Apart from Captain Meriar, all the guides for the men accompanied them on their eight hour flight. Twenty-two Space Marines equipped for war were a deadly force to be reckoned with and Titus was ambivalent about them. It was good to have this much power at their disposal but it worried him that Vox had deemed it necessary to bring them.
The first two hours of travel were enlivened by Corven and Xavor who had the most unabashed family talk Titus could imagine. As Vox had mentioned Corven had three children. After he had pledged himself to stay with Ferone in the Deathwatch, he had learned that his only son had entered the neophyte training back home and lost track of him. Xavor, on the other hand, had grown up knowing that he was the son of a Space Wolf. He and Corven even had met a few times whenever the rune priest had been on Fenris. Despite his inherent pride for a Space Wolf as father, Xavor had not deemed himself worthy to even ask where Corven was before he had made it to full Astartes. When he had learned that his father had been seconded to the Deathwatch, he had again taken his time to prove himself worthy for the vigil. This point had only been reached when he had earned the right to wield his thunder hammer.
When he had finally arrived on Erioch, Corven had already been absent on his mission to the Wings of War. It had been a coincidence that Morsus had been too far away when the call of the Jarls came but present when Corven returned. Since he had been taken along with Aegis, Xavor had assumed that it was clear who he was. He had waited for Corven to approach him while Corven had found no time to talk to his son before Titus had called them out. Xavor was very young for a Space Marine. Only seventy-six and he had been able to visit his family on Fenris a few times before taking the black. Thus he could report details of his sisters and his now deceased mother. Apparently, there was an impressive list of descendants originating from Corven’s line. In a very quiet and shy way Corven almost burst with pride while he listened to it. When Titus looked around, he saw benevolent smiles everywhere. Only Rogan tried to stay as grumpy as always and Grimfang had closed his eye. His face gave nothing away.
Since the black and the grey wolf had entered the ship already talking, Vox had postponed her briefing to listen to them. When they fell silent, she told all of them in short words that they were headed to a region on Thetis called the Gerennar Mountains. They would find a place where the world was thin there. Corven and Helena, the two other psykers in the ship, seemed to understand what she meant. Everyone else tried to look politely blank. What she meant by ‘searching for their Primarch’ remained a mystery to everyone. Not even Titus was too sure if he had to play an active part in this or not and he refrained from pressing for details in front of the others.
After this, Vox allowed herself the luxury of getting some sleep. She did it quite unobtrusively and Titus took his time to watch her contentedly. The colour of her armour had been changed over night. After the solemn, plain black with only very little ornamentation, she now shone all the brighter in deep crimson and gold. Her insignia were openly and proudly displayed on her shoulder and breast plate. It was like a blurry picture had snapped into focus. For the first time, he beheld Vox as she truly was.
Proud, powerful, benign and beautiful. And asleep. Titus had not stopped smiling since last night in any case. When he looked around now, he found several of the men eying him curiously. Dankwart and Xavor held his gaze when he looked up, most of the others tried to act inconspicuous but two among them turned away with hardly concealed bitterness in their demeanour. Corven and Grimfang both looked like they were trying to ignore a blow to the face and for a moment, Titus felt a very strange kind of triumph welling up inside him. Then, the sensation was gone and he turned away from them as unobtrusively as he could. Despite their still alien manners, he had started to like the two wolves. Unable to spare their hearts, he at least wanted to preserve their dignity.
When Vox awoke and looked around at the tranquil group, an impish smile appeared on her face. Her gaze wandered over to Titus, whose happy grin fuelled her joy.
“Captain, do you want to hear the story I owe you?”, she asked. The lover immediately recognised the words. He had heard them a year ago on the ‘Lawbringer’.
“Yes”, answered he in the same manner. “Tell me about one of the most epic stories you were ever privileged to witness.”
“I see you’re ready to defend your best listener title”, she gave back and none of them had to look around to know that their little introduction had produced the desired effect: Everyone was listening attentively.
“Very good”, Vox said and shifted a little in her clamp as if to wiggle herself into storytelling mode. “The day of interest began with fifth company being dispatched to deal with Chaos Space Marines on Mackensee. Mackensee is a feral world on the rim of the Jericho Reach and one of our recruiting planets. Celeste was sergeant of eighth squad at the time and Saphane and I were attached to them.”
Titus was well versed in chapter organisation and Vox had mentioned that the Wings of War followed the Codex Astartes in this respect. So, Celeste had headed an assault squad. He looked around and saw all her sisters watch Vox with eyes full of awe. The story probably was chapter history and hearing it from someone who had been there was certainly an honour they had not readily dreamed would come their way.
“The traitors had dug themselves in in a small town in the mountains”, Vox continued and raised her gaze to the ceiling as she counted predicaments on her fingers: “The only road to the town was a bottleneck. The terrain left us without rhinos, no bikes and our dreadnought got caught in a landslide on the first assault. Our thunderhawks needed line of sight for bombardment because the enemy had some kind of ground-air weapons that actually made bombardment from orbit impossible. After one of the ships had been taken down by that, captain Niphes chose seventh and eighth squad to start an assault and cause a breach. The rest of the company would move in via the road. Saphane and I asked to be assigned to the assault units as reinforcement.” Vox paused and looked down. Suddenly bitterness danced in her features. “I don’t know if you ever encountered Noise Marines”, she said quietly and Titus flinched. Noise Marines were a type of Chaos Space Marines who utilised sonic weapons to rip their targets apart. “In hindsight I’m convinced that they heard us coming far earlier than we had anticipated”, she said so quietly that the comrades had to strain their hearing. “They shot us out of the sky and we were completely scattered. Only half of us made it to the ground alive and then, we were stuck in this empty town. At least we had solid stone buildings to hide in. We fought an honourable but very ineffective battle and after two hours of this, Celeste, Saphane and I ended up behind the remains of a crumbled wall.” She made a short pause. “To conquer this position had cost three of our sisters their lives”, she informed them bitterly. “Our communication had broken down because the whole area was jammed and I could sense only two other sisters alive a bit further in the back of the town. Yes, well. So, there we were. We had no way of communication that the enemy couldn’t listen in to since we had to resort to open speakers and everything was clearly building itself up to a heroic but probably a bit insignificant last stand. After all, we had taken down exactly zero of the traitors so far and saw no way to change that. Saphane had spent the last five minutes praying loudly to mask at least our words and I tried to convince Celeste that we should try to join up with the others.” Again Vox made a short pause. “I remember this moment”, she said and suddenly there was a certain glint in her eyes. “Saphane looks round at us and says: ‘The Emperor will guide us through the darkness!’ and Celeste answers: ‘Yes, He will!’, sings out a single note, amps it to the limits her armour can carry, stands up, gets hit by one of their blasts, stumbles a bit – I mean! Stumbles a bit! Our sisters were lying dead around us, burst to bits! She stumbles a bit and takes out the three Noise Marines creeping up on our position!” Vox had started to grin widely while she spoke and she had certainly taken her audience along. They all displayed fascinated smiles, which cracked into laughter when she now continued: “Saphane and I are glad to the present day that we wore our helmets, let me tell you! The faces we must have made!” She gave all of them a moment to laugh and settle down again. “So, Celeste comes back into cover again and explains… Well”, Vox grinned. “I have to admit that I didn’t understand half of it. It had something to do with neutralising these dreaded weapons and synchronising our machine spirits with the sounds. Saphane and I were still glad about these helmets by the way. At some point, Celeste simply gave up on us. She made us sing the song she had written a while ago and worked magic. Her armour somehow caught our singing and amplified it and somehow converted it so that it made the blasts of the traitors less than deadly.” Vox smiled in radiant content at the memory. “Celeste always had the most delicate ear for music but what she did went far beyond anything we even had imagined up until then. Anyway! We started to sing, Celeste worked her miracles and then we went for it.” She chuckled. “That was the craziest, hardest and most exhausting battle I had fought up until then. We shielded Celeste, so her speakers wouldn’t fail us. The blasts weren’t deadly anymore but they still hurt like hell and damaged our armour until the machine spirits got knocked out. Despite this, we managed to break the block on the road and get the rest of our troops in.” Vox’s laughing eyes danced over her audience again and she had to snigger for a moment. “You have to imagine this picture!”, she exclaimed. “Our sisters coming up the road and we are running around, singing, shooting at anything that moves! We were only lucky that captain Nyphes always was quick on the uptake and didn’t disturb us. She just sat up as many snipers as she had and ordered them to back us up.” Vox’s expression softened when she said: “Celeste was made third captain for this.” She looked around at the members of 3rd company and suddenly, the men understood how very personal this story was für her audience. The chapter mistress had been captain of 3rd. They could see the pride glowing in each female face. “And when Mistress Arianne went to meet her fate on Baraban”, Vox continued. “She named Celeste her successor.”
Vox radiated the honour and joy to have witnessed such glorious deeds and the women all glowed in the reverberation of this.
“That’s a hell of a story”, Xavor growled, forthright as ever.
“It’s one of my favourites”, she said.
The tale had the desired effect: People started to thaw and talk among themselves. Where slightly strained tension had ruled before, a relaxed air settled over the group and they were in rather high spirits when the thunderhawk touched down with the break of dawn.
Tiberius’ guide Sister Luriel, who had piloted them, gave clearance to unstrap and opened the door.
They had landed in a high valley. Behind it the mountains loomed up. The area was rocky and covered in fresh snow and that was about everything there was to see. Only the frantic movement of people to the back of the valley revealed their presence here. Vox looked thoughtfully over to them.
“They’re still here”, she said more to herself before she looked round at the others. “How do I address all of you when we are mixed like this?”, she asked and started to walk.
“Brosters”, Xavor replied as if he had prepared this answer. While most of them tried not to laugh, Codicier Helena suggested:
“How about comrades?”
“Damn it, Helena!”, Vox burst out. “We still haven’t dug up an artefact to induce some humour in you!”
“Or warriors”, Helena went on and there was a glint in her eyes that suggested she needed no such device. “Astartes is neutral too. Children of the Emperor is a bit long for use in battle, I think. Also, it might lead to confusion with a certain traitor legion…”
“Yes, yes, thank you! I’ll consider them all but, now”, she glanced around meaningfully. “We’re all going to be quiet before we get into earshot of those people ahead.”
“Shall we try to look dignified or threatening?”, Xavor was unable to resist asking despite this.
“Good point! Xavor to the back!”, Vox ordered. “Try to look like you won’t eat anyone.”
“Grrr, argh!”, he answered and let himself fall back. His guide, Sister Arhia, looked at him in a rather unamused way while she was forced to stay at his side.
Titus had to suppress a smile. However their task would continue, right now Vox radiated enough delightful happiness for all of them.