154. Relapse

Calling the landing difficult was a gross understatement. The disaster was only mitigated by Vox waking in the middle of their fall and escaping their huddle with a few desperate beats of her wings.
Having landed on top, she was the first to emerge from the tangle of limbs. Hurt and disoriented, she was nevertheless still able to perceive patterns and the swarm of Gargoyles swooping towards them, triggered her fight instinct.
No other weapon to hand, she reached into the warp. Blood red flames already licked over her body when she was hit in the side with Arrick.
The naked white wolf rolled her into the bushes and landed on top of her. He only escaped severe burns because he was up again in an instant while Vox set the vegetation on fire.
Ignoring this, the Space Wolf started bellowing orders: “Dankwart, Gerneya! To me! Corven, you’re with Xavor and Arhia! Titus…”, Arrick stopped dead when he realised that he was about to give orders to his lord commander. “You do whatever is sensible I guess”, he finished and earned a short grin from Titus. The shield of his lady had taken up position close by and added to the bolter fire in the area.
Vox had finally managed to her feet again and although Arrick had called out all their names she only now understood that Aegis had found them. Moving to the sergeant’s commands, they were establishing an escort for her and killed Tyranids while striving to gain distance to the wildfire closing in.
While she gathered these facts, Arrick had negotiated for Dankwart to surrender his sword to him. As soon as he was armed again, he joined Arhia and the other two Space Wolves in the hunt. He heroically ignored the doubtful glances of his companions due to his lack of appropriate apparel and hurried them forward.
And then, things got worse.
As Titus had already suspected it, the landing creature they had heard earlier had been huge. It had carried more than just the small specimen of xenos they had encountered.
To be precise: A Carnifex.
Usually, this large, heavily armoured creature would have been much better news than two Hive Tyrants. Those were far more agile opponents but in this forest the Carnifex was the thing that threw trees before resorting to other weapons.
Their withdrawal got a lot more frantic when this massive beast came crashing through the wood. The thickly armoured, six-limbed creature was unsettled by the loss of its connection to the Hive and freaked out by the fire. The blind use of force was almost worse than the coordinated behaviour it should have shown.
A Carnifex was practically impervious to their bullets and going one on one with a creature that was for all intents and purposes a tank, was something nobody in their right mind would do intentionally.
Vox striding between them, the apothecaries dealt with the smaller critters left and right. The Space Wolves tried to distract the Carnifex while Titus and Arhia cleared the path ahead.
When a sudden cessation in the fiends around them allowed the angel to close in on her lover, she retrieved her sword. Fighting with the little strength left in her proved tragically necessary. More than once, the number of their opponents threatened to overwhelm them while they got out of the way of a falling tree.
The fire closed in, the enemies seemed in endless supply and none of them would have survived if Arrick had not resorted to the maddest thing to do here: He went one on one with the Carnifex.
They had reached another formation of rocks. High and steep they loomed over them to block their path. Moving along their hem hindered their retreat from the Carnifex, which was closing in at an angle.
Still shoving the high grown vegetation out of the way, it fired blindly in their direction. The salves knocked rocks loose to rain down on them and still there were smaller creatures chasing them.
All of them had lost sight of the sergeant for a moment and the Carnifex slamming into the rocks with full force was enough to keep them distracted. Nobody saw how he had managed it but when the claws of the beast scraped along the cliff, Arrick was suddenly leaping on it from above.
He landed, slithered along its horned forehead. With a powerful twist of his bare body he brought his sword around and rammed it into one of the beady eyes. Dangling from the sword handle and a horned eyebrow, he managed to keep a grip as the beast reared and screamed.
The smaller Tyranids in the area suddenly dispersed in panic. Some even fell down, twitching as if in agony themselves and their infernal noise almost drowned out the announcement of the ‘Cornix’ closing in.
Aegis clustered around Vox and their short headcount revealed that Xavor had vanished.
Thirty seconds before extraction they all knew what this meant.
Vox’s eyes locked on Corven, who kept a grim guarding position on her side while Titus bellowed the demand that Xavor reported in.
The question where the black wolf had gotten to, resolved itself before Titus could pose it: Clearly outlined before the inferno behind him, Xavor’s silhouette appeared on the back of the Carnifex. They saw him climbing between the spikes on the backplate, hefting his Thunderhammer with one hand. They saw the beast rear up again and lift a claw to scrape grimfang off its face and then the ‘Cornix’ sank down beside them. 
As if this had snapped them back into focus, the smaller Tyranids suddenly attacked again. Among her fighting comrades, Vox stood still instead of entering the ship.
All her senses tingled with the rush of the moment.
She felt the heat of the fire on her skin. Droplets of rain still sprayed onto her but carried by strange turbulences and the fumes of the fire strained her breathing. Her exhaustion threatened to drag her down but the sensation of Xavor and Arrick having been thrown off into the forest to her right pricked something else into life. The visions of the future she had seen last night came to her and a desperate smile flickered through her when she put together why Arrick had been naked in some of these images.
She knew that the sensible thing was to sacrifice her warriors. She was the main commander. She was the one carrying the Imperium’s future. She knew it without Sanguinius screaming along with it.
But there was this pain inside her.
Minutes ago she had killed her best friend, had lost her to the daemons. Bearing Corven’s grief for his son would be bad enough but the thought of losing Arrick was worse somehow. She hardly remembered them. The friends of centuries ago. Titus was the strongest impression left in her mind because she had allowed him to renew it. Of Celeste, of Saphane, of Arrick and all the others there was just a distant echo of facts left. All that was left was this feeling. The feeling of the beloved soul so close that she could touch it. Of warmth in the darkness of the endless night, of a friend at her side. The feeling of someone to make her life worth holding on to.
Vox’s grip tightened around the handle of her sword.
Titus had been right. However much she loved him, he was not enough to live by.
The realisation was potent, it felt like it had emerged from her innermost essence where it had been etched onto her soul a lifetime ago. A psyker needed reasons to stay with the world. Everyone needed reasons to hang on.
Today too many reasons had winked out. Celeste. Gladius. Some of them wiped away by her own hand, traded in for Arrick. The white wolf who was out there and about to be ripped from her hearts as well.
Vox reached a decision.
She was standing in front of the open tailboard of the ‘Cornix’, her apothecaries flanking her and providing covering fire to Corven and Titus, who were dealing with the last Tyranids in their immediate reach.
When they fell back to them, Vox held Titus at arm’s length before he could back into her.
“Aegis, inside!”, she ordered loudly. “Do something about that Carnifex! Titus, with me!”
Nobody asked questions. The beloved would not even allow himself a raised eyebrow.
He had taken over for her since they had left Thetis. He had watched out for her and managed her affairs where she had fallen short. He had taken up the responsibility and been granted the power this position brought. Power over their endeavour and power over her.
A lesser man would have tried to hold on to this power. Would have kept her down to stay in control.
Not Titus.
When Vox took over again, there was no no hesitation in him. With his pledge to her, he had put himself at her side and there he stood. Strong, proud, reliable. A rock to hold on to or a mountain to stand on while she unhinged the world. It was ultimately her choice.
And the choice was made.
Sanguinius roared up against it, tried to dampen her into passiveness but she snatched him up and pulled him into the centre of her soul where she wrapped him in love and devotion.
Spreading from this spontaneous union, Vox felt a strange form of power flow into her. It was a heat, made up of affection and gratitude and it literally bore her aloft. She shook her wings to spray as much wetness away as she could under the boiling rain. A few steps and a determined jump brought her high enough to fly.
As she beat the wings for the first time, something happened in her chest. Prepared for the crippling pain of the wound ripping open, she merely felt a severe sting that soon dissolved under the rush of adrenaline. As if the certainty of her lover and her friends had finally mended this cut in her structure her muscles obeyed and with this her strength seemed to return.
Vox speeded up, keeping herself aloft with fast and powerful movements. It was difficult to fly with wet wings in the rain but she persevered while she listened for Titus, who followed her with his jump pack.
The infernal heat intensified as they made their way along the moving front of the fire and Vox let red flames to lick over her wings as a shield against their sibling. She felt her wolves in the tangle of vegetation before her and then she saw them. They were pinned down by several packs of Tyranids and sold their hides dearly but a band of Termagants was moving into position. Xavor might have survived their attacks but Arrick would be ripped apart immediately. A mighty beat of her wings brought Vox higher and into the line of sight of these foes before she pounced on them. She rolled in the air, managing to turn two shots into grazes instead of hits. Another beat slowed her fall and let her swoop through their ranks, dissecting limbs and necks as she rushed past. The rest was done by blessed instinct. Joyfully roaring along with her blade, she annihilated the threat to her friends within seconds.
When she was free of them, Titus had reached his brothers and given them the breach they needed to get moving again. She dropped into place beside him and they pushed onwards.
Fighting shoulder to shoulder with Titus again, entering the flow of a real battle without anything but the enemy trying to stop her, was like relapsing into power.
Vox was unable to remember when she had felt as alive as this. Driven before the flying sparks and hot gusts of the inferno, the four of them were unstoppable. All their training, their experience and prowess wove and tightened into each other. United they reached another formation of rocks and climbed upwards while the fire started to surround them.
The remaining Tyranids were acting more and more irrationally. They were crazy with the absence of the Hive in any case but with the fire and the fight against the Space Marines, they started to show completely random behaviour. They stopped dead in the middle of an attack, bit and scratched each other, savaged wounded comrades, howled for no apparent reason or ran crisscross through their own ranks. It was almost harder to fight this madness than to repel the synchronised forces they were used to.
When Xavor grabbed one of them by the tail and smashed it down in their middle, directly followed by his falling hammer they suddenly seemed to reconsider their position and fled in all directions.
The four warriors used their chance, turned and ran to get distance from the burning forest. Titus had kept close contact with the ‘Cornix’ all the time and while Vox rose to fly protective circles over them, Tiberius manoeuvred the Corvus Blackstar into a hovering position beyond the cliff edge they were approaching. The opened tailboard simply waited for them to storm in.
Following her instincts, Vox risked a glimpse into the future and sighed. Under her, Arrick was in the lead. He would be the first to enter the ‘Cornix’, the two others close behind. Vox swooped down, landed and matched his speed.
“Titus, grab Xavor!”, she yelled and got a tight hold around Arrick’s torso. Ignoring his confusion, she dragged him forward and when the Carnifex came up underneath the ‘Cornix’ and knocked the ship out of the way, she prolonged their jump with a few mighty beats of her wings. Both their flailing hands got a lock on the edge of the tailboard and Titus, who had reacted in time, managed to grab Arrick’s foot while holding on to Xavor.
“Tiberius, pull up!”, Titus roared into the vox. Compensating the drag of the acceleration with one hand each, the naked warriors clung to each other, dangling dangerously while under them the Carnifex roared in anger.

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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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