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A few minutes after the young librarian had left, the door opened again to admit another Space Marine. The lantern he carried was painfully bright but Titus struggled to take in details. Without the oppression of threatening torture, he suddenly was desperate to make use of his eyes.
Other than the lexicanum earlier, the newcomer showed his heraldry: A black drop over a goblet, framed in gold. The white field and his narthecium on the left arm marked him as an apothecary.
“Emperor protect you, Captain Titus”, he greeted curtly. “I am Dankwart of the Blood Drinkers, serving the Deathwatch in Kill Team Aegis.”
Titus knew that the Blood Drinkers were a Blood Angel successor chapter. Indeed, the apothecary looked very similar to Vox Draconis, only a little older. He had the same delicate features and blue eyes of the sons of Sanguinius. His fair hair he wore short.
Behind Dankwart a human entered. A ring of keys jingled between his nervous fingers. He managed to free the prisoner after only three attempts.
Released from the cuffs, Titus was hit by sudden pain as his arms fell lifelessly to his side. He wanted to move them, stretch and rub his wrists but it took the greatest effort just to curl his right hand into a fist.
Brother Dankwart watched attentively and nodded in almost imperceptible approval. While the human stumbled out, he knelt down beside Titus to hold a bottle of water to his lips. Enraged about his disability, the captain wanted to grab the container but failed miserably. Dankwart did him the courtesy not to smile about his twitching arms. With his mild, blue eyes he merely gave him an earnest look and said: “You will recover, brother captain. Take a drink first.”
The water was cold and Titus felt he had never tasted something as refreshing as this but nothing could change the cruel facts: He still was unable to move afterwards.
Without further comment, Dankwart began his rites. He took a syringe out of the narthecium and intoned the first healing chant: “The light of the Emperor is eternal, brother.” He laid his left hand on Titus’ head.
“Hail the Emperor!”, Titus answered the long-missed call. Healing. What a thought!
“Step into the light of the Emperor, brother!” Dankwart’s thumb drew out the simplified sign of the Aquila on his patient’s forehead.
“Hail the Emperor!”
“Through darkness, He will guide you, brother.” He touched first Titus’ right then the left shoulder before he laid two fingers to his sternum.
“Hail the Emperor!”, Titus replied, keeping his voice as steady as he could.
“Turn towards His light, for it will be your guide! Hail the Emperor!”
“Hail the Emperor!”
With this, he emptied the contents of the syringe into the black carapace socket on Titus’ left side torso. It played an important role in most healing rituals that included injecting something into a Space Marine. Rumour had it that even their armour could make use of it.
A few other rites followed. Incense fumes filled the cell with a much pleasanter scent than it had known for a long time. While they waited for the desired effects to take hold, Titus had a chance to look around. There was little enough to see. Bare stone walls, a door, chains behind him, a grille in the floor. It was the most depressing place he had ever laid eyes on.
To stay away from the shameful thought what the prisoner would look like Titus asked: “Tell me, Brother Dankwart: How is it that members of the Deathwatch are freeing me from the Inquisition?”
“Vox knows the how”, Dankwart replied.
Titus frowned in displeasure but could do little about it. Maybe the apothecary knew nothing, maybe he was bound by an Oath of Secrets. Considering that they were dealing with the Inquisition, being directed to another for information was actually rather promising.
“You call him by first name? Doesn’t that cause confusion?”, he asked while trying to regain mastery over his arms.
“On the day you start to confuse Vox with a vox, I will gladly suspend you from duty for medical reasons”, Dankwart answered softly but without even a hint of a smile.
Titus lifted a reprimanding eyebrow, uncertain if he managed it.
“Do you know how long I’ve been here?”, he changed the subject yet again.
“A bit over three years. Have you been secured here the whole time?”, the apothecary inquired in return.
“No, but I was outside for less than a month in the beginning.”
Once more Dankwart let his gaze sweep over the devastation before him. Three years of being secured here were one thing but what he saw were the remains of three years of cruel and inventive torture.
“I will try to get you walking, captain but I can’t guarantee it”, the brother said calmly.
Titus gritted his teeth. Only a few minutes ago, he had given up on the thought that he would walk again at all. Now, he had to hear that he was allowed but maybe not able to.
Outraged determination ignited inside him. He would walk, he vowed. It was time to prove what a Space Marine was capable of.
Under great strain, Titus leaned forward and fell over.
Dankwart caught him with impeccable patience. He supported his struggle to stand up until it became clear that it was still beyond him. It took yet another healing ritual before the captain was on his feet. He was swaying like a tree in high wind but he was upright. The first step was a challenge almost equal to this strain but Titus prevailed stubbornly. Supported by the patient, well-meaning hand of the comrade he slowly left the cell.
Behind stayed a stain of sweat, blood and other bodily juices. Bearing testimony of his hardship, it now became proof of his perseverance.
Outside a multitude of humans was waiting for them. Most of them sank to their knees to show their respect. Only two hurried forward to cover Titus with a sheet. A palanquin stood ready for him to sink into.
“A gift from Inquisitor Laraise”, Dankwart explained as he helped him sit.
“How generous”, Titus commented with a sarcastic edge to his tone. “Who is Inquisitor Laraise?”
“She arrested Thrax. There’s a bath ready for you. We’ll wait in the audience chamber.”
“Thank you, brother.”
Unsatisfied with the information he had gotten but too exhausted to dig further, Titus let himself be taken away. Through the narrow pathways of the prison tract, the way led on to high echoing hallways closer to the core of the ship. He had walked them long ago, always as a prisoner. That the free man had to be carried now seemed grotesquely wrong to him.
The bathing room was quite big but with a Space Marine standing here it looked like constructed on a too small scale. Cream coloured marble and gold gleamed under numerous symbols of the Ordo Xenos and the Imperium. One wall had an intricate inlay showing the God-Emperor accepting the submission of a lordly figure in armour. A large mirror was positioned right opposite. This way, the image could be seen from anywhere in the bath. The other two walls were draped with banners showing pictures of religious significance. The shower was not small by human standards but its ceiling was lower than the rest and it was clear that Titus would not fit inside unless bent double. The large bathing basin was filled with gently steaming water.
The weakness started to annoy, rather than embarrass him when he shook with the effort of just climbing inside. He knelt and five maidens clothed in solemn black washed him, wading around in the hip deep water.
The bathing tradition was a bit different from the one he was used to but the servants guided him through with polite patience. They cleaned his skin, taking care not to disturb the fresher wounds and cut his wildly grown hair, beard and nails. They had to change the water twice.
It was a valiant attempt to lift the endured time from him and Titus felt better for it until he faced his image in the mirror. He had aged, his face haggardly thin, his once grey temples now white, biting far up into his hair. The picture of the pathetic skeleton with nothing where muscles had once bulged and the broken, ripped open skin hanging lifelessly off it, was something he could stand for only a moment. They had not managed to break his bones but that was about all that could be said.
With his back turned to the pitiless reflection, he clenched his fists painfully. His eyes fixed on the image of the Emperor, Titus stood stoically while the servants bustled around to dry him off. They rubbed his skin with fragrant oils, resorting to the use of a ladder to reach his head and upper body.
At least the exhaustion could not fully quell the joy of being clean. Feeling weak after a rebirth might even be acceptable, he mused in private.
They dressed him in a magnificent blue robe, embroidered with golden ornaments. It bore the crest of the Ultramarines on the back and even a captain’s insignia. Also a gift from Inquisitor Laraise, he learned.
Refusing to use the palanquin again, Titus walked in front of the procession of humans. Only the highest-ranking man was allowed at his side to give him directions. The audience chamber was not far away. It was a struggle to reach it nevertheless.
The room he entered was large with a desk to the back and a luxurious amount of space in front of it. Titus could imagine Thrax sitting behind this work table in the big, ornate chair, bathed in the soft light from above, looking at someone walking in like the newcomer had done something wrong. His narrow lips twitched in unbidden contempt when he thought this. Cupboards and shelves full of books displayed the privilege of knowledge reserved for the inquisitor. Banners, pictures and ornaments seemed to be everywhere, displaying glorious battle scenes and spiritual icons. Right behind the desk was a large banner with the ‘I’ of the Ordo Xenos.
In the free space in front of the desk, three Space Marines were standing in a half-circle around a woman. She certainly was an inquisitor, looking rather fierce and self-satisfied in her power armour. Her shoulder-long, fair hair fell freely around her face.
One of the brothers was a techmarine with a third arm protruding from his back. One Titus recognized as Brother Dankwart and the third he suspected to be Vox Draconis with his black shield on the right shoulder. For some reason, the lexicanum wore his helmet.
It seemed so odd in this social situation that Titus’ gaze was drawn towards him. Vox’s whole appearance seemed designed to push him into the background, intensifying the captain’s interest. The young warrior wore a Mark VI Corvus pattern armour with the matching, raven beaked helmet. Underneath his plates, he was probably quite slenderly built for an Astartes. He looked sleek and agile, especially in comparison to the large and bulky techmarine. While the Mark VII of the other two seemed to be walking displays of where to put silver on a Deathwatch armour, the Corvus was very little ornamented. Probably just as much as it took to keep the machine spirit happy. The trio posed a curious contrast. Shining glory against awkward pragmatism.
Compared to the simplicity of his armour, the sword Vox wore was even more noteworthy. It was held in a cunningly hidden sheath, right between backpack and backplate. Only the handle and pommel were readily visible. The guard, made up of golden feathers, was half-hidden, the blade fully concealed. It was probably secured there with a mag lock, sliding out to the side when drawn. Titus had never seen anything like it but took the presence of a disciple of the Machine God as confirmation that it was approved.
The three brothers saluting brought him back to the present.
It was the techmarine who stepped forward.
“May the Emperor protect and sustain you, Captain Titus! I am Tiberius of the Ultramarines, serving the Deathwatch in Kill Team Aegis”, he introduced himself and the black rim of his shoulder plate told Titus that he was a member of 5th company. Titus was captain of 2nd. So, Tiberius had never served under his direct command but he was delighted to meet one of his brothers in the circumstances. Like Titus, the man had the grey eyes and stern features that resembled their Primarch but his darker hair had soft waves to it and it was hard to determine how long it was, since it was firmly stroked back and tugged behind his ears.
“I greet you, brother”, Titus answered warmly.
“Allow me to introduce Inquisitor Laraise, captain”, Tiberius said and the gesture he made towards the woman was mimicked by his third arm. It was a strange movement. Droll and powerful at the same time.
“I greet you, my lord!”, the woman said. She tilted her head in acknowledgement, her brown eyes never leaving Titus’ face. There was an unpleasant amusement in them. He had seen this on inquisitors before, especially Thrax. Here stood someone who had firmly gotten used to having the upper hand.
As Space Marine Captain, Titus was technically not subject to the power she wielded and it could be assumed that she would refrain from bringing forth a tangible accusation while she freed him of the last one. He forced himself to relax.
“Inquisitor”, he replied, treating her to the same respectful nod. “I thank you for your generous gifts.”
“It was my pleasure, my lord”, she said with the same intense delight in her smile. Titus felt that she meant it but somehow he got the distinct impression that she had received something in exchange which made her gifts insignificant in comparison.
She looked him up and down.
“I must say you impress me! I didn’t expect to see you walking after all this time.”
“The Emperor has sustained me and He grants me strength”, Titus answered stiffly. His legs had started to shake when he had left the bath and they still were. Probably visibly so.
“May He guide you further on your way, captain!”, Laraise said easily and Titus scolded himself for imagining mockery in her words. His hurt pride had no right to reflect on his benefactress, he told himself.
“I invite you to treat the ‘Fall of Angels’ as your own before you start your journey back to Ultramar”, Laraise continued meanwhile. “The servants here will obey your every command. I meanwhile must depart, but may the Emperor entwine our paths again!” With this, she turned to the brothers. “My thanks, Aegis. I have a lot to do now. Meet me on the ‘Lawbringer’ when you have finished. May the Emperor protect you!”
She nodded regally and left with a vigorous stride.
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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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