“That was a litany of the Imperial Fists, captain”, Vox said as they left the chapel together. “Where did you learn it?”
“We had one of their chaplains visit when I was a neophyte. How did you all know it?”
Vox shrugged one shoulder.
“Everyone brings their prayers to the Deathwatch. We’ve all been here for quite a while now and had Imperial Fists in the team sometimes.”
“How come?”, Titus wanted to know. “To my knowledge, the Deathwatch demands one mission per man.”
They exchanged glances and curiously Dankwart was the first to answer.
“For honour”, he said.
“For glory”, Tiberius added.
“For the Emperor”, was Vox’s reply.
Titus looked from one to the other in astonishment. He had never heard someone dodge a question as elegantly as this. Especially in a group. So, everyone had their reasons and they were not inclined to tell. At least him, at least for now.
“What was the last one?”, he wanted to know instead of digging deeper. “I never heard it.”
“It’s the oath of the Deathwatch”, Tiberius informed him. “We renew it with every prayer.”
“And the second one?”
“A litany of the Blood Drinkers”, Dankwart answered simply.
They reached the quarters and parted with a short “good night” all around. Titus and Vox entered a space rather larger and more opulently equipped than any they usually occupied during the night.
“Whatever you tell them, inquisitors can never be persuaded to find rooms that are not overloaded with frippery”, Vox said condescendingly.
“Maybe we’d fit in the bed after all”, Titus said, giving in to his spontaneous desire to annoy the man.
Vox turned around to him, looked him in the eyes, cocked his head, straightened it again and after having gained as much time to think as this brought, said: “As your current librarian, I have to remind you that the Codex Astartes prohibits familiarity between ranks.”
Titus was impressed and fought down his discomfort about a sentence containing the phrase ‘The Codex Astartes…’ because Vox was right. The Codex truly and clearly prohibited this. Ultramarines were inherently committed to the writings of their Primarch and with this rather unique among their brethren of different origin. The Blood Angels Titus had been privileged to meet had been honourable and conscientious men. Yet, they had not drawn this from the Codex Astartes. That a son of Sanguinius should bring forth something like this, surprised him.
“Indeed it does. Do you remember the reason why?”, he tested Vox.
“To prevent the spread of dangerous ideas without the chance for intervention”, the librarian answered smoothly.
“Well done, and which idea would spread here do you think?”
Vox pondered this for a moment.
“I can neither find a witty nor a canonical answer to that”, he declared then. “Please, allow me to move on to the cards.”
Vox pulled his deck of tarot cards from a hidden compartment behind his breastplate and handed it to him.
“Shuffle them”, he invited.
Titus was surprised but accepted and shuffled them a little clumsily. He had never heard of any librarian letting go of his cards. He took the chance to look at them while they slid through his hands. It was said that they were cut from crystals but these were quite flexible. Their back was of a dark blood red with golden markings. A burning Aquila soared up out of an hourglass, spinning joyfully into an eclipsed sun. Demons were lurking at the sides, glowing menacingly in the light of the fire. The picture side was mirror shiny, with disturbingly detailed images dancing in front of his vision. He felt dizzy for a moment. Vox watched with apparent interest and nodded encouragingly when he dropped the cards. Calmly, he helped to collect them again. This time Titus refrained from looking too closely before he handed them back. Vox stepped behind the table in the room and laid down five cards.
“Thought so”, he said with a smirk. Nonchalantly, he gathered and shuffled the pile himself.
“What did you think?”
“The cards tell me absolutely nothing.”
“You seem quite happy about this.”
“I like being right.” He winked. “I had trouble focusing on you on the way here. It has to do with your resistance. You have almost no ties to the warp at all.”
“I thought my ties were very deep”, Titus pointed out and folded his arms.
“No, that’s just what the daemons said”, Vox said with a small, dismissive gesture and brushed some invisible specks off the table in front of him. “Don’t listen to them.”
“You mean Drogan and Nemeroth?”
“Yes. Thrax never revoked this misconception, I take it?”
“Not in my presence, no”, Titus confirmed.
Vox scratched his head.
“Alright”, he said. “Let’s see if I can describe colours to a blind man. Imagine the world made up of swirls of… Yeah, why not? Swirls of colour.”
“They intertwine and mix all the time like a… concert of light and shade.”
Vox turned out to have a pleasant laugh.
“You have to imagine all the colours, not just the pretty ones”, he explained. “Depending on where you are, they’re a real mess. Well, any creature capable of emotions is a speck of colour of its own and will spread and flow into the world around it. You on the other hand… you are made up of the same material but you have… borders. You don’t interact with the rest as much. It’s almost like you create your own realm around you with quite solid walls. It is possible to detect you but only if you know what you’re looking for and even then it’s incredibly hard. The effect isn’t complete but significant.”
“And that’s causing my resistance to the warp?”
“I have no idea what it’s caused by but it is strong. I wouldn’t have handed you the cards otherwise.”
The sentence surely had escaped Vox involuntarily. A haunted expression crossed his features when Titus asked: “Why?”
“Normal people tend to get damaged”, the psyker replied with a carefully blank face.
“In what way?”
“We would have noticed”, Vox assured him.
“You are coherent, aren’t you?”
“Simply relying on my resistance seems rather reckless to me.”
Vox chuckled nervously and tried to make light of it.
“Indeed”, he said. “As reckless as pouring water over a rock. If I do it a million times, I’ll certainly leave a dent. Look, Leandros told me what you pulled off and I know what I’m seeing in front of me. The problem I’m hitting”, he continued smoothly. “Is that you’re a blind spot in my foretellings because of this.”
Titus let it pass. Psykers had never worried him overly much and even or maybe especially after the disastrous encounter with the possessed Inquisitor Drogan, he felt confident to spot one gone over the edge.
“If you allow me to stay at your side for the journey, I will ask the cards for my fate”, the librarian proposed. “This way, I can bypass the effect at least in parts.”
“We already talked about the bed”, Titus felt inclined to tease him again.
Vox did not answer. Instead he seemed to listen for something.
“The test for the Gellar Field has just gone through”, he informed him then. “We have about ten minutes. Decide now.”
Titus let himself be taken over by his curiosity.
“Stay at my side then.”
The young brother laid the first card on the table. Suddenly, his manner changed.
“Emperor”, he whispered, only audible in the silence of the room. “Father of my blood, protector of mankind. Guide me through the Eye of Terror.”
Titus saw that the first card indeed showed a swirl of fine lines. Being nothing but black markings on the mirror shiny side, they still tasted of baleful colours. The sensation was highly disconcerting.
“Show me the ways of the witch.”
At this point, Titus stopped watching the cards because something happened to the librarian.
“Protect me where the Artisan fails and the Inquisitor’s footsteps do not fall”, Vox whispered and echoes of his words sprang up in the room. They surged back and forth in whispering waves of sound. “Let me stand fast in the face of the Daemon.”
Wind seemed to brush through his hair, gently moving it.
“Shelter the stranger in your mighty arms, and dry the tears cried over the Martyr.”
On the last word Vox lifted his head and for a heartbeat the merest suggestion of two mighty, white wings was visible behind him.
They both blinked and the phenomena subsided. A red tear ran from Vox’s left eye, smearing down his cheek. He breathed in and wiped it away.
Titus said nothing. He had seen a few psykers in action in his time but the silent grace of the blonde, angelic brother was strangely touching and troubling in equal measures.
Vox smiled humourlessly, a smidgen of blood still under his eye.
“The good news is that Laraise will not annoy the hell out of me. Meaning, she probably won’t cause too much trouble. The bad news is that the machine spirit of the Gellar Field will get angry at us on our third jump and we’ll be boarded by daemons. I’m a bit uncertain about the exact time but the third jump will take us only five days, as far as I know.”
Titus raised his eyebrows.
“That’s a rather accurate foretelling”, he noted. The ones he had heard so far usually had been more along the lines of ‘There will be foes somewhere on our way. The Emperor protects!’. Since Titus generally knew the last bit already, he had never taken them seriously and just settled for slaying anything as it appeared.
Vox ignored the implicit question as to where he had learned such accuracy, however. He just turned his bare black shoulderguard to the fore and collected the cards.
The librarian glanced up when he had put the bundle away and seemed to read something in Titus’ face.
“Captain, do you know what the black shield means?”, he asked softly.
A brother of Titus, returned from the Deathwatch, had once mentioned a Space Marine fighting without insignia. He had called him ‘black shield’ and the captain remembered how reluctant he had been to speak of the concerning brother.
“Only roughly”, he admitted. “Enlighten me about the details, my current librarian.”
“Gladly, captain”, Vox said and came around the table. “The black shield marks those who, for some reason or other, are lost to their chapter. They have turned to the Deathwatch to spend their last days fighting without the prospect of returning. Be it alive or in death. It’s as much a promise as it is a warning. The promise given to me when I took it up was that no one would ask. Anything. Ever. The warning it gives my brothers is that no one knows what drove me to the Deathwatch. Be wary of me, it says. Sometimes the past catches up faster than you’d like. I have to yield certain details to my superiors if they ask for tactical reasons. A list of my abilities for example. Everything else is covered by the black shield.”
Titus let his gaze rest on Vox. He looked incredibly young but there was something in the steady gaze of his blue eyes. A calm certainty radiated off him and for the first time since he had met him, there was a kind of edge about the young brother. Something hard and cold.
“Alright”, said the captain after a while. “I’m not allowed to ask. Are you allowed to tell?”
Vox narrowed his eyes in an uncertain manner.
“Yes”, he said cautiously. “Up to a certain point… But it probably won’t surprise you that ‘allowed’ doesn’t mean ‘inclined’. While we’re on the subject of telling: Do you want to hear the story I owe you?”
“Yes.” Titus sat down on the bed, accepting this change of direction. “Tell me about the day you saw a brother so weighed down with grief and guilt that it hurt to lay eyes on him.”
Vox pulled a bench from the wall closer to the bed and sat down on it. It creaked alarmingly under his weight.
“I see you are applying for the best listener award. Very good! So, at least this won’t go to waste.”
He shifted about a little as if to wiggle himself into storytelling mode.