153. Uncovered

Vox rolled herself into a tight ball to brace for the impact.
The world ripped open with a bang. The blast threw her high into the sky, separating her from the ‘Cornix’.
As soon as the forces so much as slackened, she uncurled, folded her wings to herself and dropped right into the warp rift.
Through the roaring, burning tides of the future, she watched herself being too late. Blood dripped from the corner of her eyes while she perceived friends down there wink out, one at a time. There was no ground below, only swirling colours and blinding darkness and she struggled to cut deeper into them. Another heartbeat rushed by and another life winked out. Another friend taken. Another existence snuffed like a candle.
What Vox witnessed from far off, Arrick had to experience up close.
He had followed Celeste when she had separated from her forces. Talking Cephaya into this, he had led his squad right into the trap.
They had lost sight of the chapter mistress for a moment and suddenly, she had dropped between them like a predator. Her first strike killed Rogan and she stabbed Yorg like an afterthought. Caregar, she dazzled with a shot to the helmet and decapitated him with a powerful strike, as soon as she had bridged the distance between them.
The women had tried to rally when Celeste grabbed the falling body of Caregar to gulp down his blood. Descendants of Sanguinius all knew the Red Thirst and trained for one of their own falling out of line like this. The tactics they chose were all wrong. Celeste was no raging maniac that needed to be contained and calmed. She was the precise, deadly angel of death she had been chosen to become and her Wings of War stood no chance.
Reth was the only one who managed to place a shot before Celeste cut her down.
Arrick meanwhile, knew corruption when he saw it but something went wrong in his head and hearts. In the face of another traitor he might not have hesitated but coming up against the beloved woman froze him to the spot. Aware of every detail, of her blond hair flying as she spun, of the blood spraying onto her glorious, red and golden armour, of the wild hunger in her smile and the twinkle of lust in her mild blue eyes, Arrick stood and stared as she slaughtered his comrades.
When he was able to force his hands to move again, Celeste had already come too close to make use of the bolter he was holding. As if she had spared him for last, she dropped her last victim and stalked over to him.
The blood encrusted vampire threw the body of his friend aside like a piece of trash. It had been Cephaya. Her blood still dripped from Celeste’s chin.
The white wolf knew that he had to go against this monster. He knew that this was not Celeste of Jericho Keep. She might not even have been last night. The ripped open world alone told him more than he needed to know.
But however much he knew this, he only just managed to draw his sword and with this weapon, he had not been able to match Celeste’s skill at any time. This had not changed. The mighty warrior who came to claim him, burned with the thirst and the strange power she had drawn from her victims.
She played with the man she had savoured last night for a few sword strikes but then, she mercilessly pushed his blade out of the way and rammed her sword through his belly. Impaled like this, she lifted Arrick over her head, anticipating the stream of blood that ran down on her hands and forearms, looking up into his single, dark eye with the ravenous joy about his essence being spilt.
An eternity of agony rushed past and then, they were hit by Vox.
The angel tumbled over them, ripping Arrick free while Celeste tried to hold on to him. Her grip only loosened when Soon swished past, almost costing her a hand. The chapter mistress managed to twist and fend the whirling warp off. The push she gave added to the little momentum Vox had left and threw her and Arrick away.
The angel slithered to a halt with the bleeding white wolf in her arms and Celeste followed them swiftly.
Somehow, the chapter mistress knew that losing sight of her prey in the swirling colours of the warp meant losing it. This prey she would never allow to flee.
There was a strange kind of annoyance in her. A thought that hardly belonged to herself. She had not meant to be revealed just yet. Without the suddenly lifted shadow the world had not withstood the forces she had set free and now they were here. So few options. There certainly was a plan behind all this but unfortunately, it was not hers.
Vox knelt only a few paces away and turned a pale face towards Celeste as she sprang towards the huddle of armoured limbs on the ground.
Time was up.
No time left for Celeste to bring her sword down. No time for words. Not even enough time for thoughts. The clear tears that stood in Vox’s eyes had no time to roll down her cheeks. All that was left was a spark igniting inside her.
It spread through her in a terrible, agonising instant and white flames engulfed everything. They ripped into every fibre of substance around her and under their first force, Vox thought that, this time, the flames would finally take her away with them. The knowledge that she was killing Reth and Irdan Yorg, who had been barely alive and that she was destroying the gene seed of all of them, was bad enough. But the certainty that she was deliberately annihilating Celeste, wiping her from the world without the option of sending anything of her home afterwards, was like a dagger she plunged into her own hearts.
She had told herself that she remembered little about her best friend but there was something left: A feeling. It was the impression of the loyal and trusting soul at her side. The strong mind that had watched out for her without keeping her small. Vox had stood behind Celeste for most of their lives, relaxing in her shadow, only to emerge when things were threatening to go wrong. Yet, as much as Vox had allowed her friend to make use of her, unleash her like a weapon, Celeste in turn, had always listened when Vox had found a path worth walking.
There had been this bond between them and even though Vox had not exactly taken it for granted, she had trusted that it would hold through the difficulties they had been facing recently. To see it shattered, to see Celeste beyond reach and redemption was something so painful that Vox thought she had to break down under it.
And then Arrick’s memories hit her.
Seeing what had happened to him was even worse and while she bent down, tightening her embrace around him, she sobbed for the pain in his soul. Their armours crumbled away around them, consumed by the fire because there was not enough life to burn under the unreal rocks that wavered in and out of reality.
While she was dragged through his torture, Vox could feel the peace of oblivion in Arrick and she seriously considered handing both of them over to the fire to spare them the return to reality. She started to breathe in, lifted her wings a little and tilted her head back but at the very moment she was about to let the flames slip her grasp, she spotted something.
It was a mind. Giant and aeons old. Malicious and cunning in a way no human mind ever got. She saw blue feathers and a beak where it had almost taken form.
And she felt its hunger.
It had not meant to be discovered, she was certain. It had wanted to hook onto Celeste, had meant to be carried to Terra and had made its host spill blood to tighten their bond. It had tapped into Celeste’s dismay, had fueled her hunger, had gotten so close and now Vox had taken this from her. She saw how it hovered. How ravenously it waited for her to slip to take her instead of Celeste.
Vox felt herself harden. Against the pain and dismay of two souls combined, she took up her fight again. She was exhausted and hurt, both physically and emotionally but whatever else she was, she was Vox and Vox had a very clear picture of how the world should and should not be.
Her world would not be ruled by daemons.
She started to struggle against the drag of the flames. Against the joyous rapture that promised blissful oblivion and dived back into her own mind and her own pain. She let herself sink into it and felt it to the fullest. Determinately she explored how alive she could be under this agony. She unfolded into it to fill her whole existence with the consciousness of vitality. Without meaning to, she enveloped Sanguinius while she circled Arrick’s precious mind to protect it. Deliberately she drove the flames further out until they suddenly parted. First a bare hand and then a face peeled itself out of them that gave her the confidence to disperse the flames and throw herself into the sheltering reach of her lover.
From one moment to the next silence fell around her and she sank against Titus’ breastplate. By his touch alone, he dragged her away from the world, calmed the roar of the warp and the rift collapsed.
He had walked through the white fire to find her, he was shaking and exhausted and burnt again but he had found her and he held on.
Vox tried to hold on to him as well but the fire had taken a lot out of her and her senses dwindled fast while large bruises appeared on her skin. They looked especially vivid around her armour ducts.
With the warp and the fire gone, rain started to pour down, washing Vox’s and Arrick’s skin clean from the ashes of their armours. Arrick awoke without Vox having called him. He looked quite disoriented but untangled himself from Vox’s limp arms to stumble to his feet.
He had only a few moments to inspect the changed state of his attire.
“Oh, Vox”, Titus meanwhile sighed and pressed his face to her pale features, holding her lolling head cradled carefully. “How I wish you’d stop doing that…”
“Titus”, Arrick said with an impatient kind of urgency in his voice as. “I don’t know if you ever witnessed a forest fire but that will not stop for as little rain as this.”
The white wolf pointed to where the sky was illuminated by a portentous glow. Even over the clattering rain, they could hear the roaring of the fire and Titus made haste to collect Soon, which was the only thing in this canyon beside Vox and Arrick, the white fire had spared.
“This is Titus”, he sent out on the general frequency while they started to move. “I need a pick up at my location immediately!” He listened into his microbead for a moment. “How did you get five minutes away?”, he asked, sounding annoyed. “Alright. Just hurry!”
Arrick shot him a questioning glance.
“’Cornix’ got thrown off?”, he inquired, knowing that Vox and Titus would have been carried down by the Corvus Blackstar.
“Yes”, Titus confirmed. “And they’re still the closest.”
He oriented himself for a moment and powered up his jump pack to ascend onto a not too steep rock formation. Before he had finished laying Vox down to fetch Arrick, the white wolf already climbed after him.
“Well done, sergeant”, he said and despite everything had to smile. “Feeling rather vital?”, he asked, well remembering what the white fire had done to him. Arrick probably had gotten even more energy since Vox would have found more to burn for him.
The white wolf gave him a puzzled grin.
“Yeah. Also, I grew up in terrain like this”, he said and stroked his wet hair out of his face. “Come on, pick up the pace. I’ll see what I can carry”, he urged his superior because the fire came closer with disconcerting speed. Even though they were on a patch of rocks at present, the heat would cook everyone without armour if the fire surrounded them.
They managed to cover a few paces.
“What the fuck?”, Arrick asked when a crash shook the ground.
Titus gritted his teeth. He knew this noise all too well.
“Yes, you heard right: Tyranids dropping from orbit”, he growled.
Conveniently, it had come from the direction they were moving in. He looked at Arrick for a moment and considered his options. Then, he passed the unconscious, naked angel to the likewise naked Space Wolf, ignoring the horror that rose in Arrick’s face.
“Come on, Grimfang”, Titus growled as he drew axe and bolter with a grim expression. “Let’s see what you can carry.”
Under Vox’s skin, Arrick was too incoherent to reply to this but he followed Titus with surprising speed. Very surprising, considering that he was barefoot and had no hands free to steady himself.
Titus turned to the right to get as much space as possible between them and the Tyranids while still moving away from the fire. He was sure that the crash they had heard had come from a huge landing creature. Considering their luck lately, it might even have carried a Carnifex or more than one Hive Tyrant. There was a small hope that the Tyranids would be busy fleeing the fire themselves but these damned beasts were aggressive monsters to the core. If they saw something moving, they gave chase.
A dozen flowed over the edge of the rocks Hormagaunts were the first to swarm over the stones and Titus had his work cut out to cover Arrick while the white wolf carried Vox away. Luckily the Tyranids turned out to be less deadly than usual. They were still dangerous and Titus’ armour retained several deep scratches in the fight.
While he fought the Hormagaunts, he shuffled his options feverishly. He was sure that he had seen flying creatures from the corner of his eyes and was concerned that they would pounce on Grimfang and Vox. Keeping the comrade’s pace in the melee while keeping the foes beyond pounding distance was no small feat either.
His jump pack gave him the manoeuvrability but long jumps exposed his friends for seconds at a time. At least he spotted the next foes closing in during one of those jumps. Several packs of Tyranids were moving up to them from their left front side. If Titus got engaged by one of those, the following beasts would have a clear run towards Grimfang and Vox.
The white wolf meanwhile, moved quickly and determinately, always keeping at a steep angle to from where the fire was closing in. The path he chose was clear of Tyranids as of yet. Sadly, they found out why this was the case very soon: The rock formation ended in an unclimbable overhang.
Arrick came to a halt at the edge and looked down. Even without Vox to carry and Tyranids on their heels, he would have sought another way down.
“Titus, cliff!”, he informed his commander and took the last few steps to the very point of the beak of rock.
Titus meanwhile killed the last Hormagaunt in his direct reach before he turned and fired up his jump pack. Arrick would have been ready to hand Vox over and stay here to die but there was no time for finesse like this. With Tyranids swarming after them, Titus only just managed to put his weapons away before he simply rammed into them and carried all three over the cliff edge.
They fell like the rain.

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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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