144. Set Apart

Vox had not forbidden Titus to join her in her bed but he did not dare to turn up without robes since she always wore hers. After the first night he had found her sleeping, he did not even dare to snuggle up to her anymore because she had wrapped herself in her wings and retreated as far to the wall as possible when he had tried that. Titus told himself that this was because she was hurt but he felt that he was hurt about this too. He found himself staying out late, talking to people, desperately trying to replace this most profound connection in his life. That this enabled him to keep his word to Grimfang was only a small comfort. Not least because he dared not to bring the sergeant up to speed about his inner struggle. Not even the intimate connection he had built with Corven was sufficient to discuss this topic.
The rune priest would probably have been the right person to confide in when Vox started to act funny but Titus was unable to do it. Not least because Titus had the definite feeling that Vox had not started to act funny. She had instead stopped to do so.
She met all her duties, balanced all necessities. She even attended all the prayers during her waking hours. With this in mind, the last thing Titus thought he could bear was the suspicion of corruption falling on her now.
So, he kept quiet.
This way they reached Erioch.
As her appointed right hand, Titus was entitled to stand at her side for official occasions and it was irritating to the extreme that she not only refrained from trying to deny him this position but instead radiated expectant approval to see him again. It was so contrary to everything else she had been doing lately. She asked him to brief her on everything he remembered about Commander Ferone and Inquisitor Elaine. Titus knew that she had interviewed Corven for this topic yesterday. That she made no time specially for Titus but asked him on the run was not wrong in itself. It just went into the mounting pile of things that made him uncertain and uneasy.
In addition to Titus and the men of the Deathwatch with their guides and Killian Solomon, Vox had chosen Celeste, Saphane, and the four captains to serve as her retinue. Six warriors in crimson and gold at their side was the number the leaders of the Wings of War had always chosen and Titus felt greatly out of place among them.
Since Vox still had trouble to move about reliably they refrained from witnessing the docking of the ‘Hammer of Destiny’ from the bridge Instead they waited in the boarding area.
It turned out that the congregation coming to greet them was taken by surprise when they left the ship immediately after the docking was complete.
Ferone was only just arriving at the hangar, inquisitors Zork and Elaine at his side. The three of them led all of the currently nine Deathwatch Keepers and probably all active members of the Deathwatch on Erioch right now. There were many. Almost matching the numbers the arrivals had brought.
The commander carried something under one arm. It was wrapped in a black cloth and he intensified his grip on it in surprise when he stopped dead. This brought the whole procession of his warriors to a standstill. Elaine had picked up on this and stopped as well but Zork actually walked him by and was forced to retreat to him while Vox strode towards them with amazing steadiness considering her struggles lately. Titus tried not to smile about the faces they all made while the saint approached. Not only Ferone fell to his knees before her. Several other sanguine blooded in the crowd recognized the picture of their Primarch and sank down in silent worship. Even one of the Keepers knelt.
Vox stepped up to Ferone, looked down at him and smiled. It was a soft, benevolent smile.
“Ferone, my brother”, she said and her voice was resonant and warm like sunlight to the skin. Titus had heard her use her voice like this before. It caused goosebumps.
“Rise, all of you!”, she commanded as she looked around and continued: “I don’t know you yet, brothers but by your reaction, I am certain that you recognize me without fail. I am Vox Sanguinius and I bring notice of our Primarch. Commander”, she said, meeting his pale-blue eyes steadily. “It is good to see you.”
“My lady”, Ferone replied, earning an approving smile for having guessed the honorific right. He actually was staggered by this and needed a moment before he remembered himself. “I… have something for you that is yours”, he said and handed her the black parcel.
Vox took it and turned it around in her hand. Titus knew what it was by the shape of it while Vox tried to hide her puzzlement behind a smile. Carefully, she pulled the cloth aside to reveal what had been returned to her: It was the shoulder piece of a power armour. On a crimson field three crossed swords were shown in front of six wings.
The shoulder guard Vox Draconis had laid down when she had joined the Deathwatch.
Something happened to her when she laid eyes on it. An almost imperceptible tremor ran through her body for a moment and then, she lifted her gaze to Titus for a moment. There was no smile in there, only steady bitterness and a hint of dismay. Titus felt his hearts sinking when he was hit by this. Without really willing it, he reached out as if to catch her but even while his hands moved in her direction, the moment had passed and Vox pressed the shoulder piece in his rising hands as her smile returned.
“Brother, I thank you”, she said warmly. “I will hold this part of me in high regard. Is there something I can give you in return, my friend?”
Ferone smiled a shy little smile.
“When we parted, you promised to listen for our Primarch to maybe find words for me”, he told her in his deep, resonant tones. “Instead, you found the far greater gift of silence for all of us. Will you tell us, what have you done? And how you did it?”
Vox lowered her gaze in an almost coy manner for a moment. “Sanguinius called to all of us for more than ten-thousand years”, she said then, still speaking loud enough for all the gathered people to hear her. “And we all followed him to his grave but never beyond. I was privileged to happen upon a way to bring him back. He rests with me now and I will return him to his father on Terra.” She smiled at the astonished faces all around. “An endeavour like this is not undertaken single-handedly”, Vox continued after a moment. “Therefore I request your assistance, brothers. Yours most of all, Ferone.”
“My lady, I’m yours!”, Ferone declared without hesitation and Titus caught a telling twitch in Elaine’s face. He remembered Vox telling him that the inquisitor and the commander had a deeper connection. Hearing him say words like these to another woman was probably a blow she had not seen coming.
“What do you require of me?”, Ferone asked, impervious to this.
“I ask you to follow me to Terra”, Vox stated earnestly.
Silence followed this. Titus was taken by surprise and took a careful look around. Elaine kept a straight face. Zork tried to suppress a certain ravenous glint in his eyes. The rest of the gathered brothers were taken aback as well. Even the keepers exchanged puzzled glances.
Ferone meanwhile stared at Vox. He had been a warrior, tactician and politician for a thousand years. He had seen the rise and downfall of planets, had seen battles won and lost but now, he stared open-mouthed at the incarnation of his Primarch. He sought for words for seconds on end and finally dropped to his knees again, grasping Vox’s hand to kiss it.
“My lady!”, he exclaimed. “To have laid eyes on you alone… I cannot express how much you honour me.”
“Rise, my friend”, Vox said gently, pulling him back up again and Titus caught the gritting of her teeth when this strained her wounds. “Rise to my side!”, she bade him. “Let me introduce the warriors with whom you will be standing shoulder to shoulder from here on. My right hand Titus, you already know.”
“Commander”, Titus said, most unusually greeting him with a handshake.
“Titus”, the commander said with a slightly disbelieving smile.
“I must talk to you about Titus”, Vox informed Ferone, drawing his attention back to herself. “And his comrades in arms as well. But later. For now, meet my sister Celeste of Jericho Keep, chapter mistress of the Wings of War and Saphane, our first chaplain.”
The three of them greeted each other politely.
“I wish for Celeste and you to sort out the matter of the Wings of War joining the Imperium”, Vox said. “I trust you will want Corven with you. Take him along as well.” She waved for Corven to step forward and the rune priest came, grinning sheepishly while he greeted his old friend with half a handshake and half a hug.
“I myself want to speak to all my brothers in blood in private”, Vox continued when Corven had taken up position next to Ferone. They formed a dense cluster around the angel.
“My lady, may I suggest the audience chamber of my predecessor Mordigael?”, Ferone asked and his gaze wandered to Zork for a moment. The inquisitor kept a curiously blank face. “Please, let me provide you with servants to carry your messages.”
“I will surely need them”, Vox agreed and finally, her gaze wandered to Inquisitor Elaine. “Mistress Elaine”, she addressed the lady of Angor. “We both know of the limited time that comes with the responsibility of a leader. Will you grant me a little of yours later?”
“It would be my honour, Vox Sanguinius”, Elaine said carefully.
“You may address me as my lady, my lady”, Vox replied in a friendly tone and despite this, Titus noticed the dangerous tensing between the two of them.
“Of course, my lady”, Elaine said with a regal nod. “Forgive my lapse.”
“Gladly, mistress”, Vox said. “And I am most pleased to return your loyal servant to you.” Solomon had been hovering behind her like a wound up spring. On a slight wave of her wing, he came forward to be sent to his station behind Elaine by an equally small nod.
“Finally, I am allowed to turn to the matter of our warriors”, Vox said, turning back to Ferone. “I see that you have about a company’s worth at your disposal.”
The commander smiled.
“Ninety-two at present, my lady”, he confirmed her accurate guess.
“We have a company’s worth with us as well and I would like to know their time here well spent”, the angel declared.
“We will be delighted to learn from you”, Ferone declared.
“As will we”, Vox said politely. “Meet my captains Elysse, Meriar, Cathra Maulbeer and Destun”, she said and her four captains stepped forward in the order they were named.
“Most delighted”, Ferone assured them. “I myself have no captain at my disposal right now. Captain Quiores is due to arrive in the next two days.”
“In this case, let me send you Titus”, Vox said. “As a veteran of the Deathwatch himself, he will be well suited to coordinate the training and take all the differences of our warriors into account.” Titus tried to return her glance to him with a half-way friendly expression. What she did made perfect sense. Sending him was not only the best option for the training, it showed how much she honoured the men of the Deathwatch. It just meant that she was sending him away. Again.
For a moment he was unsure if his resentment was showing since Vox refrained from reacting to it. Whatever the case he could resent and worry all he liked. He had meant his pledge of loyalty with every fibre of his being and would not expose her in front of others.
The shoulder piece he handed to Saphane. The chaplain touched it with great reverence and promised to deliver it to the mistress of the forge before she joined the training.
In the face of worry and doubt, Titus did what he did best: He turned to war because what else was there in the life of a Space Marine?
War or the preparation for war. It was what they were made for and all in all his task proved satisfying enough. He rose to the challenge of ensuring the best exchange between the warriors in silver-black and golden-red. He even found enjoyment in it.
But Vox he did not see again before they left.

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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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