Back on his feet, Aegis’ leader took a moment to take in the readings of his strained, painkiller-distorted senses. One thing he noted on the side was that his little brother looked tired to the bone. The rest of his impressions told him that the city had started to fall into a lot more chaos than usual. The distant hum of thousands of people living had changed into a screech of terror from countless throats. While he had been conscious, they had encountered no additional rifts but daemons would be haunting the streets already.
“Have you tried contacting the ‘Hammer’?”, he checked.
“Yes, Titus”, Tiberius answered. “The interference is too strong.”
“There must be a spaceport somewhere”, Titus mused aloud. “Probably in the towers.” He looked around. “I remember a tower around here.”
“It collapsed when the rift opened”, Tiberius told them.
“Great. This will be a long walk to the next tower…” Titus looked around again. The sound of some kind of aircraft had sprung up a moment ago. Now, it became apparent that it was headed their way. Well versed in defence against enemy air support, they took cover, dragging those who were unable to move along.
Vox steadied Titus on their way into the nearest building but when he let go of him so that both could ready their ranged weaponry, he hesitated. His senses freed of the presence of his resistant brother, he seemed to perceive something.
“Solomon?”, he asked in surprise and ran outside.
Indeed, the aircraft coming in over them was a thunderhawk and its opening tailboard revealed the legate waving at them. They had to climb the next roof and make use of the two boarding ladders because it was impossible to land the vessel here. This way, it was a challenge to bring the more heavily wounded up but they managed it.
“Solomon!”, Titus greeted the legate when he had struggled up the swinging ladder. “The first pleasant surprise today! To what do we owe this honour?”
“We declared quarantine for the planet and are shooting all the civilian vessels down”, the man informed him with a lopsided smile. “I didn’t want you coming up in one.”
“Well done!”, the Heartrocks laughed and slapped him on the shoulders, almost knocking him down.
“And how the hell did you find us in all this?”, Hyron wanted to know as he peered out of the closing tailboard. From up here, they all could see what Titus had already suspected: Lesser rifts were springing up everywhere and the radius they appeared in widened erratically.
Solomon rubbed his shoulders in agony.
“Well, first we aimed for the rift”, he said. “Not very useful, I have to admit but there was this burst of fire not far away.” His eyes wandered over to Vox. “And I’m sure nobody produces patterns like you”, he said cautiously.
“Vox, if you keep saving us, we’ll have to shoot you to keep some glory for us”, Vyron said and Titus noticed immediately that something was wrong.
Vox only gave a distracted nod and started to wander through the cargo bay. His demeanour was a note of discord in a scene of relaxation. Dankwart’s prayers underlined the feeling of tension released as he tended to the wounded. Only the librarian was restive.
It took about a minute before Vox came to Titus. He sat down beside him and leaned closer to whisper: “Something’s wrong.”
“You mean something besides the planet beneath us going to pieces and us having five untested Space Marines on board, who not only spent considerable time in the care of a Haemonculus but also had a liaison with a few Genestealers before this happened?”, he whispered back. Vox drew back in puzzlement but was unable to seem more concerned than he already did.
“Yes”, he finally managed.
“Damn. And I bet if you knew what was wrong, you’d have told me.”
“Alright”, Titus said and tried to get a grip on himself through the drugs. “Why don’t you know?”
Vox rubbed his face. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked at least as tired as he had been during the planning for their first assignment together.
“It’s too much”, he whispered. “All the dying people down there, all the pain in here. I can hear echoes of what happened to Gradus and I can’t shut them out…”
“Steady”, Titus said, grasping his arm for a moment. “I’ll handle our brothers, while you try and see if you can find out what’s going on.”
He raised his voice.
“Brothers, pray with me. For our fallen comrades and for the lost souls of this planet that must suffer the consequences of the cruel and pointless doings of a deranged xeno abomination.”
After their dearly bought success of destroying the Tau station, Titus had already learned that the mourning rites differed between chapters but his comrades had told him that there were certain rites the vast majority of chapters shared. One of them was the Prayer of the Fallen. He chose it now and spoke it loud and clear, hoping that their brothers focussing on the words would be enough to get Vox the respite he needed. Like many litanies and prayers, the Prayer of the Fallen had probably started out as a poem at some point but this was long forgotten. Today, it was part of the mourning rites an Astartes underwent when he had lost friends.
“And now the threshold I have passed,
I beg to take my soul away.
My purpose I have served at last,
In mortal realm, I cannot stay.
I pledged to you my life to give,
With this, my vow is now complete.
Protect my comrades, who still live,
That they fight on in battle’s heat.
I say farewell, my trusted friends.
The Emperor, He takes me home.
We’ll meet again when your life ends,
And you depart from flesh and bone.”
He had chosen well, even Solomon had mouthed along. Vox had been the only one not participating. Instead he was sitting with closed eyes. He opened them when Titus turned to him afterwards.
“The last Genestealer is clinging to our hull”, he said flatly into the solemn silence that had fallen.
“The day gets better and better”, he declared. He looked around, trying to think what they could do against this. The alien was no threat right now. It would be as soon as they reached the ship. Genestealer infestation on the ‘Hammer of Destiny’ was nothing he wanted to see.
“Alright”, Titus said, resorting to thinking aloud. “Let’s not pretend we can go outside to take care of it. Five naked Space Marines crammed into the cockpit while we open the door is a hilarious thought but let’s not go there. Tiberius might have to get sarcastic about it again and that will cause the universe to implode, I’m sure.”
“We have trouble with our vox”, Solomon told them. “I don’t know how we can reach the ‘Hammer’ to give them a heads-up.”
“How thick is the hull?”, one of Gradus wanted to know. He was the one Titus had found with his belly cut open. He had dark-blonde hair with bushy eyebrows and a reddish beard in an angular face. Even though Dankwart had managed to seal the cut on the fly, he held one arm wrapped around himself. Still, his mild grey eyes rested calmly on whoever he spoke to.
“Up to half a metre”, Tiberius answered.
“And you can sense the thing, Vox?”
“Yes, Merth”, Vox nodded and pointed up at the ceiling. “It’s right there.”
The man looked at Titus and the merest suggestion of a smile crept into his features as his eyes rested on the Ultramarine’s neatly cut thigh piece.
“As far as I see it”, he said. “We have at least one weapon that can penetrate even the hull of a ship and we still haven’t left the atmosphere. Let Vox poke the thing with his sword and see if he can kill it or throw it off. Even if it doesn’t work, we can seal the cut with a little armour cement afterwards and think of something new.”
“Brilliant! Vox, go for it!”, Titus ordered.
There was uncertainty in Vox’s glance when their eyes met for a moment but he obeyed.
“Tiberius, could you give me a lift?”, their librarian asked. The techmarine readily knelt and let the young brother climb to his shoulders while he steadied him with his third arm. They had a short exchange of where to aim so that the machine spirit of the ship would not get angry about this treatment. Then Vox laid a hand to the ceiling. The blade developed a strange shimmer when he earthed psychic energy through it and thrust it upwards. It penetrated the thick hull like paper. When he retrieved the sword, the escaping air made a high, piping noise.
Vox took a few deep breaths. Then, he nodded.
“That did it. Well done, Merth.”
The addressed brother nodded graciously and smiled when he got more compliments from the group while Tiberius handed Vox his tube of armour cement. Accompanied by binary prayers, he managed to seal the breach despite his visibly shaking fingers. When they reached orbit, the ship was airtight again.
“Well done, little brother”, Titus said, when his friend sat down beside him. Without Vox’s warning, this could have gone very bad and over a collapsing planet he was sure that Merth’s plan had been not half as trivial as it had seemed. Wordlessly, Vox leaned his head back at the wall and closed his eyes.
“What should we do now?”, Solomon wanted to know. “Nostromo’s destiny huddle isn’t exactly a military presence and there are no other warships in reach. We can stop small vessels from escaping but we don’t have the capacity to conduct an exterminatus.”
“Wouldn’t help anyway”, Titus provided. “Vox said that more people dying would only make matters worse.”
“Mh. Maybe we shouldn’t shoot people out of the sky then.” The legate tapped his well-trimmed goatee for a moment. “Well, nothing for it”, he said with a shrug. “As I said, we lost communication to the ‘Hammer’. Also, our astropath has not taken the initial blast well. He was unconscious when we left. The ones on the other ships are dead as far as we could establish.”
“So, we have one stricken astropath and can’t even call in reinforcements”, Merth summarised, still holding his arm wrapped around himself.
“How is the situation anyway?”, Solomon wanted to know and all of them turned to Vox.
“Worsening”, the librarian said without opening his eyes. “The rift is getting larger as we speak. I’m sorry.”
“For what?”, Titus wanted to know.
“The witch escaped me when I killed Gennaro. I thought about getting after her but in the warp, you can hide an army in a shadow. Unless you know who you are searching for, you have no chance to find them. Even then you better bring a powerful focus. I thought our chances of doing something out here would be better. I’m sorry.”
For the first time since Titus had met him, Solomon’s face softened when he looked at Vox.
“Please, stop being sorry for not dying in vain”, he asked politely. “It really isn’t your fault that our options seem somewhat limited right now.”