Grimfang retrieved his sword and stood up. One foot on the head of the dead Trygon, he pointed nonchalantly towards the rocks. Later, it annoyed Titus how heroic the picture he posed was. For now, he only thought about the information received.
Between two boulders, not much higher than their own location but firmly out of point blank range, a black shadow raised a sword in defence against the last, desperate Hormagaunt in the area.
Titus saw the blade shine like lightning when warp energy was earthed through it, saw the xeno leap forward. His innards writhing with the shock, he had covered half the distance between them before he realised that this was the other librarian.
When he reached him, the young man had finished clumsily skewering the Hormagaunt. Protected between the boulders, Vox cowered next to him. She looked around blearily.
He had found her.
She had survived.
Blood ran over her face but she was alive.
Grimfang caught up and gave him a good-natured slap on the back in passing.
“Time to shoot you yet, Berethen?”, the Space Wolf wanted to know, as he approached his librarian. He came to the man’s side to lay a paternal hand on his shoulder but Titus could not help noticing that his other hand indeed hovered over the bolt pistol at his belt.
“Ah, soon, serge”, the Imperial Fist rasped and took his helmet off. He looked even worse than Vox.
“Good to be back in the war”, he claimed nevertheless.
So, they had two heavily afflicted psykers now, Titus realised. He tried to drown the concern for his own in the worry about the other.
Grimfang meanwhile was crouching next to Vox.
“What about you, little hero?”, Titus heard him growl. When he extended a careful hand to stroke the blood on her face away, the Ultramarine suddenly became aware that Grimfang looked a lot younger than his hair colour suggested.
“Got you back”, Vox answered him in a happy gurgle.
“Hell yes, you did, little brother!”, Grimfang said jovially. With no concern for their audience, he leaned forward and touched his forehead to hers. Vox let it happen and Titus thought he had to die on the spot. Or at the very least kill that man!
“How did you find us?”, the Space Wolf wanted to know while he pulled Vox to her feet.
For an answer, she knocked against her black shield.
“Hate that thing”, Grimfang grumbled but with very little rancour in his voice. “Now. You after the same thing we were?”, he wanted to know then.
“Have you found it?”
She confirmed again.
“Then I’ll ask your sergeant if he’ll take us along.” He winked with a dangerously friendly smile. Grimfang still was the senior sergeant around here. He had to ask for exactly nothing.
Meanwhile, the after battle check had gone through without them. It turned out that they had no casualties. Brother Ignatius of the Angels Vermillion had lost his left arm under the onslaught of too many critters at once but no one was dead.
After the area had been secured, they descended to a small plateau where the wounded could be treated in the most basic manner. Despite threatening to do so, Grimfang had not come over to Titus yet. This way, the Ultramarine had time to hang around at the side and stew in his own grease.
It was like seeing Vox for the first time. Since they had met, she had been right beside him. Had he ever really looked at her? Her smile should have given her away. Her beautiful blue eyes. Her smell. Her weight! She was hardly three quarters of Titus’ weight. Only half of Tiberius’. When training how to fight while carrying a wounded brother, they had always kept her for the last round because she was the lightest.
All the clues that had passed him by, came to haunt him. The comments, the nuances of speech. She had constantly given herself away. Sometimes even on purpose, in the certain knowledge that Titus would never suspect the impossible. There simply were no female Astartes! The seed of the Emperor was that of a man and therefore reserved for men alone!
But among the things he had seen on her had been her armour ducts. Unmistakable on her soft skin and all the things he had witnessed her doing were already unbelievable for an Astartes. Absolutely impossible for a mortal.
And what about this chapter of hers? She had been away for the longest half hour of all times. What had happened? She had gotten the information about Gladius that was certain…
Titus wished that they had time to sort things out. He wanted to yell the significant questions until she parted with the answers but there was no time. They were still on the far side of the mountain. That the Hive might be able to anticipate their destination and intercept them was bad enough. At the very least, they had to desert the last position their enemies had known.
Titus was completely unable to cope with the situation. He tried to give orders but the words failed him.
His awe was of no help either. Wounded to a degree that it had made Dankwart hasty, Vox had once again worked miracles. She had saved, freed and protected people while casually accomplishing absolutely crazy deeds like a side note to her presence.
Each and every man stood here because of her.
He saw that the others felt it as much as he did.
They crowded around to congratulate her, reaching for her hands and shoulders as one might touch a relic or a talisman. Even Tiberius and Dankwart came up to treat her to a short embrace and a few unspoken words.
They were giving her credit.
How often had Titus wished, even demanded that someone would?
How useless he felt all of a sudden.
Vox smiled and nodded, touched hands, slapped shoulders, whispered a few quiet words here and there. She directed congratulations to other people, especially her fellow librarian and gave as much praise as she got. Hardly able to speak, she had to do most of it with gestures and each and every one of them was a stab in Titus’ soul.
Suddenly, a turn of her head was something that made his hearts race. A smile made him sweat. A glance made him feel hot and cold at the same time and the fact that all this was reserved for other people made him angry and helpless.
Once, her gaze wandered over to him. When it did, her smile froze. She looked down and turned away.
It hit him so hard, he thought it would kill him on the spot. With an uncanny knack for timing, Grimfang chose exactly this moment to walk over to him. He wanted to strike the man down where he stood. Mustering the strength to leave the axe where it was took all his resilience.
“Well, sergeant”, he was addressed nonchalantly. “Thanks for getting us out. It sure as hell is good to be back in action!”
Titus managed a curt nod.
“Apparently, you’re here to clean up after us.”
“That’s not exactly how I would have phrased it”, Titus replied stiffly.
“Come on, let’s not whitewash the facts”, Grimfang said jovially. “We screwed up. Now, you’re on the job. Let us tag along and maybe we can regain some honour here.”
“Sergeant”, Titus said solemnly, not knowing what came over him at this moment. “Under no circumstances would I welcome your additional strength on this mission.”
“Hrm”, Grimfang said, stroking his white beard thoughtfully. “Fascinating. My sarcasm detection is inconclusive. I really can’t tell if you meant that or not. I’m impressed.” He smiled condescendingly. “And I’ll consider the matter settled until I hear some real objections from you.”
“Yes, sergeant”, Titus managed through gritted teeth and right as he said it, an evil gleam danced in Grimfang’s eye. With backing down like this, Titus had just lost the fight for the hacking order.
So, there were more subtle ways, even for Space Wolves.
He felt that this was unfair.
Dankwart meanwhile worked on Ignatius. It turned out that the Angel Vermillion was the apothecary of Gladius. His narthecium had been lost together with his left arm. He took the whole situation calmly, however. Even before Dankwart found out that his armour had not been maintained and therefore unable to treat him to the dose of painkillers he should have gotten instantly. When Dankwart transferred his attention to the librarians, Titus finally managed to insist that they made haste. Their psykers could still walk. This would change if the next swarm found them here.