82. Falling

Psykers resonate with the immaterium. It grants them the power they wield and makes them the walking threat they always pose. Reaching into the empyrean means exposing the mind to the violence and despair of generation after generation of sentient beings in a galaxy torn apart by war.
The best of them are hard enough to stand it for a while but even the best have to break at some point.
The world warped itself around her. It went slow and spiky in a hard to describe way.
The tints of reality started to crack. They began to run like ink in the rain and in them, Vox saw the future.
Divination was one of her natural talents. Honed by centuries of practice it was almost too easy to distinguish the torrents of fate. Innumerable times had she reached into them, hastening along the seconds to reach the best outcome she could find. Never had her options been so limited, the overlapping streams so similar.
Soon, she would be unable to contain the pain of the universe. It would spill out of her, ripping Arrick apart. He was misjudging the situation, postponing the deadly shot too long and he would be only the first to pay the price.
Her own bitterness and despair fuelling them, the daemons would pour into the ship. Some of her comrades would survive long enough to kill the navigator and get to real space. Their alternating images rushed past laggardly, trailing the shame of her failing.
Vox was sorry and the sorrow made it worse.
It plunged her deeper into the pain of rejection. She had struggled so hard to create worth. To earn her place in the world. Her faith spurring her on, she had aspired towards merit. What she had accomplished would be lost all at once.
Her thoughts began to turn stringy. Time went missing. Eternity became one. Not a stream but a point. Ubiquitous in depth and yet too close to navigate.
She felt herself unravelling. What had kept her together fell apart, dissolving into the abyss of memory and from this abyss, the daemons answered her cries.
They promised retribution.
She hesitated. In the middle of disintegration, she stumbled.
Vox wanted a lot of things. Honour, glory, forgiveness, respite, recognition. The list went on and on.
Revenge was nowhere on it. Not against Titus.
She became aware that he would be alone in a corridor at present.
Suddenly, there was a present again.
Vox felt as if she had stopped falling without hitting the ground.
Like always, her sergeant was a blind spot in her foretelling but she could estimate his chances of survival if she let go now.
There was a fear connected to his death that was worse than the prospect of bearing this state any longer. In the broiling reds of agony, it was a frigid blue streak that froze the turmoil around her.
Cold light swirled into her being and glinted along an edge.
Vox knew what it was. Usually, she kept it sheathed but she saw that she needed it now. It was the core of her existence. Forged of faith and willpower, tempered in passionate devotion. It was the unbending conviction that there was a mutual best to be found. Any sword she had ever wielded had been merely an echo of this.
In the battle for her future, this blade did not have to be swung. It just needed to be held.
The vivid colours of perdition dimmed. They lost their saturation and started to fade like a bad dream.
Warp was here and reality there. They did not mix of their own accord. Only emotional beings bridged the chasm and only the best among the sensitive managed to control their doing. Living on this edge meant having to deal with both sides.
So Vox dealt.
She sank into the future she had not been able to foresee, her body taking the toll of the storm while her innermost essence allowed her to prevail.
Her wounds ripped open again, somewhere far off. A beacon to be followed back into her body. She was able to rediscover what gravity felt like and how muscles could tense. When she found her memory, new strength flowed into her.
Since four years old, Vox Draconis had been taught that she was a danger to others. Losing the battle against herself was a failing to the Emperor. All her life, she had been preparing for this fight. She had learned and taught how to keep a grip in a bad situation. Since joining the Deathwatch, she had taken every opportunity to talk to librarians of other chapters. Had exchanged mantras, prayers, meditation techniques. Anything anyone was ready to share.
Determinately reclaiming her voice, she started to pray. At first, the words were wrong and it was hard to tell if they made sense. Order was a concept she needed to get used to again but soon her whispers found a resonance in the past. She had said these words before.
When she became aware that they also had an echo in the presence, she recognized Arrick’s voice. He was praying along as far as he knew the words. She managed to orient herself towards him and climb through the layers of her consciousness. One sensation after the other returned. Pain came first, then pressure. Orientation, smell, sound. The taste of blood.
When her vision cleared at last, she met the gaze of a single, dark eye.
Arrick Grimfang. The white wolf. A man she had found in darkness once too. The darkness in his own head for a mission gone wrong and a beloved person lost. She had been able to reach him and the wolf had been such a loyal, devoted friend after this. He had applied for his second mission in the Deathwatch because of their friendship, she was sure. Gone missing on a planet full of Tyranids. Returned by the grace of the Emperor.
He had retained a black eye from her blow earlier and his face was speckled with blood. Vox remembered coughing. She must have spat it into his face. Space Marine blood was technically a breathable fluid but not without getting saturated with oxygen from time to time.
“You bloody idiot”, Vox rasped accurately. “You wouldn’t have survived that.”
A hand groped upwards to wipe the blood away. The fingers were hers, she was certain.
“Wouldn’t I?”, Arrick asked calmly. “Seems to me, I did. And so did you.”
Vox patted the length of his arm as if to check that he was solid.
“Would you have pulled the trigger if I hadn’t defeated you when we first met?”, she asked after a few decades. It was time for a tale to stabilise her.
Arrick thought about this question while he put her pistol down.
“I would have shot Berethen”, he conceded. “Can’t tell you if this has to do with hierarchy.”
While the friend moved off her chest to sit down beside her, Vox tried to take stock of the devastation. Her brain swam in painkillers and other arcane substances.
“Why is your hair white? You don’t look like you should be white already.” She noticed that he still held her hand. Her fingers had gone numb under his grip.
“Search me”, the white wolf answered with a shrug. “Just went white early. I have a few dark hairs left”, he mentioned casually.
“What, where? I didn’t see any when… Oh.”
Arrick’s grin was so dirty that Vox was glad that her circulation would not allow her to blush at present.
“What about you?”, Arrick asked teasingly. “You collected a little white yet?”
“Armpit and I can’t believe we’re talking about this.” She managed a nervous laugh.
“No one here but us”, Arrick reassured her and patted the hand he still held clamped to his chest. For some reason, this made Vox gloomy.
“You should have shot me”, she mumbled.
“Not gonna shoot you needlessly.”
“It wasn’t needless…”
The amused smirk crossing his features interrupted her.
“‘suppose surviving spoils my case somewhat…”
“But I’ll shoot that damned fool you call your sergeant”, Arrick promised presently.
“Don’t you dare.” The rest of her threats drowned in coughing.
“Why are you defending the bastard?”, he demanded.
“Because.” She was too exhausted for more.
Arrick ground his teeth.
“What were you two talking about anyway?”, he wanted to know grudgingly.
Vox had trouble shutting out her sensations. In the instance of his question, she saw his thoughts swirl by.
“How much did you hear?”, she asked to conceal that she already knew.
“Oh, not all of it”, he said casually. “The first part was hard to understand because no one was yelling. Something about black shields.”
“Then you might have guessed that I can’t tell you.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to try.”
“I thank you”, Vox said earnestly.
“Always here when you need me, little brother.” A smirk danced around his cybernetic eye. “Unless I’m locked up by your pals. Then I’m sort of more there.”
“What’s seventy-fifteen supposed to mean?”, she asked to change the subject. “You said that to Serris when we found the traitors.”
“Oh, that’s our code for ‘the line’s bugged. Go and do something sensible’.”
Vox smiled. That sounded like Arrick. Mekrah Serris, she had met only briefly. Back when Arrick had been assigned to Gladius. He had been a friendly but stiff man. Easy to embarrass and hard to cheer. She would have liked to find out how two years with his brothers had changed him. In the short time they had fought together on Zenith, he had seemed louder and in a strange way clearer in his outline. She had been too late to save him.
“Sorry, I hit you”, she mumbled to get away from these thoughts. Three dead, nine alive. In the end, you just counted. Here was one of the alive ones and she had to hang on to him.
“Don’t be”, Arrick replied softly. “You were right to do so. You’re a big boy and can say when you had enough. I didn’t mean to humiliate you.”
“I thank you for your intent”, Vox declared solemnly, her unsteady gaze wavering over him.
“Yes”, the white wolf said slowly and for the first time in their conversation his smile was genuine and warm. He leaned forward and gently stroked over her head. It was a strange gesture. Timid and well-versed at the same time. Like something he had done often but did not quite dare to do now.
“You’re exactly the kind of person who would do that. Now”, he added as if being caught out on something. “I don’t know about you but my hand’s gone to sleep. Let’s follow this fine example!” He stood up and pulled her to her feet. “You look like you could use some sleep.”
Vox did not answer. Instead she swayed and fell over.
Arrick was not quick enough to catch her properly and she ended up leaning on one of the benches.
“Alright”, he said. “You stay here, I’ll wake Ignatius.”
“No!”, she rasped, swallowing blood. “Get Dankwart.”
A pause ensued.
“He mentioned that Dankwart sent him away when you had to be treated this morning”, Arrick said thoughtfully.
Vox sighed flatly, trying to suppress the coughing.
“What do you want, Arrick?”, she asked agonizedly. “Wasn’t it close enough?”
Arrick growled something she did not understand. It was a mystery to her how he managed it but suddenly, she hung around his unarmoured shoulders. Far too quick to follow, he dragged her out of the chapel.
“Slow down, serge”, she mumbled. “Let me sort out my feet.”
“Vox?”, he asked while he waited until she had found her balance.
“I really came to ask you what I should do about you the next time you have the urge to spill blood.”
Vox looked down in embarrassment.
“You noticed that?”
He chuckled and they moved on.
“I’m two-hundred and sixty now”, he told her. “You could say I’ve been places and seen things. I know what’s happening when a Blood Angel goes for soft targets.”
“When I really go for blood, shoot me down”, she said. “From a safe distance, preferably.”
“You sure?”, the white wolf asked with a concerned glance. “Ignatius just needs a good slap in the face and maybe someone holding him down for a while.”
“Most of us do”, Vox said with a grave nod. “But when I can’t stop myself anymore I will already have drawn daemons. It’s not worth waiting for hell to rip open.”
“Alright”, Arrick said. He seemed very unhappy about this.
“I’ll assassinate your brickhead of a sergeant tonight. Just as a precaution, you know?”
He squirmed under her reproachful look and finally gave in without a word.
After a moment he said: “I wanted to tell you that I’ll apply for you to be transferred to Gladius. You’d be better off with us.”
“Oh, dread”, Vox mumbled.
“You can’t seriously consider staying under the command of that moron!”, Arrick blurted out in annoyance.
“Have we really forgotten to mention that…?”, she fumbled through her memory of the past five weeks and decided to make sure: “Cadia has fallen.”
“What? Don’t fuck with me!”
“Wasn’t planning on it”, she assured him. “The Jarls are drawing all Space Wolves. The Eye of Terror is weeping and its tears will drown the world we knew…”
“How poetic. Wanna chant a few battle songs next?”, he snapped.
Vox coughed.
“How about that?”, she asked.
“Nice tune.”
They reached the apothecarium. A man on the night shift came around a counter, eyeing them nervously.
“My lords! I will immediately fetch…”
“Shut up!”, Grimfang barked, causing the human to jump. “You will fetch nothing that won’t help you clean up after us!”
Arrick actually bared his teeth and growled. He absolutely was in the mood for this. While the mortal fled, Vox was astonished to notice that they had indeed left a trail of blood behind.
The Space Wolf dragged her into a room and put her down on the first slab they encountered.
“Now, you stay here, little brother.”
Vox blinked lazily, which he took as affirmation.
“Arrick?”, she called when he had reached the door.
She smirked in medication-induced amusement.
“You’re twelve years younger than I.”
Arrick halted in bewilderment for a moment.
“Then… make sure you don’t die of old age until Dankwart gets here!”
“Right you are”, Vox replied happily.

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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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