The next day brought the end of their warp travel and the note that they would reach orbit in less than two hours. They finished training and went to the bridge to find out what information surveillance could provide them with.
When they were gathered there, Dankwart joined them. He looked like a walking corpse. Pale and with deep shadows under his eyes but he approached them with a worrying amount of aplomb.
“Dankwart, what are you doing out of bed?”, Titus inquired politely.
“Deploying for a mission”, Dankwart answered and looked him in the eyes. The firmness of this declaration was greatly unsettling and Titus was about to shrink back from it when he remembered that he had been a captain and was the current leader.
“I want to hear a second opinion about your fitness for duty”, he demanded as calmly as possible. Dankwart wasted no further words. He left and reappeared a few minutes later with one of the human apothecaries in tow.
“My lords”, the man greeted them nervously. He looked almost as tired as his patient, which made his uneasiness even more apparent.
“I’m Apothecary Gorgen. You wish for my testimony that my Lord Dankwart is fit for duty?”
“If you would be so kind”, Titus replied politely.
The man fiddled nervously with the pocket of his lab coat before he declared: “I can assure you that Lord Dankwart, even though not at his full strength at present, will not fall over without external influences.”
Titus blinked as he heard this statement and looked Dankwart in the face. Expecting another piercing stare, he was surprised to find that the brother’s interest did not rest with him. He had instead locked gazes with Vox. The librarian’s expression was unreadable and both of them quickly noticed Titus’ attention. In stoic silence, they turned to him to await his decision.
“Very well”, Titus conceded reluctantly. “Thank you, Apothecary Gorgen. I’m sure Dankwart will spend more time with you when we return. Now, come brothers. It is time for Vox to read the Tarot.”
They filed into the briefing chamber behind the bridge and Titus made sure that his little brother came to his side. If there was trigger-happiness among the brothers, he wanted to be able to interfere. When all of them had settled down, ready to draw weapons but none in hand yet, Titus nodded to his little brother.
Vox took on the expression he always had in situations like this. One of deep, calm sadness. Solemnly, he took his tarot deck out from behind his breastplate and shuffled the cards. Looking at a point, somewhere in front of him, his concentration deepened with every move.
He laid down one card and immediately went straight over backwards. Titus could only just catch him and he heard several bolters being drawn. Luckily shielded by the table, Vox was as stiff as a plank. The tableau halted for a second before he sagged with a groan. Blood dripped from his eyes in no small measure but he paid it no heed.
“We have to go now!”, he burst out instead. “We might already be too late. This planet is about to become a new, stable warp anomaly!”
Swiftly, he came to his feet and scooped up the card. Titus got a glimpse at it before it disappeared between the others. He had seen it before. It showed ‘The Eye of Terror’.
Firmly stepping between his little brother and the others, he gave the signal to move. They ran out of the briefing chamber.
“Captain! Ready a drop pod!”, Titus roared across the bridge. The startled human spun around to them, asking: “Where do we aim it, my lord?”
Vox exchanged a few words with Nostromo, who happened to be on the bridge. They quickly reached an understanding and the navigator went to deal with the surveillance officers while the Space Marines made their way to the armoury. It was rather less well equipped than the one on Erioch or even the one, Inquisitor Elaine had shown them. This mattered little, however. Devoid of time, they just grabbed standard weaponry and a few grenades before they swiftly made their way to the hangar. Besides special weaponry, the haste cost them Vox’s jump pack. The one usually reserved for him was in maintenance and he insisted that they had no time to fetch it from the workshops.
Because it was a little faster than using the transportation servitors, they took to running. Despite the testimony made for him, Dankwart could hardly keep up with their pace until Hyron and Vyron resorted to dragging him along.
Drop pods were easy vessels to make ready. They could enter theirs immediately when they arrived. Clamping themselves in happened with calm, practised movements. Just when they had finished, they received the clearance to take off and the drop pod accelerated without delay.
“Vox, the oath scroll”, Titus asked and Vox handed it to him. They could not reach each other to join their hands for this but going on a mission without an oath was unthinkable.
“We will take an Oath of the Hunter. Your answer is ‘We are your Angels of Death’ with the usual last lines”, Titus informed them when the noises of their take off had died down.
“In your name, we kill the xenos!”, Titus intoned and they heard the air friction start to roar up outside.
“We are your Angels of Death!”, the others answered.
“In your name, we bring destruction!”
The noise got more intense now and they had to answer with more vigour to make themselves heard: “We are your Angels of Death!”
“In your name, we shall crush the enemy!”
The drop pod started to shake violently when they crossed a thunderstorm lingering over their destination area.
“We are your Angels of Death!”, Aegis called together.
“The Emperor guides us, humanity needs us, the xenos fear us!”, Titus roared over the noise.
“For the Emperor, for humanity, against the alien we stand!” The last words were almost lost in the crash of the landing. When the noise had subsided, they unclamped themselves, opened the pod and dug themselves out through a few metres of mud.
They had landed in the outskirts of the hive city and there actually was sky to be seen here, even though they had crashed through to the very lowest level. Since it was night, they mostly derived this from the fact that they had come out in the pouring rain. The thunderstorm hung thickly over the area. At least the falling water washed them clean, unearthing their glorious black and silver power armours to be recognized by friend and foe alike.
Besides relieving them of the clinging soil, the rain also meant that they met only very few people as they made their way inwards and upwards through the city. Searching for Emperor knew what, this suited them well. Stealth could only help them in a situation like this. For the same reason Titus felt it necessary to order Hyron and Vyron to keep their helmets on. He wanted to be able to vox without being heard. The wolves obeyed grudgingly.
They dived into the maze a hive city inevitably resembled in its lower levels. Even though this one had not gotten the time to rot on the bottom for ages and sink into itself while the society built ever upwards, it had already developed the typical charm of the inhabited dump for a trillion people.
Wandering these pathways brought back memories for Titus. Blurry, unlike everything he was used to. They were the memories of a little boy, wandering a place similar to this. He remembered the feel of the city. The strange darkness, penetrated by the occasional street lamp and the eerie atmosphere of silence. Noises happened everywhere in the hive but right here, they were just a distant buzz. Nothing more than the promise of life, maybe behind the next corner, maybe further away. It made him feel lonely and sheltered at the same time and summoned a strange nostalgia and homesickness he had not anticipated. It was like wandering in a distant dream.
Vox was able to lead them straight towards one of the towers looming over the tangled mass of buildings and soon, they reached an area where the warp had started to leak through to the real world.
Titus only noticed that the vegetation changed. It had to be pointed out to him that, independent of the local variety, ivy should be green, not red and that blood vessels were unusual for plants. When they got further into the terrain, he also had to admit that it probably should grow over a wall, not burst from inside.
After a while, Vox stopped, apparently confused.
“I don’t know where to go”, he told them over their closed channel. “The whole area is corrupted but I can’t make out anything specific.”
“Does that mean, whoever is summoning daemons hasn’t started yet?”, Titus wanted to know.
“I can’t explain it otherwise”, Vox said, looking around at the sparsely lit buildings. “But the area is large. At least three kilometres radius and it’s three dimensional.”
“So, if we are too far away when they start, we will not make it”, Titus concluded.
Vox confirmed with an absentminded nod.
“I thought it was at the foot of this tower there but it isn’t the centre by far… Incoming!”, he added suddenly, before Titus had time to think.
With two seconds delay, shots went off around them. Lacking any kind of cover, Aegis formed up into a defensive huddle. Their training had engrained this move so deeply into their brains that no thoughts needed to be spared to achieve it. Each of them turned one shoulder guard to the front and ducked behind the brother furthest away from the wall. On the outermost position, Tiberius caught most of the first salve, the bullets ricocheting off him.
From one moment to the next, the street and buildings around them were awash with humans. Since several of them showed distinct mutations, it came as no surprise when Vox provided: “Genestealer cult!”
“We’ll do some damage!”, Titus ordered. “Save explosives!”
A seek and destroy tactic was nothing they needed to discuss further. Splitting up in their established pairs, everyone went to find enemies. The two Space Wolves sprang from their crouch and took to the building behind them. Titus and Vox moved down the street while Dankwart and Tiberius headed for the building opposite. The bullets of the humans could not harm the Space Marines unless they hit a joint in their armour but there were so many of them that some of them would get lucky. They had to do something about them as soon as possible.
It quickly turned out that the less mutated cultists had barricaded themselves in the buildings left and right. On the street, Titus and Vox encountered a whole group of four armed specimens swarming in from around the next corner. They proved how long the Genestealer infestation had been brewing. These alien creatures were able to breed within any species and produce fully grown versions of themselves within a few generations.
Still, these enemies were no problem for the two of them. Vox went on ahead while Titus covered him with the bolter. They went through them in short order. As soon as this became apparent, their victims chose flight over a pointless death.
Titus was ambivalent about this reaction. Considering that they had really come to deal with this warp rift, it was fortunate but the survivors would certainly alarm their brood lords. Even if the cult had not produced fully grown Genestealers yet, the original aliens might slip their grasp and pose a threat later on. Be it by attacking them or infesting more people in the city.
Also, they still lacked any indication where to turn. Something had to be done.
Killing the last foes in their reach, Titus and Vox reached a bridge that spanned a chasm in the buildings. They took cover behind opposite piers and allowed themselves a moment to assess the situation.