In the thunderhawk, Vox finally allowed her apothecaries to have a look at her wounds. It was a short examination, since the scratches had clogged and started to close by now. They took off when everyone was strapped into their clamps.
Titus regarded his beloved with concern.
She could hardly have posed a more contrasting picture to yesterday. Standing in the same place made it even more apparent that all the liveliness and strength had drained from her. All that had been bright and colourful seemed exhausted and dimmed. Eaten away by time and the terror of certainty. Without her armour, the clamp was too large and her wings scraped along the wall with every jolt of the ship.
The group around her, meanwhile, had tilted in the opposite direction. Nothing united Space Marines like a battle fought together and even the gloom of the angel could not stop them from talking among themselves. Hushed at first but soon rising in volume. They discussed tactics they had seen on each other. Irdan Yorg distinguished himself by starting to point out where he saw the weaknesses in his own fighting style and asked advice from his fellow warriors. Led by his courage, the others took this up and even Xavor, who disclaimed all weaknesses, managed to get a few helpful tips for the future. It was pleasant to find that the Wings of War carried a very cultivated discussion. So much so that they proved to be contagious even to the Space Wolves. Suddenly, the sons of Leman Russ took care to use whole sentences and formulate them inoffensively instead of just spitting opinions in the middle like the brothers had grown used to. The rule that anyone could be challenged to dispute surely had its part in this, it was nice to see it nevertheless.
While they talked on and on, Vox tried to listen to them as if this was suddenly hard for her. She spoke only once and when she did, she interrupted the flow of the whole group. The conversation came to a screeching stand still around her trivial comment and only very reluctantly took up momentum again. After this, she did not raise her voice again.
It hurt Titus to see this. The friends had not done it on purpose. They were cowed by the incredible deed she had accomplished but Vox did not attempt to span the distance for a second time.
She turned into herself while the sadness seemed to crystallise around her. In it swung the kind of solid fatigue that can befall a warrior when she has seen too many friends die and too many battles lost.
At some point, she lifted her eyes to him and Titus found himself sinking into her gaze. Eyes, blue like the summer sky over Terra but as sad as if the brilliant day was about to sink into irrevocable darkness. Behind the bitter despair Titus fancied he saw a longing, which he would have loved to satisfy but did not know how to. It was the longing for respite.
He remembered what she had said yesterday. By entering the cave she had let go of him and literally found out that she could fly. After a lifetime of flight she needed to rest but she could hardly sleep in the clamp without her armour supporting her.
It took a while until the suspicion arose that she was even unwilling to give it a try. All the time her eyes lost focus, as if her gaze drifted off to the future and there was an unpleasant restlessness about her he had never seen in her before.
When they landed in Jericho Keep, Vox would not leave the ship. She sent Helena and Corven to fetch Celeste and also find her something to write. Arhia and Xavor were laden with the task to fetch the lord chamberlain of Jericho Keep because they were in the way when Vox waved her hand and said “You two”. The others were sent to see to their injuries and equipment and explicitly forbidden to talk about what had happened. Titus alone was allowed to stay.
She sidled over to him when they all had left. He leaned her sword against the wall and took her into his armoured arms as gently as possible. Her wings got in the way.
“Will you stay with me?”, she asked.
“We’re married, remember?”
She was quiet for a while.
“No”, she admitted then.
Titus kissed her hair.
“Well, we are”, he said stubbornly. “I still owe you a ring.”
“Titus… I plan to choose new colours”, Vox admitted. “I don’t want the Wings of War drawn into this further than necessary. Committing heresy will be bad enough but my sisters must not suffer the consequences. Especially if I fail.”
“A good idea.”
“You don’t object? And you’ll go along with this?”, she asked uncertainly.
He looked down for a while. He had been accused of heresy once and this had already been a smudge on the honour of his beloved chapter. Now, he was about to follow someone who already thought herself a traitor. There was no way he wanted this to fall back on his brothers. Especially if things went wrong.
He leaned down, laid his forehead to hers and stroked over her hair, which got tangled in his gauntlets.
“This crest has only been a shroud to honour what I was but I died the day I went with Thrax. You brought me back”, he added in a hoarse whisper. “I vowed that I would exchange my crest for death and nothing else and I can keep my word. It’s just time to honour the fact.”
“I’m sorry, Titus. My failings shouldn’t be thine”, Vox said.
“I will struggle to my limits to see that your actions from here on won’t be failings, my angel.”
Their lips met hesitantly and only for a moment. Then Vox looked down bashfully.
“Any suggestions for our colours?”, she asked hastily.
“We could stay black”, he mused.
“If we wanted to give everyone a heads up we could use black and gold”, Vox said flatly.
Titus winced. Black and gold were the colours of the traitor legion that had been the Sons of Horus.
“What about black and pink?”, he suggested. “No one has those”
“I wonder why…”, Vox replied sarcastically, giving him a reproachful look.
Titus smiled faintly.
“Let’s take black and red”, he said after a moment.
“Blood Angels inverse?” She nodded slowly. “Probably a good choice. The legion of the Martyr defended Him to His death. Getting Him back to life will need a different approach. And it means, we only have to change the silver on your armour…”
“And the crest?”, he asked.
“Let’s not take the Eye of Terra. People will get suspicious.”
Vox and Titus leaned their foreheads together and were silent for a while. In these moments they were just two little souls, trying not to be overwhelmed by events. Only when they heard footsteps outside, they returned to being the mighty figures they resembled now.
Arhia poked her head inside the thunderhawk.
“We found the lord chamberlain, Mistress”, she said. Arhia was not as tall as Xavor but when she stepped into the transportation chamber, she was certainly someone to notice. A human woman clothed in simple, well-fitting robes followed her. Her done-up hair was white, her face that of a human who had seen many a winter. Only her golden chain of office, bearing a relief of the crest of the Wings of War, distinguished her from any other servant Titus had seen so far. She, in turn, was closely followed by Xavor who bumped into her when she froze on her second step into the ship. There was a complicated moment where the young wolf caught the woman, who looked as if she was content with falling over as long as she could keep her eyes locked at the angel.
Vox returned her stare blankly, only nodded for her to speak.
“M-Mistress has sent for me”, the chamberlain finally managed and bowed.
“Yes. I need robes fitted. Black with red highlights.”
The woman blinked a few times, staring at Vox, who had spread her wings. They easily reached from side to side of the thunderhawk. “May I ask when Mistress needs them?”
“I will attend the even prayer in them.”
“Yes, Mistress!” The chamberlain bowed deeply and stumbled into Xavor again when she tried to leave in a hurry. This time he managed to catch her gently and manoeuvred her around him.
“Do you need us further, Mistress?”, Arhia asked.
“Not right now.”
“Did you decide on a crest yet?”, Titus asked her when they had saluted and left.
“No”, Vox replied quietly. “And however fast our seamstresses are, you saw how the chamberlain ran out. I will not get a crest embroidered until tonight.” She turned her sad, thoughtful gaze to him. “You’ll need a new rank”, she said when they parted.
“How are we referring to you?”, he wanted to know, gently grasping her hands.
“Me? I’m Vox Sanguinius.”
He gave a short laugh.
“I should have seen that one coming. Very well, Voice of Sanguinius. Let me be your shield!” Titus smiled.
“Aegis”, Vox said thoughtfully. “Most appropriate.” Then she turned. “Here comes Celeste.”
Indeed footsteps were coming closer. Other than the chamberlain, Celeste came alone but, like the chamberlain, she hesitated on her second step into the ship. She stared at Vox for a whole minute until she finally managed to kneel.
“Vox”, Celeste breathed and raised her gaze again. “It’s not as if I’ve never seen you winged before… but. Vox! We all felt it but… we didn’t know what we felt”, she said in a stunned voice.
“Rise, sister”, Vox bade her. “Sanguinius has been calling for us. That’s why we had the dreams but we all just followed him to his grave.”
“And you followed him beyond”, Celeste breathed, still staring at her in wonderment while she came to her feet. “That’s what you meant?”
“What will you do now?”, the tall woman inquired.
“I will leave for Terra.”
“I’ll mobilise the chapter”, she said without hesitation.
The Chapter Mistress looked like she had received a blow to the face. “What?”, she gasped.
“You will not follow me”, Vox said coolly.
“I will not see you leave again!”, Celeste protested.
“Then look away, sister.”
Titus flinched and was painfully unsurprised to see untamed wrath flash in Celeste’s eyes.
“You will take them, won’t you?”, the chapter mistress hissed and pointed furiously at Titus.
“Of course”, Vox answered calmly. “What do you want with them here?”
Titus grabbed the angel by the hand to stop her from rubbing this offence in even deeper and immediately knew that it had been the wrong thing to do.
He half expected another outburst but the Chapter Mistress demonstrated the boundless funds of willpower at her disposal. She straightened up, turned and left the ship.
Vox looked after her in puzzlement.
“Vox, you stay here please”, he asked and followed Celeste at speed. He half expected the angel to call him back but maybe she was too confused to do so. Whatever the reason, Titus got out of earshot without interruption.