The inquisitor read in silence until one of the lines caused his brows to furrow. His head shot up, a sharp gaze fixed on Vox.
And Vox smiled.
It was such a little smile that it hardly twitched the corners of the mouth but in it lay boundless confidence. Zork went pale.
Suddenly, the Inquisitor’s manner was nervous.
“That’s an impressive list, Brother Draconis”, he said hastily. “Such mastery of the psychic arts is rare.”
Vox said nothing.
“Have you finished, inquisitor?”, Ferone asked calmly after a moment of silence.
“Yes, commander. I… have.”
Ferone nodded and turned to the first man of the body of law: “Chaplain Loor, I would like to hear your final statement.”
The chaplain cocked his head in a calculative manner. When he spoke, his dark, unforgiving eyes never left Vox’s face.
“As I confirmed already, I can see no sign of imminent corruption in any of the concerning brothers. I don’t know Vox Draconis personally, but I couldn’t find any irregularities in his records. He attends the prayers when he is here. He meets the required confession- and indoctrination cycles in deployment.”
“Lord Bereveau, what do you have to say?”, Ferone asked.
The psyker had been watching the proceedings impassively and with a faraway look in his eyes. Emerging from wherever he had been, his voice seemed to have trouble to follow. It sounded old and crackly despite the spritely appearance of its owner.
“When I look at Vox Draconis, I see a weapon before me. Dangerous and useful.”
Ferone nodded in acknowledgement of this statement.
“Inquisitor?”, he asked.
“Commander!”, Zork burst out, most dissatisfied with the proceedings. “No one ever heard of this kind of power. It is dangerous and will lead to corruption sooner or later. If you don’t see your way clear to suspend Brother Draconis from active duty immediately, you should at the very least tighten his responsibilities with the chaplains, or better, add a chaplain to his squad to keep him under surveillance. Furthermore, the Inquisition requests an extended interrogation to search for corruption in the whole kill team.”
Spoken hotly and sharply, these demands hit Titus in his core. While he struggled to keep his face under control, a thought occurred to him out of nowhere. Vox had told him once that, on the field of law, he was holding the weapon. So, he was the one who had to protect. What his little brother could not know was that Titus knew where to find a shield.
The commander meanwhile continued on, turning to the first witnesses: “Brother Dankwart?”, he asked.
“I trust my brother with more than my life”, Dankwart declared. Commander and apothecary, so different in rank were still brothers in blood. They shared a strange, silent secret when the apothecary added: “Our Primarch speaks through him.”
Ferone hesitated for several seconds before continuing: “Brother Hyron?”
“Vox saved our asses, gentlemen”, Vyron said solemnly since he was the next in line. “That’s all I’m saying.”
“Brother Vyron?”, the commander asked without twitching a muscle. Most of the others had to conceal smiles.
“He also killed that horde of Genestealers at a wink. That’s gotta be worth something!”, Hyron stated.
Titus’ fists clenched of their own accord.
“I ask to be granted the right of the bailsman”, he said.
This brought the whole procedure to a screeching standstill. Everyone in the room stared at Titus. When he met their gazes one by one, he found different states of surprise and puzzlement. Except in Vox. His little brother had gone pale. He was staring at him with unconcealed horror in his eyes.
Ferone was the first to unfreeze.
“Brother Vox”, he said, turning to the librarian in the room. “Remind me about the rights and obligations of the bailsman.”
Vox had obvious trouble finding his voice.
“I’d have to check the details”, he croaked. “But to my current knowledge…”, he cleared his throat and steadied himself. “The body of law for the bailsman was created during the Unification Wars on Terra. If the fate of a psyker was hanging in the balance, he could be spared immediate annihilation if someone stepped forward to vouch for him. In such a case, the psyker would face no penalties or prosecution but from the bailsman himself. To be granted the sole responsibility for a dangerous asset like a psyker, a bailsman would have to be willing and able to accompany his bail at all times when deployed and prove himself capable of killing him should the need arise. He also would have to submit to close scrutiny by a suitable organ. Precedents often name the Ecclesiarchy and the Sisters of Silence for this task. Although there have been cases… when the supervision of a bailsman has been… entrusted to the Inquisition.”
Vox’s voice broke off. He did not dare to look at Titus or the inquisitor. Titus took all this calmly. He was well aware of the consequences and ready to face them. Anything was better than seeing Vox again like Laraise had left him.
“Please, let me know when you have checked the details”, Ferone said with a deadpan expression and an irony that failed to register with Titus until some days later.
“Lord Bereveau”, the commander asked his counsel in questions of the warp. “As we already heard earlier, Brother Titus is said to be resistant to the tides of the warp. Do you deem him capable of performing the duties of a bailsman for Vox Draconis?”
Lord Bereveau stared intently at Titus before he spoke.
“I see what you mean by resistance”, the old man said. “How far does it extend though?”
“My brother wields a force sword of unusual prowess”, Titus stated while staring into the pale blue eyes of the man. “He wounded me by accident with it once and my brother Dankwart will confirm that the wound healed without complications.”
All of them turned to Dankwart, who nodded mutely.
Bereveau addressed Vox: “Tell me about the nature of your sword, Vox Draconis”, he asked.
“It is classified as sentient warp blade”, Vox said meekly, causing Bereveau to lift his eyebrows in surprise.
“A resistance against something like that would indeed make brother Titus an ideal bailsman”, the man declared.
Ferone nodded, his face still carefully blank.
“Brother Tiberius. What do you have to say?”, the commander picked up where he had left.
“I suggest promoting brother Titus to assist his bailsmanship.”
Vox flinched and shut his eyes when he heard that. Titus meanwhile shot Tiberius a surprised glance. His fellow Ultramarine shrugged defensively.
“Brother Vox, I will hear from you now”, Ferone finally said.
Vox’s voice threatened to crack and he kept his eyes closed when he replied: “I submit to your judgement, commander.”
Ferone took his time before he spoke. The breathless silence in the room was heavy and full of quiet restlessness but he was not to be hurried.
“Brothers, Lord, Inquisitor”, he finally opened his speech. “Hear my sentence in the matter of Vox Draconis. Titus of the Ultramarines, for your time with the Deathwatch you will from now on hold the rank of Watch Sergeant. I furthermore accede to your request and bestow the duties of a bailsman for Vox Draconis on you. It is now your sole privilege to kill him should you find any sign of corruption in him. No one else may lift his hand in this matter. You will come under the attendance of Chaplain Loor and will report to him, his proxy or successor as soon as you return from any mission. On Erioch itself, your duties are in abeyance. So are your rights. Should you predecease your brother, this matter will be renegotiated. Under these conditions, Vox Draconis is granted an exceptional permission to use all of his skills as he sees fit without penalty. I will consider the matter of another chaplain for Aegis pending until we have one to spare.”
Since nobody had anything to add, the commander dissolved the convocation.
While the others moved, judge and condemned remained in their spots.
Titus halted for a moment but a nod from Ferone sent him out as well.
When commander and librarian were alone, an air of familiarity settled over the scene.
“You may speak freely”, Ferone said. He picked up a scroll from among his papers and came around the table. Casually, he leaned against it and looked Vox up and down.
Still standing to rigid attention, the psyker looked away for a second.
“Commander, you really could have warned me”, Vox said accusingly. “I would have liked to wear a dress to my wedding.”
The stern, handsome face of the commander was illuminated by a grin.
“I’ll give you a heads-up next time”, he promised.
“Thank you”, Vox said solemnly and relaxed to join the commander on the table.
“Does your husband know about your deformity?”, Ferone asked.
Vox’s nostrils flared and there was a telling twitch under one eye.
“No”, was the carefully controlled answer.
“A small relief”, the commander said and his ease faded a little as he picked up on the tension. “Things are difficult enough with you. Why did he do this, do you think?”
“I think he reacted to the inquisitor.”
“I remember your report when you brought him here”, Ferone said in grave tones. “Quite vividly I have to say.”
Vox nodded mutely. The scars on Titus’ body had been bad enough. The ones on his mind were still a subject of speculation for the librarian. There was no telling when and from where the sickening pain of such wounds would spring them.
Ferone looked at his most delicate political problem in thoughtful silence.
“You are concerned about what he will do if he finds out?”, he inquired politely.
“How likely is it?”
“He’s incredibly observant”, Vox told him. “And he usually watches me laying down the tarot because it doesn’t affect him. We haven’t come across the card yet but when we do, he might make the right connections.”
Ferone weighed this consideration for a moment
“We’re in the field together”, the librarian pointed out almost desperately. “You’d have to forbid Dankwart to open my armour even if it means letting me die.”
“From what I heard from Dankwart just now, I think he would disobey me”, Ferone said. For once his bafflement shone through. He trusted Dankwart without question but his statement had been highly disturbing.
Vox nodded in silent agreement.
“Allow me to tell him”, the librarian asked.
Again, the commander thought.
“No”, he decided. “If Titus finds out, make sure he doesn’t kill you and send him to me.”
Vox suppressed a sigh.
“Good man.” He held the scroll out for Vox to take. “My wedding present”, he said and an amused glint danced in his eyes when his protégé twitched once more. “You may leave.”
“Thank you, commander! Do you want me to have some of the wedding cake sent in?”