When Titus returned, he found Vox alone. She was leaning against one of the heavy crates. The box with her quills and ink was nowhere to be seen. Maybe she had sent it away with the women. She had been lost in thought but looked up when he entered.
They beheld each other in their new colours. Even in the shortness of time, their helpers had managed to achieve impressive results.
Vox was clad in a very well fitting, black robe, several layers thick and cut so cunningly that she had complete freedom of movement in it. All the seams were trimmed with red. A plaid bore intricate lines, following her shape and artfully emphasised her beautiful, strong silhouette. Like last night, she was barefooted. The harsh contrast of the colours to her light skin, the blonde hair and the white wings made her look pale and aloof like chiselled from white marble and the sapphire glow of her eyes seemed brighter than ever.
If by accident or design, Titus’ armour had turned out quite similar. Black with all ridges and edges in red. The Imperialis on his chest had lost the skull, just bore two red wings as did his right poleyn. The left shoulder guard was bare black but his right was adorned by the insignia of a shield before two wings. Her sword was secured by mag locks right in the middle of the backpack of his armour. It was well visible and he could reach it with either hand.
Words were unnecessary to express their liking for each other but Titus again detected shyness in her stance when she came over to him.
“I’ve… thought of a way we could take the chapter along”, she said.
He nodded eagerly and offered his hands to her.
She swallowed and looked at the ground while she took them.
“If we can cut our travel time after the Jericho Maw Warpgate, by undertaking piloted jumps instead of calculated jumps, we might have enough time to fetch them but this would mean staying in the warp for weeks at a time. I can’t stay awake that long… You’d have to… stay with me. At least every couple of nights.”
Titus smiled and leaned down a little to catch her gaze.
“You’d really condemn me to spend any night without you again?”, he asked her with warm reproach.
She stared at him in surprise for a moment and let him pull her into his arms, where she finally relaxed.
“I missed you, Titus”, she whispered into his ear, pressing her cheek against his. “It’s so quiet here…”
“I will gladly guard your sleep, my angel”, he whispered back. “And I don’t want to see you without your sisters again. Lead the Wings of War to Terra, I will stand at your side.”
“Thank you for coming after me. I wouldn’t have found the way back without you.”
“Do you remember when I promised I’d carry on the fight for both of us? On our way up to the cave?”
She hesitated for a moment.
“I think so.”
“I believe I promised too much”, Titus admitted. “I need you.”
“Dependence is probably only bad if it is one-sided”, she said thoughtfully. This remark made him smile.
“Shall we go?”, he asked. “The prayer started when I left the mechanicum.”
She nodded and led the way. At least the pathways of her home had not been lost in the long time she had been away but Titus noticed that she looked around like someone who walked through the ruins of a castle she had lived in once. There was this leaden depression in her gaze. As if she was searching for memories and they kept just out of sight.
Across the courtyard, silently swirling snow softened their steps. The flakes fell so thickly that the cathedral only appeared before them when they were five paces away.
They found the six members of Celeste’s honour guard waiting for them in front of the doors and Titus mused what an eerily gripping picture it must have posed when Vox slowly appeared through the snow. Silently the women dropped to their knees before the living icon of their Primarch.
“Rise”, Vox bade them and fixed her gaze at the portal as if to dodge the awe filled gazes of her sisters. Without prompting, the six warriors formed up to escort the arrivals inside.
“Could you give me a lift?”, Vox asked Titus while two of them pulled open the gate. A short glance upwards explained what she wanted him to do and he readily took one of her feet into his hand to throw her into the air with all his might. Untrained, the movement was not very elegant but Vox managed to jump high enough that she could unfold her wings and glide towards the altar.
Saphane broke off in mid-litany and fell to her knees in unquestioning worship. Throwing confused glances around, her convocation followed her example as soon as they spotted Vox. Only in the first row some of the men remained standing.
Vox landed a bit clumsily but this went largely unnoticed. She steadied herself and held out a hand to Saphane. For a long moment, the chaplain looked up at the angel before she dared to touch her.
“Mistress”, Titus heard her whisper. “Lady Sanguinius.”
“Rise, all of you”, Vox said and turned to the assembly. “Celeste, come to me”, she called when the rustle of rising warriors had subsided.
Located in the first row, the Chapter Mistress followed this demand swiftly.
“My lady”, she addressed Vox and dropped to one knee in determined worship. “Your warriors are ready and await your orders.”
In the face of her accomplishment, the angel’s former senior was still ready to elevate the friend to a new height. To the delight and relief of all present, her words were accepted with a gracious nod.
“My sisters”, Vox spoke loudly. “As you can see, my endeavour to find our beloved Primarch has been successful. He has made me Vox Sanguinius. I speak in his name. I carry him with me and I will carry him to Terra. The Emperor Himself needs His son returned to Him. Celeste, I put you in charge over my forces. Rise to my side, sister!”
While Celeste stood up, glowing with the honour that had been bestowed on her so suddenly, Vox turned her gaze to Titus. He had come to a halt before her and bowed his head respectfully while his hands were folded in the sign of the aquila.
“Titus”, she addressed him without rank and titles, annihilating them to raise him anew. “I name you my right hand and in memory of the path we walked to arrive here, I proclaim you aegis. My shield.”
“I’m ready to serve you, my lady!”, he declared.
With another nod Vox turned to the convocation again.
“We will make haste to Terra”, she declared. “A never known Black Crusade rages through the galaxy and each day sooner we can reach Terra will tip the scales in our favour. Celeste? Get us moving!”
“Yes, my lady!”, she confirmed but exchanged a quick glance with Saphane before she said more. The first chaplain of the Wings of War nodded, turned to her flock and called: “Sisters and brothers, we shall not be found wanting when we are called to war! Hail the Emperor!”
“Hail the Emperor!”, came the reply from more than three-hundred throats.
As soon as the echoes had died away, Celeste bellowed: “Captains, to me! Sergeants of third, organise your squads, gear up for war and stand by! Sergeants of the reserve, muster your troops! Mistress of the Forge, I request your attendance! Saphane, follow me!”
Celeste swept out, followed by the sisters she had called for. The ensuing hubbub left the angel and her right hand alone in front of the altar.
Uncertain whether they were allowed to address them, the brothers of the Deathwatch sidled up to them, while their guides were torn between their responsibilities.
Vox meanwhile beckoned the men closer.
“Dankwart, Ignatius, my brothers!”, she called the two other sanguine blooded forth. “For you, I have a special task”, she declared when they stepped up. “You will be my messengers. Our way will take us past Erioch. From there, you will make your way to your home chapters and carry the message to our brothers that Sanguinius has returned to the world. They must be told why they will not dream anymore.”
Ignatius made the sign of the aquila and bowed his head low.
“You honour us, my lady”, he said but Titus could see that he should have spoken only for himself. Dankwart followed his brother’s example in saluting and bowing but in his face stood painful disappointment. Titus felt the frown creeping into his features and tried to suppress it. He had just sworn loyalty to her. Questioning her orders in front of witnesses was out of the question.
Yet, he was at a loss how this decision had been reached. Vox had been so attached to Dankwart. Why would she send him away? It concerned him even more that she seemed completely oblivious to the visible turmoil on her old friend’s face.
Instead she turned to the rest of them.
“Brothers. You came here due to unfortunate circumstances. When we return, we will find ways for you to return in honour…”
She was interrupted by Tiberius stepping forward. He extended his left hand to her and Vox shied back from him in distrustful surprise. She spread her wings as if to appear bigger in front of the massive man.
“Vox?”, the techmarine asked hesitantly and his hand sank down again. “Can’t you find a way for us to follow you with honour?”
Completely thrown off course, she stared at him for seconds while the others clustered around him to nod their mute support of his plea.
“I didn’t think you would want that”, she admitted hesitantly. “That is why I have prepared this for you.” She reached into the sleeve of her robe and unearthed a carefully folded piece of paper.
Tiberius took it and while he read it, a smile crept across his features. “I will cherish this”, he said, folded it again and hid it in one of his pockets. “Maybe I can use it afterwards. For now, I see my duty elsewhere.”
The two of them shared another look.
Vox seemed uncertain for a while then she nodded.
“I will welcome those who will follow”, she declared. “And I’m sure, Ferone will not deny my request to support our endeavour with your strength.”
General relief washed through the group and they rejoined their impatient guides with raised spirits. Vox called for their attention one last time: “I will retire to my quarters until tomorrow”, she told them. “Bring my apologies to Celeste if she asks after me.”
Honoured to be her messengers, they followed their leaders out of the cathedral while Titus claimed his place at Vox’s side. Sometimes, her wing brushed over him as if she needed to check that he was still there.
“What was that paper you gave Tiberius?”, he inquired quietly.
“My recommendation for him to be considered for a Deathwatch Keeper”, Vox answered absently.
“He wants to become a Keeper?”, Titus asked in surprise.
“I don’t remember how I know”, Vox said and lowered her gaze. “The Deathwatch certainly could use him.”
“Now, you will use him”, Titus said with a smile. “And the others too.”
“Mighty warriors like they are?”, she replied quietly. “I’d be stupid to turn them down.”
“A few more friends along the way won’t hurt either”, Titus prompted but received no response.
Vox instead focussed her attention on the humans that were gathering beside the gate. A very young priest stood in the lead and knelt when Vox stopped in front of him. Every other mortal followed his example.
“My lady!”, the young man exclaimed and dared to lift his eyes to her. “Only two days ago you cleansed our ranks from the sinners that had infested them and now, you appear before us as the Emperor’s Angel we all knew you to be! We are forever grateful to have seen you, Lady Vox Sanguinius! Please, bless your mortal kin! Bestow the blessing of the Emperor upon us!”
For the fraction of a second, blatant horror crossed Vox’s face. An instant later, it was gone. She spread her wings and lifted her hands, palms turned upwards.
“I call the blessing of the Emperor down on you, my friends”, she said solemnly. “May He protect you, may He preserve you, may He guide you through the darkness!”
“May he guide us together!”, the multitude replied and stood up to move out of her way.
Outside, the courtyard was in uproar. Under the bright floodlights the falling snow created an unearthly sheen around every hurrying Space Marine.
Vox gently pushed Titus aside so that the two of them came to a halt just right to the chapel’s gate. She lifted a finger to her lips and waited for the warriors behind them to follow. A figure peeled itself out of the snow, walking purposefully towards Grimfang and Champion Curia who were in the lead. The insignia of a sergeant gleamed proudly on her shoulder.
The three warriors met a bit outside the chapel.
“Sergeant Cephaya!”, Curia exclaimed in bafflement. She had not seen the returned sergeant yet. Cephaya meanwhile seemed not inclined to explain herself at this point. She just nodded at the Champion and addressed Grimfang: “Sergeant, I’m Sergeant Cephaya”, she introduced herself with a dangerous stiffness about her.
“Pleased to meet you, sergeant”, Grimfang replied in slight confusion. “I’m Arrick Grimfang.”
“I know who you are”, she informed him. “I remember your face.”
Grimfang’s eyes narrowed in the dawn of understanding.
Cephaya meanwhile continued: “Since I’m not charged with your well being anymore, I would like to settle a few scores between us: I challenge you to a fist fight until submission.”
Grimfang took a leisurely look through the brightly lit courtyard.
“Now?”, he asked.
Cephaya lifted her head proudly.
“I’ll leave time and the choice of armour or not to you”, she said.
“Armour or not, eh?”, he leered but then made a gesture halfway between a shrug and flexing his shoulders.
“Oh, well. We’re here, why wait?”
“Very well”, Cephaya nodded and hit him in the face. Unprepared for violence without further segue, he stumbled backwards. When he had righted himself, he grinned.
“My little brother hits harder than you”, he taunted her but had to learn quickly that she was not in the mood for banter beforehand. Once he had accepted that foreplay was off the agenda, however, he gave as good as he got.
When the ring of spectators closed and blocked their sight on the proceedings, Titus looked down at Vox. He could see the exhaustion radiating off her.
“Come on”, he urged quietly. “They’ll be alright. Let’s get you to sleep.”
Vox too tired to do more than shake her head. Half a minute later, they heard Grimfang yield and she walked over to them. The ring of onlookers opened for her as soon as she had been spotted.
Cephaya was in the middle of pulling Grimfang to his feet and shaking his hand in acknowledgement of the worthy opponent. She had a dent in her breastplate and blood dripped from her short hair, where he had landed a strike to the side of her head. Her nose was broken, bleeding heavily and the impression of his gauntlet on her chin was starting to develop blue and purple overtones. Grimfang looked worse by far. His one organic eye was already swollen shut and the whole left side of his face was covered in blood. A part of his beard had been torn out and Cephaya still had a few strands of it stuck in her gauntlets. His silver left shoulder guard had been knocked loose by her onslaught and when he came to his feet now, he swayed visibly but he grinned.
“You wanted to do that for a long time, didn’t you?”, he teased her cheerfully.
“You have no idea, sergeant”, Cephaya replied, a fire still burning in her unforgiving, narrow eyes.
“Call me Arrick”, he invited her and flinched in pain when he slapped her shoulder.
“Right you are, Arrick”, she said. “I’m Cephaya.”
“Nice to meet you, madam!”
Cephaya’s next remark died in her throat when she spotted Vox.
Shock filled her features.
“My lady!”, she gasped. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there… I…”
“Stand easy, sergeant”, Vox bade her with a soothing hand gesture. “You challenged, he accepted. You did everything right. I am merely here to inform you that I want you to take over as his guide.”
The sergeant blinked.
“Excuse me, my lady, what would that imply?”, she inquired.
“Take him along and hold him to the same rules you follow.”
“I… It would be my pleasure, my lady!”, she decided.
“Good.” Vox nodded towards Curia, who saluted and left quickly. Now, Titus remembered that the champion had been the only one who had been appointed temporarily.
“Carry on, all of you”, Vox ordered and finally turned towards the library tower. Behind them, the bustle continued.