Titus woke when Tiberius contacted them about two hours later.
“Gate three”, he heard. A moment later Vox confirmed and they moved. The sleep quickly dropped from his limbs and Titus felt better for it.
“Gate three again?”, he inquired.
“Our lucky number today”, Vox joked. “Or not, as it may be”, he continued more seriously and climbed a large tube. “It’s the second furthest away and if we don’t want to take a massive detour, we’ll have to sneak past those windows ahead. Means we can’t fly. Let’s hope he can stay until we get there.”
Titus laughed quietly and allowed the brother to pull him up after himself.
“I really would have liked to witness the planning of all this.”
“Most of it was staring at maps”, Vox said, jumping down lightly, patiently waiting for Titus to follow. “And wandering around the ship. In fact, it was quite boring. And time-consuming. And about seventy percent of the plans just end up unused because they were emergency plans anyway. It’s really rather frustrating”, he concluded.
“Then I hope I’m worth it.”
Titus heard Vox give a disapproving harrumph.
“If you don’t know that you are, you should seriously consider a change of career. Bathing maiden maybe. I could use one…”
“Well, let’s assume I know I’m worth it”, Titus said, intrigued by the sheer cheekiness of this answer. “How do you?”
“A lucky guess.”
“Come on”, Titus said pleasantly, amused about the outright falsehood. “Either your insignia lie without blushing, or you wouldn’t have been able to shift an Orion Class Star Clipper under the command of an inquisitor, plus whatever the ‘Life of Blood’ was, for a lucky guess. Why are you doing this, Vox?”
The familiar use of his first name had slipped him involuntarily but Vox showed no sign of acknowledgement. Instead, the brother strode on in silence, taking seemingly random turns among the structures of the ship.
“A number of reasons”, he finally stated as if he had thought deeply about the topic. “They all boil down to ‘because’. And just to be clear here”, he added, lifting a finger. “One of them is ‘because I wanted to see if I could’.”
“Tell me more”, Titus prompted.
“Nah”, Vox said. He waved a hand dismissively, peered around a corner and turned to take another way.
“You’d only shoot me for my heretic psyker ways and that would really spoil the mission now, don’t you think?”
“I promise I won’t shoot you.”
“Captain. That’s probably the most stupid thing to tell a librarian… Ever.”
Titus had to grin.
“Alright, I promise I won’t shoot you for your reasons to come for me.”
He had seen the tension building up and was little surprised when Vox spun around to him. What did intrigue him was the control the librarian still displayed. For the constant easy demeanour, Titus had expected an immediate outburst but nothing was forthcoming.
“Come on”, Titus urged, as much to hear the answer as to see if he could get it out of Vox. “Tell me your reason. The real reason. I want to know who came for me.”
The young man withstood a moment longer, then a small tilting of the head betrayed his submission.
“Because it hurt, captain”, he declared in a strained tone. “Because there was a day when I saw a brother so weighed down with grief and guilt that it hurt to lay eyes on him. I came because I promised that I would help him make amends. I came to ease the pain!”
“But Leandros is dead”, Titus challenged him, stepping closer.
Suddenly, Vox’s stance relaxed.
“Stop pushing, captain”, he said and his voice was calm and vibrant. “You won’t like me pushed.”
He turned and walked on.
Titus followed him contentedly. After an answer like that, he felt he could.
They wandered through a labyrinth of marvellous Gothic structures, sometimes circumventing obstacles, the nature of which was not always comprehensible. Vox led them on as if he had a landmark to align to and took any clear path he found towards it. Flying was mostly out of the question. Apart from the windows looking out into space, the ‘Lawbringer’ had numerous servitors crawling her hide. They were technically out here for repairs but they all had emergency programs in place. If they spotted anything without clearing from the ship itself, they attacked. Nobody wanted Tyranids or Chaos Space Marines on board if they could help it. Vox did not reveal how he managed to navigate them around these slaves of the Machine God. In fact, he said nothing of his own accord anymore.
At the end of their journey lay an unremarkable bulkhead that was easy to miss in the surroundings. Only the blinking control light next to it, gave it away.
They climbed inside, dropping into the gravity of the ship. It took a while for the machine spirits to seal the latch and move air into the small room.
Behind the opening door, Tiberius met them in a narrow, unrendered service tunnel.
“Status?”, Vox asked the techmarine and started the rites to remove his helmet.
“Dankwart sent the communication”, Tiberius answered. “We can move to the bridge right away.”
“Good”, the librarian said and turned around to Titus. As he pulled the helmet off, his long, blonde hair uncoiled from a loose knot.
“Captain, I suggest you talk to Laraise.”
Titus removed his helmet as well. He saw Tiberius flinch when he forewent the rite of opening the seal and simply opened it.
“Anything specific I should mention?”, Titus asked and put the microbead of his vox into his ear. “Besides joining the Deathwatch and that the commander has been informed?”
“Anything that annoys her would add to my personal satisfaction but nothing specific, no”, Vox replied with a short grin.
“Lead on then”, the captain ordered them.
Tiberius went ahead while Vox walked behind Titus’ shoulder. They had a short exchange with Dankwart and picked him up in a larger, better lit corridor. The apothecary saluted Titus with the sign of the Aquila before he came to his other side, completing Aegis’ triangle around the captain.
It took them half an hour to reach the bridge on foot. The brothers walked slowly, anticipating Titus’ pace. Despite their efforts and the support of his armour, he felt the strain on his mangled body.
When they arrived, Aegis opened their formation to the front as if they had practised this hundreds of times.
Flanked by his black and silver honour guard, Captain Titus walked towards the inquisitor. She was standing in the raised command stand in the centre of the hall, her head bowed over a scroll. Laraise spotted them when the murmur among the staff rose, followed by everyone standing up and saluting.
When the inquisitor turned around, Titus saw that Vox had been right. Laraise was deeply shocked to see the four of them. Not surprised or confused but distressed. Her self control, however, proved admirable. The fleeting expression of bewildered concern was gone in an instant.
“Permission to come aboard, inquisitor?”, Titus greeted her casually.
“Captain”, she replied, treating him to a lightning fast smile. “Since you’re here, I bid you welcome.”
“I wanted to thank you personally for taking me to Erioch. Commander Ferone awaits our arrival and I am likewise impatient to take up my vigil. Therefore, I’d be glad to depart as soon as your preparations are finished.”
“I shall see to it at once, my lord”, she said with a quick bow and continued smoothly: “Will you join me for dinner? Until your quarters have been made ready.”
“It will be a pleasure”, Titus answered, keeping a politely blank face. “Send for me when you are ready. In the meantime, my brothers will show me our training grounds.”
He treated everyone in the room to a short glance, nodded and turned about. Once again as if they had practised it, the formation around him moved to escort him out.
“And?”, the captain asked casually when the uncertain multitude of humans was out of earshot. “How much poison will I eat tonight?”
“None”, Vox answered behind him.
“You seem rather sure of that”, Titus said, glancing back over his shoulder.
“Just watch what you tell her, captain”, Vox counselled with a nonchalant shrug. “If you can help it, don’t talk about your imprisonment and stay away from events on Graia. If she wants to press charges, let her get her information from Thrax. That’s challengeable.”
“Vox is good at assessing characters, captain”, Tiberius remarked non-committally.
“I won’t say it didn’t cost us to assess hers”, Vox growled. “Oh, and watch what you drink”, he added hurriedly. “I just bet dear Laraise happens to have some fenrisian ale on board.”
“No, don’t worry”, Dankwart disagreed. “Mjød will knock you out instantly.”
They walked for a few steps in silence.
“How long have we known each other now?”, Vox finally inquired of Dankwart.
“Ten standard years, brother.”
“And in all this time I’ve never been sure if you have the most sophisticated sense of humour or none at all.”
Dankwart once again kept his secret and said nothing.
“Speaking of my current state”, Titus announced when he was done grinning. “We will change this as soon as possible. Where do you train?”
“Everywhere except the bridge and the chapel, captain”, Tiberius answered. “We are not to disturb the servants and usually stay close to the cargo area, especially for shooting practice. The ‘Lawbringer’ has no dedicated training ranges or even a big enough hall for open field training. So, we concentrate on urban warfare.”
“Who is responsible for the training?”
“Whoever has the most interesting plan, captain”, Tiberius said and was hasty to explain: “Deathwatch again. As long as there is no one of superior rank around, we just sort it out among ourselves. Even on Erioch, the superiors sometimes let a brother coordinate a sequence if he can convince them of his plan.”
“Proceed as usual then”, Titus ordered. “I will join you until the inquisitor calls me.”
“I counsel against it”, Dankwart said and Titus noticed the others giving him a puzzled glance. “I should run extended checks on your implants before you consider training”, the apothecary explained.
“Am I in danger of dropping dead right now?”
“No…” Dankwart sounded reluctant.
“Then I will train”, Titus stated flatly.
“Let me at least run a standard check now that you have your armour”, he urged.
“Um, I think I have to translate this to you, captain”, Vox cut in. “If Dankwart says something for the second time and loses more than two words about it, you are probably not going to drop dead, but only just. We’re talking permanent damage to your implants here. Please, listen to him!”
Titus shot the young man an uncertain glance and when Tiberius nodded as well, he gave in.
“A standard check can be performed here, right?”, he inquired to make sure. He had no desire to spend the time until the meal lying around somewhere. Or rather, he had, but was unwilling to allow himself to.
Dankwart confirmed this with a nod.
“Alright”, the captain agreed reluctantly and let the apothecary step up to him to connect the narthecium to his armour.
It took a while and involved a lot of praise to the Emperor. The last test he was put through was for the batcher’s gland. Titus simply had to activate it and spit against the next wall. While the acid slowly ate its way through the plaster, Dankwart talked to his narthecium in silence. His face betrayed nothing.
Vox and Tiberius had stepped aside for a moment to hold a whispered conversation. Now, they rejoined them.
Titus was pleased when Vox satisfied his curiosity without prompting.
“Just a short recap, captain”, he explained. “We’re checking where we have proceeded in our plan.”
“Well, the mission ends when we get you to Erioch upright and breathing”, Vox said with a lopsided smile.
“So, not there yet”, Titus summed it up.
“Nope, but our chances are good.”
Dankwart lowered his narthecium.
“Well?”, the captain prompted him to speak.
“Your bones have gone brittle. They might break. And your hibernator seems to have died”, he added like an afterthought.
Titus gritted his teeth. The sus-an membrane, or hibernator, was the organ enabling a Space Marine to enter a comatose state if he was hurt too severely to stay active. In this state, an Astartes could survive for decades if necessary. Another thing he had lost then. It could have been worse. Had the bloodmaker or the purifier suffered, he would have felt the consequences far more directly. This way, if he got injured too badly, he would just die. He found that he could be pragmatic about it.
“Seems?”, he nevertheless asked to double check.
“For more details, I need to run extended tests.”
“Will it do more harm if you do that tomorrow?”
Dankwart shrugged before he shook his head. Probably not then.
“In that case, I’ll try not to need the hibernator tonight”, Titus declared as steadily as he could. A leaden depression sprang him from nowhere. To paint it over he demanded: “Proceed as normal!”
Under the eyes of the captain, Kill Team Aegis proved quite awkward. With regard to the fact that they had little time left and that Dankwart did not judge Titus capable of a whole unit of training in any case, the apothecary was the one who was voted to coordinate them for now. He settled on basic ranged weapon training with some variations of movement and taking cover.
Even with his armour and even though the exercise was a joke in terms of endurance, Titus neared collapse after hardly half an hour. He tried to push through but even his grim determination was insufficient.
Just wenn he was certain that he would be unable to jump up and reach the next point of cover unharmed, Vox stepped out into the line of fire. He went down instantly. Titus stared at him in puzzlement while Dankwart stopped the unit and hurried up to treat the wounded man on the spot. He even called Tiberius in to help him expose the injured brother’s leg and the three of them fussed around until a servant arrived to call Titus to dinner with the inquisitor.
Standing unsteadily to one side, the captain had soon become certain that the kill team was acting with intent. Only his injured pride prevented him from expressing his gratitude.