137. In the Mirror

The second moon of Oertha had a passable atmosphere. A bit too rich in halogens and nitrogen for humans to breathe without facing long-term health problems but no issue for the Astartes. Especially on a short trip. It had a lower gravity than Terra and reportedly unpredictable weather due to the gravitational pull of the planet. Their target zone on the night side of the moon offered them a dead calm for now.
As Vox had predicted, they had lost contact to the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ quite a while ago and an oppressive silence ruled in the ship unless the pilot and the angel exchanged observations.
Titus and Corven were well equipped to deal with soft and armoured targets alike and they also wore jump packs to ensure their mobility in any mine they might enter. The additional lamps gleamed like strange jewellery on their shoulders. Astartes might have dark vision built in but they still needed a few photons to go on. In a pitch black mine they wanted to be independent from their auto senses.
Vox in her mundane armour looked sleek and agile in comparison to them. The chosen plasma gun sat in a physical holster on her hip and she had decided to leave soon with Titus. The length of the blade made it impossible to draw from a back sheath and she wanted to avoid having the bloodthirsty blade on her hip, where she could absent-mindedly lay a hand on it.
Even without the warp sword at her disposal, Vox grew increasingly annoyed the longer ‘Cornix’ circled over the rocky surface. Unable to determine where they should go and with the sensors of the ship proving equally unhelpful, she finally decided to land in front of the largest mine they could find.
The two techmarines would stay with the ‘Cornix’ while the other three would descend into the shaft.
During the terraforming process of the moon, plants had been introduced to the area and had grown into their very own very strange varieties. Weird plants and mosses flourished everywhere. A short type of grass covered the first few metres of the central mining tunnel and none of the plants seemed to have a sense of gravity. They just grew from every surface and in every direction. In the night they hardly differed from the black stone of the area.
“Great. Another cave full of warp crystals”, Titus said flatly as they entered with caution.
The others had no remarks to make. The central tunnel was a giant hole in the stone, dipping under the surface of the rock in a gentle stoop. It soon became apparent that this mine had been abandoned in an orderly fashion. Support structures had been left here but not much else.
They reached a shaft in which the remains of machinery suggested that two elevators must have been installed here once. Now they encountered only a gaping hole but on the side of this hole, they finally found what they were looking for: Markings in white paint showed that someone had come this way not too long ago. Corven was able to identify the symbols as Tau characters. A short exchange with the ‘Cornix’ later, they were on the move.
They had interference even over the short distance to their vessel. Further in they would be cut off.
Due to her elegant manoeuvrability, Vox descended into the shaft first. Flying tight circles, she found out that many side-tunnels in the shaft were marked. She finally decided to land in the lowest one, hoping that the xenos had scouted out the tunnels in descending order. Calling her two warriors after her was drowned out in static but they understood her nevertheless. Aiming for the white feathers against the black rock, they followed her.
Jumping from one opposing shaft to the other, they soon had closed the gap on her.
At this short distance they could still use their voxes and therefore decided to leave their helmets on. It was bad enough that they had to switch the lights on to find the white paint. This way, at least they could keep quiet.
Dimming the light as much as possible, they had an easy time following the tunnel. It was systematically built and all the side tunnels were marked with the same white paint they had already seen. As long as they still found markings further along, they avoided sidetracking.
It was Titus who went on ahead to check the next tunnel. A long time of concentrated silence went by. As silently as power armours could be made to move, they snuck along, until their lookout walked into something.
“Contact!”, Titus called out and jumped backwards to vanish in the last side tunnel he had passed. He had seen nothing coming and braced himself for the first attack.
When the environment remained curiously non-threatening, Titus frowned and thought. After a few seconds, he made the right conclusions and took his helmet off. Hidden by the auto senses, was a black wall. It was so smooth that it could have been the still surface of a pond had it not been vertical.
Titus fiddled the microbead into his ear and left his cover cautiously.
“Status?”, Vox wanted to know.
“Some kind of warp phenomenon”, he reported and peered closely at the surface. It was smooth and looked like black glass. His lamp dimly reflected off it but nothing else could be seen.
“It’s not registering on the auto senses”, he told his comrades. “Take off your helmets.”
While the two of them did, Titus carefully laid a hand to the surface. It was as hard and unyielding as a block of polished, black marble. He heard the others come up behind him and suddenly, there was movement behind the glass.
“I can’t feel anyone”, Vox said just when Titus took a few steps back and aimed his bolter.
Carefully they crept forward and finally realised what was moving.
“What the hell?”, Corven asked.
“A mirror”, Vox said quietly. She straightened up and walked up to the glass.
Her image did the same at the same time and peered back at her. Titus stared. Corven had come closer as well. His mirror image was easy to mistake as such. The rune priest looked just like he did now. Black and silver armour, cloak, weapons. The wolf skull helmet on his belt. His mirror image had the same intense look from a scarred, bearded face.
But Vox was not Vox.
Everything about her was different. The Vox in the mirror had no wings. Her long hair fell in soft waves over her crimson and golden power armour. The men had only shortly seen her in her own colours and the sight brought a strange sting to Titus’ chest because this Vox radiated the liveliness the angel had lost. As if to underline the intelligent expression of her beautiful blue eyes, the insignia of the Mistress of Secrets gleamed on her shoulder and the scales on her chest plate underlined her status as Keeper of the Law. The ornamentation on the rest of the armour was just as rich and the handle of her sword was protruding from its sheath.
Despite these massive differences, the image still moved just like its real counterpart. It frowned and looked surprised.
“Warp mirrors are a bitch”, Corven grumbled with a sidelong glance to his highest commander. “Where’s Titus’ image?”
“The mirror can’t see him”, Vox replied quietly. “It shows a world without him.”
The meaningful glance they exchanged was mirrored by their images and Titus felt the uneasiness creep up. Suddenly he was sure that this was a distraction. His tension rising, he scanned the area for the real danger.
When he turned again, he saw that Vox was just taking a few steps backwards. Her image did likewise. It frowned in puzzlement but while the real Corven watched her with concern, his mirage deviated from his movements for the first time.
The mirror image extended a hand to the Mistress of Secrets, who took it. She smiled. The images exchanged a short, gentle kiss and as they spoke to each other, their voices echoed over to them as if carried over a long distance.
Then everything happened too fast.
Afterwards, Titus was sure that it had been an accident. Corven had seen Vox’s eyes narrowing and spun around because he thought there was something coming out of the mirror after all. He stood a bit too close to it as he turned, lifting the lightning claws on his left hand to defend himself. Gently, the edge of one of his fingers brushed over the surface.
There was an aggravatingly unreal noise as the surface of the mirror rippled like water and for a single heartbeat nothing happened.
Then, the black surface collapsed forward like the shortest spring flood in history. It engulfed Corven in sleek darkness. Vox leaping forward to grab him was dragged under as well. Immediately afterwards, the thing stabilised.
A split second later, Titus crashed into the surface head on. What had been pliable fluid to the psykers was impenetrable rock to him. The force of the impact catapulted him backwards but he made haste to come to his feet again. Breathing heavily, he was condemned to watch as images of a world without him flickered into being behind the mirror’s surface.
He saw Vox in the circle of her chapter, leading the negotiations with the Deathwatch and organising campaigns together with Celeste. He saw her fighting and victorious. He saw Corven at her side, saw pictures after picture of the two of them falling in love and finally sharing the night he had shared with her in the tower over the library.
Wishing that he could be oblivious to them, he hammered against the solid surface with all his might. Sometimes, hardly visible within the unfolding story, he believed that he saw white feathers and black armour swish by.
Raging on in growing frustration, Titus finally grew so desperate that he rammed his forehead into it.
The mirror cracked.
The fissures smoothed over again immediately but Titus had already taken a step back and was shaking his gauntlet off.
Tensing every well honed muscle fibre, he bunched his fist and catapulted himself forward.
His knuckles connected and time fractured.
The noise of the mirror breaking was out of sync with the event and the sensation was yet again different from what was happening. Titus did not care. He had gotten hold of a wing and heaved.
Amidst a swarm of angrily flying mirror shards, he was suddenly unbalanced by a tight coil of bodies coming towards him. Vox had curled around Corven as if she was the crucial bulwark around his massively armoured body. Luckily this meant that their limbs were tightly interlocked.
Finding solid ground under themselves, they unfolded and oriented themselves. Far too sluggish after the exposure to whatever had happened in the mirror, they were dragged away by Titus before they had caught themselves.
The mirror meanwhile showed no intention of reassembling. Nor did it have any truck with gravity it seemed. Titus was the only one who remained unaffected by the storm of shards around them.
While he did his best to shield his friends from this onslaught, shadows began to swirl in the glittering, unsteady light around them.
It was hard to tell when they crossed the threshold from mere reflections to fully fledged images but suddenly, the tunnel was filled with figures. Everything Corven and Vox had been or might have been or would be or might become were crammed around them and most of them were angry warriors, defending themselves against chaotic influences.
Among the grown-up versions of the two librarians, children of each age and size ran around, hiding from their older selves in terror. Young warriors fought old ones, old warriors tried to smash the pictures of their past and white fire erupted from the hands of a small girl to consume the images around her. Titus could only just turn and shield the other two from this blast. It was over in a moment but when they unfolded and oriented themselves, they all saw the winged Primarch coming for them.
He was unique among the images. Taller than any of the others, clad in magnificent golden armour, his wings framing him in all his glory. The noble features, the long, golden hair. He could have been Vox’s older brother.
Before any of them could prevent it, he grabbed the smaller angel. First by one wing and then by the throat, brutally dragging her towards him.
Titus and Corven lifted their bolters. This was not their Primarch but it certainly was their lady they had to defend.
The bolter rounds hitting the large angel forced him to retreat and he tried to pull Vox along as he retreated into the hurrying shadows. She struggled and kicked out and finally got enough room to twist around. Winding out of his grip, she landed to find two steadying hands pushing her to cover behind her warriors. In full control of herself again, she led their retreat.
They had not gotten far when an enraged image of Vox in crimson and golden armour extended her hand towards them. Titus’s reflexes kicked in before he was aware of it. He grabbed the real Vox and Corven to shield them from the broad front of flames washing towards them but when they subsided, the figure he had believed to be Corven crumbled under the grasp of his bare hand. The grey wolf running at their side had been merely one of the images.
They exchanged a troubled glance. An impatient frown knitting her brows, Vox gestured for Titus to duck close to her and spread her wings and arms. Red fire spilled through the tunnel, dissolving the pictures around them and choking the air away in an instant. Their own coughs were answered from only a few paces away before a dozen angry angels mirrored the attack. Now it was Vox’s turn to duck into Titus’s protection and while they cowered and waited until the flames subsided again, something occurred to the aegis. He fiddled his second gauntlet off and when he rose to his feet, he shoved the nearest image aside with a bare hand. The reflection of an angel distorted and broke away in a grotesquely satisfying way and with this, they were on the move. Provided with a direction, finding Corven was quickly done.
When the figure did not dissolve under his touch, he grabbed the Space Wolf and they made it several paces when Vox suddenly grabbed her sword from his back.
Senses tensed to the utmost, he had still missed the attack coming from his right but the sword strike was parried on the sharp, singing warp blade. An armoured version of herself swung the exact same weapon but the angel of today was so much more nimble and so much less patient than her self of yore. Finding no joy in a worthy fight, she outmanoeuvred the next strike, pushed the hand of her attacker away with her wing and ran her image right through with her blade. It was a matter of half a second.
A groan went through the world when the blade slid in right under the crimson and golden chest plate to seek its way upwards to the attacker’s hearts. A sigh from innumerable lips echoed around them and suddenly, all the images of Vox froze.
Except for the real one.
The image she had defeated was eaten away by white flames and the brightly burning blade dropped to the ground.
Vox staggered.
Corven sprang forward with a frantic, incoherent cry. He reached her just in time to catch her and dropped to his knees with her in his arms. Titus remained frozen in place in shock. She had won. How could she be falling? How could her blade burn like it had burned on Corred, where it had tasted her blood?
While Titus screamed these questions into the emptiness of his horrified mind, all the images of Vox thinned and dissolved into the shadows. They left only the real angel, limp and lifeless in Corven’s arms.

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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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