145. Guilt

Even much later Titus was never sure if he ever found out everything that happened on Erioch. When they left the station four days after their arrival, he was informed that Vox brought visitors. Apparently, she had invited Inquisitor Elaine and Killian Solomon to travel with them to their rendezvous point outside Erioch. Lady Elaine’s ship, the ‘Aurum’ lay in the docks of Erioch but since they were travelling the same way until the exit point the inquisitor had agreed to spend her time on the ‘Hammer of Destiny’.
Titus had gone critically edgy with Vox’s behaviour by now. That she started to let him choose when he sought her presence was no consolation. It only meant she had picked up on his demeanour.
She still got exhausted quickly and slipped away to bed whenever he was distracted. Since they were never alone during the day, Titus never got a reasonable chance to talk to her. Confronting her was out of the question and by the way she returned his glances he suspected that she would be far better prepared as soon as he tried something like this.
Titus was at the absolute end of his wits. Sometimes she pulled him close, mostly she pushed him away. It was all done so gently that it drove him crazy and his agitation wound ever tighter with every passing day. During their real time travel, he only found her awake if he actively absented himself from training. When they entered the warp and relied on him for sleep, she only talked about trivial things. Often, she pointed out how much her wounds hurt. She even wisely apologised for the lack of time she was able to grant him. Sadly, from the second occasion onwards Titus took this for what it was: An evasion.
Again, Vox seemed to pick up on this and she shifted her sleeping time so that he could at least make use of his free time in the evening. This decision turned out to be precarious: Inquisitor Elaine had gotten into the habit of visiting the Space Marines after the even prayer. Often she walked to Ferone or Corven. Rarely Vox granted her a few words herself. It was only natural that she should come up to Titus on the last evening before they would leave the warp.
Dressed in well-fitting clothes with this sharp, military look, she radiated confident ease. The badge on her chest resembling a gothic I, set in front of a spiked ring gave her the authority to make her relax as she approached. Her long, black hair was braided and on her soft features she bore a calm, benevolent blankness that gave nothing away.
She had been obtrusively friendly in establishing eye contact until he had given in and mutely agreed to walk with her. Elaine laughed in a friendly fashion as soon as they were out of earshot.
“I’d say it’s been a long time”, she started. “But that’s not true. Just a lot seems to have happened. At least to you, Aegis Titus.” Her green eyes glinted in a friendly smiling face when she looked up at him.
“This indeed seems to be the case”, Titus replied. His head was full of Vox and in the swirling concerns he added “Although I’m not the top candidate here”, before he could stop himself.
Elaine seemed to be caught off balance for a fraction of a second but Titus bit his tongue. He was talking to an inquisitor. However friendly she acted, however more reliable and helpful she had been compared to other inquisitors, she certainly had not gotten where she was by being nice. And he had just provided the perfect hook to talk about what she really was interested in: The female Space Marine who had spent considerable time in the warp and had returned changed. She probably had not anticipated it to be this easy.
He cursed himself and tried to decide how to play it from here when Elaine managed to unbalance him in return: “I’m not sure that your lady is something you want to discuss with me, Titus”, she said bluntly. “I’m an inquisitor after all.”
“But she is the reason you are talking to me so, why beat about the bush?”, he challenged her.
“Strictly speaking, Lady Vox is the reason I’m here. So, yes, she also is the reason why I’m talking to you right now.” Elaine allowed herself an amused smile. “The reason I came to talk to you, however, is because I wanted to talk to you.”
“Just for fun and giggles?”
“Sure”, she said lightly. “Fun and giggles is what I always get with Space Marines. You people are hilarious!” She actually gave him a wink. “But for the speed with which this came up”, she continued then. “I suspect that you are worried about her. Will you share your concerns?”
Titus stifled his sigh. Oh yes, politics. Ever his strong point. He estimated that he could hardly back off now. He had to give her something.
They reached one of the observation decks at this point. A few sisters of the Wings of War were gathered in the far corner, talking among themselves. To tell by their demeanour they seemed fiercely interested in privacy too, however.
Titus sat down on a close by bench to get on eye level with Elaine. She sat down as well, making herself even smaller and more insignificant. Did she know what she was doing here? Probably. Elaine looked quite youthful but by the feel of her Titus suspected that she was at least as old as he was. Rejuvenating treatments were the devil when it came to guessing ages. Whatever was the case, she managed to seem very natural in her demeanour. Attentive and concerned for a friend.
So, he had stumbled into a conversation with someone for whom scheming was practically second nature. It was of no significance that this woman had helped them the last time they had met. All that mattered right now was that the situation would get worse the longer he thought about an answer.
Since he was sure that she was adept in spotting lies, he decided that the truth was all he could give her and he could only hope that she missed the significant details.
“Yes, I’m concerned”, he admitted quietly. “When Vox went to fetch Sanguinius she was gone for a few hours”, he started. “But it turned out that she had been in the warp far, far longer. I’m certain that who came back really is Vox. She acts like Vox and she thinks like Vox but she has been away for decades at least. That leaves marks on a mind.” Titus shot Elaine a glance. The inquisitor was listening attentively. “And Sanguinius is even worse, I’m afraid”, he continued, trying to see where this would take him. “He has been alone out there far longer. I haven’t found anything in them I’d call corruption but I find myself always watching out for it at the edges.”
“Of course, you do”, she said. “You are her bailsman after all. This is your duty.”
“The commander told you?”, he inquired.
“Yes”, she confirmed. “It is fortunate that you became bailsman before all of this happened. The body of law for the bailsman is very hard to bypass. Your lady is safe from any inquisitor as long as you meet the requirements Ferone has specified in this matter.”
Titus froze.
He had not kept his appointment with the ranking chaplain when they had been on Erioch. And he was certain that Elaine had not brought this up by accident. A heartbeat later he also became convinced that she had picked up on his reaction. She said nothing, however, just watched him while he feverishly sought for the safest way out.
He sagged and laid his face into his hands.
“Shit”, he mumbled.
“You didn’t keep your appointment with Loor?”, Elaine asked softly.
“Please, mistress”, he said and looked up at nothing. “Let’s not pretend, you only found this out.” He closed his eyes for a moment and thought. Vox was the lawyer in their partnership. What had he learned from her? Details were important. So he summoned his next to perfect memory and it struck him: Ferone had said ‘You will come under the attendance of Chaplain Loor and will report to him or his proxy or successor as soon as you return from any mission.’ They had never received legal orders for a mission when they had travelled to Thetis. Strictly speaking, they had not returned from a mission when they had reached Erioch.
“Don’t be like that, Titus”, Elaine said a bit reproachfully. “How would you have liked me to bring it up?”
Titus refrained from giving her a look and instead saluted her cruel honesty.
“I didn’t mean to insult you, mistress”, he said carefully. “Please forgive me!”
So, Elaine had no solid case against them. What she had, however, was a tight grip on Titus’ guilty conscience. He dreaded to see what she intended to do with this.
“I’m sure this lapse can be corrected”, Elaine replied softly. “You should speak to Ferone about it.”
“You are very kind”, Titus noted and tried to summon an appropriately remorseful tone.
“Did you know that she was a woman?”, the inquisitor changed the topic casually.
“I found out after Implicit.”
“And did she really summon her chapter to fight the war against the Tau?”
“I didn’t know what she was doing then”, Titus said and allowed himself an honestly sad tone. He missed her so much. This lovely creature that changed the world just to help a friend. “She did it so we could travel on to Zenith and search for an STC.”
“Yes, I heard”, Elaine said.
“Do you happen to know what became of that?”, Titus inquired when he heard this.
“Apparently, it was dead for a very long time. Not much of it is usable”, Elaine said. “I’m surprised that you don’t know about this, Titus”, she added in a concerned tone. “Vox has requested the use of several of the blueprints the tech priests were able to save.”
“It must have slipped her mind to tell me”, Titus said and held the calm gaze of the inquisitor’s green eyes while he fought the bitterness welling up. The inquisitor sure had told him this to worry him.
It had worked.
Once she had granted him her thoughts. Now not even a word. What else had she kept from him? The last time that she had retreated from him like this, had ended in them almost killing each other several times. This time, one of them just might succeed.

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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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