133. Testing Strength

Vox drew the blade slowly as if savouring the movement when Titus entered the training hall. Since she had no helmet to prevent her hair from flying around anymore, she wore it tightly braided. She also was wearing the latest creation of training clothes the seamstresses had come up with. It covered her somewhat but not overly much.
Titus had learned that training without armour was common among the Wings of War and that they all had clothing for this occasion. It mostly consisted of something to stop things from bouncing and covering up the general region of the groyne. He had to admit that they still were more clothed than the men, who merely wore loincloths but all this skin simply made him nervous. His troubles were unmitigated by the fact that he was wearing his armour. Vox had specifically asked him to.
She looked over at him, let the sword in her hand describe an easy arch and got stuck on her wing. Seeking guidance from the ceiling above, she gave an annoyed sigh before she threw him the blade. Reaching out for the next sword, she had a short disagreement with the weapon stand. It wanted to topple over.
“See?”, she said, catching the unruly furniture with one foot and kicked it back into position. “That’s why I wanted to be alone for now.” She managed to grab the stand when it tilted over in the other direction. Then, she stepped away from it before she could do more harm.
“I’d say you won your first round with honour”, Titus joked and tried to hold on to his good humour when he got no reaction at all.
“Let’s warm up and let me try to get these wings sorted out”, she said, flexing them. “Then… I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Warming up consisted mostly of casual sparring with as much movement as possible. They started circling slowly, making the occasional contact and then steadily turned up the speed. Vox had visible difficulty with coordination and received a few painful blows to the arms and shoulders when they entered the real training phase.
“Please, excuse me a moment”, she asked after he had caught her on the elbow in exactly the same way for the third time. She stepped aside and pressed her fingers to her eyes as if in deep contemplation. He could imagine what she was doing. Getting used to a body again after a lifetime of etherealness was probably one thing but having the Primarch interfering who had not commanded a body for aeons, was probably something different altogether.
After a couple of seconds, Vox turned back.
“Let’s try this again”, she suggested and this time, things went a lot more smoothly. She had forgotten a lot but her body remembered. Soon they found themselves in their routine although Titus had to point this out to her.
Then, things went crazy. Vox started to use her wings to alter her movements. She pulled herself backwards, got out of reach or attacked him with one wing while deflecting his blade in a different direction. When he finally hit the wall with force, because she had managed to sling one of the wings around him and throw him away, they were only one hour into their training.
He made haste to regain a firm footing because she followed him, clearly unwilling to let it lie. For a few seconds he got a grip on the situation before he crashed into the wall again. With great presence of mind, he managed to escape her next strike. From this point on nothing would do but to push the assumption aside that he knew her. Here was an opponent whose capabilities he could only anticipate. Luckily for him, she faced the same problem. She had not mastered her body enough to fully best him.
The next time she tried the trick with the wings, he outmanoeuvred her and punched her in the face. Determinately unimpressed, she managed to reduce her stumble to the necessary minimum and let her second wing whirl around. Landing on his back, he parried her downwards strike and rolled away, easily pushing her slender form aside. As he came to his feet, he decided to opt for more unconventional means. In the next clash, he allowed her to disarm him, grabbed her right wing with both hands and slammed her down on the ground with force.
His heavy feet landed on both weapons at once while he pulled her back up so that she had to let go of the blades. Hurling her against the wall to gain time and snatch up the blades went spectacularly wrong. Vox moved her wings oddly, which caused her to land with her feet pressed against the wall. Pushing herself away with force, she needed one more beat of her wings to reach him. Titus had managed to get hold of one of the blades when she was upon him again. Having gained momentum, she folded all her appendages tightly to herself, which made her spin away from her former trajectory. His strike missed and he felt her steel grip tighten around the pommel of the sword in his left hand. There was no choice but to let go before he lost a couple of fingers to the blade that was wound out of his hand.
During this manoeuvre, she had entered his reach and Titus kept her there with a determined grab. Again his fist bunched around feathers while he ducked to retrieve the remaining blade. He pulled her with him as he executed a roll and allowed himself a smug smile when her blade scratched harmlessly over his armour.
In close quarters, the unarmoured angel was at a severe disadvantage against him and he decided to keep it this way.
Struggling under his grip, she actually lost a couple of feathers but wound free eventually and even for this she paid dearly: She had ducked down to grab him by the thigh and throw him over her shoulder. While he flew by, he lashed out with the blade in his hand and cut deep into her left calf. Trailing blood she swirled around, leading a downwards strike with her full, albeit unimpressive weight behind it.
Titus swiped her attack away easily, jumped up and renewed the strikes of his blade. She was still caught in her old fighting patterns and by no means did he want her to adapt her style. As soon as she stopped trying to command her weight and used strength and leverage instead, he considered his chances bleak.
Sadly, even during their exchange of blows and probably even against the Primarch trying to help, Vox was fully capable of adapting.
The experienced warrior might have been out of the war for a long time but her instincts needed only the slightest adjustments. How often had they trained fighting against more massive opponents? It was engrained into her memory even beyond the veil of forgetfulness. All she had to do was to change her estimation of him from ‘same weight’ to ‘heavier’ and let her strength do the rest.
Suddenly she crouched a lot more, her strikes and attacks with the wings coming up from below to unbalance him and it was all Titus could do to keep up the pace. This accomplishment only held until she resorted back to playing to her new strength.
Having received a blow that caused him to take one step backwards, Titus was caught by surprise when she sprang up and somersaulted over his head. The wings giving her stability, she landed a kick in the hollow of his knee. Only then did he become aware of her having grabbed his collar.
He flew over her shoulder and when landed on his back with a crash, the scene halted.
Vox knelt next to him and it took him a moment to understand that her swordhand disappeared under the mid region of his back. She had angled the blade away for him. A real opponent would have been impaled on the sword. He looked up into her intense blue eyes. About an hour of training and here he lay.
Vox leaned back, pulled the sword out from under him and put it aside. They allowed themselves a moment to catch their breath. There was no sign of satisfaction on her face as she sat beside him, just a cold calculation that only fled when Titus rolled around and extended a hand to her.
“You won the fight”, he said, gently trailing his fingertips over her glowing cheek.
Her face twitched uncomfortably and she averted her gaze from him.
“I never thought that my Primarch could annoy me so much”, she groaned.
A halfhearted smirk stole itself into his features.
“Is he trying to take over your body?”
“Yes. I understand that he should long for one but this one is mine!”, Vox insisted, slinging her arms around it.
“Well, if I’m completely honest, I can understand why he should long for your body”, he teased her but Vox showed no sign of understanding. Instead she slung her arms around herself and then sank forward for him to encompass her in a difficult embrace.
“I used to be able to find repartee, didn’t I?”, she mumbled while Titus tried to avoid crushing her between his armour plates.
“Mostly”, he answered and stroked her shoulders as reassuringly as he could.
“I feel lost”, Vox said.
“Don’t worry. I know where you are.”
She gave a short, humourless laugh.
“And where am I?”
“You, my angel”, Titus said and attempted to stand up with her still in his arms. “Are in the middle of training. What do we do next?”
“I would like to use my wings for a while”, Vox said, still leaning against his breastplate. “They feel weak.”
Titus looked at her in surprise. He had been lifted by them several times after all.
“They do?”
“In comparison to what Sanguinius remembers at least. I know that he was a Primarch and that I might never reach this kind of strength but right now, I’m not able to fly unless I have altitude and can glide down. I want to take off from the ground and be able to carry some things on top of it.”
“For example?”
Vox pressed her forehead against his cheek before she said: “You.”
“I hope, I’m your favourite thing”, Titus stated, smiling for this.
“I believe so”, she assured him. “Would you join the others while I fly around?”, she asked. “This will be boring for you. And quite demeaning for me, so I wouldn’t mind privacy.”
“Thank you. I promise I’ll come to the meals and prayers.”
Titus delighted smile was derailed when she added: “Also I’ll see you for bathing tonight.”
“Will you?”, Titus asked in surprise.
“Yes, didn’t I tell you?”
“You told me that we are scheduled for bathing, I didn’t know that we’d see each other.”
“Oh, I remember”, Vox said. “We have different bathing traditions, right?”
“Yes, and I’m utterly convinced that yours has been dreamed up by some elderly salacious priest or other”, Titus declared with conviction.
She seemed to think about this.
“Why?”, she wanted to know then.
“Because”, Titus explained. “I can’t think of any other way an entire squad of well built, naked women together in one tub could have happened!”
“Well”, Vox said uncertainly, maybe antagonising against Sanguinius’ bashfulness too. “It’s restive and social. The two of us will be rather lonely actually since we don’t have a squad anymore.”
Titus blinked.
“Will Aegis and Gladius be bathing together too? With their guides?”
“I’m not up to date about these arrangements”, Vox admitted.
“Whom do I have to speak to for this?”, Titus wanted to know. “Because I’m sure that we’ll have a few deaths out of embarrassment on our hands unless we can find some parachutes.”
“What?”, Vox asked in confusion and Titus sighed. Of course this joke had gotten lost.
“Never mind”, he said and trailed her braid with his fingers for a moment. “What about I sort the bathing out while you train your wings?”, he suggested and she conceded to this.

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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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