Absolute and velvet thick.
In the darkness?
Nothing much left.
Just the beating of two hearts in his chest.
And the dripping of blood.
Time meant nothing here. Had years gone by? Or aeons? Impossible to tell.
In the beginning, counting the throbs of his hearts had provided a rough estimation but he had lost track long ago.
In the beginning, prayers had soothed and steadied him but their power had dwindled. Back in the beginning, there had been strength and resilience.
Now, only distant memories prevailed. Ghosts of the past, clear like pictures cut into crystals. They haunted his waking hours, repeating and intertwining until nothing was real or reliable anymore.
And behind them loomed the pain.
The pain was worse than the darkness because it sprang from the times of light. From when the inquisitor came to ask questions.
Truth was what he sought but he had never been satisfied with what his prisoner could offer him. Yet, there had been nothing else to tell. No wound, no drug had changed what the prisoner held true.
From two insignificant cuts in his forearms, the blood ran in a steady stream, dripping from his elbows. His superhuman physique should have closed them long ago.
His body had let him down.
Dismay even darker than the cell gripped him. Overwhelmed him.
It had been building up from the start.
Now, it had won.
The prisoner wept for his failure and dared not to pray for forgiveness. The next time the inquisitor came, he would concede to anything. Just to make an end.
The door opened.
Dragged back from far away, it was difficult for Titus to focus on the situation. It took him several heartbeats to ascertain that the blinding light Inquisitor Thrax always carried to mark his entrance was missing. No vengeful sting made him turn his darkness accustomed eyes away. Even the corridor outside seemed dim.
A bulky figure entered. Without a doubt an Astartes in power armour.
Titus wanted to cower in shock and humiliation.
Now! In this darkest, weakest moment, someone came! Not just someone. A brother who knew what a Space Marine should be. What he would find here had no more than a distant memory of this glory left.
As the door shut, the faint light from the corridor vanished. The newcomer stood still for a moment. Then, Titus sensed him kneeling down close by. He heard a few clinks and a scrape which he identified as the removal of a helmet. The small control light inside painted shapes into the darkness.
His arms secured by short chains, Titus sat with his back to the wall. For the convenience of his torturers, he was naked. Thus, the newcomer could see all the wounds, fresh and old, scattered across his body. Oh, how Titus wished at least the tears hidden!
He tried to turn his head away but there was something in the brother’s face that caught him: A deep, compassionate sorrow.
The stranger had the unmistakable soft, almost female features and fair hair of the Blood Angels but he was not wearing a Blood Angel’s armour. The faint light showed no colour, only shade but Titus knew the chapter that bore the sign of the Ordo Xenos on the left shoulder guard. The stranger’s armour would be black and silver. A brother of the Deathwatch knelt in front of him.
The right shoulder, where his chapter markings should have been displayed, was bare black. It was the insignia on the chest plate which informed Titus that a librarian had come to visit. More specifically, a lexicanum. The lowest rank among the psykically gifted Space Marines.
Titus found himself lost in the brother’s eyes. They were colourless in this light but within them lay a severe, unbending intensity Titus had rarely seen before. Especially in someone so young. He looked like he had only just made full Astartes.
A Blood Angel. He had the face of an angel indeed and he had come for him, bringing light into the darkness. Not the vengeful light of retribution but a glimmer to be easily endured after the endless night.
He was the first Space Marine Titus was privileged to set eyes on since he had left Graia and there was something about him that promised change. An unbidden spark of hope sprang up inside. Titus longed for change. He longed for an end, whatever it might look like.
“May the Emperor protect and guide you, Captain Titus”, the brother addressed him solemnly. In the frown on his handsome face Titus could read how clearly his visitor understood that his wishes were necessary.
“I am Vox Draconis of the Deathwatch, serving with Kill Team Aegis. I need to speak to you.”
“What do you want, brother?”, Titus inquired, his voice hard to find after the long neglect.
“Please, tell me what happened when Lieutenant Mira brought you back from the spire.”
“You know her?”
Vox Draconis leaned a little closer.
“Time’s short. I’ll tell you later”, he said and added: “Please answer the question.”
The modest spark of hope ignited into a mighty flame of relief. Change! And the brother thought there would be a ‘later’. Was his torment finally over? What if not? Again, the eyes of his visitor were what caught him, steadying his rampaging thoughts. Titus struggled to gather them as best he could.
The brother nodded as the sentence trailed off.
“I know names”, he said soothingly. “Just tell me.”
“Leandros was waiting for me with Inquisitor Thrax”, Titus managed. “He accused me of having fallen to chaotic corruption. When the inquisitor threatened to exterminate everyone who had fought alongside me, I turned myself in.”
Again, Vox Draconis nodded encouragingly.
“What exactly was the accusation Leandros brought forth?”
“He said that, hence my survival of touching the warp device, I must have deep ties to the warp and by this have fallen to chaos.”
The brother’s eyes bored into his and Titus got the distinct impression that he heard nothing of this for the first time.
“Is Leandros a librarian?” It was a strange question and the captain could not immediately understand where it would lead.
“No”, he answered cautiously. “He was one of my tactical marines at the time.”
“How could he have posed such an accurate statement then?”, Vox Draconis inquired.
“Drogan spoke of it. So did Nemeroth…”, Titus said bemusedly.
“Drogan was the inquisitor possessed by a daemon when you met him?”, the brother wanted to know.
Suddenly, Vox Draconis smiled. It was no friendly smile.
“And Nemeroth was the traitor who tried to become a daemon prince?”
“Yes, he was. Brother, may I inquire what aim you have in mind?”, Titus asked cautiously but the smile on the pale face only deepened. It bore a joke not to be shared. The suspicion beckoned that it was a joke to cost someone their head.
“Thank you, captain”, he said with the fire of an unknown victory in his eyes and, without fuss, he reached out. Gently, gently he stroked over Titus’ cheeks and wiped the tears away. Made them a secret to be kept as well.
“Please, answer just this last question”, the young brother continued. “Do I gather correctly that you were taken by Thrax on the accusations of someone who got his vital information for said accusations from creatures of chaos?”
In the baffled silence that followed, the dripping of Titus’ blood sounded particularly loud.