19. Leadership

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The ‘Aiolos’ was a Firestorm Class Frigate and with less than two kilometres length a rather small ship. She compensated this by being made to transport a single kill team and therefore provided quite a bit of luxury when it came to preparing for war. The eight Space Marines had their own meeting room, a small chapel to their exclusive use and a small but cosy mess right next to it to take their meals and maybe spend their free time in the evenings in. A heavily fortified shooting range in the belly of the ship, provided space for open field training. Also, the crew was well used to Space Marines running through the narrow, complex corridors, ducking in and out of rooms or trying to hold some corner or other. They usually just took a detour while the Astartes practised their urban warfare. The only ones unwilling to budge easily were the small swarms of restaurateurs who tried to keep up with repairing the damage the Space Marines caused to the ornamentation.
When he inquired about him, Titus learned that Casimiré Nostromo not only was a navigator able to pilot a ship through the warp, he also was a Rogue Trader.
That the rich and powerful merchant navigated the ‘Aiolos’ was unusual. He had his own small fleet, consisting of three magnificent artefact ships. In the past ten years, he had often agreed to transport Aegis and especially the long term members knew him well. By sight at least.
None of the Space Marines knew what had brought Nostromo to work with the Deathwatch. An even greater mystery was how he had obtained the right to travel to Erioch. He was the only navigator, not strictly belonging to the station, who knew where it was located. Vargov suspected that Vox might know more details but inquiries would have to wait until he was awake again.
Aegis had boarded the ‘Aiolos’ early in the morning and started training right away. As long as Dankwart was with Vox in the infirmary, Tiberius and Titus teamed up and proved that the past two months had borne fruit. They worked well together and even when Dankwart rejoined them and Titus attached himself to the other pairs in turns, there were no overly extensive adaptation problems.
After the midday meal, Titus heard Vargov preach for the first time. His first impression of the chaplain was pleasantly confirmed. Vargov was a ruthless warrior by nature. He spoke with fire in his eyes of the destruction they would bring, of the cause they would serve and of the glory they would earn for the Emperor. He preached with the vigour of a true warrior and the certainty of the truly faithful. In his presence, there was no room for doubt. To march into battle with Vargov would surely mean to march under the bright flame of faith. Titus looked forward to it.
The second training phase brought an end to his success. He hit his limit of how well he could adapt to Aegis’ strategies and tactics. This was partly due to the fact that he was missing a partner. They trained a lot of patterns where it was crucial to provide cover and give aid. In this, he was rather useless alone. In other units, however, he found that his heritage presented a solid problem. His comrades had a lot more experience with brothers from other chapters and anticipated their behaviour better than he could. Even Tiberius had developed different ways to move and react than his fellow Ultramarine. In addition to this vexatious state of affairs, it was hard not to let his still diminished endurance show and the day closed rather more unsatisfactorily than it had begun.
Vox returned for the morning prayer the next day. He looked more well rested and lively than Titus had ever seen him before and right after the prayer, he had news for them already.
“Brothers, I had time to search for our objective this morning and found out that we will cross it tomorrow. It wasn’t passing us by, it’s coming our way. I’m not sure if they are really headed to Erioch or if this is an accident but they certainly are Tau.”
“Then let’s choose our leader, train today and plan tomorrow”, Vargov said firmly. The brothers nodded and formed a circle.
“Tsart”, Vargov said, looking to his right where Athuriel stood.
“Aharran”, the Dark Angel said.
Tsart was next. “Me”, he said.
“Me”, Aharran said grinning as if he agreed with Tsart’s choice.
“Carnas”, was Vox’s call and Titus’ too although, like Athuriel, he called Aharran by his surname. Dankwart and Tiberius both named Tsart. With this, the two candidates were on par. Titus was interested to see what would happen now.
They both stepped forward, facing each other. Aharran still grinned amusedly, his green eyes twinkling. Tsart looked haughty and stern, his scars rippling when he narrowed his eyes. No words passed between them, they circled each other slowly, holding eye contact. It was Aharran who stepped back, flexing his shoulders to lose some tension.
“I’ll be busy blowing things up”, he said lightly, averting his gaze from his opponent. Everyone nodded.
With this choice of leadership, Tsart was the one coordinating the training today. He devised two training units very well fitted to prepare them to move unseen inside the station and react to sudden attacks. Titus had to train alone for a while at the end of each session because Vox went to check on the progress of their target and rejoined them for the meals and prayers. Despite this, the two of them did so well together that Tsart found a few words of praise for Titus when they gathered for the even meal, which he had for nobody else.
Titus used this chance to inquire why Aharran seemed to work with Vargov extraordinarily well. It turned out that it was the second time that the Celestial Lion had been assigned to Aegis. He had been with them for one mission a while back and it had been a coincidence that he still had been on Erioch yesterday. He had been due to return to his chapter after having completed his vigil. When the commander had informed him about the emergency, he had volunteered at once.
Titus had already developed a certain respect for the man who managed to convey the impression that he was stuffed with explosives and that he only smiled all the time because he was the only one who knew how long the fuse was. Hearing that he had readily stepped in to stand with his brothers made him nod in acknowledgement. Although, right when he did that, it dawned on him that this gesture was probably not as appraising now, it came from a brother instead of a captain. He had to smile about this and contented himself with listening to their conversation for the rest of the meal.
This time it was not only Vargov speaking and calling forth comments. Vox constituted a worthy counterpart to him. The two of them seemed to be well used to each other, even though they had very different modes of drawing other people into their dialogue. Vargov threw comments like arrows, outright demanding participation. This often resulted in single word answers or very short contributions before he could take over again. Vox, on the other hand, managed to create a little more space for another participant to speak in. Titus also noticed that, while none of them ever addressed Dankwart, Vox especially seemed to avoid Tsart. He had noticed it before. A careful balance, a great amount of tension delicately poised between them. Not only did they not speak to each other, they also avoided eye contact. While he wondered what had happened between them to constitute this, Vargov interrupted by calling him forth by name.
“Come again?”, was all he could ask. He had been so immersed in his contemplations that he was even unable to replay the question in his head.
“I inquired where you have gone, brother. Since you certainly aren’t here anymore.”
“I can assure you that my thoughts are firmly with Aegis, brother chaplain”, Titus replied truthfully.
“Very well”, Vargov said as if grudgingly awarding a high mark for another congruent answer. “Let us direct all our thoughts to the Emperor now”, he urged instead of pursuing the topic further.
They followed him to the chapel and knelt while he preached. Even as they stood in the circle for the last oath, thumping their breastplates, Vox fixed his smiling, blue eyes on Titus. The two walked out side by side.
Like they had done it on the ‘Lawbringer’, they took a moment to get out of earshot before Titus broke the silence.
“So…”, he said casually. “We’re brothers.”
“Indeed, brother.”
“No Codex prohibiting familiarity.”
Instead of an answer, Vox shot him an amused and calculating glance.
“May I see your blade now?”
Vox burst out laughing. “Not in public”, he said and received a push that would have been a dig in the ribs had the armour not gotten in the way.
“Come on, don’t be shy!”, Titus urged him good humouredly. “What I saw already is nothing you have to be embarrassed about!”
“Still not in public. Come on!”
He led Titus down into the belly of the ‘Aiolos’ and there they entered a training hall, smaller than the shooting range. There were some lockers, probably concealing training props. Each lock was a skull with wide opened jaws. An ornate clock over the door showed the ship time and the wall was covered in light grey carpet to dampen the noise. Otherwise, this was just a large, empty space.
Vox closed the door and drew his sword, almost absent-mindedly letting it describe an elegant arch. Then, he handed it to Titus handle first, who was completely taken aback by this. Like he had never supposed to be handed the tarot, he had by no means expected that Vox would yield his weapon to him. He had just wanted to look at it, not hold it. It was a gesture of trust of such magnitude that he could not fathom it at first. Reverentially he reached out and gripped the handle.
The sword was perfect.
He knew it the moment he touched it. Its balance lay one or two fingers higher than he gripped, the movements with it began to flow of their own accord as soon as he held it.
“Be careful”, Vox warned softly and stepped aside. “It’s stronger than the cards. Don’t hold it too long.”
Titus walked a little into the room and made a few careful swings. He closed his eyes when the light, reflecting off the crystals, started to cause the same dizziness he had experienced with the tarot. From far away he thought he heard the blade singing. It sang of grace and honour through strength. His body rejoiced in the movements, flowing, almost flying with it. Shadows started to appear that were ripped apart by the perfect curve of the blade, which he suddenly could see even through closed eyelids…
Vox caught his hand easily, twisting the blade out of his grip, making him stumble and caught him by the shoulders. He was amazed to find that he needed to be steadied for a moment. Then, he felt stupid. Playing with a thing like that… Vox’s blue eyes caught him when he looked up, gave him a point to navigate by and then, the world returned. He could orient himself again and knew where and when he was. The short episode of confusion had hardly happened.
“You’re amazingly strong”, Vox said. The sword had already disappeared into its sheath.
“How long did I hold it?”, he wanted to know.
“Twenty-two seconds.”
Titus cocked his head in faint amusement and thought about this. If this made him strong, what was Vox? And how did a lexicanum get a weapon like this?
“What did it say?”, Vox asked casually. The brother let go of him and slightly turned his black shield between them.
Grudgingly taking up the hint, Titus refrained from phrasing the question. “It…”, he felt awkward for saying it. “It sang. Of honour and victory.”
Vox nodded as if this was the normal behaviour of a weapon. “It likes you then.”
“If you say so. Does it have a name?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t told me yet.”
“I must note that we sound quite crazy talking like this, little brother.”
“We’re talking about a warp blade. What did you expect?”
“I don’t know”, he had to admit. “So, your sword has a name and it hasn’t told you yet?”
“Yes, maybe I’m not strong enough to impress it sufficiently.”
Titus shook his head in disbelief. If Vox did not impress it, who would?
“And you talk to your sword?”
“Of course”, Vox grinned. “It’s not overly intelligent conversation I have to admit. It’s more on the lines of ‘I want to kill stuff’ and me saying ‘soon’. Then it usually laughs.”
Titus laughed too. “Thanks for the experience. I don’t wish to repeat it.”
“Right you are, brother.”
They left the hall and wandered idly through the corridors of the ‘Aiolos’, slowly making their way towards their quarters.
“May I inquire what’s up with you and Tsart?”, Titus asked politely.
“Tsart and me? Oh, we are great friends”, Vox said smiling. “Considering how much he likes psykers I’d say I’m definitely his favourite one. He hasn’t even tried to kill me yet.” He shot Titus a calculating glance. “I’m amazed that you picked up on that.”
“It was hard to miss.”
“You know, for someone who has so very little connection to the warp you are incredibly empathic. I wonder how it works.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wonder how you learned that. I for my part couldn’t help it. I’m positively buried under emotions from all sides all the time. For me, it’s pure self-defence to learn to tell them apart. I can’t understand what motivation you could have had.”
“Well, there was a time when I was young and small and human. It just so happened that I wanted to survive among people.”
Vox looked him up and down. Twice. Then, he grinned. “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you that you can keep outclassing yourself as much as you like but when you have passed everybody else by, the distance doesn’t matter so much anymore. You can afford to slow down a little.”
“I appreciate being counselled by a true expert in not trying to surpass himself”, Titus said and grinned when he saw Vox blush on having been called out like that.
“Alright, have it your way”, his little brother said nonplussed.
“Indeed I do”, Titus declared. “I see, we already have reached my corridor.”
“Yes, with all the fighting tomorrow I thought we should go to bed early. I heard that a good night’s sleep is helpful in situations like that.”
“I heard that too. Why didn’t you sleep yesterday?”, he wanted to know when they stopped in front of his door.
“I was in the library, checking on these sightings. It took me, I don’t know, ten hours or so, just to find out what we might be dealing with and then, I had to get our briefing material together.”
“I was impressed with that”, Titus admitted.
“Knowledge is power”, Vox said, shrugging non-committally. “Erioch guards it well, you just have to know where to find it.”
“Vox?”
“Mh?”
“What did you put in your report?”
The librarian’s amused smile betrayed that he knew what Titus was getting at. “What do you mean?”, he asked nevertheless, trying to seem innocent.
“You said no one can apply for Aegis. You have to be chosen by the commander. So, what did you put in your report that the commander would choose me?”
The brother took his time before he answered, searching Titus’ face with his eyes. Only when the elevator door right beside them opened, admitting the others, his smile deepened.
He said: “Truth.”
Vox turned and left towards the end of the corridor while their comrades walked around them, entering their own rooms. Some looked at Titus in quiet astonishment for the pride radiating off him.

The ‘Aiolos’ was a Firestorm Class Frigate and with less than two kilometres length a rather small ship. She compensated this by being made to transport a single kill team and therefore provided quite a bit of luxury when it came to preparing for war. The eight Space Marines had their own meeting room, a small chapel to their exclusive use and a small but cosy mess right next to it to take their meals and maybe spend their free time in the evenings in. A heavily fortified shooting range in the belly of the ship, provided space for open field training. Also, the crew was well used to Space Marines running through the narrow, complex corridors, ducking in and out of rooms or trying to hold some corner or other. They usually just took a detour while the Astartes practised their urban warfare. The only ones unwilling to budge easily were the small swarms of restaurateurs who tried to keep up with repairing the damage the Space Marines caused to the ornamentation.
When he inquired about him, Titus learned that Casimiré Nostromo not only was a navigator able to pilot a ship through the warp, he also was a Rogue Trader.
That the rich and powerful merchant navigated the ‘Aiolos’ was unusual. He had his own small fleet, consisting of three magnificent artefact ships. In the past ten years, he had often agreed to transport Aegis and especially the long term members knew him well. By sight at least.
None of the Space Marines knew what had brought Nostromo to work with the Deathwatch. An even greater mystery was how he had obtained the right to travel to Erioch. He was the only navigator, not strictly belonging to the station, who knew where it was located. Vargov suspected that Vox might know more details but inquiries would have to wait until he was awake again.
Aegis had boarded the ‘Aiolos’ early in the morning and started training right away. As long as Dankwart was with Vox in the infirmary, Tiberius and Titus teamed up and proved that the past two months had borne fruit. They worked well together and even when Dankwart rejoined them and Titus attached himself to the other pairs in turns, there were no overly extensive adaptation problems.
After the midday meal, Titus heard Vargov preach for the first time. His first impression of the chaplain was pleasantly confirmed. Vargov was a ruthless warrior by nature. He spoke with fire in his eyes of the destruction they would bring, of the cause they would serve and of the glory they would earn for the Emperor. He preached with the vigour of a true warrior and the certainty of the truly faithful. In his presence, there was no room for doubt. To march into battle with Vargov would surely mean to march under the bright flame of faith. Titus looked forward to it.
The second training phase brought an end to his success. He hit his limit of how well he could adapt to Aegis’ strategies and tactics. This was partly due to the fact that he was missing a partner. They trained a lot of patterns where it was crucial to provide cover and give aid. In this, he was rather useless alone. In other units, however, he found that his heritage presented a solid problem. His comrades had a lot more experience with brothers from other chapters and anticipated their behaviour better than he could. Even Tiberius had developed different ways to move and react than his fellow Ultramarine. In addition to this vexatious state of affairs, it was hard not to let his still diminished endurance show and the day closed rather more unsatisfactorily than it had begun.
Vox returned for the morning prayer the next day. He looked more well rested and lively than Titus had ever seen him before and right after the prayer, he had news for them already.
“Brothers, I had time to search for our objective this morning and found out that we will cross it tomorrow. It wasn’t passing us by, it’s coming our way. I’m not sure if they are really headed to Erioch or if this is an accident but they certainly are Tau.”
“Then let’s choose our leader, train today and plan tomorrow”, Vargov said firmly. The brothers nodded and formed a circle.
“Tsart”, Vargov said, looking to his right where Athuriel stood.
“Aharran”, the Dark Angel said.
Tsart was next. “Me”, he said.
“Me”, Aharran said grinning as if he agreed with Tsart’s choice.
“Carnas”, was Vox’s call and Titus’ too although, like Athuriel, he called Aharran by his surname. Dankwart and Tiberius both named Tsart. With this, the two candidates were on par. Titus was interested to see what would happen now.
They both stepped forward, facing each other. Aharran still grinned amusedly, his green eyes twinkling. Tsart looked haughty and stern, his scars rippling when he narrowed his eyes. No words passed between them, they circled each other slowly, holding eye contact. It was Aharran who stepped back, flexing his shoulders to lose some tension.
“I’ll be busy blowing things up”, he said lightly, averting his gaze from his opponent. Everyone nodded.
With this choice of leadership, Tsart was the one coordinating the training today. He devised two training units very well fitted to prepare them to move unseen inside the station and react to sudden attacks. Titus had to train alone for a while at the end of each session because Vox went to check on the progress of their target and rejoined them for the meals and prayers. Despite this, the two of them did so well together that Tsart found a few words of praise for Titus when they gathered for the even meal, which he had for nobody else.
Titus used this chance to inquire why Aharran seemed to work with Vargov extraordinarily well. It turned out that it was the second time that the Celestial Lion had been assigned to Aegis. He had been with them for one mission a while back and it had been a coincidence that he still had been on Erioch yesterday. He had been due to return to his chapter after having completed his vigil. When the commander had informed him about the emergency, he had volunteered at once.
Titus had already developed a certain respect for the man who managed to convey the impression that he was stuffed with explosives and that he only smiled all the time because he was the only one who knew how long the fuse was. Hearing that he had readily stepped in to stand with his brothers made him nod in acknowledgement. Although, right when he did that, it dawned on him that this gesture was probably not as appraising now, it came from a brother instead of a captain. He had to smile about this and contented himself with listening to their conversation for the rest of the meal.
This time it was not only Vargov speaking and calling forth comments. Vox constituted a worthy counterpart to him. The two of them seemed to be well used to each other, even though they had very different modes of drawing other people into their dialogue. Vargov threw comments like arrows, outright demanding participation. This often resulted in single word answers or very short contributions before he could take over again. Vox, on the other hand, managed to create a little more space for another participant to speak in. Titus also noticed that, while none of them ever addressed Dankwart, Vox especially seemed to avoid Tsart. He had noticed it before. A careful balance, a great amount of tension delicately poised between them. Not only did they not speak to each other, they also avoided eye contact. While he wondered what had happened between them to constitute this, Vargov interrupted by calling him forth by name.
“Come again?”, was all he could ask. He had been so immersed in his contemplations that he was even unable to replay the question in his head.
“I inquired where you have gone, brother. Since you certainly aren’t here anymore.”
“I can assure you that my thoughts are firmly with Aegis, brother chaplain”, Titus replied truthfully.
“Very well”, Vargov said as if grudgingly awarding a high mark for another congruent answer. “Let us direct all our thoughts to the Emperor now”, he urged instead of pursuing the topic further.
They followed him to the chapel and knelt while he preached. Even as they stood in the circle for the last oath, thumping their breastplates, Vox fixed his smiling, blue eyes on Titus. The two walked out side by side.
Like they had done it on the ‘Lawbringer’, they took a moment to get out of earshot before Titus broke the silence.
“So…”, he said casually. “We’re brothers.”
“Indeed, brother.”
“No Codex prohibiting familiarity.”
Instead of an answer, Vox shot him an amused and calculating glance.
“May I see your blade now?”
Vox burst out laughing. “Not in public”, he said and received a push that would have been a dig in the ribs had the armour not gotten in the way.
“Come on, don’t be shy!”, Titus urged him good humouredly. “What I saw already is nothing you have to be embarrassed about!”
“Still not in public. Come on!”
He led Titus down into the belly of the ‘Aiolos’ and there they entered a training hall, smaller than the shooting range. There were some lockers, probably concealing training props. Each lock was a skull with wide opened jaws. An ornate clock over the door showed the ship time and the wall was covered in light grey carpet to dampen the noise. Otherwise, this was just a large, empty space.
Vox closed the door and drew his sword, almost absent-mindedly letting it describe an elegant arch. Then, he handed it to Titus handle first, who was completely taken aback by this. Like he had never supposed to be handed the tarot, he had by no means expected that Vox would yield his weapon to him. He had just wanted to look at it, not hold it. It was a gesture of trust of such magnitude that he could not fathom it at first. Reverentially he reached out and gripped the handle.
The sword was perfect.
He knew it the moment he touched it. Its balance lay one or two fingers higher than he gripped, the movements with it began to flow of their own accord as soon as he held it.
“Be careful”, Vox warned softly and stepped aside. “It’s stronger than the cards. Don’t hold it too long.”
Titus walked a little into the room and made a few careful swings. He closed his eyes when the light, reflecting off the crystals, started to cause the same dizziness he had experienced with the tarot. From far away he thought he heard the blade singing. It sang of grace and honour through strength. His body rejoiced in the movements, flowing, almost flying with it. Shadows started to appear that were ripped apart by the perfect curve of the blade, which he suddenly could see even through closed eyelids…
Vox caught his hand easily, twisting the blade out of his grip, making him stumble and caught him by the shoulders. He was amazed to find that he needed to be steadied for a moment. Then, he felt stupid. Playing with a thing like that… Vox’s blue eyes caught him when he looked up, gave him a point to navigate by and then, the world returned. He could orient himself again and knew where and when he was. The short episode of confusion had hardly happened.
“You’re amazingly strong”, Vox said. The sword had already disappeared into its sheath.
“How long did I hold it?”, he wanted to know.
“Twenty-two seconds.”
Titus cocked his head in faint amusement and thought about this. If this made him strong, what was Vox? And how did a lexicanum get a weapon like this?
“What did it say?”, Vox asked casually. The brother let go of him and slightly turned his black shield between them.
Grudgingly taking up the hint, Titus refrained from phrasing the question. “It…”, he felt awkward for saying it. “It sang. Of honour and victory.”
Vox nodded as if this was the normal behaviour of a weapon. “It likes you then.”
“If you say so. Does it have a name?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t told me yet.”
“I must note that we sound quite crazy talking like this, little brother.”
“We’re talking about a warp blade. What did you expect?”
“I don’t know”, he had to admit. “So, your sword has a name and it hasn’t told you yet?”
“Yes, maybe I’m not strong enough to impress it sufficiently.”
Titus shook his head in disbelief. If Vox did not impress it, who would?
“And you talk to your sword?”
“Of course”, Vox grinned. “It’s not overly intelligent conversation I have to admit. It’s more on the lines of ‘I want to kill stuff’ and me saying ‘soon’. Then it usually laughs.”
Titus laughed too. “Thanks for the experience. I don’t wish to repeat it.”
“Right you are, brother.”
They left the hall and wandered idly through the corridors of the ‘Aiolos’, slowly making their way towards their quarters.
“May I inquire what’s up with you and Tsart?”, Titus asked politely.
“Tsart and me? Oh, we are great friends”, Vox said smiling. “Considering how much he likes psykers I’d say I’m definitely his favourite one. He hasn’t even tried to kill me yet.” He shot Titus a calculating glance. “I’m amazed that you picked up on that.”
“It was hard to miss.”
“You know, for someone who has so very little connection to the warp you are incredibly empathic. I wonder how it works.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wonder how you learned that. I for my part couldn’t help it. I’m positively buried under emotions from all sides all the time. For me, it’s pure self-defence to learn to tell them apart. I can’t understand what motivation you could have had.”
“Well, there was a time when I was young and small and human. It just so happened that I wanted to survive among people.”
Vox looked him up and down. Twice. Then, he grinned. “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you that you can keep outclassing yourself as much as you like but when you have passed everybody else by, the distance doesn’t matter so much anymore. You can afford to slow down a little.”
“I appreciate being counselled by a true expert in not trying to surpass himself”, Titus said and grinned when he saw Vox blush on having been called out like that.
“Alright, have it your way”, his little brother said nonplussed.
“Indeed I do”, Titus declared. “I see, we already have reached my corridor.”
“Yes, with all the fighting tomorrow I thought we should go to bed early. I heard that a good night’s sleep is helpful in situations like that.”
“I heard that too. Why didn’t you sleep yesterday?”, he wanted to know when they stopped in front of his door.
“I was in the library, checking on these sightings. It took me, I don’t know, ten hours or so, just to find out what we might be dealing with and then, I had to get our briefing material together.”
“I was impressed with that”, Titus admitted.
“Knowledge is power”, Vox said, shrugging non-committally. “Erioch guards it well, you just have to know where to find it.”
“Vox?”
“Mh?”
“What did you put in your report?”
The librarian’s amused smile betrayed that he knew what Titus was getting at. “What do you mean?”, he asked nevertheless, trying to seem innocent.
“You said no one can apply for Aegis. You have to be chosen by the commander. So, what did you put in your report that the commander would choose me?”
The brother took his time before he answered, searching Titus’ face with his eyes. Only when the elevator door right beside them opened, admitting the others, his smile deepened.
He said: “Truth.”
Vox turned and left towards the end of the corridor while their comrades walked around them, entering their own rooms. Some looked at Titus in quiet astonishment for the pride radiating off him.

 

The ‘Aiolos’ was a Firestorm Class Frigate and with less than two kilometres length a rather small ship. She compensated this by being made to transport a single kill team and therefore provided quite a bit of luxury when it came to preparing for war. The eight Space Marines had their own meeting room, a small chapel to their exclusive use and a small but cosy mess right next to it to take their meals and maybe spend their free time in the evenings in. A heavily fortified shooting range in the belly of the ship, provided space for open field training. Also, the crew was well used to Space Marines running through the narrow, complex corridors, ducking in and out of rooms or trying to hold some corner or other. They usually just took a detour while the Astartes practised their urban warfare. The only ones unwilling to budge easily were the small swarms of restaurateurs who tried to keep up with repairing the damage the Space Marines caused to the ornamentation.
When he inquired about him, Titus learned that Casimiré Nostromo not only was a navigator able to pilot a ship through the warp, he also was a Rogue Trader.
That the rich and powerful merchant navigated the ‘Aiolos’ was unusual. He had his own small fleet, consisting of three magnificent artefact ships. In the past ten years, he had often agreed to transport Aegis and especially the long term members knew him well. By sight at least.
None of the Space Marines knew what had brought Nostromo to work with the Deathwatch. An even greater mystery was how he had obtained the right to travel to Erioch. He was the only navigator, not strictly belonging to the station, who knew where it was located. Vargov suspected that Vox might know more details but inquiries would have to wait until he was awake again.
Aegis had boarded the ‘Aiolos’ early in the morning and started training right away. As long as Dankwart was with Vox in the infirmary, Tiberius and Titus teamed up and proved that the past two months had borne fruit. They worked well together and even when Dankwart rejoined them and Titus attached himself to the other pairs in turns, there were no overly extensive adaptation problems.
After the midday meal, Titus heard Vargov preach for the first time. His first impression of the chaplain was pleasantly confirmed. Vargov was a ruthless warrior by nature. He spoke with fire in his eyes of the destruction they would bring, of the cause they would serve and of the glory they would earn for the Emperor. He preached with the vigour of a true warrior and the certainty of the truly faithful. In his presence, there was no room for doubt. To march into battle with Vargov would surely mean to march under the bright flame of faith. Titus looked forward to it.
The second training phase brought an end to his success. He hit his limit of how well he could adapt to Aegis’ strategies and tactics. This was partly due to the fact that he was missing a partner. They trained a lot of patterns where it was crucial to provide cover and give aid. In this, he was rather useless alone. In other units, however, he found that his heritage presented a solid problem. His comrades had a lot more experience with brothers from other chapters and anticipated their behaviour better than he could. Even Tiberius had developed different ways to move and react than his fellow Ultramarine. In addition to this vexatious state of affairs, it was hard not to let his still diminished endurance show and the day closed rather more unsatisfactorily than it had begun.
Vox returned for the morning prayer the next day. He looked more well rested and lively than Titus had ever seen him before and right after the prayer, he had news for them already.
“Brothers, I had time to search for our objective this morning and found out that we will cross it tomorrow. It wasn’t passing us by, it’s coming our way. I’m not sure if they are really headed to Erioch or if this is an accident but they certainly are Tau.”
“Then let’s choose our leader, train today and plan tomorrow”, Vargov said firmly. The brothers nodded and formed a circle.
“Tsart”, Vargov said, looking to his right where Athuriel stood.
“Aharran”, the Dark Angel said.
Tsart was next. “Me”, he said.
“Me”, Aharran said grinning as if he agreed with Tsart’s choice.
“Carnas”, was Vox’s call and Titus’ too although, like Athuriel, he called Aharran by his surname. Dankwart and Tiberius both named Tsart. With this, the two candidates were on par. Titus was interested to see what would happen now.
They both stepped forward, facing each other. Aharran still grinned amusedly, his green eyes twinkling. Tsart looked haughty and stern, his scars rippling when he narrowed his eyes. No words passed between them, they circled each other slowly, holding eye contact. It was Aharran who stepped back, flexing his shoulders to lose some tension.
“I’ll be busy blowing things up”, he said lightly, averting his gaze from his opponent. Everyone nodded.
With this choice of leadership, Tsart was the one coordinating the training today. He devised two training units very well fitted to prepare them to move unseen inside the station and react to sudden attacks. Titus had to train alone for a while at the end of each session because Vox went to check on the progress of their target and rejoined them for the meals and prayers. Despite this, the two of them did so well together that Tsart found a few words of praise for Titus when they gathered for the even meal, which he had for nobody else.
Titus used this chance to inquire why Aharran seemed to work with Vargov extraordinarily well. It turned out that it was the second time that the Celestial Lion had been assigned to Aegis. He had been with them for one mission a while back and it had been a coincidence that he still had been on Erioch yesterday. He had been due to return to his chapter after having completed his vigil. When the commander had informed him about the emergency, he had volunteered at once.
Titus had already developed a certain respect for the man who managed to convey the impression that he was stuffed with explosives and that he only smiled all the time because he was the only one who knew how long the fuse was. Hearing that he had readily stepped in to stand with his brothers made him nod in acknowledgement. Although, right when he did that, it dawned on him that this gesture was probably not as appraising now, it came from a brother instead of a captain. He had to smile about this and contented himself with listening to their conversation for the rest of the meal.
This time it was not only Vargov speaking and calling forth comments. Vox constituted a worthy counterpart to him. The two of them seemed to be well used to each other, even though they had very different modes of drawing other people into their dialogue. Vargov threw comments like arrows, outright demanding participation. This often resulted in single word answers or very short contributions before he could take over again. Vox, on the other hand, managed to create a little more space for another participant to speak in. Titus also noticed that, while none of them ever addressed Dankwart, Vox especially seemed to avoid Tsart. He had noticed it before. A careful balance, a great amount of tension delicately poised between them. Not only did they not speak to each other, they also avoided eye contact. While he wondered what had happened between them to constitute this, Vargov interrupted by calling him forth by name.
“Come again?”, was all he could ask. He had been so immersed in his contemplations that he was even unable to replay the question in his head.
“I inquired where you have gone, brother. Since you certainly aren’t here anymore.”
“I can assure you that my thoughts are firmly with Aegis, brother chaplain”, Titus replied truthfully.
“Very well”, Vargov said as if grudgingly awarding a high mark for another congruent answer. “Let us direct all our thoughts to the Emperor now”, he urged instead of pursuing the topic further.
They followed him to the chapel and knelt while he preached. Even as they stood in the circle for the last oath, thumping their breastplates, Vox fixed his smiling, blue eyes on Titus. The two walked out side by side.
Like they had done it on the ‘Lawbringer’, they took a moment to get out of earshot before Titus broke the silence.
“So…”, he said casually. “We’re brothers.”
“Indeed, brother.”
“No Codex prohibiting familiarity.”
Instead of an answer, Vox shot him an amused and calculating glance.
“May I see your blade now?”
Vox burst out laughing. “Not in public”, he said and received a push that would have been a dig in the ribs had the armour not gotten in the way.
“Come on, don’t be shy!”, Titus urged him good humouredly. “What I saw already is nothing you have to be embarrassed about!”
“Still not in public. Come on!”
He led Titus down into the belly of the ‘Aiolos’ and there they entered a training hall, smaller than the shooting range. There were some lockers, probably concealing training props. Each lock was a skull with wide opened jaws. An ornate clock over the door showed the ship time and the wall was covered in light grey carpet to dampen the noise. Otherwise, this was just a large, empty space.
Vox closed the door and drew his sword, almost absent-mindedly letting it describe an elegant arch. Then, he handed it to Titus handle first, who was completely taken aback by this. Like he had never supposed to be handed the tarot, he had by no means expected that Vox would yield his weapon to him. He had just wanted to look at it, not hold it. It was a gesture of trust of such magnitude that he could not fathom it at first. Reverentially he reached out and gripped the handle.
The sword was perfect.
He knew it the moment he touched it. Its balance lay one or two fingers higher than he gripped, the movements with it began to flow of their own accord as soon as he held it.
“Be careful”, Vox warned softly and stepped aside. “It’s stronger than the cards. Don’t hold it too long.”
Titus walked a little into the room and made a few careful swings. He closed his eyes when the light, reflecting off the crystals, started to cause the same dizziness he had experienced with the tarot. From far away he thought he heard the blade singing. It sang of grace and honour through strength. His body rejoiced in the movements, flowing, almost flying with it. Shadows started to appear that were ripped apart by the perfect curve of the blade, which he suddenly could see even through closed eyelids…
Vox caught his hand easily, twisting the blade out of his grip, making him stumble and caught him by the shoulders. He was amazed to find that he needed to be steadied for a moment. Then, he felt stupid. Playing with a thing like that… Vox’s blue eyes caught him when he looked up, gave him a point to navigate by and then, the world returned. He could orient himself again and knew where and when he was. The short episode of confusion had hardly happened.
“You’re amazingly strong”, Vox said. The sword had already disappeared into its sheath.
“How long did I hold it?”, he wanted to know.
“Twenty-two seconds.”
Titus cocked his head in faint amusement and thought about this. If this made him strong, what was Vox? And how did a lexicanum get a weapon like this?
“What did it say?”, Vox asked casually. The brother let go of him and slightly turned his black shield between them.
Grudgingly taking up the hint, Titus refrained from phrasing the question. “It…”, he felt awkward for saying it. “It sang. Of honour and victory.”
Vox nodded as if this was the normal behaviour of a weapon. “It likes you then.”
“If you say so. Does it have a name?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t told me yet.”
“I must note that we sound quite crazy talking like this, little brother.”
“We’re talking about a warp blade. What did you expect?”
“I don’t know”, he had to admit. “So, your sword has a name and it hasn’t told you yet?”
“Yes, maybe I’m not strong enough to impress it sufficiently.”
Titus shook his head in disbelief. If Vox did not impress it, who would?
“And you talk to your sword?”
“Of course”, Vox grinned. “It’s not overly intelligent conversation I have to admit. It’s more on the lines of ‘I want to kill stuff’ and me saying ‘soon’. Then it usually laughs.”
Titus laughed too. “Thanks for the experience. I don’t wish to repeat it.”
“Right you are, brother.”
They left the hall and wandered idly through the corridors of the ‘Aiolos’, slowly making their way towards their quarters.
“May I inquire what’s up with you and Tsart?”, Titus asked politely.
“Tsart and me? Oh, we are great friends”, Vox said smiling. “Considering how much he likes psykers I’d say I’m definitely his favourite one. He hasn’t even tried to kill me yet.” He shot Titus a calculating glance. “I’m amazed that you picked up on that.”
“It was hard to miss.”
“You know, for someone who has so very little connection to the warp you are incredibly empathic. I wonder how it works.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wonder how you learned that. I for my part couldn’t help it. I’m positively buried under emotions from all sides all the time. For me, it’s pure self-defence to learn to tell them apart. I can’t understand what motivation you could have had.”
“Well, there was a time when I was young and small and human. It just so happened that I wanted to survive among people.”
Vox looked him up and down. Twice. Then, he grinned. “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you that you can keep outclassing yourself as much as you like but when you have passed everybody else by, the distance doesn’t matter so much anymore. You can afford to slow down a little.”
“I appreciate being counselled by a true expert in not trying to surpass himself”, Titus said and grinned when he saw Vox blush on having been called out like that.
“Alright, have it your way”, his little brother said nonplussed.
“Indeed I do”, Titus declared. “I see, we already have reached my corridor.”
“Yes, with all the fighting tomorrow I thought we should go to bed early. I heard that a good night’s sleep is helpful in situations like that.”
“I heard that too. Why didn’t you sleep yesterday?”, he wanted to know when they stopped in front of his door.
“I was in the library, checking on these sightings. It took me, I don’t know, ten hours or so, just to find out what we might be dealing with and then, I had to get our briefing material together.”
“I was impressed with that”, Titus admitted.
“Knowledge is power”, Vox said, shrugging non-committally. “Erioch guards it well, you just have to know where to find it.”
“Vox?”
“Mh?”
“What did you put in your report?”
The librarian’s amused smile betrayed that he knew what Titus was getting at. “What do you mean?”, he asked nevertheless, trying to seem innocent.
“You said no one can apply for Aegis. You have to be chosen by the commander. So, what did you put in your report that the commander would choose me?”
The brother took his time before he answered, searching Titus’ face with his eyes. Only when the elevator door right beside them opened, admitting the others, his smile deepened.
He said: “Truth.”
Vox turned and left towards the end of the corridor while their comrades walked around them, entering their own rooms. Some looked at Titus in quiet astonishment for the pride radiating off him.

 

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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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