131. Shy

Moving a chapter meant that each company moved alongside the others and the logistics of this was coordinated by the captains. Former Captain Titus was well versed in this undertaking. The Astartes might be the heart of the endeavour but they only made up as much of the full fleet as a real heart of a body. The entourage of human troops, servants and support vessels made their travel possible. Once close to their objective, the warships could move quickly but without their retinue they could not be sustained. Moving this mass of ships was a huge undertaking and the better it could be balanced, the better the machinery of war worked.
3rd company had been almost ready to depart in any case and needed less than two days until they were on their way. Nostromo had moved into the flagship while the ‘Hammer of Destiny’ would be navigated by one of his sons. He had brought a whole bunch of tech priests along who made use of their time by blessing the navigator’s capsule. The ‘Primarch’s Bride’ was a Gloriana Class artefact ship, older than the Wings of War and the records of who had built her had been lost. However, one of the certain facts about her was that it had been at least four-thousand years since she had left the Jericho Reach. Even though she was equipped for warp navigation and had traditionally been maintained in this way, Nostromo had no interest in taking chances in this matter.
During his brief audience with Vox Sanguinius, the navigator had requested that the Fleet of Destiny be allowed to accompany them to Terra. His wish had been granted graciously. The main body of the Destiny Fleet was conveniently located close to Oertha and could join them on their first stop.
The influx of tech-priests aboard had also suited the angel and she had acquired a little perk in the form of a specialised servitor in her quarters. It was a means to help Titus to get in and out of his armour to enable him to watch over her sleep.
In the bustle of all these occurrences, Vox adeptly managed to keep a secret from Titus. He had caught the clues from the first but only managed to put them together a few days later.
Vox had buried herself in tasks, hardly left the library. At mealtimes, she sent him away and had her own food brought in with the pretence that she had too much to do. Working into the nights, she had ruled that they slept apart, so he had gotten no chance to monitor when she went to bed.
It was the day of their departure and approaching evening. They had boarded the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ during the day and nobody had gotten time for training or regular meals yet. The general tumult on the ship had adequately concealed Vox’s activities but things were about to return to normal from the even meal onwards.
The angel had sent her right hand away to search for a specific tome, which their index stated had not been brought aboard. When Titus returned to her quarters, he arrived in time to meet a serf carrying a stool and a tray of food.
Entering behind the woman, he saw the guilty expression fleet over Vox’s features when she spotted him and suddenly, he knew what was wrong: The angel had attended one single prayer since she had come back and this she had ended by her entrance. Every other clerical activity had been avoided. Saphane’s request to ask her to confess suddenly sounded like a warning in his memory. Something was wrong.
He waited in silence until the serf had left and took in the scene. Vox’s quarters were quite large. A separate bathroom and sleeping chamber encompassed the meeting room that doubled as her office. The well made furnishings were in disarray. Vox had pushed all eight chairs away from the central table. The wings bothered her when she tried to sit on them and moving the newly arrived stool around was a handy way to avoid looking at Titus.
“Vox”, he said when he had debated with himself that a bailsman should speak out, even to a saint. “If you’re intent on eating alone to maintain your position, at least attend the prayer. Saphane asked when you’d come to see her. Your sisters are worried about you.”
She looked at him.
Titus sighed inwardly. This was the problem with her now. Necessity was the only thing she could comprehend. Worried sisters were no argument if they posed no immediate problem. The image of the old Vox kept trying to overlay itself on her but time and again the angel demonstrated that she was as tender as steel.
“Look, you want to lead this chapter, yes?”, Titus tried and came around the table. “These warriors are no mindless tools. You have to live up to what they envision of you or you’ll get into trouble.”
She obviously had no interest in discussing the topic.
“Leave now or you’ll stay hungry”, she bade him softly.
“I’ll stay hungry then, I don’t care”, he burst out.
A hint of displeasure about his mutiny tinted her features but an actual remnant of tenderness won the upper hand.
“Do you want to share?”, she asked. “From tomorrow on we can just get more.”
Titus stopped himself from replying straight away. He took his time to pull up a chair and sit down next to her.
“Vox, this isn’t about food”, he said as softly as he could. “This is about you not attending the prayers. It has gone unnoticed until now but this is about to end.”
Vox said nothing, just ate and avoided his gaze.
“Why don’t you go?”, he finally asked, giving up on the indirect approach.
“I don’t have to tell you”, she said so quietly that he hardly noticed the dagger sliding between his ribs. He only realised that she had hit him in his core when his hearts started to bleed.
It took the greatest of efforts to pull himself together.
“No, you don’t have to”, he conceded in a tightly controlled voice. “And you can command me to leave you alone. You don’t have to sleep next to me either as long as we’re not in the warp and even then, you can get by without me until we have left the Reach. You don’t have to speak to any of your sisters unless you give them orders for the whole campaign, I’m sure… But, Vox… Do I really have to go on?”
For a moment, she said nothing, only stared unseeingly at the tabletop. Then, as if an inner struggle had been lost, she laid the spoon aside and buried her face in her hands. Her wings enveloped her head protectively.
“They drive me crazy”, she confessed in a muffled tone from behind this fortress of softness.
“Your sisters?”, Titus asked in concern.
“No”, came the meek reply. “The prayers.”
Titus watched his composure slip through his fingers in silence. He only managed to regain it because he could see the distress in her as well.
“He never wanted this”, Vox went on after a long while and at least unfolded the wings. “He set out to kill religion because he was convinced that it was what held humanity back and now, he lies in his palace on his throne, unable to resist and they worship him as the god he never wanted to be.”
“You mean the Emperor?”, Titus asked, quite bewildered by this revelation.
She nodded, still hiding her face.
“But Vox, you called him our god before”, he tried.
“He will be when I’m done with him”, Vox said bitterly and let her hands sink to the tabletop where they coiled into fists. “He and two of his sons together, what else would you call an entity like that?” She shot him a look so full of defiant despair that he shrank back under it. “Technically every other action we take will be alright”, she declared. “We can’t act against the wish of our god because he doesn’t exist yet. He doesn’t want to. It just leads up to the final, the first act of heresy. Do you understand what I’m saying? Our heresy will be without equal because the Emperor never considered himself a god. There can have been no heresy against him by definition. Only when I remake him, will I – will we have sinned against our god.”
Titus stared at her and then a smirk broke through the clouds of confusion on his face. What expertise in side tracking his beloved possessed. Within a minute she had managed to lead him astray until he had lost sight of his original point. So, the Primarch was not only intelligent, he also was deviously manipulative.
“I don’t pretend to comprehend the full enormity of what you are saying”, Titus declared honestly. “But this really has nothing to do with you not going to the prayers now.” Gently he reached out for her hand and held her hunted gaze. “I remember that you found comfort in your faith”, he said. “It helped you through your trials and I saw you praying in the most dire of circumstances. I saw you stand by your faith and your prayers when the warp threatened to drag you from this world. I saw you endure any kind of suffering with a prayer on your lips. I am dismayed for you that you should have lost this, my love. It was your most powerful anchor. But, Vox. If you really don’t have that anymore, you have to find other things to hold onto. You have to connect to the people around you and an important part is that you attend the prayers. You have to be with them. Assure them that you are with them and ready to lead the way.”
Vox looked at him with wide, blue eyes and Titus stroked her cheek as gently as it was possible in his gauntlets.
“It grieves me to see you like this”, he murmured softly. “I wish you connected and alive again. Come to the prayer. You don’t have to pray yourself but listen to our prayers. Listen to our hopes and wishes. You’re our saint now. Especially if our god doesn’t exist yet, you should hear what’s going on in our heads.”
“Titus, I… I will not be able to shut them out…”, Vox said desperately. “When all of them pray and think the same, they will get so loud, I will not be able to shut them out. I remember that it used to be alright because I was a part of them but I am no longer…”
“And who makes you think that?”
She blinked.
“Vox, come to the prayer”, Titus said with gentle insistence. “I am sorry for Sanguinius that this isn’t his world anymore but you are you and he is someone else.”
She followed his gentle tug when he stood up and finally led the way out of the room. It was too late to join the meal so they went straight to the cathedral.
Like in most imperial space crafts, the place of worship on the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ was a central part of the ship and right next to the bridge.
When the two figures entered the, silence ruled in the vast structure. Titus’ steps echoed through the nave, Vox made hardly any noise while they approached the altar. He had not been here before and as they now moved among the blood red stone all around, Titus began to understand why Sanguinius might feel awkward here. Not only confronted with the constant temptation of the Blood Angel, the Primarch had to see images of himself and his deeds all around.
A life sized statue of him in full armour stood watch over the altar.
It was cut from cairngorm while the wings were of clear quartz. Countless golden flecks inside the stone were illuminated by an ominous light under the figure. It looked like smoke and vapour had crystallised to preserve rising sparks from the fire of worlds.
Behind the icon, a magnificent picture of the Emperor held its benevolent hands over the head of His son while to the left and right scenes of Sanguinius’ deeds spread out over the walls.
While Titus looked around, Vox’s gaze was fixed on the altar. Long before she could see it fully, the blood red stone adorning it seemed to reveal its meaning to her.
When they halted close by, Titus began to understand why. A scene he had seen on a tarot card once was carved into the surface of the heart of the shrine: Resting uneasily on broad stairs lay the broken, lifeless form of an armoured angel. Pinning one wing to the steps, the appalling figure of his traitor brother loomed over him like a nightmare coming to claim its own.
The scene was composed to move and weary but with the living angel by his side it gained a texture and severity he had not anticipated.
He was already gathering the words to ask her forgiveness, when she lifted her eyes to him. The sorrow in her face knocked the breath out of him and all he could do was to gaze back into a glow of summer skies that made the images around them fade like shadows would flee a flame. The stories all around them were gone by, never to return. Ripped from their history, crumbled into memories. But she was real and he was real as well.
Whatever Vox found in his face, eventually it made her smile shyly.
“I will resume training tomorrow”, she told him quietly.
Relieved about such a mundane topic, he managed to return her smile.
“I didn’t command a body in a long time”, she put up for consideration.
“Both of you, I assume.”
“Yes. I want to start with you alone before we join the others.”
“It will be an honour”, he assured her.
“Probably a pleasure too until I get myself sorted out”, she quipped and made Titus grin but any reply was interrupted by the entrance of the others at this point.
Led by Saphane and Celeste, 3rd company entered the nave, the brothers of the Deathwatch among them. The delight of finding their saint waiting for them was unmistakable on their faces and Titus was reassured anew that he had done the right thing. These were their comrades. They needed their leader.
Back home in the fortress, the Astarted prayed together with their humans. It was an act of being alive and appreciating the ones they were chosen to protect. On campaign, they gave themselves over to war. Humans had no place here but as distant figures, worth to be saved at all cost.
If the need arose, the cathedral could have accommodated a whole chapter for a prayer. The hundred warriors of 3rd almost seemed lost but they filled the hall with vigour and the certainty reserved for those who had laid eyes on their saint.
This alone did not surprise Titus but what swept him off his feet was the intensity of Saphane’s homily. Not only was it the first time he heard her without mortals, it was also the first time that the white-winged angel was present for the prayer.
The bright blue eyes of the chaplain sparkled as she called to war. She spoke with vigour and enthusiasm, praised the divine plan that had brought their Primarch back to them, blessed Vox and her endeavours that had made all this possible and took each and every one of her listeners along, calling the group forth to answer, led the litanies, chose the prayers accordingly. Praying here was a bit like being woven into a symphony of strength and purpose. All of them became one voice calling to war, one warrior defying the enemies of humanity.
And in the middle of this, Titus knew what Vox had meant. While you were part of these proceedings, it was wonderful but should you be forced to stand apart, it was certainly able to crush you.
His angel stood close to him the whole time, sometimes her wing brushed over him and he suspected that she steadied herself on him, not to drown in the joined thoughts and voices all around. All in all, she seemed to take it quite well but Titus made a mental note to ask Saphane not to call on her saint to sing again.

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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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