Titus had not taken this leap of faith lightly. Only for Vox would he have taken it at all.
Now, he was falling and could only hope that he would be caught.
When he left the room where Aurea had died, the whole mansion was in uproar. Asking his way to a large meeting room, he found the pivot point of the turmoil. Solomon and Vox were working side by side on a large table. Papers accumulated around them, important looking people as well as mere messengers drifted in and out.
After he had handed over his own sheet of paper, Titus became a bystander in the proceedings. Dankwart and Tiberius kept him stoic company in watching the world drift by.
Vox and Solomon had no time to spare. After all their quarrel, it was almost terrifying to see them working together. Having decided that there was no time for bickering, they had only efficiency left between them.
For three days, the two of them were all over the place, talking to people, calling in meetings, sending messages and even though the rest of Aegis accompanied them everywhere, none of them was able to follow the cause of events. Faces, names, times, places, agreements and understandings intertwined into a giant coil of purpose. With each passing hour, the legate and the librarian wound it tighter, forging the spring that would drive the loyalists through this war.
It was on the fourth day that Vox re-entered the meeting room in Shilder Manor, where the legate was working on the desk and laid a pile of papers down.
“Done”, was all he said.
Solomon nodded and seemed to emerge from his doing for the first time in days. He was tired, they all could see it. War left little time to sleep, even for humans.
“Good hunting, my friends”, he said and bowed deeply to all of them. “I hope to meet you again one day.”
“Soppy little human”, Vox chided softly. “See that you survive that long, will you?”
A shy smile crossed Solomon’s scarred face.
“Goodbye, Vox”, the man said. “It was my pleasure for a change.”
“Likewise, Killian”, Vox answered with a nod, the burn mark on his face equally rippled by a smile.
The farewells of the others were of a more general nature. Afterwards, Aegis made their way to the roof of Shilder Manor. A shuttle was ready to bring them up to the ‘Aiolos’.
“So”, Titus asked nonchalantly. “How’s the war going?”
“Could be worse”, Vox said. “We were able to pull most of the loyalists together and found some military help for them. Mira’s cell got rid of two people who were controlling a lot of the weapon supplies and proved awkward in dealing with us. Also, we brokered a few arrangements with factions that might have fought against us otherwise.”
“You know”, Tiberius said, wiggling the clamp on his third arm. “It always amazes me that we get an Oath of Secrets for free as soon as we let you do anything.”
“How do you mean?”, Vox wanted to know.
“Well, you just told me things but I’ll be damned if I could let anything on”, their techmarine said with a self-ironic smirk in his grey eyes.
“Alright”, Vox said, pushing a strand of hair behind his ear. “Next time only the sergeant takes the Oath of Secrets and you continue as normal. I’m all for a leaner oath policy.” Vox winked at Titus. His eye had healed well and he had started to keep it open for vision, not just effect. Since the other eye was bloodshot through sheer tiredness, it matched the redness perfectly.
“I on the other hand”, Titus declared calmly. “Am all for sending you to sleep as soon as we arrive, Vox. I bet you weren’t able to enter half sleep even for a few minutes.”
Vox combined a sigh with a laugh.
“Oh yes, please!”, he exclaimed. “Thank you, sergeant!”
“Pure self interest”, Titus gave back. “I don’t want an implicit war running amok in our planning for Zenith.”
Dankwart and Tiberius looked at him in surprise.
“Yes, we have our next assignment already, brothers”, Titus informed them. “We are sent to fetch a casket from a forgotten shrine. The contents are unclear but an STC is in the range of possibilities.”
The surprise grew to round-eyed wonderment.
An STC, short for ‘standard template construct’, was an artefact dating back to the Dark Age of Technology. They were unbelievably powerful machine spirits, their origins clouded by time. All that was commonly known was that they contained ancient knowledge. Blueprints, data sets, information so valuable that the Adeptus Mechanicus considered them worth almost any risk to obtain. The gleam in Tiberius’ eyes alone told them what kind of price Titus had named in three simple letters.
“Vox will give us the details when he is coherent again”, Titus postponed further speculations though.
“What makes you think I’m incoherent?”, Vox asked innocently.
“You were nice to Solomon when you said goodbye.”
“I tried to be nasty.”
“Obviously, working with him has clouded your judgement”, Titus accused him. “Let’s hope a little sleep can cure you of this.”
“Do I still have to sleep in an airlock?”, Vox wanted to know and Titus had to think for a second before he remembered that he had threatened to lock legate and librarian away until they had sorted themselves out.
“If your fancy takes you that way”, he offered as compensation for Solomon’s absence.
“I’ll get back to you about that”, Vox promised.
“Could we get back to the Tyranids for a moment?”, Tiberius asked casually.
“Oh, don’t worry, brother”, Vox said with a snort. “We’ll get back to Tyranids for days I’d wager. Didn’t you wonder why they gave us the ‘Aiolos’?”
“Yes, I wondered”, Tiberius admitted. His blue and golden shoulder guard twitched upwards in a shrug.
“I know that she’s the right ship to get us to a planet when the Hive Fleet has arrived, but do you know in what phase of devouring they are?”
“Somewhere in the middle of consumption”, Vox estimated. “I’ve spoken to Correl Aventus but neither he nor his report made a lot of sense. Ictus lost half their members down there to provide us with the coordinates. Which is a damned shame because I could have told them where to go when Saltus had their first mission there.”
They all stared at him and their librarian looked back with bitter dismay in his features.
“I didn’t know what they were searching for”, he said quietly. “Their dispatchment has a higher security level than I am cleared for. I found out because Correl was still on Erioch and he told me about the mountain range close to the shrine. I know the area and well… Didn’t you see the two of us talking to the commander after the prayer?”
“It was you who set us on this mission?”, Titus asked, not sure what he wanted to achieve by this.
“What was I to do?”, Vox exclaimed a little helplessly. “I just found out that there’s knowledge down there that might turn the tide against the whole Tyranid fleet. That damned place has been built on a shrine world and people just forgot about it. Can you imagine? Humans! You can stuff it.”
“At least, now I see why you wanted to give up Implicit”, the sergeant said quietly.
“Don’t imply, I just gave it up!”, Vox replied defiantly.
“No. Sorry. So, you know where to go”, Titus prompted to get Vox back on track.
“Yes. I also know how to get in”, Vox said, his reddened eyes dancing through the shuttle in sad dismay. “It’s ridiculously easy really. The building is heavily fortified. Fitted with a fuck ton of sentry guns and guard servitors but Astartes have a clearance for the area. We can just walk in. We can’t get a pick up down there because there are heavy air raid defences but, as long as we walk, we should be even safe from the Tyranids. Ictus just didn’t know that and got hit by a whole swarm of the damned things right before they went in. They barely made it out alive.” Vox sighed. “I hate it when this happens”, he said darkly. “All of Gladius and half of Ictus lost and me here, just knowing where to go and how to get there…”
“What’s with Gladius?”, Tiberius inquired.
“They went missing on Zenith while you fetched me”, Titus said, accompanied by a despondent nod from Vox.
“Enough of this”, the sergeant ruled in a soft tone. He remembered how Vox had reacted when Correl Aventus had told him that Gladius was MIA.
“We can blame ourselves later”, he added quietly.
“Oh, great. Misery loves company…”, Vox said and rubbed his face. Luckily, they had reached the ‘Aiolos’ and could listen to the prayers of the pilot for the docking procedure.
Vox went off to bed and the three of them had a relaxed half day of training.
Their navigator informed them that it would take three days from Implicit to the Mandeville Point. He also had to admit that he would not be able to get them closer than five weeks real time travel to Zenith. The Hive Fleet projected a shadow into the warp that would not allow for a closer exit point and even this was stretching his possibilities.