The uncomfortable tension between them persevered all the way to the library. Titus decided to leave the subject untouched for now. It was a new state for both of them after all. Matters would surely settle down on their own accord.
In the meantime, he looked forward to the library. It was a restricted area and the new sergeant had never set foot inside. Only the indispensable and the privileged were allowed to enter. That it should open for him now was an exciting prospect.
They reached a small antechamber. Low ceilinged and narrow by the standards of Erioch. A couple of bookshelves lined the walls. Beyond them, a Deathwatch Keeper stood guard.
With delight, Titus recognized the crest of the Hawk Lords on his shoulder. In the Deathwatch, a brother from a successor chapter was still more of a common heritage than anyone else. The stern look of the keeper’s aquila helmet was turned towards them as they approached.
“Halt!”, he demanded.
“We halt for the Emperor”, Vox replied.
“And rightly so. You may pass!”
“How’s Parlin doing?”, the librarian inquired seamlessly.
“He died of his injuries last night”, the keeper replied and lowered his head for this.
“Shame”, Vox said, mimicking this gesture. “Does the Emperor know the names of scribes?”
“I’m sure he does”, the keeper said with quiet conviction.
“Let’s include him in our prayers”, Vox suggested.
When he had earned the keeper’s nod, he gestured towards Titus.
“This here is newly promoted Watch Sergeant Titus of the Ultramarines”, he introduced his new superior. “Allarion took him to his first oath.”
This added information seemed to carry special meaning with the keeper.
“I shall inform him”, he promised. “We’re always pleased if our protégés progress in their time here.” The keeper nodded at Titus, who returned the gesture.
“Keep watch, Petrus”, Vox said.
“Good hunting, comrades”, Petrus answered.
Finally, they entered the library itself.
“Cragor Parlin was the head scribe for the day shift in here”, Vox explained. “He got hit by a falling tome a few days ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury.” He trailed off when he noticed that Titus paid no attention.
In his long life the former captain had seen a lot of magnificent structures. Things that made mortal men stop and marvel but somehow the library on Erioch was different. It was unlike anything else.
Like everything on the Watch Station, the space alone was unbelievably large. Packed bookshelves led the eye of the beholder into the distance until they got lost to sight. Knowledge and ever more knowledge they promised. The ceiling was invisible in the shadows up high and all this space was silent.
Walking here was like wandering through a night of wisdom while listening for whispered dreams and promises. It meant roaming through a city alive with the all-encompassing hush that honoured the aeons gone by and hinted at times to come.
Spotting his awe, Vox refrained from further interruption. He simply led Titus onwards at a measured stride.
At considerable intervals, tables had been placed between the shelves. Here resided the life that was missing everywhere else. Scribes were leaned over tomes, reading. Some where writing or sorting through ancient scrolls. Whoever had to move, did so in a reverent hush.
Having found an empty table, Vox signalled him to wait. Titus hardly noticed. He just stood, taking in the atmosphere of silence. This place called him with unbelievable might. The guardians of his faith preached that he was to keep a tidy, narrow mind but there had always been this nagging hunger for answers inside him. He longed to understand, wanted to find the connections, the ties that held the world together. This desire found the promise of answers here.
When his little brother returned, warm benevolence blossomed in his chest. He realised that the library was nothing more than an echo of what he felt for Vox. So much knowledge, most of it restricted. Yet, maybe to be gained with time and effort. If he proved worthy enough, he might even gain access to the hidden shelves one day.
“Is this the public section?”, he wanted to know, his spirits rising.
“No”, Vox replied. “The public section is the corridor we passed through first. It contains copies of the Codex Astartes, the most common standing orders, papers about the structure of the Deathwatch and a few maps of the inhabited parts of Erioch and the Jericho Reach. As sergeant, you are entitled to exchange one of your training phases per day with time spent there. You should go through it sometimes. In here captains, chaplains, librarians of each rank and scribes of the library are allowed.”
“How did I get in then?”
“Since I brought you, it is assumed that I vouch for you. If you want to get me into trouble, just run around.”
Titus looked Vox in the eyes. There still was this air of pain about the friend. Extending his hands in a mute gesture of comfort, Titus got nothing in return but the bundle of paper Vox had brought.
“We have about two hours before we have to leave for the meal”, Vox told him. “I don’t mind you going through the shelves when you are done but stay in this corridor and don’t go further than the next gap in each direction. If you have questions, just vox.”
He turned without waiting to be dismissed and Titus was annoyed about how easily this thought cropped up. Hardly half an hour ago, he had claimed that nothing had changed and already the new rank weighed on his shoulders like a bad habit. He sighed inwardly. He had taken up the burden of the bailsman to protect his little brother. That it would cause such difficulties had not figured in his imagination.
He tried to get his mind on other things by turning to the pile of paper. His own file lay on top. It was like reading about the life of a stranger for the second time. Of course, he remembered everything in here but it seemed as distant as if it had happened to someone else. The last entry stated that he had been promoted to Watch Sergeant and taken up the bailsmanship for Vox Draconis. This brought to his attention that the whole file was written in Vox’s small, curly hand. It made sense that the dedicated librarian maintained and updated the files for his kill team, it just had never occurred to Titus. The last entry must have been added just now when Vox had gone to fetch the files. He skimmed through the other documents and saw a couple of other hands in them. Vox had taken over when the brothers had joined Aegis, or in Tiberius’ case, when Vox had joined Aegis. The techmarine had been here a while longer.
Something caught Titus’ eyes and he turned to Tiberius’ file again. “What?”, he exclaimed when he read his techmarine’s surname. He stared at it for half a minute.
“Vox?”, he sent out via vox when it would not change. “Did you know about Tiberius’ surname?”
“Yes, sergeant”, Vox answered immediately.
A pause ensued.
“Is there any point you wish to make?”, he inquired politely when Titus found nothing else to say.
“It… just shocked me. Do you know why he would refrain from mentioning it?”
“No. I asked him about it when I learned the name of your Chapter Master but he didn’t want to tell me. And well… It’s his secret to keep.”
“I suppose it is.”
“Anything else?”, Vox wanted to know.
“You’re welcome, Vox out.”
Apart from his name, Titus was interested to find that Tiberius was only ten years younger than he was. He tried to remember if they had ever met before. If so, it had been as a face in the background. 2nd and 5th company of the Ultramarines had not been close while Titus had been captain. He and 5th captain Hathon Septimus had been on difficult terms.
A confidential incident with Titus’ mentor and predecessor Markus Novaris had been the cause of it. Since then, there had been less good understanding and more of a healthy rivalry between the companies. As he read through the brother’s file, he felt the same pang of nostalgia and homesickness he had encountered when meeting Merth Cunn. He was torn between relief and regret about how things had turned out.
Hyron’s and Vyron’s records were just like the twins themselves: Practically interchangeable. They had always been together and Titus was interested to find that they were on their second assignment to the Deathwatch. Formally, they had served under Captain Quiores in Kill Team Ictus and had participated in several missions on the edges of the Jericho Reach. Mainly seek and destroy operations on Tyranid infested planets.
Like his own, Dankwart’s file was completely written in Vox’s hand. This suggested that the apothecary had joined Aegis right upon his arrival. When he turned to the list of battles the Blood Drinker had fought, he was less surprised that this should have been the case. His file was the longest by far, filled with entry after entry about glorious battles and campaigns. Titus stared at them in astonishment. He had spent three surprisingly intimate weeks with the man who never wasted words and still had not learned any of this.
Vox’s file was a mere side note in comparison. It started with the entry that he had taken his Oath and contained little more. Apparently most of what he had been doing in the Deathwatch was classified. Once Titus had noticed this, he realised that it was the same with all of them. Since their assignment to Aegis, there were only short, cryptic entries that listed those whom they had served under or been seconded to and maybe the general threat they had faced.
Titus was able to find out that Vox had served with Aegis under Corven Whiteskull for his first mission. Immediately afterwards, he had been transferred to Ictus under Captain Quiores and back to Aegis about a year later. Titus was puzzled by this but unable to make sense of it. The knowledge that he would not allow himself to inquire, left a slight despondency.
Thoughtfully, he re-read Vox’s last file entry. It mentioned the commander’s sentence and that Titus of the Ultramarines had been made his bailsman. In here lay the secret and he had promised not to crack it open. Maybe, he would stumble over the answer one day. Maybe, Vox would grant it. Time only would tell. Titus emerged with a sigh.
Having finished his reading, he made use of the permission to browse the shelves. There was no filing system he could make out. The books here spanned from tomes about planets in the Jericho Reach over the history of the Imperium of Man to poetry. He took a little time to search but abstained from employing the ladder. It might have been built to support the weight of an Astartes but he did not trust it. In the end, a small book at chest height caught his eye. It was a correspondence between his Primarch Roboute Guilliman and the Blood Angels’ Primarch Sanguinius, written during the Great Crusade.
The ancient, handwritten copy was hard to read until Titus had adapted to the peculiarities of the hand. Once he had managed this, it was an interesting work. The mighty thoughts of the brilliant minds, the tactical finesse displayed in a casual comment and the certain knowledge of two gods directing the fate of the galaxy were intriguing, humbling and uplifting at the same time.
He had already read it halfway through when he noticed a shadow on the edge of his field of vision.
Vox stood a bit away, watching him quietly. Titus smiled softly and shut the book. He had not heard him walk up.
“Time to go?”, he wanted to know. Vox nodded and held out his hand for the book, handing Titus a scroll in return.
“A list of your rights and obligations as bailsman”, Vox said despondently.
Titus unrolled the scroll and skimmed through it. Most of the points he had already heard during the trial. He would make time for the details later, he decided.
“Listen, little brother”, Titus said softly. “I’m only your bailsman out there. Here on Erioch, I’d like to consider us nothing more than friends. And nothing less either. As your friend, will you tell me what bothers you?”
Vox took a while before he answered.
“I’m in a bad situation”, he admitted. “I have been given an order, which I judge unwise and I know a legal way around it.”
“Who gave you the order?”, Titus wanted to know.
“You know him for a while now, yes?”
“Yes”, Vox confirmed. “And I respect and trust him. He is a good man, an incredibly good leader and usually has a very firm grasp on what needs to be done and what not. I just think that he misjudged the situation this time.”
“Are you concerned about the consequences if you took the way around?”, Titus inquired.
“Yes”, the friend stated with the quiet conviction he always showed in matters of law. “Disobeying this order would require bending the rules. Bent rules don’t bend back.”
“So, it would open the way to further exploits?”, the new sergeant wanted to know.
“Do you judge this dangerous?”
“Very”, Vox breathed.
“Then don’t go there”, Titus counselled simply.
Vox sighed and nodded. This certainly was what he had expected to hear but he left it unclear whether it was what he had wanted. Without further comment he turned to the shelf, threw a glance at the spine of the book and replaced it where Titus had removed it.
“And I should remember this conversation on the day I regret becoming your bailsman?”, Titus asked casually just before Vox turned around again.
He could see in the way his little brother froze that he had nailed it. Vox stayed motionless for several heartbeats. Then, he gave a humourless laugh.
“I sincerely hope that your memory will not let us down”, he said.
In passing he collected the stack of files and asked one of the scribes to tidy them away for him.