It had taken considerably longer to cause the holes in the walls than it took to follow them.
The last hole in line showed them that they were several stories up. The view over the factory complex Aegis had avoided to drop into, was magnificent.
“Shit”, one of Gladius commented. “How should we find anyone in there?”
“Just keep moving”, Grimfang replied calmly. “I got a scent.”
Whoever it was they were searching for, had passed on the fifty metre drop from here. Instead they had continued to demolish the floors to reach a more convenient height. This was a hopeful sign. Heavy troops without jump packs might be slow enough to catch up with.
The two kill teams made haste to follow.
The first buildings of the factory were only half an hour’s quick march away.
All senses strained, they entered between them. Their Space Wolf provided them with directions, everyone else with cover.
After the incident in the shrine, Titus had taken his chance to hide behind his helmet. He had never made use of this kind of protection before but he needed it now. Vox was everywhere since his assault. He could turn his gaze away from her as often as he liked. His eyes and thoughts dragged themselves back to her whenever he tried to pay attention to something else.
If Grimfang was right…
Titus was unable to fathom this thought. If Vox had not bought them off. If she had obtained the key and the information without betraying them…
And if Grimfang was wrong…
Gratefully he embraced the tension gripping the whole group. He desperately needed a distraction from these considerations.
In the end, they found what they were searching for by noise, not by smell. They had entered one of the buildings and were about to leave it when gunfire went up close by.
Vox and Titus were the first to react. Like so often before they acted on the same thought: They each grabbed the closest brother of Gladius and fired up their jump packs to make speed. Dankwart had a jump pack of his own while Tiberius was too heavy and could stay with the rest of them.
Titus flinched when she laid her arms around the other sergeant. He himself had obtained a warrior of the Doom Eagles, while Dankwart followed them with someone of the Dark Angels.
Having been close to Grimfang in the lead, Vox was the one to find their route upwards. With the weight of two, the jump packs’ reach was limited and the wind had not lessened. Between the buildings it caused dangerous turbulences that were hard to anticipate. Their ascent was no elegant one but at least it was fast. Over several arches and smaller buildings, Vox brought them up to the roof of the building from which the noises originated.
Here, they finally found out that Titus had been wrong.
Covered by a tarpaulin, a vehicle was lurking among bundles of tubing. It had been a stormraven once but not much of its outer form remained. Spikes and strange deformations on the hull had transformed it into a chaos abomination in blue and gold.
“Traitors!”, Grimfang hissed, sending it out over vox. “Thousand Sons Legion.”
“We got a visual”, the reply came a few seconds later. Titus did not know the brother.
“What have you found?”, Grimfang demanded, intently concentrated on the vox.
“Three terminators, fighting about… Let’s say a fuck ton of Tyranids, serge.”
“Do they have our objective?”, Grimfang wanted to know.
“One of them carries a chest. Retrieval might be difficult.”
Vox tapped Grimfang on the shoulder and whispered something.
“What?”, he asked in confusion. “Yes, I know you have trouble breathing.”
Vox gave him a look.
“How do Tyranids breathe”, Titus translated without thinking. Vox gestured towards him and made further signals. Again, he understood her.
“Brothers, how do Tyranids breathe?”, he voxed into their common channel.
“Through a tracheal system. The outgrowths on their backs mostly”, Vitus Berethen provided.
“Tiberius, come ba…!”, they heard someone yell before the librarian cut the line. The warriors on the roof looked at Vox in confusion. She meanwhile nodded and tried to hurry them along but Grimfang held them back. He looked around at the two men he knew.
“Caregar, take the kid, get rid of any pilots and mine that thing!”, he ordered, pointing to the stormraven. The members of Gladius confirmed and turned to the vehicle while the rest of them made their way to an open staircase towards the back of the building.
As they approached it, a lot of white foam suddenly squeezed out of the staircase like a disoriented worm.
“What’s happening?”, Grimfang wanted to know.
“I engaged the fire extinguisher”, Tiberius told them calmly. The growls and curses of their comrades were audible in the background.
“If Berethen was correct, the Tyranids should be trying to breathe fire dampers now”, their techmarine said. “Let’s see how that plays. Where are you?”
Grimfang shot Vox a glance. She grinned and waggled her eyebrows. Ten years had thoroughly taught her what Tiberius could do.
The sergeant did not seem to share her triumph.
“None of your business, Martian”, he answered flatly in response to Tiberius’ question. “Serris, get someplace you can see and then find us at seventy-fifteen.”
“Understood”, the addressed brother answered.
Titus was impressed. The traitors would surely scan for frequencies as soon as someone activated the fire fighting system. He had only just thought of it and the Space Wolf had beaten him to the conclusion.
The white-haired sergeant looked around at his three comrades.
“Any established partners here?”, he wanted to know.
Vox and Titus pointed at each other. Grimfang said nothing but a curse flashed in his single, dark eye.
“Alright. Ever fought Thousand Sons?”, he wanted to know.
Dankwart and Titus had, Vox had not.
“Shit”, the sergeant said and thought for a moment.
“Sergeant”, Titus addressed him. He knew that the man was struggling with the fact that the Thousand Sons Legion usually had a psyker somewhere in their ranks. They would need Vox to counter his attacks but in her current state, this was practically her death sentence. The only chance to keep her alive was to single the psyker out and get rid of him as soon as possible.
“Let Vox and me get up high and jump them while you and Dankwart bind them in close combat.”
“Great idea! I always wanted to go one on one with a terminator holding a thunder hammer. Let’s do it!”
For a moment Titus thought Grimfang was being sarcastic but he presently scuttled away to take cover beside the staircase.
While Dankwart followed this example, Titus powered up his jump pack to bring himself up on a vaulted structure next to the stairs. It had probably been used as a crane. Vox followed obediently and settled down next to him.
“Vox, they’ll probably have a psyker with them”, Titus told her but she shook her head and held up two fingers.
“Alright. We need to get them down.” He looked at her helplessly. How could he get out of her who was who when she could not speak? An idea struck.
“The one carrying the crate will probably be one. Let me take him, you take the other one.”
She had time to nod before their time was up.
A mighty figure sprang out of the foam. Even as it appeared, it swung its thunder hammer and Dankwart could only just get out of the way. Their apothecary had been hidden behind the wall, framing the staircase. It was incredible luck that the traitor had chosen him as his target. With his jump pack the Blood Drinker was mobile enough to evade the assault. Suppressive fire followed immediately, not only forcing Grimfang to retreat but also pinning down the two members of Gladius who were trying to regroup with them.
So, plans were off. Either their equipment or their psychic powers had told the traitors that they were here.
Titus tensed but Vox held him back. It looked like she was counting while her eyes were fixed on the proceedings below. She sprang without warning and as he followed her, Titus saw what she had been waiting for: All their enemies had their backs turned to them.
His designated target had shed enough foam to be identified and Titus woke his power axe as he leapt towards it. The head of a terminator was specially shielded from behind but Vox’s timing gave him enough opportunity to aim. Landing on the shoulder of the traitor, Titus brought the axe around in a mighty arc. He felt the blade sink in, splitting the renegade’s face. The man had just finished collapsing under him when Titus was hit with Grimfang. The Space Wolf had been hurled aside by one of the enemies and knocked the Ultramarine straight off his feet.
As fast as possible, the two sergeants disentangled and oriented themselves.
“Now, that’s what I call disarming!”, Grimfang commented approvingly, drawing Titus’ attention to Vox’s first target.
His hearts sank. Vox had not killed her victim, just hacked his hands off. She had deemed it more important to get between the huddle of her sergeants and the enemy with the thunder hammer.
Seeing it in agonising slow motion, Titus was certain that he knew what would happen. He had misjudged the situation yet again. The one with the chest had not been the second psyker and now, they would pay for this mistake.
Vox would pay for it.
She stepped into position between them and lifted her hand. Acidic green fire poured out of the fingers of the terminator towering over her. Breaking the wave, her own flames roared up, burning a breach into the deadly inferno.
Titus had seen the effects of fire like this before. It left its victims mutated and crippled. Nothing more than sad lumps of flesh, waiting for the Emperor’s peace.
The desperation for her ready sacrifice drove him forward. He took no chances. Using the shoulders of the other traitor to gain height, he neglected his chance to attack this one. Instead, he jumped on to land right in front of the hammer wielder. The wind blew him even closer to his target than he had meant to but with this, he had undercut the reach of fire and hammer alike.
Crouching briefly to create even more impact, Titus brought his axe up from below. The blade wedged itself into the armpit of the Chaos Space Marine, causing enough damage to render the limb useless.
That he gripped Titus with the free hand meant that he had to drop his flame attack. The terrible strength of the terminator bent Titus’ shoulder plate before he was flung aside.
Hitting Vox on the way, he landed so unfavourably that the collision broke his left upper arm. Even as he slithered along the roof he felt his armour stiffening around the break. It was one of the basic functions of the polymer. The pressure supported the bone enough to enable him to fight on.
Before Titus had come to his feet again, their comrades were taking over the assault. This close, the two injured traitors were no match for the concentrated fire of four veterans. Ensuring that they were really dead took almost as long as bringing them down.
“We have the chest”, Grimfang voxed. “Someone request a pick up right now! Serris, where have you gotten to?”
“The roof across the street from you. We don’t know where Tiberius is.”
“On my way”, the techmarine told them. “Requesting the pick up.”
“Good”, Grimfang switched off the transmission and turned. “You three take us over and…”, he started to order but halted. He had finally become aware of the problem.
Titus had known it when he had crashed into her. She would have dodged, had she been able to.
Vox had fallen to her knees. Her hands shook under the strain of supporting herself in an upright position. Blood ran from her tightly closed eyes and bubbled over her lips while she prayed.
Titus was the first to arrive at her side. Not least because Dankwart stopped Grimfang from rushing forward.
On the edge of his consciousness he heard the attempt to explain bailsmanship to the raging Space Wolf but most of his attention was concentrated on Vox.
He approached cautiously and touched her forearms to tell her that he was there. There was no startled attempt to fend him off this time. Instead, she firmly gripped his hands and pushed him away. It was done with such emphasis that he retreated further on his own accord.
Emperor knew what Dankwart had found to say that caused Grimfang to give in but the brothers were retreating from them now.
In the distance, almost inaudible over the wind, Titus heard the jump pack fire as the Blood Drinker shuttled Gladius over to the other roof.
Under his helmet, Titus stared at his beloved friend. The despair made his movements heavy as he drew his bolter.
She had told him that she would probably just die. Opening a rift under the Hive was hard but he had to be ready.
He had never wanted this.
Killing her was only the very last part of his duty. The part that came when all else had failed.
After he had failed to prevent her from getting this far.
Hidden under his helmet, a tear rolled down his cheek. The thought that she would not wipe away this one, brought on another.
Through the endless pain, Titus prayed.
He prayed for her perseverance where he had fallen short. As long as he could he relied on her self-control and willpower, postponing the deadly shot.
Her sudden silence stalled his breath.
For a moment, his finger tensed around the trigger but when she slowly opened her eyes and looked around, he knew that she had done it. No daemon had taken possession of her, no warp creature had crawled through the veil. She was Vox.
How tired she looked.
Titus put the bolter away and came forward to catch her as she stumbled to her feet.
His breath heaved for the sudden easing of his angst and the jittery joy of feeling her weight in his arms.
A detached part of him registered that he was still crying, only this time for the sheer, endless relief that she was alive.
In vain he sought for words while his one functional hand wandered over her shoulder plate and finally her head as if to check that she was solid.
Urgently, he wanted to press his face against hers and cursed the helmet getting in the way.
Finally, Vox managed to steady herself enough on him to stand upright. Swaying, she looked at him. Her lips framed whispered words.
“Stay away from me”, she breathed.
Vox turned, slipping his grasp like a beam of light winking out. Her jump pack fired up. Once, twice. Then she had reached the edge of the building. Assailed by the wind, she sprang the gap.