132. Armed and Honoured

Titus indeed found a moment to approach Saphane after the sermon. She seemed unsettled but questioning the right hand of her saint was not in her nature. The chaplain bowed her ascent without protest. Yearning to grant her an explanation and not daring, Titus wanted to retreat with a troubled heart. Their faith was central to the Astartes’ life. If they ever learned that Vox so much as frowned upon it, they were facing any number of problems.
He was interrupted in these contemplations by the mass of people having gathered around him.
Vox directly behind him was flanked by Celeste and Jebilla, the Mistress of the Forge and all of them were surrounded by the solemnly silent warriors of 3rd company.
Titus blinked in confusion. Apparently, someone had failed to inform him of an important event. Obeying Vox’s very slight tilt of the head as she turned, he followed her at a measured stride.
Passing through the rows of their comrades, he soon found himself flanked by Saphane and Jebilla. Celeste completed the square around him with dignity.
Titus was unbalanced by the boundless deference of the procession until it dawned on him that he had never been formally inaugurated as Vox’s right hand. If this was really what was going on here, he had to hand it to the women: They managed to hold an impromptu ceremony with grace and gravity.
Their path took them to the armoury.
A long corridor with countless rooms branching off to the sides greeted them. A row of tables packed with instruments of destruction was a sight to warm every warrior’s hearts but Vox passed them all by. At the very end, lifted by three steps, was a round, brightly lit plateau.
When Vox climbed it, her wings shone in the glare like white fire. Her face harshened by the shadows, she turned around to Titus who came to a halt in front of her. While Saphane and Jebilla took up station to their left and right, tech priests emerged from the shadows around them like silent ghosts.
Over three-hundred warriors witnessed in solemn silence what was going forward.
The two high priestesses asked Titus to kneel and began to pray in turn. After each couple of lines they called for responses from their auditorium. Saphane entreated the Emperor’s favour while Jebilla evoked the blessing of the Omnissiah. The movements of the faithful, the back and forth between leaders and led, the ebb and flow of approval in the joined voices of all, bore Titus aloft in an ecstasy of worship. What had been buried under his worry during the prayer now surged through him in a great wave of power and confidence.
Moved and elated by the feeling of belonging, he raised his eyes to the beloved saint before him and the discord of her grave presence drove a spike of ice into his core. Dignified and aloof, her wings framing the scene, Vox was detached from what was going on around her. Her head was bowed in solemn gravity. There was no lively worship in her eyes, only cold, despondent determination.
Titus was derailed for a moment but effortlessly scooped up by the two high priestesses as they started to demand answers from him. The guilt of leaving Vox alone in her sorrow drowned in the feeling of the community around him as he raised his own voice to answer the call. He declared his devotion, his will to carry out their god’s will and promised to give his all for the Emperor, his lady and their cause.
Steadied under this oath, Titus rose to his feet and the solemn tech priests around them drew closer.
Six of them carried three weapons and the sight of those stirred Titus’ blood. On his promotion to captain, he had received signature weapons but what he saw here left him dumbfounded for a moment.
Luckily, the ritual called for Vox to hand him the objects of desire and she reached out for them with solemn grace.
“For you, Titus”, the angel said. “In the name of the Omnissiah, for the Emperor, bring destruction to humanity’s foes!”
Even before he touched it, he marvelled at the work of art and artifice before him. It was a plasma pistol of a pattern unknown to him but he was sure he had seen this type of weapon on Celeste. The hull was of blued steel and it seemed sleek in comparison to what he was used to. Intricately etched lines on the surface were inlaid with gold as if traces of smoke had crystallised on its surface to form the suggestion of ephemeral wings.
The bolter that Vox handed him next was no less impressive. It was golden with blood red wood in the handle. The lines on its surface were blue like the steel of the plasma pistol and depicted a very similar pattern.
Titus had already swept his gaze over the last weapon but when Vox reached out for it and he allowed his gaze to rest firmly on it, his breath stalled for a moment.
Had the beloved actually remembered his fondness for this type of weapon or was it a coincidence? Her face betrayed nothing when she handed him the power axe.
It was the most delightfully balanced melee-weapon Titus had ever held. Not even the elegant strokes of Soon could compare to the heft and swing of this beauty.
Forged of blued steel and inlaid with the same golden lines, the double bladed axe was without comparison the most beguiling weapon in the trio of his new possessions. The elegant curve of the handle invited him to test the swing right there and then. It took the greatest effort of will to put the weapon away on its appropriate joist.
To his surprise another two tech priests stepped forward. When it was presented to him, Titus was uncertain why he would need a signature jump pack until it was made clear to him that this one was modified so that he would be able to still carry Vox’s sword on his back. When it had been attuned, the assembled priests spoke their last rites over him and the ritual ended.
Vox left him to lead the assembled warriors to their first training on campaign. As declared, she would take up her training tomorrow. Until then, she busied herself with the tomes that had been brought on board.
When Titus entered, he found her writing at her desk. The meal he had dragged her away from stood half finished on the table.
“Why haven’t you eaten?”, he asked softly.
“I wanted to ask you if you want to eat it since you missed the meal”, she answered without looking up.
“No, thanks”, Titus said. “My armour is well maintained.”
“Titus?”, Vox asked and laid the quill aside, thoughtfully turning to him. “What is wrong with Dankwart? I heard him cry during the prayer but I didn’t see him move a muscle.”
Titus felt himself going soft inside. So, she had finally noticed. Once more confirmed that bringing her to the prayer had been the right thing to do, he gave her a gentle smile.
“And you don’t know, why?”, he asked.
She looked at him in uncertainty and moved over to the other table to sit in front of her meal.
“You say that as if I should”, she said cautiously.
“He is dismayed that you want to send him away”, Titus explained tenderly.
This question was a pinprick to Titus’ hearts. She had been able to read people so much better than him and now, she couldn’t do it at all.
“Because he loves you”, he said, forcing himself to stay patient. Vox had been away for so long, he had no right to judge her by his own measures anymore. “Dankwart told us that Sanguinius spoke through you before you yourself knew. He cared for you while you were in the Deathwatch and protected you even against your brothers and after everything you’ve been through together, you want to send him away.”
“But… he has to go and tell his chapter.”
“Why?”, Titus challenged this. “Why can’t you just send them a letter? Really Vox, I mean it. Why can’t you just send a general greeting to all the sanguine blooded?”
“Because I can write down anything. If I don’t send an eyewitness, they won’t believe it”, Vox insisted.
“Send Ignatius away”, Titus counselled. “He is honoured to have seen you and ready to go and be your messenger. I’m sure we’ll find more sanguine blooded on Erioch. Send them too and also make them travel to more than just their own chapter but Dankwart earned his place at your side.”
Vox looked down and thought. Then she nodded.
“Would you talk to him for me? And find out if he really wants to stay now? He might not want to tell me if he has changed his mind.”
“I will”, Titus promised, glad that she was ready to revoke this decision.
“But tomorrow”, she said absently. “He’s with Saphane right now. We shouldn’t disturb them.”
Her words were like a blow to the head. Vox had always been able to find people, of course, but she had never done it without necessity or consideration for privacy. Maybe she was too exhausted after today to shut the sensations out but Titus was certain that she would never have let something like this on before. She must have seen something in his face. After a careful glance she lowered her gaze into her bowl of nourishing gruel and seemingly curled up around it. Since he found nothing to say, he started to take off his armour.
Apart from the uninflected prayers of the servitor, it was silent in the room. When he had finished, he stepped into the bathroom for a moment to rub himself down. Then, he switched the light off, walked against the table in the darkness and grabbed Vox to carry her over into the sleeping chamber.
Last night, Titus had slept alone in her bed over the library. Vox had simply been too busy organising the decampment and he had been too exhausted to be of much use after the night before.
In the silent darkness of the room it was quite difficult to get her out of her robe. Sorting their altogether ten appendages and the blanket on top of it was another challenge.
“My angel”, Titus murmured in righteous tiredness but received no answer. Neither in words nor in the opening of her mind to him. He was reasonably content with this. A nagging worry had taken hold inside him today and he was relieved that he was not compelled to share it.
The contrast of what Vox had been and what she was now was emerging in ever glaring colours. It worried him to the bones. Despite her brave efforts, it was like watching her trying to walk with two broken legs.
It hurt him to see her like this. All he could do was to hold on to her and try to support her while she stumbled over everyone around them. While he drifted off, the thought came to him that Vox seemed tired to him. Tired of everything. Only in hindsight did he realise how much vitality and will to live she had always radiated. Even in her darkest hours she had clung to the world with all her might. This spark had been lost in the warp. All she had left was one large act to change the world. The thought that she would make room for those who still wanted to live in this world afterwards, was terrible.
Was this why she could so readily imagine the Emperor dying? Was she deceived about this because she felt so tired herself? But the Emperor was dying, it was what Titus had learned. After Horus had almost killed Him, He was kept this side of death by hundreds of psykers He consumed every day.
Horus. There was the next worrying thought. After he had used her conviction to revive the traitor to make Sanguinius leave her alone, he could hardly touch the subject anymore. Was it right to let someone like Horus back into the world just to keep Vox in exchange? Over these troubling thoughts, he fell asleep.

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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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