152. Unexpected Arrivals

5th company had been too late. The Genestealer infestation had been too extensive already. Teliph, or Hector’s Endeavour as it had been named by the imperial forces on its rediscovery, was a feral world and the xenos had dwelt there for decades. They had dug in, built their tribe and now a third of the population fought the Space Marines in a vicious guerrilla war.
The only reason that Celeste had not ordered an exterminatus was that she had been busy with the fight of 3rd on Zenith until Vox had judged the world a critical point to protect Erioch.
When the Wings of War got a visual on Teliph, they could see an enormous fire on the night side of the planet even from orbit. Contact with 5th confirmed that they had set a forest on fire to thin out the xeno forces. Vox went half crazy because she could give her warriors no reason to descend to the surface and join the fight other than the vague feeling that it was better than not. Even so, nobody questioned her decision.
She decided to take the ‘Cornix’ herself. After repairs and upgrades her techmarines assured her that she was the best ship to take her and Titus to critical parts of the battlefield as soon as one could be ascertained.
Waiting for their troops to finish deployment, the two commanders could only hope that they would find the relevant notches in the future to spin it down another path.
The first unpleasant surprise happened even as they approached their vehicle. Vox stumbled in her step, halted and then turned and ran back the way they had come. Confusedly Titus went after her.
“Corven!”, he heard her vox. The rune priest’s reply was lost in her microbead.
“What? Are you serious?”
At this point, they ran into Nostromo who came hovering towards them at speed.
“My lady!”, he yelled excitedly. “Do you feel it?”
“The Hive?”, Vox gave back hastily. “Just a moment – No Corven, I have no idea what to do about it. Let me know if you come up with something. Yes, navigator, I feel it. But they are not here yet, are they?”
“No, this is just the space bulging where they break through.”
“Like a blister…”, Vox commented and her lips curled in disgust. “Suits them, the damned things. How can they be so close? Shouldn’t they have to stay further away?”
While Titus’ gaze flitted back and forth between the two psykers, Nostromo shrugged.
“Maybe a new breed of Narvhal?”
Vox’s slightly panicky gaze jumped over to Titus who spotted his cue: “The creatures they use to travel through the warp?”, he supplied her with the vital information.
“Well, technically they don’t travel through the warp…” He broke off as he caught their expressions. “Which we might discuss later maybe.”
“If the Hive is here, we won’t be able to draw back in time”, Titus gave up for consideration.
“But we have to!”, Vox burst out. “We have to reach Terra! My injury delayed us already.” She looked around as if searching for plans. “Navigator, can you still engage a jump?”, she asked when she had found a possibility.
“You want to leave the chapter behind?”, Titus asked her leadenly.
“We have no choice, Titus! What if we reach Terra too late? Or not at all? Master Nostromo, can you do it?”
Nostromo looked at her.
“No”, he said. “Not with the ‘Primarch’s Bride’.”
“With the ‘Hammer’? Tell me!”, she demanded when his answer came delayed. “We can not fail here!”
“We won’t reach the ‘Hammer’ in time”, Nostromo said slowly, weighing his head thoughtfully. “My lady, I never asked but would you tell me now why it is crucial that you reach Terra?”
Vox gritted her teeth but hesitated only for a moment.
“Can you see the light flicker?”, she asked back bluntly.
“Far off, yes. It worries me that it should”, the navigator replied quietly.
“I can get him back”, she said firmly. “But I need to reach Terra.”
“I see”, Nostromo said with a calculating frown on his organic eye brows. Then, he bowed deeply to her. “My lady Vox Sanguinius”, the mostly mechanical navigator said. “I don’t know you for very long but I have known Vox Draconis as he was in the Deathwatch. I trusted him and I am ready to extend the credit for his accomplishments to you. There is a way to cut the Hive Fleet off and buy you the time to disengage before they break through again.”
“How?”, Vox demanded.
“I will take the ‘Sabre of Destiny’. She’s a small and fast ship. We should be able to bypass the larger hive ships and when we hit the Narvhal, we will engage a warp jump, pulling it away with us.”
Vox and Titus exchanged a bewildered glance.
“You sound like you were preparing that”, Titus said flatly.
Nostromo’s eyes twinkled.
“Oh, you know. Long nights under the Hive, nothing to do for a navigator, a little wine, a few friends. You get thinking. I always wanted to try if it works”, he said.
“You’ll be lost in the warp”, Vox said quietly and Nostromo shrugged.
Maybe he would have smiled but with the mechanical lower half of his face it was hard to tell.
“Bring back the beacon, my lady and who knows? Maybe, I’ll find my way back to Terra and meet you there”, he said. “Now, you go and see to it that you get your troops moving. I don’t want to die for a wasted chance.”
“We will make your sacrifice count”, Vox promised.
“I’d say, may the Emperor guide you but…” He shrugged again.
“May he guide you, Casimiré Nostromo”, Vox said solemnly and they parted. The two of them continued onwards to the bridge while Nostromo hovered to the hangars to find a shuttle that could take him to the ‘Sabre of Destiny’.
“Establish contact with the chapter mistress!”, Vox ordered while they entered the bridge at a run. “And get the fleet into a defensive position! We have Tyranids incoming.”
Busy minutes passed and suddenly, Vox cringed. She almost bent double while she leaned on the bannister on the captain’s platform.
“They’re here”, she managed between gritted teeth while the activity on the bridge increased in hectic bustle. Reports were yelled across the room, Admiral Starling bellowed her orders and all the time, the mistress of vox tried to reach Celeste. To the background of this, Titus watched Vox suffer from the thousands of hungry voices of the Hive and finally came up with the idea to connect their hands. After removing their gauntlets, at least the highest commander of the fleet was operational again.
A few minutes later it had become apparent that Celeste had vanished. When they dug deeper, the mistress of vox admitted that she was sure that the line was open, the chapter mistress just did not answer.
Titus and Vox exchanged a troubled glance.
“Relay to my personal line and get me one of her honour guards”, Vox ordered and they both turned back towards the hangar. As they climbed a transportation servitor for speed a terrible apprehension loomed in their minds. All the more awful because it was undefined. Celeste had tried to kill Titus yesterday and missed the night prayer afterwards. In the bustle of deployment they had found no time to talk to her. Sorting through their shared thoughts made things even worse. In their combined hindsight, they found that Celeste had been increasingly displeased with the developments and none of them had found the time to keep in touch with her.
Titus scolded himself. He had dragged Vox into contact with all the people he had found it easy to talk to but had never thought about Vox’s oldest friends. Sanguinius had shown them how to navigate the important figures in the chapter but after he had freed his angel from him, they had been preoccupied with not listening to him. All three of them dreaded the price they would pay for this lapse now.
On the way, it became apparent that Celeste had managed to separate from the members of her honour guard. She had left two of them each in charge over parts of their forces and none of them knew where she had gotten to. It took almost all their way to the hangar to establish this because the burning forest down there was no help in stabilising matters. Their forces were under vehement attacks by Genestealers and their maddened mutants. The four companies they had deployed so generously were already engaged in widespread skirmish battles.
A few orders to Celeste’s honour guard and the captains were a first means to get organised but they both knew that this would not be enough. Soon landing creatures would rain from the sky and their sheer numbers would take the heavy toll Vox had foreseen.
They had a short, three way discussion about their immediate course of action, which the lady carried. Vox wanted to find Celeste. An inkling she could not explain told her that the chapter mistress would be a pivotal point in the upcoming events and the others acquiesced. Sanguinius judged it an arguably safe endeavour and Titus bowed to her instincts. Therefore, they arranged for Celeste’s locator beacon to be relayed to the ‘Cornix’ and waited anxiously until their arrival. They considered running themselves but Vox was by no means up to the challenge. The fast pace earlier had already strained her and even the few steps she needed to storm into the ship and clamp herself in, was a test of endurance.
At least Tiberius and Luriel had them moving within seconds as soon as they were on board.
“Do you have Celeste’s location?”, Vox wanted to know while they clamped themselves to the walls.
“Yes”, Tiberius confirmed. “How urgently do you want to get there?”, he inquired. “Our drop ships reported a thunderstorm building up over the area. I can make this a rough flight or not.”
Vox let go of Titus’ hand and flinched for the shadow hitting her but she steadied herself and closed her eyes. A thin line of blood ran out of her nose before she decided: “Bring us down as quickly as you can.”
They accelerated.
“How did I not see this coming?”, Vox whispered and pressed herself against the wall. “A whole damned arm of the Hive Fleet and I didn’t see them coming… Something is wrong, Titus.”
Titus found nothing to say to that. All he could do was to offer her his hand. She took it reluctantly but when they burst through the clouds over the burning forest, she had to let go again. Something was wrong with Celeste and every little advantage could help them now.
The rain had started to fall thickly over the burning wood and the ship shook under the harsh winds down here.
Inside the ‘Cornix’ it was silent while they triangulated in on Celeste’s signal. Apparently, there was some kind of interference that made her hard to locate and nobody knew where it came from.
Vox was pale while she listened out into the world with closed eyes. The screaming, unquenchable ravenousness of the Hive the thickness of a shadow away rained onto her mind like burning sulphur. She remembered this state she found. It was like being buried under a ton of bugs, biting her flesh, trying to gnaw her soul out to infect her with their hunger.
It was impossible to find anyone in this, even for her.
As she searched on against the resistance, she wished she remembered more about Celeste. All that was left in her memory were a few facts. She remembered that the chapter mistress was roughly her age and that they had come to the chapter together. Presumably, they had been through a lot. Saphane came into the picture somewhere but she was a younger, less intense addition to this strange feeling for Celeste. There was a deep-seated, worrying uncertainty about the situation. Vox was sure that Celeste had used to be the one who had watched out for her starting to act funny. Now, she was the one behaving oddly. Abandoning her troops in the middle of a battle was nothing a chapter mistress should do.
Her thoughts were interrupted by two events happening almost simultaneously.
The first was Luriel exclaiming: “Is that Gladius?”
The second was the sudden absence of the devastating, suppressive shadow of the Hive.
Vox strained against the clamps that were holding her in surprise.
“Nostromo’s done it!”, she had just enough time to gasp before the future hit her with full force.
Since Sanguinius had joined her, her visions worked differently. Formerly shielded from the tide of the things to come by a blessed veil of oblivion, she now was assailed by unbidden insights if she so much as listened hard.
Under the sudden absence of the shadow, her straining senses blazed with everything that had been hidden before. Vox gave a heartfelt groan and struggled out of her clamp.
Forcefully, she pushed Sanguinius down who flung himself forward with the intent to interfere. She stumbled and swore.
“Open the tailboard!”, she managed and for once allowed her terror to drive her forward. Suddenly, she could see what she was losing and under the all encompassing pain of this, she might not have heeded the command of the Emperor Himself. Her Primarch stood no chance.
“Wait until the blast has happened!”, she demanded of Titus who was dragging her off the floor and twisted to grab Soon from his back. With this, she spun around and struggled out of the opening tailboard.
Over a burning forest, she sprang and fell in a last moment of silence.

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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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