Titus knew well that Aegis was at their wits’ end as to what to do about him. Not only had he forced them to proceed with their own training plan, he also would not stop training before he hit his limits head-on. Dankwart had made him lie still for a whole day to run extensive checks, only to confirm that, indeed, his sus-an membrane had taken fatal damage. After this, the captain had gone critical.
For the first two days, the team tried to stop training when he reached the point of falling over but he snapped orders at them as long as he found breath. On the third day, Vox broke Titus’ arm in a sparring unit. When the captain tried to come at him with the sword in the other hand, he resorted to pushing him over. On being scolded by Tiberius for this, the librarian steadily claimed that it was time for unarmed combat now. Since he was coordinating the training at the time, Tiberius was forced to drop the subject. Titus meanwhile, was nearing collapse in any case. There was nothing left to do than to laugh for painkillers and exhaustion until he lost consciousness.
Upon awakening he found himself locked in a room with Vox. Enraged about this, he spoiled this attempt to make him rest by throwing furniture at the librarian. The young brother was surprisingly nice about this. Far from annoyed or condescending he instead talked earnestly to Titus and made him feel that he was taken seriously. It still ended with Vox pinning the raging captain to the floor because no warrior allowed anyone to throw chairs at them for long, inferior rank or not. Soothed by the still calm demeanour, Titus yielded but only for the moment. He insisted on joining the training again the next day. Had it not been for his superior rank, there probably would have been a blazing row about this. Even without a violent argument, it was a strangely close run thing, he felt. The sanguine blooded just stared at him in disapprobation and had it not been for Tiberius, who started to fidget with his third arm and finally walked off in silent submission, Titus might not have gotten his way after all. As captain, he was used to being obeyed whatever his subordinates thought about it but this was nagging at him.
Since Astartes were ambidextrous by design, the broken arm was only a minor hindrance. He simply used the other hand for a while. Also, now he got the right supplements in his food again, he healed fast.
As a concession to the circumstances, however, he established the rule that he would train as long as he could stand. From here on, Aegis usually just let him collapse and took him to his room afterwards. Or rather one of the rooms. They still switched them at random.
Vox was always with him except for the bathing ritual. Since he turned up with wet hair afterwards, Titus presumed that he used the time to bathe himself. He was uncertain when the brother slept. Of course, an Astartes could put off sleep for quite a while. Still. After about two or three weeks at the utmost, even the best trained and most spritely Space Marine got erratic at best. Chaotic at worst.
Vox seemed to manage, however. Always there when the captain woke, be it from sleep or unconsciousness, the young man turned out to be just the person Titus needed.
Under the weakness everything was hard. Standing up was hard, training was terrible, staying awake for a whole day was unattainable. It seemed that the weakness itself sprouted new incapabilities that spread into his whole existence. Often, it even crept into his mind, consuming the precious hope he had been granted at first. He bit through but every little step was a contest. Even the presence of the other brothers was hard. They were solid, reliable characters but talking to Tiberius was a struggle, talking to Dankwart plainly impossible. Only Vox was easy. He had this way of being around, protecting without hindering and standing right in the direction where Titus threatened to tip. He offered the shoulder to lean on when the others could not see and provided something even more crucial: It was with him that Titus could carry his jokes. He had never been particularly prone to fooling around but now, humour seemed to be the only thing that made it all bearable. With each stupid joke and every chuckle, reality seemed to thicken around him, making the time of torture more and more surreal in comparison. Being cursed with a next to perfect memory, Titus would never forget the darkness but he began to hope that he could leave it behind nevertheless.
And Vox was the one who seemed to carry the light he could orient himself towards. There was an understanding between them Titus could not explain but still needed like he needed his faith. Within the shortest possible time, the Ultramarine began to call the black shield ‘friend’.
Today, they were about to engage their third warp jump.
Titus was nervous about this. He still was unable to endure a whole day of training and now, they were nearing their first fight. The next five days would be spent guarding the periphery of the Gellar Field generator where, according to Vox’s foretelling, the daemons would pose the greatest threat.
The librarian had explicitly advised against changing the route. What he had seen was not too bad for warp travel. At least they knew where it would start and when to be watchful. Incidents like this could happen at any time in the immaterium and they usually meant that neither the ship nor its crew was ever to be seen again.
Not having expected fights on the current mission, Laraise lacked sufficient equipment for her protectors. She was unable to provide more than a few explosives in addition to their regular war gear. At least she had ordered a curfew during the jump and had several teams of engineers standing by. They were supposed to repair things on the fly but Vox thought that it would be just a random fluctuation. Indeed, the lead engineer had confirmed in an uneasy manner that sometimes the Omnissiah just hated you. He had put it a bit more elegantly but that had been the core message.
Apart from these difficulties, Titus was concerned about his endurance. About his leadership qualities too.
Vox had spoken truly prophetically when he had pointed out that carrying ranks over between chapters was tricky. To add to his troubles, Titus was sure that he had by no means seen enough of Aegis’ tactics to do them justice in a real battle.
The planning for the whole occasion had been very unsatisfying already. Vox had been able to point out the most threatened areas and that was about it. The librarian himself would be unable to use any significant powers during the jump if he wanted to avoid opening an even better pathway for the daemons. The enemies they were expecting would have to be dealt with by good old fashioned warfare. No, not warfare, Titus corrected himself. This was no company on campaign he was leading. All he had were three warriors who had proven rather wayward on several occasions. The last time had been only a few hours back when they had sorted their equipment out. Tiberius had refused any melee weapon because he preferred to use his third arm and Vox had declined to carry a bolter. On top of this, he had insisted on wearing his jump pack. Titus was still uneasy about the reason he had allowed such a foolish thing with a fight in narrow corridors ahead: It had been because all of Aegis had refrained from arguing the point. They had just stood three abreast and looked at him until he had given in. He had never seen people acting like this. Whenever Titus stumbled over a point they deemed important, they never had to coordinate themselves. They just acted together as if of one mind. It was highly disconcerting.
So, Vox had gotten his jump pack.
With all this to consider, Titus was glad for the sheer dullness of patrolling. It took the edge off most things.
They worked in pairs and took turns in securing the environs and guarding the generator room. About thirty-four hours after their entry into the warp, Titus and Vox were just strolling along one of the corridors a bit further out. Suddenly, the librarian tensed.
“Incoming!”, he sent out over their joint vox channel.
In the narrow corridor, Vox sprang forward like a deadly arrow. Titus followed him as quickly as possible. They turned a corner.
“Ready, captain?”, the librarian called. “Now!”
The Gellar Field failed them for merely a second but its weakening and coming back to strength meant three seconds for the hordes of daemons to push through in random places in the ship.
Vox had already lifted his hand to his sword when the first abomination burst through the wall. It was sliced in half as the blade slid out and a second one was skewered neatly even before it had fully taken form. Then, Vox powered up his jump pack, killing two more daemons as he passed them by and was now on the far side of the rift that spat out chaos creatures like a slit open Mukaali spilling its guts. The daemons were multi-limbed, stubby and of a pale pink. As they came to a lumbering halt, they started to hurl fire after Vox and Titus recognized the type. He had fought this sort of daemons before. Reliant on their ability to throw flame lances, the pink horrors were vulnerable in close-quarter combat. Just what he desired in his enemies in a confined space.
The corridor was so narrow that one Space Marine was more than enough to hold it and this swarm was now caged between them. Had Titus been at his best, it would have been a mere exercise to cut the well-portioned foes down. This way, however, he had trouble dealing with them, even though they were absurdly easy to dispatch. As long as the breach was open, most of them appeared facing the other way or stumbled right into the strikes of his chainsword. Only when it had closed again did the creatures seem to notice him, opting for some kind of organisation which the narrow space would not allow for. He held his position, swinging his chainsword methodically and as steadily as his stamina allowed, changing the sword hand when one of his arms threatened to give out.
Finally, the last daemon fell.
As it dropped to the floor, Vox stood and watched him in an almost relaxed manner. He had put away his sword already. His pattern of carnage was very different from Titus’ part in the massacre. The captain had mostly occupied one spot and left ripped open carcasses with splattered surfaces, including himself. Vox on the other hand had covered much more ground. His foes lay neatly cut up left and right, with a handy free path in the middle. Only occasionally, one had sprayed the walls with its juices. Titus’ well-trained eye gathered all this in an instant.
“Impressive, little brother”, he said. He was not sure where the diminutive had come from.
“Right back at ye, captain”, Vox replied and stood there, managing to look so innocent. In power armour. With the slaughter behind him. Unfortunately, there was no time to think about this further.
Titus engaged his vox.
Tiberius answered: “The generator room is under control, captain. We had a few casualties among the crew and on and off some daemons try to come in.”
“That’s bad”, Vox said half to himself.
“Why?”, Titus asked.
“Small daemons usually just wreak havoc and leave it at that. Trying to destroy the generator counts as intelligent behaviour. Never good. Means there is a large one somewhere controlling them.”
“Brothers, hold position! The generator must be defended at all costs!”, Titus ordered. “Vox and I will go hunting.”
Even through his helmet, Titus thought that Vox shot him a concerned glance but he refrained from commenting and there was nothing for it in any case. Titus had lead by rank and he intended to use it, same chapter or not.