146. Assurances

Titus had only a couple of seconds before Elaine accepted his reserved answer and changed direction yet again.
“I have to admit that I was quite taken aback when Ferone told me that there should be female Space Marines”, she said. “I was taught that women can’t carry the Emperor’s seed.”
“As far as I understood it, this is still true”, Titus said, wondering where she was going now. “They look like women but, apparently, they are men.”
“The Emperor moves in mysterious ways”, the inquisitor agreed.
“Marvellous I’d say.” A small smile stole itself into his eyes. For once he caught it and decided to make use of the memory that had just risen. “Shall I tell you something funny?”, he asked
“Please, do so!”, Elaine replied with a gentle smile. Had he heard satisfaction in her tones? Right now, he was ready to offer any private detail just to get her off Vox’s back.
“The Heartrock brothers once teased her that she should make advances to you.”
Elaine laughed.
“When I look back now, I feel rather stupid”, she admitted. “I really could have spotted her.”
“Me too”, Titus said.
“How did you find out?”, the Lady of Angor inquired.
“She got wounded and Dankwart had to open her armour to treat her”, Titus recounted curtly.
“What did you do?”, Elaine went on.
Titus gave a dismissive snort.
“I tried to kill her”, he declared bluntly. He would never have shot an unconscious comrade on the ground. Least of all Vox but he was determined to overpaint the occurrences that would prove his fitness for a bailsman.
“And why didn’t you?”, Elaine wanted to know, apparently fascinated by this.
“Dankwart and Tiberius defended her. They managed to persuade me that the commander had vouched for her and that I wasn’t to touch the black shield.”
“Loyal friends in a tight corner”, Elaine mused. “Just what anyone desires. Vox seems to have the knack of acquiring people like that.”
“Including you”, Titus pointed out.
Elaine laughed quietly.
“Including me indeed”, she conceded.
“How did you get her out from Laraise by the way?”, he inquired.
“Oh, that was precarious”, she said. “I announced myself to Laraise and requested entry to the ‘Lawbringer’ to pick Vox up.”
“Just that?”
“It was all I could do”, Elaine confirmed. “I had no legal handle, I could only intimate to her that I would take an interest in any accidental deaths concerning this endeavour.”
“And then Vox gave you the information you needed to bring Laraise down?”
“Yes. She was brilliant”, the inquisitor said, lost in thought. “She managed to bend everything to Laraise having dabbled in two investigations involving corruption without calling the Ordo Malleus in. She gave me everything I had to look for without ever having to concede that she had read Laraise’s mind illegally.”
“Was it illegal?”
“Oh, yes”, Elaine said quietly. “Reading an inquisitor’s mind is forbidden on pain of death. We are supposed to collect the most dangerous secrets in the galaxy. Someone fishing around in our minds is bound to cause trouble sooner or later. We can’t have that. If someone can be proven guilty of this, the law doesn’t stop at a caution. It was a dangerous thing, Vox did. If she admitted to anyone what she did, I could get her for it even now.”
Titus kept a blank face. After returning from the ‘Lawbringer’, Vox had told Titus exactly this.
“How can you be certain she did it? Did she admit anything to you?”, he checked.
“No.” Elaine almost seemed satisfied about this. “As I told you. She was brilliant. She played it absolutely straight. Had I not worked with Vox before, I wouldn’t even have suspected her.”
Titus felt honoured in his despair. His old Vox had played it straight except for the conversation with him. In him, she had put trust.
“How did you get Laraise?”, Titus inquired, desperate to spin this part of their conversation out as long as possible. As soon as the Wings of War on the other end of the hall left, he could follow them.
“My dear colleague had been searching for the sword, you fetched for Thrax.”
Titus’ hearts sank again. He would have liked to forget that there was more than one handle on him for an inquisitor.
“And with the hints I got, I could prove that she had tampered with her reports, hadn’t followed a few important protocols and accused her of corruption for this.”
“How did you manage to make charges stick without involving me?”, he asked, biting through the prospect of being vulnerable if Elaine decided to go against him.
“There are ways to involve people without summoning them”, the inquisitor said soothingly. “We had enough records of your stay with Thrax as well as with your visit to Laraise.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the visual surveillance system of a ship is stored in hard to reach places. It is rather uncommon knowledge among the tech priests how to find them but once you have them, you have the most solid proof you can imagine. Ships don’t lie. Laraise didn’t even know that something like this existed.” She gave Titus a slightly disconcerting grin. “You simply have to know the right people.”
Titus thought about this. Elaine really had an admirable way of interrogation. She constantly managed to remind him of the things she could do to him but also pointed out what she had done for them in the past.
“So tell me, mistress”, Titus decided to ask straight out. “Do we know the right people?”
“You and your lady, you mean?”, Elaine inquired.
Elaine gave him a long, thoughtful look.
“Will you tell me, what happened between you and her in that cave?”, she finally asked. “I have spoken to all of the warriors you had with you and, although their tales differ somewhat, they all agree that Vox went in alone and then you went in after her. The critical question that concerns me as inquisitor is: ‘Why did both of you come out?’”
Titus hesitated. Last time he had told this woman the truth she had used it to help. His gaze swept over her and suddenly, he wanted to believe that this had not happened on a whim.
“Because she was still Vox”, he answered quietly. “You see, I have been made her bailsman because I am resistant to the warp. Vox can’t use her powers on me unless she touches my skin.” He looked down at his armoured body and gave Elaine a soft smile before he continued. “When I found her in the cave, she demanded that I’d judge her. As her bailsman she wanted me to decide whether she was to walk out again. I was to determine if she was still herself and so I offered her my bare hand.”
“What did she do?”, Elaine prompted.
Titus smiled. The relief of this moment came back to him. The relief for the knowledge that she was still Vox. How he wished that he had this certainty now.
“She got upset about it”, he told Elaine. “She scolded me. Called me the most incompetent, reckless bailsman of all times and asked if I had forgotten that she was fully capable of reducing my mind to putty.”
The Lady of Angor had to hide her smile.
“I have to admit that this sounds quite like Vox.”
“I thought so too”, Titus agreed severely. “And I will not murder my uncorrupted Vox.”
“Rightly so”, Elaine said. The two of them shared a long look. The group of Wings of War passed them by on their way out.
“I thank you for your time, Aegis Titus”, Elaine said earnestly and stood up.
“It was my honour, Inquisitor Elaine”, Titus replied, following her example.
“I wish you a good night. Bring my regards to your lady.”
“Thank you. Good night.”
When Titus reached Vox’s quarters, she sat at the table, her head buried in her hands. Without really thinking about it, he closed the door behind him and came to her as fast as possible without jumping over the furniture. Vox looked up and managed a weak smile as he reached her.
“Vox?”, he asked in alarm. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Titus”, she replied soothingly. “I’m just tired to the bone and trying not to fall asleep.” She looked at him in uncertainty for a moment. “Could you forego the armour again?”, she asked.
“Of course”, Titus replied hastily but bitterness welled up inside him. He tried to turn it in a proper direction: “I’m sorry I let you wait.”
“Don’t”, she said and went over to the bed while Titus removed his gauntlet and switched off the light. “I saw that you went with Elaine.”
“Do you want to know how it went?”, he asked while she crawled into the bed. He felt a little ashamed of pushing the question but was unable to help it.
“I do but, please, tomorrow.”
Titus knelt down next to the bed like he had done it since they had entered the warp and was about to settle down when her hand suddenly wandered over his cheek.
“Tomorrow”, she repeated quietly. “Tomorrow you can sleep again.”
“Vox, I don’t care if I sleep or not”, he burst out hotly. “I’ll keep watch beside you until I fall over but why do you push me away like this?”
She crept up to him, her wings rustling quietly in the darkness and then she pressed her face against his.
“Titus”, she breathed into his ear and his hearts leaping into his throat distracted him from the note of reproach in her tones.
He heard her fiddling with her robes and then she pulled his hand closer to place it on her exposed skin. Titus’ heaving breath stalled when his fingers brushed over the scars.
“I took this for you”, she said and, this time it was an accusation. It hit him like a hammer.
“For you and Corven”, she continued. “A wound caused by a warp blade is nothing to be shrugged off easily. It damages not only the body, it destroys the very essence. It hasn’t stopped hurting, it hasn’t even stopped bleeding. I tried to keep that from you, so you wouldn’t worry but I’m still spending quite a lot of time in the apothecarium because the thing rips open.”
“You tried to keep that from me?”, Titus gasped. “Vox, what in all the worlds is wrong with you?”
“I’m concerned for you, that’s what’s wrong”, she said softly and carefully pressed his hand to her belly. “I have dragged you into this. I made you judge me. Made you take responsibility for what I am about to do. Can’t you understand the extent of the crime you are supporting? We might be doing it for the best, that doesn’t mean we will get away with this. I bet today you stood fast for me when Elaine questioned you didn’t you? You got yourself even deeper into this by bending the facts and keeping quiet about the tricky bits to protect me, didn’t you?”
Titus swallowed.
“I did”, he admitted.
“Then why can’t you understand that I want to do the same for you?”, she asked.
Titus found no answer. His whole body was shaking with the storm of guilt and longing and yet there was a part inside him screaming that something was wrong. Vox closed her robes again and took both his hands to kiss them.
“I’m sorry, I can’t stay awake any longer”, she whispered. “Good night, my love. I thank you for watching over me.”
Titus had never felt as alone in the darkness as during this night. His guilty conscience tortured him. The resentment was just as vivid. After struggling through all the untold stories she had revealed everything and now shrouded herself in secrets again. Had she merely resorted to old habits because it was all she remembered?
He could not tell when but at some point Titus went so numb with the sheer overload of all the emotions that he laid his head on her bed and fell asleep. He missed Vox giving a small sigh in her dreams and tangling her fingers in his hair. In the darkness the single tear that rolled over her cheek was lost without trace.

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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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