12. Remember Why We Are
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Heavy void shutters should have been closed during the journey through the immaterium. The daemons had tampered with them somehow and Tiberius had to come up to the chapel in order to fix this. Upon gaining access to the bridge, the Space Marines requested help in finding the last few daemons scattered throughout the ship. With the remains of the slaughter outside, it took the frightened, headless humans a while to accede to this. The daemons had started to evaporate into nothing but there was enough left to worry the mortals. While the humans organised search parties, Vox asked to be excused for a moment. Titus was surprised by this but granted it.
The librarian returned in silence after a while and when they went down the large hallway they had arrived by, they found twenty-four human bodies neatly laid out in the corridor. All of them showed the unpleasant bruising and violated flesh a loss of pressure would cause in a human. Someone had folded their hands on their chests.
Nobody commented but Titus filed it away for future reference. Their day continued with hunting down single daemons, scattered in the vast hallways and small corridors. When they had finished, they tended to their armour and weapons, restocked on ammo and finally, after the meal, came the even prayer. It took place in a ventilated and well-lit chapel, in which the gravity had been switched on again. The scattered furniture did not disturb the faithful in their task. Since they had made sure that enough humans were left to clean, they considered their end of the bargain fulfilled.
After the prayer, they went to their rooms early. Other than usual, Vox sat down at the table when they entered. He took a piece of paper, a quill and a small vial of ink out of one of the pockets on his belt and began to write.
“What are you doing?”, Titus inquired.
“Writing the list you demanded.”
“Right. I had forgotten about that.” That was only partly true. Things could slip Titus’ mind for a while but they never got truly lost. At least under normal circumstances.
“Damn. I should have let you”, Vox said without rancour.
“Your sense of duty probably wouldn’t have let you sleep for it”, Titus teased him good-naturedly.
“Since it doesn’t let me sleep for guarding you anyway, it wouldn’t have been much of a loss”, Vox said distractedly.
“I agreed to you staying at my side, not that you wouldn’t sleep.”
“Can’t be too careful with Laraise, trust me.”
“You don’t seem like a psyker who hasn’t slept in three weeks.”
Vox smiled without looking up.
“Every couple of days, I ask Dankwart to stand guard outside, so I can switch off for a while.”
“You know, it’s sweet that you should do that but I’m no little boy.”
“Indeed not!”, Vox said with a noticeable delay and there was quiet conviction in his voice as he continued: “Even if there had been doubts, there can’t be any left after today.”
“How do you mean?”, Titus inquired.
Vox looked up from his paper and smiled at him.
“Apart from some mighty fine shooting I was privileged to witness, you did exceptionally well as our captain, captain.”
Titus felt flattered and looked around the room to hide this.
“Coming from the man who took down all these daemons single-handedly, this might actually mean something”, he said casually.
“I wasn’t single-handed”, Vox disagreed in a soft tone. “I had someone covering me who didn’t let himself be carried away by needless pride or machismo. On the contrary, he used the resources we had to the very limit and showed a tremendous capacity for lateral thinking in his tactics. I’ve rarely seen that before. It was a pleasure and an honour to be led by you today. I hope I get the chance again.”
Titus was proud to receive these compliments but found no answer. Instead, he remembered something.
“The bodies in the corridor were the people who died because we evacuated the sector, weren’t they?”, he asked.
“Yes”, Vox answered, again leaning over his writing.
“Why did you do this? And don’t pretend it wasn’t you”, the captain added a little harsher.
“To remember why we are.”
“Why we are what?”
The librarian smiled softly at the paper.
“You mean our purpose?”
“And what do you think it is?”, Titus asked.
Vox stopped writing for a moment.
“We were chosen by the Emperor as protectors of humanity. Sometimes, when I find myself struggling with my daily chores, or feel that I’m losing my edge, I want to remember what happens when I fail. When I’m too late or not good enough, people die. In addition to those the daemons killed today, we sacrificed twenty-four people to get to the herald before it could do more harm. We didn’t find any other way, it had to be done and with only twenty-four in the sector we got off lightly but maybe one day there will be another way. And if there is, I don’t want to find myself slipping and choosing the easy path. I want to remember.”
Titus was deeply moved by this. These words, soft in their tone but incredibly hard in their consequence, made him feel that the young man had given him a very intimate glimpse into his views.
“Also”, Vox continued after a short pause, smiling impishly as he took up his quill again. “I found out that all the spies Laraise used to bug the hell out of our rooms are dead. And since Tiberius found the last two bugs right before the curfew, we can speak freely for once.”
Titus stifled a laugh about this addition.
“Why didn’t you tell me that we were still under surveillance?”, he wanted to know.
“Forgive my lapse, captain”, Vox said calmly. “I thought it was obvious.”
“Maybe I was a little single-minded in the last weeks”, Titus admitted, smiling at himself.
“Well, getting you to Erioch is our mission, not yours. I also feel that you’re owed some downtime”, he added and put quill and ink away.
Titus found no response. He was exhausted after the long day but the prospect of having a real, private conversation for once was just too tempting.
“You carry these into battle?”, he wanted to know, indicating the quill and ink.
“The vial is cut from sapphire”, Vox said, screwing it shut and putting it away. “It can take a lot of pressure before it breaks, and the quill… Well. In the end, you can write with anything as long as you have ink.”
“Let me see your list.”
“You wanted it tomorrow”, Vox reminded him in friendly amusement.
“Yes, but that was when I still remembered that I wanted it at all”, Titus pointed out. “Now give it here, before I burst out of curiosity.”
Vox handed it over. His writing was small and curly and Titus had difficulty deciphering it until he realised that it was written in High Gothic.
“Oh dear”, he said only half-jokingly. “In three years with no one to talk to, my fluent use of High Gothic has suffered somewhat.”
Of course, some of the litanies and the oath the brothers spoke with each prayer were High Gothic, but they were wording committed to memory, not the creative expression of thought.
‘Should the desire be yours, I want to prove a worthy assistant in this matter’, Vox said, dropping easily into their second language.
‘Indeed I desire you’, Titus answered, distracted by the writing.
Vox’s expression did not change when he said: ‘That this should be a mistake is a pain in my hearts but it is my estimation that you meant ‘this’, not ‘you’’
‘Oh Emperor! No single sentence I can utter without embarrassing myself. What must you think of me?’
‘When I think of you, I think of your deeds not your words and the glory of them surrounds you.’
“I don’t think I can cope with these compliments all the time”, Titus said flatly, dropping back into Low Gothic. “Please, be sure to make fun of me once in a while. At least while we’re in private.” He went over his paper again. “That seems a rather short list for what I saw today”, he commented then.
Vox was not to be derailed in his eagerness to revive Titus’ use of the noble language and continued in High Gothic: ‘These are the fields the Emperor granted me mastery over.’
Titus shot Vox a glance and got the distinct impression that he absolutely meant what he said, and that he still managed to conceal a very important point. He made a start on the descriptions the friend had put underneath four headlines.
‘Gladius’ referred to the skill of earthing psychic energy through the blade of a force sword. As far as Titus knew, every librarian could do this, as long as he had a force weapon at hand.
‘May I see your blade?’, he asked, remembering the magnificent sword. He immediately found out that Vox’s grin could be incredibly dirty.
‘Familiarity of this kind is forbidden by the Codex Astartes, captain’, he sneered happily.
Titus opened and shut his mouth a few times before he got a grip on himself again. He found no answer and retreated to the list before giving Vox an opening for another joke of this calibre.
‘Igni’ seemed to be the flame power he had seen many battle psykers use, only that Vox spoke of more than one colour. In addition to the usual colour, he had marked down the ‘white flame’ that shifted the state of being. It was a curiosity that managed to get lost in the throng of information for now.
‘Sensus’ had something to do with seeing into the warp and anything connected to it. The description indicated that this was no merely passive power. Everything in contact with the warp could be sensed and even manipulated to a certain point. There was a small footnote stating that this largely excluded Titus.
He took his time reading through the description again and tried to make sense of it.
Suddenly, the enormity of this exclusion dawned on him. According to his knowledge and what Vox had imparted on him, most living things were connected to the warp after all. He smirked and leaned forward on his knees.
‘It was the truth you spoke when you declared that you can not read my thoughts?’, he inquired.
‘Every word was spoken with truth’, Vox said and there was the suggestion of a silent salute in his eyes. Titus had guessed right.
‘Tell me, is that a source of worry?’, he asked to explore the point further. ‘It must be what you are used to.’
Vox returned his inquisitive gaze with a hard to read expression. Satisfaction seemed to be in there. And regret.
‘How lucky I am to have an ally in you, not a foe’, he said softly. ‘Know that you do not worry me. Humans and Astartes alike are loud and complex creatures. I am forced to close my senses to them or madness takes hold of me. The constant strain can be exhausting. You are quiet. This is restive and refreshing.’
‘Continue’, Titus urged him, because he could see that Vox had more to say.
“No.” High Gothic lacked separate words for confirmation or denial and something like this should have been a bit more elaborate. The single word, Vox used, was very emphatic this way.
‘I apologise if this is hidden under your black shield’, Titus said.
‘It is not’, the librarian informed him. ‘But I will not tell you today, beloved superior.’
Titus hesitated. The sentence was grammatically correct but unconventionally structured. He remained uncertain which semantic level he was supposed to pick up on here.
He withheld further questions, however. Instead, he returned his attention to the list.
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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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