Vox was back before anything else happened. Emerging from the depths like a black shark, he avoided the elevator. He came up slowly to stop the water dripping from his armour too much and moved up to them quietly. Without a word, he handed the cube and the turned-off light to Solomon. The legate almost dropped the artefact for its weight.
Having taken care of this, he signalled Titus to follow him back to the entrance. There, Vox made a sign for him to wait, lifted one hand to the sabre and stepped out.
Gunfire ripped through the night and Titus’ hypno-conditioning provided him with the instant information that these were Eldar weapons going off.
Vox threw himself back into cover, falling clumsily on his side. With a pragmatic movement, Titus dragged him to safety.
“Where did they come from?”, the librarian asked in confusion. This added considerably to Titus’ own surprise and had it not been for their well-honed battle reflexes, the sleek, humanoid silhouette that rounded the corner would have made trouble for them. This way, Vox rolled aside under its sword strike and Titus shot it down.
After this point, things got crazy. Everything just seemed to happen randomly and all at once.
The sounds of a melee went up outside. The screams clearly confirmed that they had Eldar around the corner but who were they fighting? No bellowing Ork voices could be heard.
“Vox, talk to me!”, Titus demanded, dragging his friend further back.
“Aren’t we past that stage yet?”, the librarian asked testily and came to his feet, wincing slightly. It remained unclear if this was a sign of pain or annoyance.
Titus stared at him in confusion but Vox paid him no attention.
There was the smell of blood about him and Titus estimated that a few shots must have gotten through his belly armour. It was more flexible and a little less impenetrable in exchange.
His little brother approached the entrance again, pressing himself to the right wall of the corridor. There, he halted. Just when Titus had started to wonder what he was doing there, he made a grab outside.
There was a crash, a dark shape, a confused moment and suddenly Vox gave a cry of pain. From one second to the other, the scene was brightly lit.
To his horror, Titus saw that it was brightly lit by Vox’s sword that burned with angelic white flames while it stuck right through its owner’s shoulder. Where had that come from?
Clearly outlined in the blinding white light, there was a third Space Marine in here with them now. The man’s armour was bare black and he wore an Aquila pattern helmet with a Corvus pattern armour.
Unmistakable, it was the stricken brother. Had he brought the sword and fought the Eldar outside? How had he been able to get the sword through Vox’s shoulder? It was piercing the shoulder guard, one of the best-armoured parts on a Space Marine!
Roaring in pain, Vox managed to kick his attacker, causing him to stumble backwards. Left without his melee weapon, Titus came up from his crouching position to see if he could help but his friend yelled: “Stand down!”
Vox drew the rusty sabre, took a step after the tumbling man in bare black, caught him by one wrist and managed to spin him around while pressing the sabre into his hand. Outside again and turned in the right direction, the man sprang the still hidden Eldar in blind rage. Again, there were the sounds of battle while Titus used the chance to hurry up to Vox, who was collapsing against the left wall.
It was unclear to him where these Eldar had come from or why Vox had not sensed them but he was certain that a single maniac would not hold long against any number of Eldar. Even though it sounded as if the man sold his hide dearly.
Vox winced in pain while he tried ineffectually to pull the still burning sword from his shoulder.
“Don’t!”, he groaned when Titus reached out to help him but it was too late.
The voice of the sword, which had only sung to Titus last time, was a deafening scream of joyful rapture when he touched it. He heard it roar for the blood of its owner, demanding more of this essence that was always pumping around it, just out of reach for the few layers of skin and gauntlet that barred its way. Titus screamed back at the strange, simple mind of the blade that wanted to take control of his body. Against the tensing of his muscles, it was incredibly hard not to strike Vox down. He managed to drop the dreaded weapon into the water where it burned for a few seconds more before the flames went out.
Titus cursed. He could not see anymore. His eyes were fitted with a quite effective kind of organic flash compensation. The sudden light had not blinded him but in the returning darkness, his night vision was gone.
“Vox!”, he snapped and tried to find the brother by touch, his ears still strained for the noises outside. After extensive groping around, he found Vox on the floor. He lay curled up on his side, probably bleeding into the shallow water. Titus did not know what to do. A mere stab in the shoulder should never do this to a Space Marine. Especially after these shots had not seemed to impress him overly much. He ripped off the friend’s helmet and tried to make out anything in his face while Solomon stumbled towards them.
“What now?”, the legate squeaked in fear, blindly fumbling his way along the wall towards them.
It was almost depressing how little thought it needed to answer this question. Their second leader was down and they had a lot of enemies around the corner. There was no choice and no time.
“You two stay here!”, Titus demanded and while Solomon sank to his knees to hold Vox’s head out of the water, the former captain drew the bolter, returned to the right wall for a moment and listened for the status outside.
Something heavy hit the ground with a splash. This was the moment, Titus leaned out of his cover. His vision had cleared enough to make out shapes and he counted about twenty of them still upright. It was the work of a few seconds to send half a dozen bolter rounds flying into unprotected backs but right before he was about to lean back again, he spotted the psyker.
It was a sleek, unarmoured Eldar. Nothing more than a soft, rounded shape in the shadows. Probably female. She raised her hand and stopped the bullets in the air. Titus cursed inwardly and wanted to retreat to his cover but before he could twist his body back again, the Eldar clenched her fist.
He had no time to notice his bolter rounds falling harmlessly. Within a heartbeat, long spears of ice materialised out of thin air, throwing him back into the corridor. Several of them pierced his belly. His left leg and the arm holding the bolter were stuck as well. His breastplate had protected his hearts but blood started to ooze into his lungs. The water around him began to freeze, clasping him like a giant, cold hand.
Cautious in the following silence, the Eldar came around the corner, her silhouette visible in the soft starlight. Titus saw her stop dead and lift her hand when a black object flew towards her.
It came from where Vox and Solomon were located and Titus thought it would be a grenade but when the object stopped and hovered in mid-air, he saw a black, raven snouted helmet. It turned slowly, watching the scenery with a slightly spooky expression.
Suddenly, warm firelight washed through the cave.
Now, Titus could see the Eldar clearly. She had the graceful body and beautiful features of all these xenos. Her eyes were large and blue, her black hair was tied in a knot. Soft, strange clothes of a mild grey carried functional pockets and a hip holster held a weird-looking handgun.
She had averted her eyes against the light but when she managed to look, her face contorted in fear.
Vox was just coming to his feet, his sword back in its sheath. Calmly, he stepped in front of Solomon. The librarian’s right hand was burning in soft, yellow and orange fire. The flames illuminated his features and by the way the witch was reacting, Titus thought she must have recognized this face.
“Hello, little one”, Vox said calmly. “You’ve grown since last time”, he added, confirming this suspicion. With a screech the Eldar leapt backwards, disappearing out of Titus’ sight.
Even before she screamed a few alien words, Vox leaned forward, lifting his burning hand.
The powers clashing together was an indescribable moment. Ice and fire both roared up, meeting halfway between the psykers. Rock melted and water boiled on their side while frost cracked the landscape beyond the flames.
When it subsided, Vox quickly moved over to Titus, Solomon following on his heels so they all had cover again. Water still hissed on glowing rock and there were quiet plink plink noises while the stone cooled.
“Now, I know you can understand me”, Vox called out, loud and clear. “And I see, you have companions with you”, the librarian continued while he touched the spears of ice that pinned Titus to the ground.
“As you have seen, so do I”, Vox told the Eldar outside. The spears, as well as the frozen water around Titus, melted away. He rolled around, trying to come to his feet while he coughed up the blood that had started to choke him. Solomon and Vox tried to support him but they were of little use. Solomon was too weak to lift a Space Marine and Vox could hardly stand upright himself.
“You are both injured”, they heard the Eldar call from outside. Her tones were a bit guttural but she spoke a surprisingly clear Low Gothic. “And the human is no match for us”, the witch added.
“Do you want to bet their life on that?”, Vox asked slowly, pulling Titus close for a moment. “She can’t sense you”, he hissed into his ear and then, continued out loud again: “Send them away and I’ll send mine away. This is just between you and me!”
Vox moved up to the corner and slowly showed himself. His opponent snapped a short command and he was allowed to step outside without being shot again. Titus knew that they had very little time until things would escalate. He pried the bolter from his injured, unresponsive hand, put it away and grabbed Solomon.
“Just you and me”, Vox repeated, his right hand lifted placatingly. Titus slowly came into view, carefully shielding Solomon. When nobody shot, he limped away as fast as he could.
Behind them, the voices of the other Eldar started to echo through the canyon and Titus had to grin. They actually tried to argue.
They reached a corner and he pushed Solomon to walk on by himself. As silently as possible, he tried to engage his jump pack and found that he need not have bothered. The spears had damaged it beyond use.
Conveniently, his corner was still quite close to the shrine and while he drew his bolter, he heard Vox’s voice over the hubbub among the foes. His friend sounded almost happy when he said: “Well, you tried.”
The canyon erupted in the orange light of the warp fire and the screams of the dying. Titus sprang from his position, willing his left leg into obedience. As soon as he could see them, he shot down two disoriented Eldar who had remained shielded from the flames behind their psyker. Stumbling as he did so, he ducked into the open door of the shrine. Vox had already been drawing his sword. Now, he used the moment of bewilderment, Titus had managed to elongate, to move up to the witch and attacked in one single, flowing movement.
The xeno tottered backwards, giving a cry of terror and a wall of ice dropped out of the air, neatly sealing the canyon off. Titus was at Vox’s side at once, crouching as best he could with the injured leg. With two swift steps, Vox used his body to climb and spring the wall. Crossing obstacles like this had been covered extensively in their training. Since Titus was in no shape to do it, the options were easy to pick out.
“Your nightmares will end today!”, Titus heard Vox calling in a promising tone and the witch scream in mortal fear. He saw the ice crumble as soon as her screech was cut short and shouldered his way through it. His armour had sorted out the dosage of the required painkillers by now. He could halfway make use of his leg again, although it still proved a bit shaky. His arm, however, stayed without function and his lung drove him crazy. Theoretically, Astartes could breathe their own blood but not if it did not get saturated with oxygen from time to time.
Nevertheless, he made it through the wall of ice and while the crystals fell around him, cutting into his face, he spotted the last Eldar that had survived up until now. The xeno was getting an aim on Vox as he watched and Titus levelled his bolter in a hurry.
They both pulled the trigger at the same time.