It had taken a while to bypass the planetary defences the Orks had managed to establish. Now, they had reached their destination.
Ecurael climbed down from the cockpit, where he had overseen the landing. He moved like a young god. Landing lightly on his feet he grabbed his staff that was leaning against the wall. The iron halo adorning his head framed his white hair and for a moment his image was that of a saint, descended from the heavens.
“Stand back, my children!”, he ordered them and stepped up to the crate that was affixed to the wall. There had been no noise out of the thing the whole time and all except Vox and Titus watched in mute anticipation what would happen now. Vox stood with his back to the scene, intently watching the still closed tailboard from behind his helmet. Titus, in turn, watched him. This ominous brother unsettled his friend, he could tell.
He turned back to the proceedings to finally find out what could be the reason. The Space Wolves, who were in the habit of leaving their helmets off, exchanged a nervous glance. Dankwart and Tiberius kept silent.
Ecurael started to pray a High Gothic prayer Titus had never heard. When the chaplain opened the crate carefully, he was immediately hit with an enraged Space Marine. The man came at him like shot from a sling. Ecurael caught the unarmed brother by the wrists and leaned his full weight against him, never stopping in his prayer. The tableau came to a halt for a few seconds then, the attacker seemed to relax under the words washing over him. His armour was full black without ornamentation. Since he wore an Aquila pattern Helmet, Titus noticed only on the second glance, that he wore Mark VI armour.
“Indomitus, invictus, defuncta sequit quod Imperatore servit!”, Ecurael ended his prayer and Titus found himself translating in silence: “Untamed, undefeated, the dead man follows to serve the Emperor.”
Carefully their chaplain relaxed, guiding the hands of the brother downwards and holding onto only one of his wrists now.
“Captain, we are ready!”, Ecurael told their crew and the tailboard opened for them. It revealed a small plateau of bright grey, almost white stone, streaked with deep blue and purple veins. The whole terrain looked like a beautiful, frozen corpse, crumbling under the ages.
They had aimed for the far point in the canyons from where the Orks were located and would make their way towards them from here. The ship took off and the Space Marines, equipped with jump packs, each carried one of their comrades without one down. Vox with his Mark VI armour was the lightest of them and took the heavy Tiberius. Ecural had Solomon in addition to the brother in black. This way the jump packs softened their fall just enough to avoid complications.
“Titus, Dankwart, to the rear!”, Ecurael ordered when they had reached the ground safely. “Heartrocks, guard Solomon! Vox, you take point! Go!”
Having never served together, their leader had taken his time to ascertain the abilities of the team on their way here. This marching order did by no means come out of the blue. It sure was smart to send Vox to the front to allow him to spread his incredible senses, but when his little brother passed Titus by with a lowered head and even ran a few steps to get his distance, it dawned on him that taking point also prevented Vox from ever having to look at the strange brother in black. Guiding his obligation by one hand, Ecurael even kept behind the bulk of Tiberius for most of the time. This way Vox could not see them even if he turned around casually.
So, the chaplain knew about this intense reaction in the face of the strange brother.
Titus kept wondering why. Ecurael had said that the man was befallen by madness and that anything could spark his fury. Could Vox read his mind and took it badly? Did he know who the man was? Suddenly, Titus was certain that the day Vox had skipped training on Erioch had been the day he had learned that the maddened brother would travel with them.
Maybe it was because of his resistance that Titus had never worried about psykers. Not even about the possessed Drogan on Graia. Vox on the other hand, he felt he knew. His friend had shown all kinds of emotions so far but the tightly controlled disquiet Titus saw in him now managed to concern him. He wished he could see the brother’s face to keep a tighter grip on the situation. A psyker getting unstable was nothing he wanted to see.
On the other hand, it probably was good that nobody else had picked up on Vox’s troubles. Even Athuriel, whom the young man had been so painfully attached to, had made it clear beyond doubt that he was ready to shoot him for any little slip. Titus could not imagine their Space Wolves turning out to be more patient. It had not taken their declaration of doubt against Vox as leader to know this. Space Wolves lived close to the Eye of Terror, the largest stable warp anomaly in the galaxy. They certainly knew what the warp was and had uncomplicated ways to deal with its agents.
Titus gritted his teeth under his helmet. Since he was a brother he had started to wear it again for every opportunity. Right now, he was glad for it because he did not have to think about keeping a straight face on top of everything else.
Ecurael seemed to pick up on his troubles nevertheless. He turned around to him once and gave him a slow, reassuring nod. Yes, their chaplain knew. He probably knew a lot more than Titus had deduced so far. It was encouraging that Ecurael showed nothing but unshakable, faithful certainty in the circumstances.
With Vox in the lead, they had a quiet, uneventful time and a long heads-up when they met their first group of Orks. Their psyker sensed them coming even before they had heard the rampaging horde. Ecurael ordered their two devastators to the front and had the Heartrocks shoot the xenos down like the vermin they were. When the fire of the two heavy bolters went up, the brother in bare black suddenly got restless. Ecurael took him in his embrace, praying for him again, keeping him steady.
“Not yet, brother. Calm, calm. Keep calm…”, he said in between prayers and managed to keep him quiet until silence fell again.
“Vox, report”, their leader demanded while Hyron and Vyron returned to them. Casually, the wolves performed the after battle check that was second nature to any active Space Marine.
Vox held up a hand to signal that he had understood their chaplain’s request.
“We’ve been heard”, he informed them a few seconds later.
“They’ll lose us in the canyons”, Ecurael estimated unfazed. “Move!”
They took up their marching order again and followed Vox at increased speed, taking seemingly random turns in the stone labyrinth. Titus carried Solomon for the time being. The human could not keep up with the pace that was still a relaxed stride for Astartes. They could go on like this for hours, he could not.
After they had returned to normal speed, it took about twenty uneventful minutes until Vox suddenly stopped without signalling them. They moved up behind him and made ready for defence, all straining their senses to the limit.
“Do you hear that?”, Ecurael asked a few seconds later. Indeed they did. It was a strange, deep rumbling and swooshing that had sprung up in the canyon somewhere in front of them.
“Wind speed is getting up”, Tiberius said and he sounded puzzled. They all hesitated for a heartbeat. Then, Vox and Titus spun around at the same time. They grabbed Solomon by one thigh each and threw him up on one of the rocks. There was no time to check if he had landed safely. In fact, there was only just enough time for them to get hold of each other before the wall of water hit them.