be your guardians, not your executors.”
Roughpoint laughed uneasily.
“And we are supposed to be your guides and confessors, not your in-house arrant liars.”
“Well spoken”, Vox praised these words. “Let us work together towards what is supposed to be!”
The young man nodded and looked quite strained as he tried to smile. “Thank you, Mistress!”, he managed.
Vox let go of him and let her mind sink into a deep well of calmness. She took the time to touch each of the survivors. Some returned the gesture, some shied back from a pat to the shoulder but all returned her gaze and in this inevitably received a piece of the tranquillity she offered them.
When she stepped back from the last, she allowed herself a moment of dark cynicism. Human memories were short, she knew. Every once in a while one would emerge whose lust for power overcame anything history might have taught them. Her deal with the Deathwatch would provide a safeguard against this.
Celeste smiled when Vox came back to her side. She deemed herself a very capable political animal. Her success during the roughly ninety years of her leadership, gave her the right to do so but she dealt in needs, desires and the exchange of favours, not emotions. When it came to this, she was happy to leave the messy details to Vox.
The chapter mistress honoured the remaining priests with a salute. With her hands crossed over her breast plate in the sign of the aquila, she said to them: “May the Emperor guide you through the darkness!”
“May He guide us together, Mistress Celeste”, Gunnar Roughpoint replied for all of them.
Leaving Remora behind, they marched out.
Outside, Vox finally let the heavy weights drop off her shoulders. She had survived another battle. She exchanged a glance with Celeste and suddenly, the joy of her return broke through and with beaming faces they linked their hands again as they walked, pressing down.
Then, it was time to fill Celeste in on the political situation and the negotiations she had initiated. The Wings of War would join the Imperium of Man and stand shoulder to shoulder with their brethren as the Emperor had meant them to do.
Celeste nodded to most of what she was told but after a while, she laughed. This noise sent a pleasurable shiver down Vox’s spine. Her friend had the most pleasant laugh she had ever heard. Deep and welcoming and honest. How she had missed this!
“We will have time to discuss this later”, Celeste stopped her. “Now, it is time for prayer.”
“Oh, I long to hear Saphane preach again!”, Vox exclaimed and laughed once more. Her laughter was free and earnest but ever so playful as she detached some blood encrusted strands of hair from her forehead.
“And I long to hear your voice returned”, Celeste replied, her genuine smile rippling the scars on her face.
“Say…”, Vox asked and looked around with an impish expression in her eyes. “Did I happen to arrive in time for bathing night?”

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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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