138. Images

Had the mirages of Corven formerly been drowned out by the echoes of Vox, now they intensified their mindless rage around and against them. Titus pulled himself together with difficulty. He was just in time to push a mirror Corven out of the way that wanted to attack the huddle of his friends on the floor.
The image crumbled away under the grasp of his reality and he scooped up Soon, which laughed and screamed and whooped with the lust of the essence it had just tasted. In a strange, metaphysical sense it had drawn the blood of its owner again and it raged for more. It urged him to kill, to draw new blood and the visceral terror creeping up his arm, caused him to scream back at it. For a single moment, the veteran warrior wanted anything but more destruction. As if scolded away the white flames died and Titus managed to force the blade back into its sheath.
He was just in time. The kneeling Corven lifted his eyes to him and yelled over the hubbub around them: “Kill me!”
“Shut up, Corven!”, Titus roared back.
“Titus, you have to kill me and get her out of here!”, the other insisted. “Don’t you see that the images went away?”
Titus had no patience for this.
“To your feet, Space Wolf!”, he bellowed. “If you want her out of here, you will carry her! And if you think, you can kill yourself, I swear, I’ll die dragging both of you! I will not leave you behind!”
It was the hardest thing Titus had ever done. He wanted to get hold of Vox. He wanted to carry her out of here as fast as possible. A small part even wanted to leave the idiot, who had gotten them into this situation but he overruled the petty urges and acted like the commander he needed to be.
The limp body of the angel in his arms, Corven staggered upright. Titus dared not to look lest he would weaken and take her from him after all.
“Follow me!”, he ordered and turned towards the exit. Concerned of hurting his last able bodied comrade, Titus dared not employ any weapons. Instead, he pushed the closest images aside to shove them a path.
The attacks started to thin towards the end of the shaft. It already looked like they would make a clean retreat, when the pictures suddenly changed.
Corven must have gotten out of reach of the mirror and finally they found out where the lost Tau had gotten to. From one moment to the next instead of the wolf’s many reflections, the tunnel was flooded with Tau warriors. They were clustered so thickly that they blocked the way and they had a different kind of texture to them.
Before they reached the central shaft, Titus’ hands were bleeding but touching the enemies still proved quicker than trying to disperse them by brute force. Simply kicking the last few over the edge of the tunnel, they reached the end.
With jo time to think about it, they took the precious two steps run up Titus’ assault bought them and jumped to the next tunnel higher up.
The mirror Tau meanwhile occupied all the other shafts as well and all of them were hostile. They fought among themselves as well as turning their weapons against the Space Marines.
Once landed, they had only enough room to turn and jump again so this was what they did. Side by side they climbed until they chose different tunnels to land in.
The images under Titus’ feet burst but Corven was pushed back by the throng meeting him and fell. Titus had seen their error as soon as they had taken off and was able to turn immediately. Pushing himself back out into the shaft he got hold of Corven’s flailing hand. Together, they fired up their jump packs, pushing themselves against the wall opposite and scraped against the rough stone until the repulsion of their packs forced them into a tunnel lower down. Both bleeding heavily from severe head wounds, they landed in the middle of yet more Tau. Punching them aside with vigour, Titus shoved them enough room to manoeuvre but Corven had fallen and stumbled as he tried to come to his feet. It was at that point that the aegis realised that he was the only one who could safely ignore the hail of bullets flying around them. The Space Wolf was bleeding heavily and again, he tried to push Vox into Titus’ arms.
Drenched in adrenaline and battle drugs, Titus stubbornly grabbed both to shield them and dragged them onwards.
They began their jumps anew, finally reaching the topmost tunnel. Shielding Corven against one wall, Titus still urged him forward while he tried to avoid looking at Vox. Had she been hit too? Was she even alive?
A static crackling in their vox coms interrupted his dread.
“Aegis, do you read?”, he deciphered after the third time. It was Luriel, calling them. She was hardly audible yet and Titus decided to push on a few steps more, before he answered: “This is Titus. Vox is hurt. We need extraction!”
Tiberius offered a plan but they had to repeat it several times back and forth, before the interference allowed Titus to understand it.
Meanwhile they ran, switched their position to the left wall, ran on. Corven stumbled several times, one of his legs had been so badly injured, he could hardly make use of it anymore.
For lack of better ideas Titus screamed “Almost there!” into his ear and made him turn the sharp left they needed to take beyond the tunnel. Out here the Tau were less thickly clustered but there still was a ridiculous amount of them. The Space Marines more crawled than ran up the small path Tiberius had pointed out to them.
Cover fire from the ‘Cornix’ only barely helped them to survive the constant onslaught before they finally reached the designated overhang. They ran, shouldered the last fire warrior out of the way, powered up their jump packs and leapt.
In the breathless few seconds, with the shots zipping around them, the ‘Cornix’ flew a tight circle and and pulled up sharply. With a heavy thump they landed on the hull, rolled and were caught by Luriel before they could fall off the roof.
While the ship rose to get them out of the line of fire, Titus reached the end of what he could cope with.
Here he was again, on the roof of a ship after an impossible rescue manoeuvre.
Luriel dragged all of them to the porthole she had left open and threw the men down the ladder without ado. Vox, she carried carefully. On her way back to the cockpit, she lowered the limp form of the angel into Titus’ arms with stoic tenderness.
Having reclaimed her place beside Tiberius, she tried to contact the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ and failed.
The techmarines exchanged estimates of how long it would take them to get back into reach, when Tiberius interrupted the discussion: “Incoming!”
The ship shook.
“Hold on!”, their pilot yelled and Titus slipped deeper into this nightmare of circular time. Once before he had been thrown through a ship while fearing that Vox was dead. It was another Space Wolf beside him today but the dread held Titus’ hearts clenched in a vice while he held on to the bench as best he could.
Corven got knocked loose from their huddle when they took a dive. He slammed into walls and ceiling, still losing a worrying amount of blood.
“Aegis, what’s happening?”, Luriel wanted to know from the cockpit. “Where are they all coming from? Did I see you run through some of them?”
“They’re warp images!”, Titus called back. “I’m resistant, the rest of us isn’t!”
“Titus, we need to do something!”, Tiberius roared. “They are everywhere, I don’t think so many Tau even exist!”
“As soon as you can, call the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ and tell them to blow the moon up!”, Titus ordered.
“Yeah that… You see, that’s gonna be a…” Again the ship dipped sharply.
Titus felt himself getting slow. He exchanged a glance with Corven, who had come to lie not far away and they listened to the shreds of frantic calls between the techmarines. To tell by what they could catch over the screaming of the turbines and repeated impacts on their hull, the situation looked bleak.
“You should have left me”, the Space Wolf said as he crawled nearer.
“You’re willing to die with an accusation on your lips?”, Titus asked despondently and reached a bleeding hand out for him.
“Hell yes, you bastard! You should have gotten her out, you should have killed me when I told you to, you should have…”
“Shut up, Corven”, Titus said in leaden tones and pressed Vox to herself while bracing his knees under the bench to keep them in place. “Or put your breath to good use and pray but don’t give me that shit.”
Titus felt himself shutting off more and more. Here they were again with a probably dead Vox. Another thing they had already lived through.
“Yes!”, Luriel suddenly yelled and they saw her punching the air with her third arm. “Take that, you…!”, she added but interrupted herself to ask: “Tiberius, what are you doing?”
The ship turned sharply and Titus caught a glimpse of a much larger ship through the front window. It was going up in flames and then there was nothing to see as they entered the cloud of exploding gases. The ‘Cornix’ shook in the turbulence and under debris hitting her. Apparently, Tiberius had flown right into whatever Luriel had managed to shoot down.
They passed the centre in a moment and accelerated on the blast of the next part of the ship blowing up.
“They’re still onto us!”, Tiberius cursed heartbeats later.
“Can we boost the main core?”, Luriel asked.
“With what?”, her male counterpart demanded.
Luriel looked around for a moment and came into the hold.
“With everything we have”, she said with a shrug. “Get back here and give me a hand!” She ripped a plate off the wall.
“Great”, Tiberius said and left the cockpit to help her. “Did I ever teach you the appropriate rite for this?”, he asked while they threw down cover panels and ripped cables out of the wall. Titus and Corven watched the feverishly working techmarines with wide eyes. The light went out and was replaced by dim emergency lighting.
“No!”, Luriel said with a grim happiness that suited the occasion.
“Alright, it’s easy”, Tiberius assured her. “It goes like this: Omnissiah, if you don’t do this for me, I’ll never speak a word of prayer to you again! And, fuck, I mean that!”
“I bet the second part is essential!”, Luriel guessed and the two of them dragged the cables to the back of the ship.
“It is!”, Tiberius confirmed persistently. “I’ll power down, don’t hot wire my controls!” He returned to the cockpit in a hurry. Seconds later, the ship fell. In the ensuing weightlessness, Luriel twisted cables together, muttering words of prayer and Titus was sure he heard her emphasising on the ‘fuck’.
“Alright, everyone, time to pray”, she said and looked around. Titus had no idea what they had done. That a lot of cables led to the back of the ship was all he felt able to tell.
“Omnissiah protect us”, Tiberius ended a formerly unheard prayer loudly. The sudden acceleration pressed all passengers against the back wall.
When it subsided, Luriel jumped up beside them and punched the air with all her fists. She stormed into the cockpit where a feverish check for their status took place. Titus dimly caught that they had gotten away from whatever was happening on Oertha’s moon. Things still took a while to settle down. The running back and forth of both techmarines blurred into confusion. At some point the communications were back online and Titus was informed that the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ was en route to destroy the moon. Luriel assured him that they would have the apothecaries waiting for them when they reached the ship but when he did nothing more than nod, Tiberius left the cockpit to talk to his friend for a moment.
The large man knelt and eyed the tableau uncertainly before he reached out to poke his fellow Ultramarine with his third arm.
“Hey”, he urged him. “What happened?”
Titus needed a while before he could bring his dark gaze to settle on the friend.
“We were too late”, he told him. “The Tau had been sucked into some kind of mirror into the warp and made it unstable. When we came close it flooded the moon with these Tau shadows.”
“How in the Emperor’s name did you get out of there?”, Tiberius demanded. “We thought you lost.”
“Well. Warp can’t touch me. And I was able to shield Corven. Not very well, I have to admit”, he added when Tiberius eyed the bleeding rune priest.
The look the brothers exchanged next settled it that they would not talk about the fact that nobody had managed to shield Vox. Concerned and uncertain, Tiberius hovered beside them for a while longer but finally went back to steer them home.
“What the hell did you lie to him for?”, Corven hissed when the techmarine was settled in his seat again. There was a feverish glaze in the rune priest’s eyes. Despite his lack of understanding of the medical arts, Titus was sure that this Space Wolf would not enter the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ upright.
“Shut up, Corven”, Titus whispered back. “And if you dare to die on me after this, I’ll take you home and see to it that you get an honourable burial!”
Corven stared at him. They were still lying in a huddle. Holding on to each other and desperately holding on to Vox. Titus saw the breath of the rune priest heave a few times and then Corven burst into tears. Titus moved painfully and patted the friend’s head helplessly with his injured hand. Bits of the crust that had formed on his fingers broke open, smearing Corven’s hair with more blood. It was a short breakdown and Titus felt that it was unfair that not even the tears of the bone hard grey wolf would make any difference.

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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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