They followed Vox through a landscape of cracked, red rock faces. The Tyranids had left no speck of life, no bit of green for the eye to rest on. Not even in the desert had it been as apparent as here that this world was dying. Sometimes they found patches of earth, washed into crevices by long gone streams but not even roots were tangled in the dead dust.
The terrain got more difficult the higher they climbed. Cliffs were sparsely punctuated with small plateaus. Very rarely a little high valley granted a clear run but mostly, they made their way from crack to overhang to ledge. Despite this, Titus and Dankwart were forced to carry Tiberius to keep Vox’s nonsensical pace.
She was so heavily afflicted that her legs gave way under her more than once but she pushed on and on. Titus was troubled. By the way she sought their way upwards, it was clear that she had a very specific destination to approximate to. What would lie in wait for them at this journey’s end?
The wind started to present a growing problem the higher they came. With their combined weight, the men hardly felt the intensifying currents. Vox came close to being blown off the mountain several times.
“Vox, rest!”, Dankwart finally demanded when they caught her up because she had collapsed. “You have only one beating heart and even that got damaged!” He pulled her into a sitting position and forced her to lean against the next boulder.
She shook her head and made a few indistinct signs.
“No time!” They finally caught from her silently moving lips but she could not go on by herself.
Tiberius and Dankwart exchanged a glance through their helmets.
“How far?”, the techmarine asked curtly.
She waved a hand in the direction they had been taking. They had reached more manageable terrain and there were surfaces here that could serve as a path. Acting on an unspoken agreement, the two men got hold of her and carried her away at a brisk run. Titus followed close behind.
They reached a spot, none of them would have noticed without directions. The door lay in a nook between the rocks, a bit lower than the plateau they were following. Nothing like a path could betray its presence. Even right in front of it, the stones affixed to it were a decent disguise. Vox disentangled one arm and hung limply from Tiberius’ shoulder. Her attempts to reach a certain spot were ineffectual. They stumbled back and forth in the narrow space, until she shook herself fully free to fall against the rock. A heartbeat later, the door swung outwards. Vox darted inside as soon as the gap would admit her. The men were more reluctant. Having ignored his existence for the last minute, apothecary and techmarine now honoured their sergeant with unreadable stares from their helmets.
Titus pulled himself together, drew his bolter and went inside.
His hearts hammered in his chest.
She had met with her… Were they all women? A chapter full of female Astartes? Was she an anomaly even among her own kind? Had she been banished because of this? He shook his head to dislodge these thoughts. No time for this. She had met with them and now, they were in this dimly lit corridor. What did they want here?
Vox had just managed to open a door to the right at the very end of the passage. She ignored the room, however, and instead turned to the one opposite.
Still unsteady on her feet, she fell against the door as if sinking into the embrace of a friend. When her bleary gaze fleeted over to Titus, he was surprised to see a smile of joy dance in her features. She signalled him to lower his weapon and keep his distance.
Unnerved by her demeanour, he followed her demands.
Vox made a few steps along the wall as well. Just far enough that she could still feed a key card to the machine spirit beside the entrance.
When the door slid back, half a dozen men with clearly violent intent spilled out. Half a dozen Astartes, Titus corrected himself. Apart from wildly grown beards and long hair, they wore only loincloths and handcuffs. The lack of resistance they encountered in the corridor visibly confused them.
The leader had spotted Vox by the wall and she already lifted her arms to catch his swung fists when he halted on his own accord. His hair and beard were pure white and a bionic eye glinted evilly in the half light of the corridor. Quickly coping with his surprise, he changed his direction of movement and held back his comrades who were trying to pile in on the lone figure.
“Knock it off!”, the white haired demanded a couple of times. “Vox!”, he then exclaimed. “How the hell did you get here?”
“Sergeant Grimfang!” The cry originated from behind Titus. It had been uttered by Tiberius, who wound around his fellow Ultramarine to step forward. In passing, he emphatically pushed Titus’ bolter down. The sergeant had raised it out of reflex.
“Aegis!”, the white one concluded in bafflement.
Vox gave a little wave when they all stared at her. Then, everybody spoke at once. Titus stared at the tumult in frozen bewilderment. He saw his librarian grab Grimfang by the beard. The man obeyed her tug like a mild mannered sheep and leaned towards her to listen. In the middle of this exchange, his handcuffs clattered to the ground. Something knotted itself in Titus’ chest when the freed hands of the sergeant came to rest on Vox’s upper arms.
A moment later, Grimfang turned and got things moving.
“We’ve got foes incoming!”, he informed all of them aloud. “Gladius! Vox has a key. Fall in!”
Vox gestured for him to go into the room she had opened first. He came out again immediately.
“Oi, Martian!”, he called over to Tiberius. “Get in here!”
Confused minutes went by.
Titus filtered from the hubbub that they had found the lost Kill Team Gladius. The history of their presence here was impossible to understand in the circumstances. All Titus caught was that the team had been imprisoned by Space Marines in Mark VI scout armour.
Titus’ mind raced.
Vox’s comrades. Had she searched their brains or spoken to them? If the latter, where would they be hiding? They had foes inbound? Had one escaped her and was returning with reinforcements?
He needed to talk to Vox but there was no getting at her in the tumult.
Brimming over with suppressed vigour, Gladius positively vibrated through the outpost. By the general appearance of the prisoners, Titus calculated that they had enjoyed a far more pleasant confinement than he had been privileged to undergo once. All were well fed, up to strength and even acceptably clean. Even the librarian of the group looked passably healthy. He had been excavated from another room, where he had spent the past couple of hours hooded, gagged and chained to a wall. No jailer wanted an unsupervised psyker in a position where he could use his powers.
Apart from this little crimp, the group was in the highest spirits.
The room opposite contained their equipment and all of them were making joyful haste to get armed and armoured. In their middle, Tiberius begged the Omnissiah’s forgiveness for hurrying the appropriate rites somewhat.
Increasingly agitated, Titus tried to keep an overview on the situation when Vox suddenly bumped into him in the confusion. All his pressing questions fled him at once and he stared at her in uncertainty.
She tried to say something but was cut short by hacking coughs. As soon as she bent over to spit blood, Grimfang was beside her. He had been in the middle of assembling his armour and Titus could see Tiberius cursing silently for the interruption.
“Hey, little brother. You alright?”, the other sergeant wanted to know. He bent down to her in concern and Titus was only just able to refrain from planting a knee in the man’s face. She was his little brother!
Vox meanwhile straightened up with difficulty and pushed Grimfang back towards his task. Her hand signals indicated that he had to hurry.
Titus found nothing more sensible to do but to retreat to the prison cell. Here, he had at least a chance to understand what she wanted to say. They had an awkward moment when she tried to come close enough to speak in his ear. Only when he backed into the wall, did he manage to scrape enough of his wit together to understand her intent. He leaned down.
Her breath brushing over his cheek made him shiver but it was cut short presently by what she said: “We need to sally out. The swarm coming has a Trygon and another Hive Tyrant. I can get us a breach.” His Deathwatch hypno-conditioning provided a few interesting details but Titus had known a lot already. The most pressing matter was that a Trygon was a huge class of Tyranid that was able to burrow even through this rock. The outpost was a death trap if they stayed. They returned to the corridor.
Gladius’ efforts to rearm had just turned up the five flamers, they had originally been kitted out with. A large patch of still burning oil on the wall proved that they were functional.
Titus gritted his teeth as he made out the happily laughing Grimfang next to the flames. Since Titus’ promotion had been rather recent, the other sergeant was his senior. They had to talk authority.
“Sergeant”, he said stiffly as he stepped up and forced himself to salute. “I am Sergeant Titus in charge of Kill Team Aegis and I ask your permission to take over from here.”
“Permission granted, sergeant”, the man answered and turned with a satisfied grin on his features. He was not much shorter than his fellow sergeant and vibrant with suppressed aggression. His right shoulder guard told Titus that he was a Space Wolf. The glint in his single eye had nothing friendly about it. He was just receiving his weapons and put them away with practised movements.
“So, what has Vox planned?”, he wanted to know afterwards and Titus disliked the nonchalant accuracy of this assumption.
“We’ll sally out as soon as all of you are ready”, he informed him curtly. Both of them turned to check on the proceedings. They were almost done.
“Arrick Grimfang, by the way”, the Space Wolf said, his grin turning personable for a moment. “Pleased to meet you, Titus! Gladius, listen up!”, he roared over the hubbub. “Since I’ll be busy tearing Tyranids apart, Sergeant Titus will do the commanding for now. So, listen to him!”
Titus looked around for a moment. Vox was conversing with the other librarian. The man was young. Probably as young as Vox looked. He held the rank of lexicanum as well. His black hair and beard had grown less luxuriantly than those of his brothers and he listened with the attentiveness of the pupil while Vox whispered into his ear. His shoulder displayed the crest of the Imperial Fists. Someone better suited to hold a siege than sally out, but just as Titus thought this, the young man slapped Vox on the shoulder.
“Got it brother!”, Titus heard. Vox gave her sergeant a signal. They were ready.
Titus held up a fist. Silence fell.
“The plan is simple”, Titus declared. “There’s a Hive Tyrant headed our way, leading smaller critters. In addition, we have at least one Trygon burrowing around. We will get out of here as fast as possible. Our librarians will get us the breach we need. If you haven’t seen it on your way here: The terrain outside is difficult. Use it as best you can, fight in your established patterns, get the small ones out of the way before you engage the big ones. Aegis, we will tackle and bind the Hive Tyrant until we can get backup from Gladius!” He shot Vox a meaningful glance, that meant ‘except for you’ and she looked away in a manner that meant she would ignore him if he refrained from humiliating her by a direct command in front of everyone.
Grudgingly, he decided against a caution and sought for important things left to say.
“Brothers, today we witnessed it once again”, he called. “Let me hear it from you: The Emperor protects!”
The reply made the shock compensation of his ears kick in.
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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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