Endlessly it howled. Sinking into the background when other things needed to be considered. It had masked all noise, snatched away the sounds that would have drawn their attention to it earlier: The other roof was swarming with Tyranids.
No bolter fire had carried over to them, no one had voxed them.
Their brothers stood in a tight knot, defending themselves against the evil, alien creatures seeking to devour this world like they had swallowed so many others.
Vox fell as she landed but pushed for the next jump regardless. Descending onto the back of a Tyranid, she brought it to the ground and narrowly escaped the lashing claws around her.
Titus started to run.
At the very least, he wanted to spare himself the sight of her falling. The mission was lost. There was nothing left but to die honourably and he would defend her until then.
When he touched down beyond the street, Vox had reached the others. She flung herself up into the air one last time and landed in their middle. Storming forward, Titus could see that she grabbed Vitus Berethen, dragging him from his position and suddenly, the group changed.
Shielded behind their backs, the two librarians collapsed to their knees but around them the brothers seemed to snap into focus.
Tyranids were fearsome beasts. Guided by the Hive, they moved like one large, synchronised creature.
But even thinking with one enormous brain was no match against glimpsing the future.
It was the power Vox had used on Hyron and Vyron back on Corred. Only this time it was projected in a radius, not delivered by touch.
Still subject to physical laws, the Tyranids were suddenly in trouble. Strikes connected before beasts could land safely, evasive manoeuvers ended in the blade of the next brother in reach and daring mass attacks duly burned under a flame thrower.
Having gained space, half of the comrades fell back to draw bolters. A pack of Termagants was shot down before they could reach an elevated position a bit away. Each bullet felled one enemy.
Titus had no opportunity to engage a single creature. His brothers cleared a path for him and he took refuge behind their backs because he saw that he was useless here.
He could not cope with this.
All his errors and failures, everything that was wrong about him crashed into him at once. His greatest strength, his resistance to the warp, suddenly was his greatest flaw. It rendered him useless because he could not benefit from what Vox was doing. He might even have endangered the comrades if he got too close. Invisible in the warp, he was a blind spot in every foretelling and they needed this foresight now. The brothers drove the beasts back more and more, taking out flying enemies as they appeared. Foes with biomorphs for ranged combat got no opportunity to aim. Things without had no chance at all.
The Hive was a strange creature. It usually paid no heed to the pain of individual Tyranids but, suddenly, the beasts retreated. Maybe their common consciousness did not want to waste resources. When another Hive Tyrant crawled over an adjoining roof, the hail of their bolter rounds severed two of its arms at the joints before it could place the first shot. After this, they were left alone.
“How long?”, Grimfang demanded.
“Two minutes”, Tiberius informed them.
They all switched to ranged weaponry, picking out creatures as they came in sight. Numb in his mind, Titus handed out his bolter clips. He would never be as good a marksman as this.
Two brothers had met their end before Vox had arrived. He dragged their bodies close, taking care not to get in the way of the two librarians.
They sat huddled over the crate and prayed. With the noises of the battle having subsided, Titus could hear their whispered words:
“Among the stars, there is but one
He shineth bright,
He brings us light.
He forges righteousness from wrong
He bears the fight,
Beyond the light.”
Vox surely had chosen this litany for Vitus Berethen. He was an Imperial Fist after all but every syllable was a stab in Titus’ hearts. Never would she recite this for him again. He was to stay away.
Berethen’s breath had started to rattle even worse than hers. His body twitched and Vox had to speak the next line alone.
“In His footsteps we will come… Come on!”, Vox said, shaking him. She fiddled his helmet off and grabbed his head.
“The Emperor commands you! Dorn guides you! Honour shields you!”, she managed between coughs.
The man opened bleeding eyes. Bruises bloomed under his pale skin, spreading out from where Vox touched him.
“Go on”, Berethen groaned, grasping her forearms. “I’m ready to give my life for my brothers…” His voice choked, blood started to run over his lips in a deadly, bright red stream.
Vox’s reply was drowned out in the turbines of the ‘Zephyr’.
Opening its tailboards as it sank down, the ship was finally coming to their rescue.
Tiberius was the first to abandon his position. He stormed inside. Two of Gladius grabbed the corpses of their brothers, two more got hold of the chest and sprang in. Grimfang and one of his men grabbed the two librarians. Dankwart dragged Titus along because he did not move fast enough and then, the ship lurched upwards. The whole extraction had taken less than twenty seconds.
The closing tailboard cut their line of fire and the Tyranids swarmed in again.
Fleeing the tightening circle of xenos, the ship soared into the sky.
Titus was dimly aware that he had seen Tiberius vanishing into the cockpit and reasoned that he had probably taken over for the pilot.
When the canons of the ‘Zephyr’ whirred into life and they started the roughest bit of flying any of them had ever witnessed, he took this as confirmation. Over and over, the ship shook as if hit with whole buildings. None of them had found time to clamp themselves in. All were on their knees, holding on to something. Mostly one another or one of the fold-out seats.
Only Titus tried to make his way through the cargo bay.
The two librarians had been carried to the far right corner where Grimfang and his comrade had their work cut out to secure them. Titus stumbled, slid and crawled towards them. Unstoppable like the tide and about as fast too. He was thrown around, slammed into floor and walls and brothers but refused to stop until he had reached the four figures in the corner.
Just when he had arrived, someone in the pilot’s chamber started to have hysterics.
“Oh, hell”, Grimfang snapped after a short glance up to the cockpit. “Rogan, go and take over for the gunner!”, he ordered and reached out for Titus to pull him into place where his comrade vanished. Rogan’s shoulder declared that he was an Iron Hand. A chapter well known for their affinity to machinery. He went up to the cockpit in short order. By flinging the gunner down into the chamber, he not only relieved the man from duty but also from consciousness. It was Dankwart who kindly caught the limp human when he slithered past.
The guns beat out their staccato rhythm and whatever was going on out there, even Rogan cursed wholeheartedly at it. The ship shook again, lurched for a few times more. Then, the flight went steady and the world went still.
A minute of silence fell. Slowly, the survivors started to move and look around. Titus did not. He had only one place to look.
Vox lay on her back, half held upright by the jump pack. She had the limp body of Vitus Berethen in her arms. Under blood and bruises, her face was as pale as death.
Someone moved up behind them. It was Tiberius, who had climbed down from the cockpit.
“Vox?”, he asked and Vox opened her eyes.
Titus had never been so slow to come to any conclusion. The thought that she was still alive after all this was surreal and absurd and unbelievable and, for some reason, not as calming as he could have wished.
“Rift?”, she whispered hoarsely.
“Yes”, Tiberius answered and started to take off his helmet.
“What do you mean ‘rift’?”, Grimfang wanted to know.
“There is a sky-high warp rift where we fought”, Tiberius told them when he had finished his rites and stroked his hair back. “Vox, you told us it was incredibly hard to rip one open when the Hive is around.”
“So?”, Vox asked.
“So, what the hell did you do down there?”
She shook her head to suggest that she had done nothing.
“Zoanthropes”, she managed
“Flying psyker Tyranids?”
Vox nodded and Tiberius knelt down next to her. He extended all his arms towards her in a strange, half menacing, half tender gesture.
“You are telling me that you weakened the world down there so much that one of them caused a rift?”
She nodded again.
“You’re an utterly crazy man”, the techmarine said and gently laid his left hand to her cheek.
“You know that’s not true”, she replied. They looked at each other for a moment and Vox smiled weakly.
“You’re the best pilot I’ve ever seen”, she rasped. “I knew you’d get us out of there.”
Tiberius returned the smile with warmth and stroked her head before he stood up to return to the cockpit.
Now that the flight was steady, movement came into the brothers around them. They laid out their dead and Dankwart started to tend to the wounded, which he could pick at random. None of them had come out of this unharmed. Titus let himself sink to the wall next to Vox. He had some trouble removing his helmet with the broken arm. Grimfang meanwhile, made a tour through the cargo bay to speak to his men. When the Space Wolf returned, he crouched down next to Vox and nodded towards Berethen in her arms. She shook her head. The expression around his unforgiving, bionic eye softened and he leaned down to take him away from her.
“Get your hands off that”, she hissed.
“Are you still using him?”, the sergeant asked provocatively. “No? Then I’ll put him away. Now, stop being a sissy!”
Titus stared at the Space Wolf. Just there and then, things in his head had knotted themselves most unpleasantly.
Vox meanwhile sighed an impatient, rattling sigh.
“Arrick”, she managed. “On the day you are connected to the living brother you are killing, I might be inclined to give you a voice in this.”
“Yeah”, Grimfang smirked. “I know you Blood Angels. You do everything as hard as you can and afterwards, you mope about it. But in case you haven’t noticed, little brother”, he said, leaning forward to Vox and his voice dropped to a soft, almost soothing growl. “This is war. In the end, you just count: Three dead, nine alive. You did everything you could and you did exceptionally well.”
She stared at him as if she could not believe what he had just said.
“You bastard”, she breathed.
“I’m a Grimfang”, he said pleasantly. “For a Space Wolf, that’s practically pure pedigree.”
She had to grin despite herself.
“Now gimme that corpse and find someone alive to hang on to!”
Titus watched the sergeant drag Berethen to the other corpses and lay him down carefully while the throbbing of his hearts shrouded the scene in uneasy silence. When he checked, Vox indeed had turned her gaze to him.
But Titus drowned in his doubt. If she sought someone alive to hang on to, why did she turn to him? The last thing she had said was ‘stay away from me’ and he had been able to understand this. He had hurt her, had insulted her, had made errors. Her demand was painful but oh, so understandable! Why she turned to him now, he did not understand and he could not bring himself to step up and return to her after what had happened. He turned his face away and gritted his teeth.
He heard her whisper: “Space Wolves. Easy going like a tornado and smooth like sandpaper. You just have to love them.”
And that was the last thing she said at least vaguely in his direction for more than five weeks.