The next day brought Killian Solomon awaiting them after the morning prayer. Since it was not yet five in the morning, he posed a surprising and slightly pitiful picture. When the reduced Aegis gathered around him, they were unexpectedly joined by Commander Ferone. Briefly acknowledging the legate, he advised that they deferred their departure for another few hours. As they happened to find themselves on Erioch, he deemed it a good opportunity to browse the library for additional intel on Implicit. After this short delay, the ‘Aiolos’ would be ready for them. Sweeping on to his other duties, the commander left a scroll in Vox’s hands and an uneasy kill team behind.
It was Titus’ dubious luck that the others looked to him to break the weight of such advice to Solomon. Ignoring it was out of the question.
As soon as the legate grudgingly agreed to return to bed, the group dispersed.
While Vox bustled off to the library, the others joined their remaining Space Wolf in training.
The coordinating captain put emphasis on single practice this morning. Only his last unit called for team coordination. Despite their reduced number, Aegis used this last chance to shine to the fullest.
They went to the prayer in the knowledge that their cohesion and finesse had outclassed all the war bound Space Wolves and other warriors combined.
The farewell to Vyron was short. Only Vox lingered behind a moment longer.
When he caught up with them, he was visibly stricken. He said nothing however. Titus honoured the friend’s grief with a reassuring nod but trusted that time would resolve matters. The journey to Implicit would take them five weeks after all.
Unfortunately, all of Titus’ hopes proved ill-founded. Neither did Vox shed his gloom, nor did the new difficulties between them subside. It was only very occasionally that they found their former level of confidence. Whenever it glimmered through, it was quickly gone. Plastered over by a grave silence or strangled by an abrupt remark. The annoyance about this had soon built up to such a degree that it came as a relief when Vox asked him to sleep more often. He pretended to need more time to read about Implicit but both of them knew that he mainly wanted to be left alone.
It hurt Titus that he did this. The only consolation was that the time they still spent together was a little less aggravating. He wondered what was going on. It was as if something pulled Vox away from him. In his gestures and facial expressions the friend seemed as pleased as ever to have him around but talking was suddenly difficult. No disputes, no exchanges of thoughts, no honesty, no comfortable silence between them. No jokes to cover the awkwardness. Things were severely wrong and talking about it seemed to make matters even worse.
After completing their last jump, it became apparent that a warp storm had thrown them off course and off time. Even though they had to enter the immaterium again, they technically arrived a week before they had left Erioch.
All experts in these matters agreed that the opening of the Eye of Terror was responsible for this. Vox even mouthed the theory that it had caused them to crash into the ‘Ghost’. With a destabilisation of this magnitude, it was no longer a mystery why Almond had threatened to burst into an anomaly. Everything connected to the warp would grow more and more erratic while the Black Crusade continued.
Aegis spared their psyker the question if this included him.
Reaching real space four days out, they had plenty of time to join Solomon in lengthy planning- and briefing sessions. It remained unclear whether it was working with the legate, the tension between him and his sergeant or impatience because he had slept properly but Vox proved nerve-wrackingly irritable during these.
He was brimming over with information about Implicit and paid nothing of his usual attention to the regulation of this knowledge. They drowned in irrelevant details about the history of the place, mixed with deductions and conclusions so plentiful and far-fetched that not even Titus could follow. Vox and Solomon bickered all the time and it needed an open row between the sergeant and his psyker before the young man reigned himself in.
After the first day had escalated like this, Titus ruled that they would spend half their time in training again. This at least reestablished a tolerable degree of peace. Maybe Vox had just needed to let off some steam.
When they finally arrived on Implicit, all of them had a solid enough grasp on the delicate political situation they were about to encounter.
Implicit was an exhausted mining world. Due to its proximity to the Tau cluster in the Jericho Reach, it had been chosen to be upgraded to a fortress world. This had caused severe political instability in all social classes but especially among the ruling families. A few houses had done well in the change, most had not. Houses who had been involved in mining and production had seen their influence and wealth dwindle or even collapse drastically. The increased military presence and building of weapon factories had not helped to stabilise matters. To top things off, there had been several unfortunate incidents involving corrupt members of the Adeptus Ministorum. One even involving chaotic corruption. In a climate like this, unrest and upheaval found a rich breeding ground. It was almost surprising that the place had not exploded yet.
Solomon planned to assume the role of an imperial lieutenant overseeing negotiations of jurisdiction with the Deathwatch. His age made a higher rank implausible and he wanted to stay off the radar of certain factions. A general might be approached by Tau sympathisers. Something like this could get out of hand very quickly, bodyguard of Space Marines or not.
It turned out that Inquisitor Elaine had several sleeper cells on Implicit, which they would tap into for support. Also, Solomon himself had a few contacts he intended to use.
When they reached orbit, it took about a day until he had the first results.
The legate informed them that one of the houses would hold a ball in honour of its founding. He intended to take two of them along. Four Space Marines sent to one negotiation would arouse suspicion and Solomon wanted to keep their true strength hidden. Since Titus as sergeant was the most believable candidate to negotiate, this automatically meant that they would take Vox. The rules for the bailsman were very strict in this respect: In the field, he had to stay with his bail at all times.
Solomon was more than content with this arrangement. He knew about a few of Vox’s powers and wanted him to listen for as much information as possible.
Tiberius and Dankwart would be smuggled into the building to be in reach should things go wrong.
During their journey, Tiberius had already adjusted Titus’ insignia. Now, he saw to it that both of the ball attendees looked like their armours had just been attuned to them. With silver paint and polish he went wild on the unsuspecting plates.
Even though Vox’s Corvus still retained little ornamentation in comparison, the two of them were almost blinded by the sight of each other.
Solomon drew their attention to the fact that some of the people they would meet would know about their heraldry and he specifically asked Vox to watch out for those. He also warned them about the common vox frequency they would use. It would only be safe for emergencies, in no case for the exchange of mission-critical information. Since they would wear no helmets at a social event, this went without saying. Even if the line had been secure, they still would have to speak openly.
The planning finally touched on the question of weapons. It turned out to be a touchy subject. Solomon firmly impressed on them that nobody would come armed but Titus insisted that no human would separate him from his “ceremonial” bolt pistol. He was also unwilling to see Vox without his sword.
In the end, the legate agreed to give this a try.
“It’s not as if Space Marines are a common occurrence on Implicit”, he noted.
“You mean to imply that nobody will try to take them off us?”, Titus inquired.
Solomon shot him a glance. He was already grumpy because he had been forced to cut his hair for the military role.
“Somehow, I’m implicitly grateful that I will be spending the night away from you two.”
“What are your implications, lieutenant?”
“I’m implying that your implicit jokes will get up someone’s nose. Please, try to offend only unimportant folk, will you?”
“Gladly”, Titus promised. “Just point out the concerning class and we’ll restrict implicitness to them.”
“Agreed!”, Solomon conceded with a roll of his eyes.
“Let us all just face it”, Vox cut in with grave tones. “The main thing we have to avoid is Dankwart making an implicit joke again.”
“Last time he did it, we crashed into that Space Hulk.”
Dankwart bore their stares with stoic resolve and nobody wanted to push this joke any further. The matter of cause and effect was not as straightforward when the warp was involved. Nobody was absolutely sure that it had been a coincidence. Instead, Titus ruled that it was time to read the Tarot.
It turned out that Solomon was most interested in the cards. When they had deployed for Corred, he had seen them for the first time. Back then, he had not been able to see much. Vox conjured up no patience for explaining that this had been to the man’s own protection. Instead, he gave in without argument. He only advised Solomon to avert his gaze if he felt dizzy.
Whatever the tensions around him, when he shuffled the deck, Vox went calm. He laid down four cards.
‘The Young Ones’ showed a squad of fire warriors. It was fitting for a mission involving Tau but the card was upside-down. The other three were ‘The Missionary’, ‘The Assassin’ and ‘The Noble’. Vox ignored that Solomon stumbled back from the table at this point. The human staggered and was caught by Dankwart before he could fall. Titus meanwhile smiled softly. It had never occurred to him that it was unusual to look at the cards. For the first time, he noticed how carefully the others averted their gazes.
Protected by his resistance, he watched as Vox touched each card again and whispered to them. His friend had confided in him that the tarot felt like a mirror to him. It did not show the future as such but reflected the tides of it. When he asked it questions, he actually asked the Emperor to shine His eternal light on the pictures. In the reflections on them, he could glimpse what the future might hold.
“What did you see?”, Titus inquired when Vox sighed and leaned his fists on the table.
“Nothing good”, the librarian said quietly. His gaze was still fixed on the assortment before him.
“We have next to no chance to turn this and almost no time to do it.”
“Well, it was to be expected”, Solomon could be heard in the background. His voice was weak.
“We’re rather late after all.”
“Let’s hope nobody can say that about us tomorrow”, Vox said darkly.
“That bad?”, Titus asked.
Vox weighed his head uncertainly.
“Depends”, he said cautiously. “If we take too much time over this, we’ll get ourselves killed. Mark my words.”
“You alright?”, Vox wanted to know, turning to Solomon.
“Not really”, the man croaked and tried to stand upright by himself. “Remind me that I don’t want to repeat this experience.”
“Gladly”, Vox promised. “But don’t expect me to turn you over to yourself if I find corruption in you.”
“I’d never expect that from you”, Solomon said with a dismissive gesture.
“Good. I’d never pass on the chance to shoot you myself.”
“If you two don’t get yourself sorted out, I’ll lock you in an airlock until you do”, Titus threatened.
“Why an airlock?”, both of them wanted to know.
“Most sensible option”, Titus declared firmly. “No furniture you can throw at each other, no light, so you can make faces all you want and limited air supply. So at least one of you will have pressure to succeed.”
“Let’s get back to this after the mission”, Solomon suggested smoothly. “Because however slim our chances, I want to get down there and seize them. If all else fails, we might at least find some information.”
Titus nodded his agreement and lifted his hand with the palm turned upwards. It was time for their Oath. They all knew the Oath to the Emperor and there was no need for explanatory words up front.
“The Emperor we serve!”, Titus intoned.
“For the Emperor!”
“In His name, we fight!”
“For the Emperor!”
“For Him, we prevail!”
“For the Emperor!”
“In His footsteps, we will conquer the stars!”
“For the Emperor!”
“The Emperor guides us, humanity needs us, the xenos fear us!”
“For the Emperor, for humanity, against the alien we stand!”
Vox sealed the oath scroll to Titus’ shoulder guard. The mission had begun.