When he awoke, it took Titus considerable effort to orient himself. He moved sluggishly, whereupon Vox let him slip to the ground. Only then did he understand that his brother had been carrying him. The young man entered his field of vision and threw a searching look around. Titus struggled weakly not to fall over until he realised that Vox was laying him down.
His friend lifted about half of Titus’ breastplate to peer underneath. The Ultramarine was confused. This part of his armour had looked different last time he had seen it.
A soft smile fleeted over the brother’s features. Had he found the captain’s batch inside?
Without losing a word about it, Vox made haste to pick Titus up again. He carried him curled around his shoulders like a collar. This way, they could talk without speaking too loudly.
“You’ll probably not bleed out in the next few minutes”, Vox said quietly. “But it still looks bad. I’ll get you to Dankwart as soon as possible.”
“Good thing we took him down then”, Titus murmured and wondered how exactly he had been wounded. He did not remember anything hitting his chest that could have shattered his breastplate.
“Now we just have to find him”, Vox said and Titus noticed concern in his tone.
“Can I assist you in any way?”
“Was planning on it”, Titus slurred peaceably. The painkillers his armour provided made him comfortably dizzy.
“This time your plans might fail, my brother”, Vox remarked and turned a corner. The city still looked like it had done. Slightly darker maybe.
“You’re only alive because the daemon knocked you out of the way before I could cut you in half. I still caught you across the leg. You’ll be lucky if you just lose it.”
Titus remembered how severe the stab through Vox’s shoulder on Corred had turned out to be. A gaping wound on a muscled leg would be far worse indeed.
“So, the day has come, eh?”, Titus asked.
“Some day certainly. Which exactly do you mean?”, Vox inquired distractedly.
“The day I wouldn’t listen to you.”
Vox was quiet for a while.
“Thank you for that”, he said then.
Vox ran in long, gentle strides, dampening the shock of his steps carefully and the Ultramarine felt rather comfortable like this.
“Just to be sure, are you grateful for me not listening or for me admitting it?”, he wanted to know after he had time to reflect on this. He was glad that Vox did not seem to be angry with him.
“Both”, Vox replied and listened for something. He came to a halt at a corner. “Now, hush. I can’t sense the warp properly while I’m carrying you.”
“On the lookout for daemons?”
“Genestealers”, the friend corrected. “Or worse.”
“Worse than Genestealers?”
“Space Marines expecting to be attacked. I heard there were some of them around.”
“Now you mention it…”
Vox stopped again.
“Sorry, I have to lay you down”, he said and did so.
Titus lay on his back, looking around through the soft fog of pain and painkillers. Idly he noticed that Vox did not wear his gauntlets. His hands were bare and blood encrusted. The wounds Laraise had caused had dwindled and left nothing but Titus’ vivid memory of them. Only the fingernails still looked a bit wrinkly. He had watched Vox write the report with his hurt fingers and raw fingertips. The list of powers Vox had written down for him was still in his pocket. What kind of powers had he used to get them out of a huge warp rift like that? The warp was like a concert of light and shade…
Vox had finished his surveillance and bent down to him. The idle thoughts were drawn to his movement and Titus felt strangely safe in the careful embrace in which he was lifted.
“Aegis, do you read?”, Vox sent out but got only static back. He mumbled a quiet curse. “We have to hurry”, he declared then.
“The Genestealers are close by. I don’t want them running into each other.”
Just when he had said this, his wish was granted.
The two surviving Genestealers ran into them instead.
It had taken the Imperium of Man a long time to identify these beasts as a class of Tyranid. Even now, this knowledge was not common and closely guarded. Where Genestealers spread their evil seed, the Hive Fleet would follow sooner or later.
Like all Tyranids, they were six-limbed, vaguely humanoid creatures, little smaller than the Space Marines.
As they dropped towards their chosen prey, disgusting maws gaped in their repulsively bulging heads. Slobbering tongues lolled between rows of needle-sharp teeth, bringing notion of their ravenous anticipation of the flesh they meant to devour.
With Titus dampening his senses, Vox was completely taken aback by their attack and only just managed to throw his burden aside.
There was no time to draw his sword and he had to resort to lashing out with flames.
Burning the first onrushing beast head on and punching it aside before it could sink its razor sharp claws into him, Vox managed to gain enough time for the rolling Titus to come to a halt.
The fall had not improved his condition but the battle-hardened Ultramarine would not be stopped by mere physical agony. Even as he rolled, he managed to wrest his bolter free and bring it up. When the second fiend escaped the fire with minor burns and went for a supposedly easier target, it caught three well placed shots between its repulsive jaws.
Its head exploded satisfactorily and the second attacker fled.
A brief pause ensued which Vox used to retreat to his prone comrade. The danger was not over.
Like shadows arisen from a bad dream, the remaining members of the genestealer cult appeared everywhere around them. The mutated multitude must have followed their masters and one of them lay dead on the street now.
Vox crouched in front of Titus, bringing his left shoulder guard to the front to shield both of them from the hail of bullets springing up. He caught a few shots to the head but an Astartes’ skull was as tough as his helmet. It only bled more. Titus already opened fire at the enraged mass of idiotic cultists that tried to engage them in close combat while their comrades still fired blindly at the two Space Marines. He got only half the kill-count. All the other victims were caused by their own side. The bullets suddenly subsided, the magazines of the attackers spent, while the untrained xeno spawns tried to fiddle new clips into their weapons.
Only now, did Vox abandon Titus. He sprang forward, trying to get at his sword while he did so. Carrying Titus over his shoulders had pushed the sword handle deeper into its sheath. They had encountered this problem in training already but Vox did not deal with it very well. He grasped the air a few times before he managed to get at the blade. This way, the usually deadly first strike came delayed. Had the mutants attacked them with anything more sensible than an assortment of improvised weapons, they would have posed a threat. Even with his armour protecting him and his weapon finally to hand, Vox proved unable to gain the upper hand in this fight. Torn between protecting Titus and struggling to deal with the destabilising world, he started to miss opponents or moved clumsily into them. Titus tried to cover him but half a minute after he had noticed this erratic behaviour, he lost sight of the friend. The throng of the enemies pressing in was too thick, too insanely determinate in their onslaught. His clip ran out and Titus was sure that he would not get the chance to replace it.
Instead of wasting time with trying, he woke the machine spirit of his chainsword and brought it up as sharply as his mangled body would allow. One of the ghastly deformed mutants sprayed its juices over him. Another one got hold of his injured leg, pulling him away painfully. Titus lashed out again, missed and then suddenly, bolter fire ripped through the night.
The rest of Aegis had heard the noises of their battle and came to their aid. The four able bodied comrades had handed out their ranged weaponry to anyone who was still capable of leaning against a wall while they themselves took on the mutants in hand to hand combat. They crashed into them with force, dispersing them within seconds. Apparently, not even a dead Genestealer lord was worth this amount of risk.
Even before the last one had turned the corner, Dankwart knelt beside Titus while the mangled Vox was pulled to his feet by Tiberius. Blood poured from a wound in the librarian’s side and his hair was sticky with blood from the head wounds he had caught. These were only physical injuries, however. Titus was far more concerned to see Vox pushing Tiberius away. He signalled that he had trouble coping with the influences of the warp. Their techmarine took this calmly. He asked one of Gradus to hand him a bolter and waited patiently until Vox stopped praying with closed eyes.
“What’s the diameter of the largest crater on Luna?”, Tiberius wanted to know when the black shield looked around blearily.
“What? How should I know?”, Vox asked back in bewilderment. Tiberius nodded and lowered his weapon. He came up to Vox, laying a hand on his shoulder and they exchanged a few quiet words. Afterwards, they came over to them.
“Any idea what we do now?”, Tiberius wanted to know. Like everybody else, he was forced to walk around without his helmet for the disturbances and he looked concerned.
Vox shrugged and looked at Titus.
“We could ask our leader but we might have an interesting time if we do so.”
“Then let’s proceed with getting off planet and order exterminatus”, Tiberius suggested.
“First part: great!”, Vox encouraged him. “Let’s do it! Second part: several trillion people dying down here will not help to stabilise matters. The rift is still open. I wasn’t able to kill the witch.”
“But you killed Tatius?”, one of the naked brothers cut in, overhearing their conversation. He was the one who had been able to walk from the beginning.
“Yes, Orin”, Vox replied, turning to him. The two of them could hardly have been more different. Even naked Orin was almost as broad across the shoulders as Vox in armour. He was shorter than the son of Sanguinius, however, had black hair with dark brown eyes and – for some obscure reason – had not shaved for two weeks. It gave him a wild and even darker appearance next to the blonde Vox with his soft, pale skin.
“I’m sorry”, the librarian continued. “I know you two were friends.” As he said it, he fished something out of his helmet, which he had clipped to his belt. A dark fluid oozed between his bare fingers.
“Poor bastard”, Orin said, lowering his gaze. He was still hefting the bolter one of the Space Wolves had given him. The weapon did not cover him as such but he gave the impression of being dressed to his own satisfaction.
“Is there any worse way to go out than this?”, he asked despondently.
When he said it, someone started to laugh. It was cynical, black laughter and it was a duet. It originated from the brothers Heartrock, who were guarding them while Dankwart worked.
“Worse than going out between the legs of that chick?”, Vyron asked, peering over his shoulder at them. “Hell yes! Pretty much everything!”
“The only thing better”, Hyron provided, grinning provocatively. “Would have been, if Vox had let him finish before he cut him down!”
Their laughter got even dirtier when Vox blushed like a sunset.
“Oh, don’t be shy, Vox!”, Hyron called out. “Next time you meet Inquisitor Elaine, you ask her for a private audience”, he advised. “She’ll show you the ropes!”
“After today, I can say with conviction: If there are ropes involved, count me out”, Vox said firmly.
“Brothers, will you please knock it off?”, Tiberius asked politely. “We have at least three Ultramarines here. Do you want to cause deaths by embarrassment?”
Now, all of them stared at him.
“Tiberius”, Titus said from his prone position. Dankwart had just finished with him. “I just had the strangest dream. I thought you were making a rather good joke!”
“Don’t worry Titus”, his fellow Ultramarine said. “You’re awake now. Things like this don’t happen in real life.”
“I would like to point out”, Vox said slowly and distinctly and he laid one of his blood-encrusted hands on Orin’s shoulder. “That we are discussing this while I’m holding Gennaro’s gene seed.”
Titus could see that Orin had blushed as well but to tell by his face he had coloured in fury, not embarrassment. When he heard this announcement, he cooled down a little.
“Dankwart, could you check if I got everything?”, Vox asked, carefully managing to make Orin turn to the apothecary as well.
Dankwart examined the lump of tissue when it was handed to him and started to pull it apart.
“Yes”, he confirmed after a second. “I’ll monitor it for corruption.”
“I saw three corpses on our way here”, Vox mentioned and for the first time, Titus had a chance to count survivors. There were five of Gradus left.
“I delivered the Emperor’s peace to them”, Dankwart confirmed.
“That would mean we still got every gene seed except for your tenth man, who wasn’t with you to begin with”, Titus recounted, pushing himself into a sitting position.
“Yes”, Orin confirmed, his face still dark with anger and despair. “Malezar died in the fight against the Genestealers. Why are you looking like this?”, he asked Vox.
“He was your chaplain, right?”, Vox asked casually.
“Enough of this”, Tiberius interrupted before they could go on. “We need to move on. What’s with Titus?”
“He’s fine”, Dankwart told them.
Vox was visibly confused by this.
“What about his leg?”
“Very clean cut”, Dankwart reported curtly. “He’ll be able to use it in two hours tops. Why are you surprised?”, he asked when Vox stared at him.
“Because I got into his strike”, Titus cut in. “If it helps against that devil blade of yours, this resistance turns out to be even more useful than I thought. Now, help me up!”