Casimiré Nostromo was the navigator who had piloted Aegis to the Tau station aboard the ‘Aiolos’. When Titus met him for the first time, he thought the man was a tech-priest. Even his long, flowing robes could not conceal that the lower part of his body was nothing but a coil of cords. Instead of walking, he glided along on a small hover platform. The only visible flesh left on him were eyes and eyebrows, but they were intelligent and watchful and conveyed quite a lot of expression. He was head of House Nostromo, one of the families cultivating the rare navigator gene.
Vargov had mouthed the suspicion that Vox knew a few things about the navigator and Titus found out that he had been right but Vox did not part with much. He only counselled that Titus should talk to Nostromo himself but he never got round to it. All he learned was that the navigator had worked with the Deathwatch for about a decade and more or less permanently lent the three ships in his possession to the purposes of Watch Fortress Erioch and Commander Ferone.
The ships were named the ‘Hammer of Destiny’, the ‘Hand of Destiny’ and the ‘Sabre of Destiny’. All three of them were ancient artefacts and places of pilgrimage for hundreds of worshippers of the Omnissiah at each given moment. They had not started out as ships to transport Astartes but especially the ‘Hammer’, the fastest among them, had acquired quite a few modifications to support their training by now. Probably, mostly to give all the tech-priests on board something to do.
One of the training halls even had the option for zero-gravity training and there were several well-maintained defence servitors around. Some of them hidden in the walls, some of them mobile and stalking the corridors, attacking Space Marines during training hours. That the occasional human fell prey to them as well was considered a sacrifice to the Omnissiah.
Aegis made good use of all of them and they often had an audience. The pilgrims were interested to see their equipment put to use. Sometimes, the Astartes even got new machines to hone their battle skills. One tech-priest was particularly active in this respect. He was as personable as most far advanced worshippers of the Omnissiah but at least they found out that his name was Kalin Ruhr. Tiberius was the only one he talked to readily and even this only to gather feedback about his creations. They spanned from simple randomised traps and explosives to highly developed servitors. He was a popular topic among Aegis and they speculated when he would finally blow them all up.
Solomon was another subject of speculation for them and in this matter, Vox proved downright tight-lipped. He refused to part with any details and instead claimed that he did not know how to navigate all the Oaths of Secrets he had sworn in the man’s presence. Titus believed him that most of what he might have imparted was classified but he also got the distinct impression that Vox simply did not want to talk about the legate.
Apart from this sideshow of random information to amuse him, Titus heeded Vox’s advice and asked Ecurael for a portion of his time. Confessing doubt to any member of the Ecclesiarchy was a risky thing to do, especially for a Space Marine. The priests were laden with the task to watch out for corruption among their charges and they usually announced it sooner than later. Ecurael, however, with his more than a thousand years of experience, was a kind, patient and rather pleasant confessor. To him, the doubts Titus harboured were a storm in a teacup. He had seen far worse and weathered the consequences. Reluctant to judge and listening patiently, he was able to provide Titus with a few careful comments and suggestions that helped to shift his view on things. During their travel they had only a couple of these meetings. At the end of the last one, Ecurael told Titus that the weakness of his body was something he could and should continue to fight but the healing of his soul would need time and care.
“You should consider forgiving yourself”, the chaplain said with a mysterious smile and Titus was uncertain what to make of this. When he had tried to figure it out and asked Ecurael about it again, the noble featured warrior patted him on the shoulder and sent him to sleep because it was rather late at this point. Time would tell, he reassured his protégé.
Their journey took about a month and however interesting and challenging training on the ‘Hammer’ was, all of them itched for the battle when they finally arrived over Corred. Thus, they left in a shuttle as soon as the necessary formalities had been sorted out.
Inquisitor Elaine awaited them aboard the ‘Aurum’, a Chalice Class Battlecruiser next to which, the little Fleet of Destiny looked like moons compared to their planet. The ship did its name justice. It was an intricate structure of gleaming gold in the darkness of space and an impressive sight as it hung in orbit over the clouded marble that was Corred.
Legate Solomon informed them that the ship was at his Mistress’ permanent disposal. Since this was the only information he parted with during their short trip over, Aegis understood that he wanted to underline the power of the woman they were about to meet.
The inquisitor awaited them personally in the hangar. She was a sleek and, next to the bulks of the Astartes, fragile figure with long, black hair that almost reached to her hips even though it was braided. Other than Laraise and Thrax had done, she did not wear power armour but a simple, well-fitting form of clothing, the Space Marines had already seen on her legate. There was only one badge on her chest. It was the gothic I of the inquisition but set before a stylized ring with spikes that could resemble a sun or a star alike. The sheer simplicity of her appearance cunningly underlined her aura of confident power. Another subtle hint was that she had quite a lot of space around her as she patiently awaited the arrivals. Her seven bodyguards all kept just close enough that they would be able to spring an attacker with their power spears. This woman was confident that no one would attack her. Intelligent, green eyes searched the group as they approached.
Killian Solomon, who had displayed patient, polite countenance even in the presence of Astartes, was suddenly nervous when he left the ship. He more scurried than strode up to his mistress and fell to one knee, bowing his head deeply before her.
“Mistress Elaine!”, he exclaimed. “Commander Ferone, Master of Vigil on Erioch, sends you his greetings and his most trusted warriors. May I introduce Kill Team Aegis to you?”
Elaine held up a hand and Solomon fell silent. A very small wave shooed him aside as if thrown by harsh winds.
“Chaplain Ecurael”, the inquisitor said, looking up into the noble features of the veteran. “What a pleasant surprise! Welcome my lord!”
“I greet you, Mistress Elaine”, Ecurael said, bowing his head to her in salute. “Let me introduce my men to you. Here is my second in command, Lexicanum Vox Draconis.”
The inquisitor smiled and extended her hand when Vox strode towards her. Dropping to one knee, he gallantly kissed her knuckles and boldly exclaimed: “Mistress, it is good to see you again!”
Lady Elaine actually seemed a bit flustered.
“Brother Vox, still with Aegis I see. And I also recognize Dankwart and Tiberius. Welcome!”
While Vox retreated back into their file, Dankwart and Tiberius stepped forward and bowed their heads like their chaplain had done it.
With a nod of acknowledgement, she turned to Ecurael again.
“From here on, you will have to help me.”
“Gladly”, the chaplain of the Crimson Legion replied. “This is Brother Titus of the Ultramarines and these two are Hyron and Vyron Heartrock of the Space Wolves but do not ask me which is which, mistress. So far, they managed to avoid classification by my humble self.”
“I am delighted to meet you, brothers”, Mistress Elaine greeted them with a regal nod. “I know you had a long journey and will be weary of the idleness you are confined to on the ship. If you accompany me to my briefing chamber, I will give you the information you need.”
While they followed her, Solomon closed in on Vox.
“You really could have told me that she already knew you’re with Aegis now!”, Solomon hissed.
“Oath of Secrets, my friend”, Vox replied happily.
“I never could decide whether I hate or admire it when you take that one…”, he said and Vox withheld further comments. After a short walk and a while on a large transport servitor, they reached the inquisitor’s audience chamber. It was rather larger than the one Commander Ferone used but different from those Laraise and Thrax had established.
The walls were white except for the one opposite the door. This bore an intricately painted fresco of the God-Emperor, held in sombre, dark and impressive colours. It conveyed the impression that, like everything else in the room, it served a very specific purpose even though, strictly speaking, it was decoration.
Like in most chambers of this kind, a large desk dominated the middle, but this one was an artefact of magnificent power and beauty. As Titus squinted over at Tiberius, he was not surprised to find a certain glow in the techmarine’s eyes.
Mistress Elaine woke the holographic projector in the centre of the desk when she stepped behind it. The large three dimensional picture of the planet they had seen outside, appeared in the air. Things like this were rare these days but each of the Space Marines had already seen one at some time or other and Solomon obviously was not here for the first time. By her manner it was clear that the inquisitor had no intention to use the device to show off, just to show. A lack of reaction all around suited her well.
Calmly she began to speak: “Corred is a lifted feral world”, she informed them with a bright voice that seemed to belong to a careful person, but still managed to convey that Elaine knew what she was talking about. “Since the Imperium returned to the Jericho Reach, there were efforts to provide resources and technology to the lost kin down there. They have flourished well until, about half a year back, an Ork raiding party hit the planet. In the first two months, they were more of a nuisance than a problem but their behaviour has changed since then. We don’t know what happened and it is nothing I want to concern you with, but the xenos have made a little project of mine impossible to complete.” The picture changed. A certain part of the planet magnified and hovered lower over the desk. It showed a complex network of canyons, deeply washed into the stone.
“I found indications of a ruin, hidden in this canyon labyrinth and was so fortunate as to obtain the key to it.”
She took it out from under the desk and held it up for everyone to examine before she handed it to Tiberius. The techmarine took it reverentially and looked at it closely. The key was formed like a cube about as big as a human fist, carved with minute writing.
“We were able to identify and date the writing back to the Dark Age of Technology”, Inquisitor Elaine explained. “Now, my only problem is a horde of Orks running amok in the whole area. Aegis, I ask you to lead my legate into the ruin and help him recover whatever you might find there. Will you comply?”
“We are at your disposal, mistress”, Ecurael answered for them.
Mistress Elaine nodded graciously.
“I can provide you with weaponry, a map and transportation. I suggest that you enter the canyons on foot to avoid the bulk of the Orks but, of course, this is entirely up to you. The entrance to the ruin is marked by some kind of psychic emitter. That is how we found it in the first place.” Her gaze wandered to Vox. “I’d send one of my psykers along but, with you here, he’d just be dead weight.” She smiled.
“With a horde of Orks down there, it will be interesting enough keeping Legate Solomon alive”, Ecurael agreed. “Mistress, I want to inform you that we have an additional warrior we will take with us. He is befallen by madness and we aim to enable him to find an honourable end.”
“I understand”, the inquisitor said simply. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” When no one volunteered anything, she continued: “Then, please follow my legate to the armoury and begin your work! May the Emperor watch over you, Aegis!”
“May He guide you with His mighty hand, Mistress Elaine”, Ecurael answered and with this, they followed Solomon out.
The armoury was not as big as the one on Erioch and the part of it that contained equipment for Space Marines was limited but it was well organised and not only Tiberius’ eyes lit up when they entered the section. Solomon stood in the door and watched with an amused smile on his face. There indeed were few sights in the Imperium of Man as endearing as seven Space Marines in a room full of weaponry.
Most of them chose a bolter with equal measures of normal ammunition and vengeance rounds and a plasma pistol as side gun.
“We’ll take jump packs”, Ecurael decided early on in their search, but after a short discussion, he agreed to Tiberius and the Heartrocks foregoing the jump packs due to third arms and weight of weaponry. The Space Wolves were speculating on heavy bolters and a lot of ammunition. Tiberius, meanwhile, smiled lovingly when he picked up a sound strike pattern rocket launcher and got to choose missiles for it.
Dankwart made friends with a large energy shield he could almost hide behind when he summoned it up and took a power sword along.
While Titus fell in love with a power axe, Vox alone among them proved reserved. He just chose a plasma pistol in addition to his sword and took three frag- and three plasma grenades when Tiberius handed them around.
The last two additions to their weaponry were a melta charge for Tiberius and an iron halo, which their techmarine placed with the greatest solemnity on their chaplain’s armour. After the reverential attunement of this artefact of protection, Ecurael led them to the hangars where a thunderhawk was waiting.
Inside the ship a large crate was affixed to the wall. It suggested itself that the stricken brother they had been warned about would be hidden in it.
“My children”, Ecurael said. “We will now take an Oath of Loyalty.” On cue, Vox handed him the prepared scroll, which he had quickly fished out of his pocket. Their leader held one hand palm up. When all of them had gripped it, he placed the scroll over their joined hands and put his free hand to the crate.
“Brothers, I see you!”, Ecurael called.
“As do we!”, they answered.
“Brothers, I know you!”
“As do we!”
“Brothers, I stand beside you!”
“As do we!”
“The Emperor guides us, humanity needs us, the xenos fear us!”
“For the Emperor, for humanity, against the alien we stand!”
They all let go and Vox sealed the oath scroll to Ecurael’s shoulder guard. Their oath was taken.