Like Vargov had demanded, they had spent the day planning. The last stage of this was the laying of the tarot. It turned out to be a strange occurrence. Far different from the moving, private occasion it had been between captain and brother. Vox knelt in their middle, facing Tsart. Their leader looked at him with a mixture of solemnity and disgust. Everyone except Titus drew their weapons while Vox placed five cards on the ground. His whispers remained inaudible over the subtle noises of the tense warriors around him and had Titus not watched out for it, he would have missed the faint glimmer of wings in the air.
He looked at the cross Vox had laid down. The central card was called ‘The Primarch’ and it was upside-down. It was followed by the picture of an abhorrent creature called ‘The Vile Serpent’ to the left, ‘The General’ to the right and ‘The Scribe’ above it. All of them were upside-down as well. The last card and the only one the right way up was called ‘The Unclean One’. It was even more disgusting than the serpent.
A tear of blood dripped on the floor when Vox looked up at Tsart.
“Whatever you find, don’t take it”, the psyker said as if still speaking in a trance. “Whatever you see, don’t let it tempt you.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head back as if aiming to expose his throat to their leader.
“The Emperor sends us a dreadful warning, brothers”, he said and his voice sounded choked. “This mission will cost us dearly. Even more so if we stray from our objective for just a second. Stand fast! Only the destruction of the nest of xenos matters, nothing else!”
He looked at Tsart who avoided his gaze. The expression the Destroyer finally turned towards the librarian showed deep determination. He made an impatient gesture for Vox to stand up.
Weapons were put away.
When the librarian had come to his feet, again a silent communication passed between him and their leader. There seemed to be a plea there, an appeal that was never spoken and which Tsart very emphatically denied.
Secure in his gestures, the Destroyer instead held out a beckoning hand.
Only a twitch of Vox’s narrow lips showed his disapproval as he fished a strip of cloth out of one of his pockets and handed it to Tsart. Solemnly, their leader unrolled the oath scroll and extended his hand with the palm turned up. Vox was the first to lay his hand in it, palm down. Everybody else placed their hands on this link. Vargov came last, not only laying his hand on top but also gripping Tsart’s hand from below, encompassing them all.
“Brothers, we will take an Oath of Glory”, Tsart informed them. “Your answer is: ‘Brother, we come’.” He made a short pause before he intoned, reading the scroll: “Brothers, I call you!”
“Brother, we come!”, the others answered.
“Follow for honour!”
“Brother, we come!”
“Follow for glory!”
“Brother, we come!”
Here the script ended, but Tsart continued:
“The Emperor guides us, humanity needs us, the xenos fear us!”
The others knew what to answer and Titus had been briefed by Vox about the appropriate line: “For the Emperor, for humanity, against the alien, we stand!”, they called in unison.
Tsart handed the scroll back to Vox, who took an artefact sigil from one of his pockets. With it, he sealed the oath scroll to Tsart’s shoulder plate.
After the solemn oath to follow their leader to his chosen goal, it was time to find their transport.
Theoretically, the ‘Zephyr’ was a thunderhawk gunship but to tell by the general look of her and the details Tiberius had started to recite with great satisfaction as soon as they approached her, she had spent quite a while in the company of some tech-priests with access to the really good stuff.
Besides several powerful cloaking devices, intricate surveillance technology, modified engines for navigation in space and atmosphere alike and quite excessive weaponry, she was equipped with an unusual, short-range teleportation device. The ‘Zephyr’ was built to get alongside large ships, bypassing the energy shields that would prevent a teleportation and get a kill team on board without anyone noticing. Tiberius lovingly called her a ‘stealth boarding torpedo with attitude’.
Had she been capable of faster than light travel and able to transport more than a dozen Space Marines, she would have been a military force of her very own. As it was, her cargo capacity had been halved to make room for all the machinery and powerful energy core.
The entirely human crew resided on an open platform. It was reachable from the cargo area via two ladders left and right. The cockpit could be sealed off if the ship had to be opened in the void. Right now, Vox was up there to direct the pilot towards their target.
There were ten fold-out seats in the reduced cargo area below, seven of which had been taken by the rest of Aegis. Titus liked the attitude of his comrades. Even Astartes usually experienced a certain rise of tension when they deployed for battle but this was missing here. Instead, the brothers checked their arms, made sure the explosives were secure unless they wanted them to be and then, went still and relaxed. They radiated the distinct air of armed traps ready to spring. Vox’s quiet voice and the constant prayers to the Omnissiah of the crew were the only sounds.
The last planning session had made it even more apparent what kind of miracle Vox and Nostromo had been working to find the Tau station. Under the circumstances it was little surprising that even Tsart would tolerate a psyker in the team whom he visibly despised. Vox did not admit it readily and pretended that Nostromo had done most of the job, but Aegis as a whole knew the truth: Maybe, neither Vox nor Nostromo would have found them alone but nobody else would have found a well-cloaked cluster of Tau travelling through the void at all. With the concealment systems to counter detection by technical means, any other attempt to find the station would have been like the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. With a monomolecular needle and a planet-sized haystack.
To tell by the surprised comments from the crew when they finally found it, the thing was even shielded optically and quite well at that.
Tiberius and Dankwart stood up without prompting when Vox and the Master of Teleportation joined them down in the hold. Titus noticed that, other than the others, his little brother was tense. For him, the mission had started when he had stepped on the ship.
Chorsar Archun, Master of Teleportation, was a high ranking tech-priest and looked the part. His face was invisible under his cowl. More than a dozen segmented tendrils of shiny metal wiggled out from his back, under his robe and from one of his sleeves. He informed them in solemn monotones that he would practise a lot of guesswork by teleporting them into an object he could not perceive properly. Thus the process would be even more dangerous than usual. The Astartes took this stoically. Boarding Tau stations was no safe endeavour in any case. Another risk factor would have to reach a much higher level of consequence to even figure on their internal scales.
Tiberius spoke in the beeping tongue of the machines to his human counterpart for a moment before he went around, calling the blessing of the machine god down on all of them.
Vox described in short words where the sleeping tract of the xenos was approximated. With a nod, Tiberius confirmed. He and Dankwart put their helmets on and went into the small teleportation chamber behind the cargo area. The door was a part of the wall that could be made to slide to one side. The chamber itself could teleport up to five Astartes in standard power armour at the same time and the two of them had quite a bit of room in there. Beeping his prayers, the tech-priest shut the door and climbed the ladder back to the cockpit.
There was nothing to see, only Vox’s reaction told them when the two of them were gone. He oriented himself to starboard and politely asked Vargov and Aharran to step out of his way. They left their seats without question or hesitation. Settling back into their air of easy preparation for violence, they leaned against the wall opposite instead.
It took a while.
The tech-priest had rejoined them, the hydraulics in his body whirring quietly, when Vox suddenly turned around.
“We’re clear”, he said.
Likewise accompanied by binary praying, Tsart and Athuriel made ready and stepped into the teleportation chamber. Suddenly, the air of relaxation was gone, replaced by cool-headed professionalism. It took about two minutes before the tech-priest came down the ladder again and the chamber was ready for Vargov and Aharran. The procedure repeated.
Vox and Titus stood waiting.
Nothing had changed when the librarian suddenly dropped to his knees as if hit. He curled up, pressing his hands to his head. Titus knelt beside him at once. He heard him make a very faint sound but the friend did not react to being shaken or called out to. Decidedly, Titus brought him up into a sitting position and leaned him against the wall. Vox still had his hands clamped to his face but allowed his brother to pull them away. He looked like he was screaming and clawed his hands into the gauntleted fingers encompassing his. Titus felt him shake violently.
Suddenly, the librarian went limp as if a cramp had subsided. His head lolled to the side and his gaze broke as if he was about to lose consciousness but he came back instantly, trying to focus.
Strangely, the first thing his eyes came to rest on seemed to be the coil of their hands.
The tech-priest stood behind them and his body language radiated uncertainty.
“Sergei is dead”, Vox said, taking a deep, ragged breath. “Maybe he teleported into something.”
“The Omnissiah chooses His sacrifices”, Chorsar Archun said, one red eye lighting up in the shadow of his hood.
Vox struggled to his feet.
“Send us over and then, see if you can get him back”, he said, sounding strained. “Maybe we can collect his gene-seed at least.”
“I will try, Master Vox”, the tech-priest answered and opened the chamber for them.
Vox swayed and walked into the door frame while he tried to put his helmet on and Titus felt his concern rise. He had not anticipated a reaction like that. If Vox was upset by the death of a brother to such an extent, they were heading into trouble. He decided to keep an eye on him and fastened the seal of his helmet as well.
Under beeping prayers, the door closed behind them. There was a dim, greenish light in here. Complex ornamentation on the walls showed scenes of religious significance.
Then, the light went out.