57. Caught

Vox awoke after more than an hour. Regaining consciousness did not entail body tension, however. He dangled limply around Titus’ shoulders until he had mustered enough strength to speak. Apparently, he was surprised to find himself alive. Both Ultramarines sternly refused to give him the details of how this had been brought about. Faintly remembering being hit in the face with Titus while shots went off somewhere, he eventually managed to piece the events together on his own. As a result he demanded to be set down. Even though the friend still had to be steadied, Titus was secretly relieved about the shift. Vox weighed little for an Astartes but a bolter shell did a lot of damage and the battle drugs had worn off by now. It was nice not to carry people around in this state.
When they finally reached the ‘Hammer’, Vox and Solomon lost no further time.
The exchange with Oertha was short and to the point. Within a few minutes after the connection had been established, they had managed to get through to Captain Pervalis personally. The appearance of the Space Hulk had not gone unnoticed and he had mobilised his troops accordingly. Eager for information himself, he was ready to reveal that he was on his way towards them as they spoke.
When Vox informed him that they needed a prisoner transport to Erioch, the captain had a few careful questions and promised to arrange matters within a couple of days. The puzzlement about Vox organising this himself, he concealed admirably.
Solomon, on the other hand, had a lot of questions to which he got no answers at all. Vox simply demanded to be locked up as soon as the interchange with Captain Pervalis was over. To top this off, he pointed out that his saviour was included in this requirement.
This caught Titus completely off guard. He had not anticipated that saving the psyker would mean imprisonment for him as well. It made absolute sense and should not have figured on his scale of surprise as more than an interesting fact. He was unable to explain why his stomach dropped when he heard it.
From here on, things developed quickly. Vox approached Castor, Nostromo’s son who had been left in charge. Urging the man to follow them to the holding block immediately, he dragged Titus away. Leaving the legate fuming on the bridge, Tiberius tried to provide a prisoner escort. Together, they reached the few cells the ‘Hammer’ could provide and Titus found himself pushed into a small room. The door fell shut behind him.
The rattle of the keys drowned in the rush of blood in his ears.
He hardly noticed Tiberius hanging around uncertainly. That Vox urged their techmarine to leave quickly, passed him by.
Titus’ world had ceased to contain more than the bare stone walls of the dimly lit cell. They seemed to grow into infinity to bury him under the choking mountains of stone. He should have known no fear. He should have stood tall in the face of adversity. Titus tried to scold himself back into reason. This was unworthy. A shameful failure in his duty. How could he behave like this? How could he be sweating, his breath heaving? What was this choking feeling, threatening to squeeze the life out of him?
It felt like aeons of struggle until Vox’s quiet voice filtered through to him.
“Brother, come here”, the friend was saying. “It’s alright. You’re not alone. Come to me.”
Only slowly was Titus able to ascertain that the wall he was leaning against had a section of bars at the top. Two gauntleted hands were reaching through them.
Devoid of dignified restraint, Titus scrambled upwards. The distance felt like a mountain and his strength wanted to fail him when he finally got contact.
The touch of a well meaning hand seemed surreal after the painful extent of the episode. Calmly, Vox rearranged their fingers in a certain way. He linked the thumbs of their right hands together and encompassed the ensuing coil with the other.
Titus felt like dangling from a cliff edge, only held by this grip.
“Come”, he heard Vox’s soft, soothing voice. “Pray with me. Among the stars there is but one”, he started and Titus recognized the prayer at once. He wanted to join in but his voice cracked under this insane pressure in his chest.
“He shineth bright, He brings us light”, Vox continued steadily and provided a comforting handhold where Titus clawed his fingers into his.
“He forges righteousness from wrong. He bears the fight, beyond the light”, his friend said and Titus wanted to scream at himself to snap out of it.
“In His footsteps, we will come”, Vox continued unperturbed. “As long we sight, His light so bright.”
Titus’ breath heaved with the effort to form the words and suddenly, he wanted to pull away. He wanted to cower in shame and never lift his gaze to the friend again. He had failed, had fallen. He was lying just as broken as he had been found in the darkness.
Equally suddenly, Vox’s grip was locked. As firmly reassuring as it had been at first, as immovable was it now.
“That was the first prayer you spoke when we met, do you remember?”, Vox asked him in tones as warm as sun to the skin.
“Yes”, Titus managed to gasp.
“Do you remember the windows in the chapel?”, Vox inquired.
“I always liked them”, Vox said dreamily and allowed his grip to relax a little.
“Yeah, they were pretty”, Titus agreed shakily.
“Did you spot the one in the upper left corner?”
Titus thought for a moment.
“There is a man in robes holding a harp there, right?”, he remembered.
“Right. He’s the only one not holding a weapon.”
Titus called up the memories of the window and shuffled through them. Indeed, all the other figures on display held at least one weapon and were in the middle of slaying the many foes of mankind.
“Why?”, Titus asked. “What does he do there?”
“He’s the remembrancer”, his friend told him. “He’s there to remind us that we can become as great as we like. If nobody remembers us and sings our tales, we are forgotten as if we had never been. In the uncaring galaxy, our struggle and deaths mean nothing. Unless we find someone to remember us.”
The bars were so high up that they could just sneak a glance at each other if they stood on tiptoe. Vox pulled upwards to accomplish this now and his blue eyes appeared over the edge of the wall.
“I remember you”, he said quietly. “I remember how I found you in the darkness, brother. Do you remember too? That you’re not alone anymore?”
Titus had to digest this for a moment.
“I remember you telling me this.”
In the brother’s eyes danced a smile.
“Do you remember falling asleep over this?”
Without him willing it, the smile stole itself over to Titus’ features.
“I do”, he assured him.
“I’ll guard you as you always watch over me, brother”, Vox promised softly. “We’re not alone. We’re not alone in the nights and not alone in our cells. We are with each other and the Emperor is with us.”
Titus found that he could breathe again. The cell had stopped collapsing over his head. His heart rates slowed.
He could feel his hands again.
They were going numb but he was unwilling to let go. Not yet. Maybe never.
Having found his footing, reality returned to him. Other memories than darkness and torture became available again.
He had to ask: “Is this how you talked Leandros away from daemons?”
“Basically”, Vox admitted, sounding nonchalant. “Originally it’s a technique for psykers. We call it Anchor, Tale and Path. The anchor is something to remember and stabilise you just enough. It can be anything that means something to you. When you have this, the tale is meant to get your mind off the current problems for a moment and the path is a means to move on or make it clear to you where you stand.”
“Vox”, Titus said and found no way to continue.
The brother stretched further and reached out his left hand. Armoured fingertips brushed over the service studs on Titus’ forehead.
“Right here”, the friend said simply.
They stayed like this for a long time.
When they finally parted, Vox hovered close to the bars until he was sure that Titus felt better.
In the following two days, they talked a lot but never about this incident. Sleep happened at irregular intervals as did updates from Tiberius.
Their techmarine was highly concerned that the other three had not returned yet. Presumably, they were still alive. The Guardian Spirit at least reported sightings every now and then but most of the time all that could be said was that they were out there somewhere.
They finally turned up by accident. Without intention they had been passing the ‘Hammer’ and decided to call it a hunt.
When Dankwart came to check on the prisoners, Vox firmly recommended that he tested his own implants. Apparently, the white fire could heal him from them.
After he had performed his rituals on Titus’ untended bullet wound, he went away to follow this advice. The Heartrocks used their chance to come to the cells now.
They were pretty unsettled about what they had seen in the past two days and described in ghastly colours how Dankwart had marauded through the Space Hulk. Seasoned warriors themselves and violence enthusiasts on top of it, they still had never witnessed anything like it. The son of Sanguinius had never stopped, never hesitated, just gone on and on in the search for more prey.
Vox reassured them that this was a normal side effect of the white flame but counselled against it when the twins asked if they could have some too. Since Dankwart returned about this time to be locked up as well, they grudgingly agreed.
Not long afterwards, Solomon announced that Inquisitor Elaine still required them to go to Implicit even though they had lost a whole year in their endeavour. He had a very curious row with Tiberius about foregoing the detour to Erioch. The techmarine did the only thing sensible and retreated to his librarian for council. After having demanded the official order from Elaine, Vox contributed very little to the argument until Solomon stormed off.
In the end, the legate did not dare interfere with a trial involving possible chaotic corruption and they were picked up by the prisoner transport as planned.
There was a difficult moment when the detainees were to switch locations. It was caused by the Space Wolves suggesting that they could forego the imprisonment if they promised not to run off. There was little in the comment itself but it was followed by a lecture from Vox on all the details in which the whole arrangement could backfire. After he had talked at them for about two minutes, the brothers Heartrock volunteered to be locked away as well. Vox strictly forbade such measures because this would have meant that Dankwart had been without valid guards for several days. He was equally adamant about Tiberius’ suggestion to take his accusations back. Things had been set in motion, he declared. There was nothing left but to follow through.
This meant that especially Vox was under guard or locked up at all times, none of the accused got their hands on weapons and Vox’s sword was to be kept as far away from him as possible. That they did not travel in chains was already the utmost freedom the situation allowed for.
Titus was spared further irrational attacks but he took imprisonment hard. The others fared only little better. Three weeks in a tiny room was an aggravation for individuals who were used to train themselves into exhaustion every day. The ageless Astartes did not exactly have time to lose but seeing it trickle by without use was irksome.
They tried their best to devise at least a few exercises to keep them in motion. It was like drinking water to quell the hunger but better than nothing.
Titus even found that the movement helped to reconcile him with the small space he occupied. Touching the walls seemed to convince his body that they were solid and not about to collapse over his head. This effect was so striking that Titus felt moved to take off his armour one day. Since this bypassed the strength enhancement, it opened the way for a range of new exercises. Finding great potential in them, he urged his comrades to follow his example. True to his first reaction to the topic, Dankwart outright refused. Behind the bars opposite, Vox was even more resolute. He withheld replies altogether.
It was the only point of friction they encountered on their journey. The rest was peaceful fraternity.
While they literally crawled up and down the walls, the prisoners found time to talk.
In the warp, this could happen for days at a time. They caught up on their communal sleep when they travelled real time.
It came as a surprise to Titus that Dankwart was not at all tongue-tied in the current situation. He deferred his participation for the Ultramarine but as soon as there was silence to fill, he spoke. He and Vox had a well-established mode of dialogue that flowed freely despite the presence of a third. After a while, the separate streams of exchange started to intertwine. What had been divided began to unite. They all had seen a lot of action. Here, words ruled. They revealed and adjusted, explained and modified, inevitably tightening the intangible bond between them.
The other three got caught up in this as well. They spent their free time in the evenings with the prisoners and, in a hard to describe way, the bars between them made them tighten ranks.
When they reached Erioch, the feeling that the enemy lurked in their middle had ceased. Aegis marched into the battle of bureaucracy as one.
No oath was sworn for this mission. No leader chosen.
They had enough formalities to satisfy, they felt.

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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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