93. In Flames

When the elevator door opened, the noise and confusion of a battlefield greeted them. That it was a battlefield infested by creatures of chaos did not improve matters.
The first thing to notice was the variety of creatures that swarmed among the rubble of demolished architecture. Orks and daemons of different hues fought each other while the mayhem of these skirmishes was increased by strange, graceful flying creatures. They had leathery wings and soft, curved bodies of a milky white. Whenever they plunged down into the throng of other critters, they opened up at one end to reveal razor sharp teeth lining their insides. Even as the three Space Marines left the elevator, they could see several of them dragging their quarry up into the air. Just as often, the predators fell victim to claws and impromptu clubs.
Flickering like a thunderbolt frozen in time, the rift threw an aggravating, eerie light over the scenery. Dancing shadows outlined the nightmarish creatures around them with an unpleasant sharpness that seemed to highlight their abominable nature.
On the far side of the rift, signs of military activity were visible. Sometimes, pictures of their fighting brothers flickered through the air as if magnified by unstable lenses.
Contacting them was unsuccessful. The interference of the rift was so strong that they had static standing next to each other.
To spy out the situation they took cover behind a massive fallen pillar.
“Damn it!”, Corven roared over the eardrum shredding noise. “That shouldn’t be stable by itself! What’s keeping it open?”
“Bereveau.”, Vox answered and pointed. “Can you see him? He’s standing in the centre.”
“I never liked that weasel”, Corven growled and peered around the corner of the pillar.
“I’m sure that hurt his feelings and drove him to chaos”, Titus said sarcastically and took off his helmet. “Now”, he said, dropping easily into the necessary tactical contemplations.
With only the remnants of his training ammo at his disposal, he did not even consider making use of his ranged weaponry.
“That scum has enough to do fighting among themselves. We’ll make our way around the clusters until I can get a clear run. You two keep an eye on these flying things.”
“Hold it, sergeant!”, Corven demanded. “You can’t just stomp into a rift…”
“Yes, he can”, Vox interrupted him.
“Say what now?”
“Oh, come on Corven!”, Vox demanded. “Don’t you listen? He’s resistant! I told you about him even before I left!”
“You told me, you were going to get some reborn Sister of Silence because Leandros went sissy over her!”, Corven objected.
“Yeah, those were my exact words…”, Vox said flatly and even her helmet gave him a look.
It was almost amusing to see how the theoretically superior man shied back under the expressionless gaze and Titus was very sure that he knew who of the two had won their struggle for hierarchy.
“Alright!”, the rune priest conceded defensively. “If you insist…”
“I insist”, Titus cut in, drawing his chainsword. “Now, we all know that I’m not exactly entitled to give you orders, Corven, but I sure as hell can order Vox to follow me and since we are going over there anyway, you might as well help us.”
“You two are a pain in the ass!”, Corven spat. “And you”, he pointed an accusing finger at Titus and his chainsword. “Will not go in there with that toy!” He drew the double-bladed force axe from his back. “Meet Helena!”, he bade the sergeant. “I’ll reclaim her from your cold, dead hand if necessary but I’d prefer not to.”
They exchanged weapons. Titus tested the axe, swinging it experimentally with his undamaged arm while a happy grin spread under the bruises on his stern face. He looked at his two comrades.
“The Emperor protects!”, he called.
“The Emperor protects!”, they echoed and fell in behind him.
Strange forces started to push and pull at them when they left their cover but their appearance had no other immediate consequences.
The battlefield turned out to be less easy to navigate than Titus had hoped. From their initial elevated position, he had been able to get an overview, but once they were moving between the debris, it was impossible to keep track of enemy locations. Titus was just trying to calculate their best route when he heard Vox close behind him yell: “Eh, Corven? Ever seen lightning burn?”
A short glance backwards proved that she was grinning into Corven’s critical look. When she offered her hand to her fellow librarian, Titus turned and stormed forward. He trusted that he would not have to bother with avoiding foes from here on.
Not at his best at the moment, he rather circumvented obstacles than jumping them. Linked by their hands, the librarians surely would proceed in a like manner.
When the first thunderbolt hit very close to him, he thanked the Emperor for organic shock compensation. Wrapped in fire, the lightning cooked a flying creature that had been about to pounce on him but that was only the start. Not hemmed in by the shadow of the Tyranid Hive, the two librarians summoned a cyclone of violent death. Titus did not even consider asking them how they managed to direct the forces they created. Had the field been mayhem to begin with, now it was reigned by sheer terror.
He was fully aware what kind of risk his friends were taking by unleashing this tempest of destruction so close to a rift but he could not help the elevation of spirit that came with being backed by forces like these.
They were His Space Marines. They were His finest warriors and before their might, the scum of the universe trembled. Arching from target to target, the burning lightning singed stone and melted metal wherever it ripped flesh apart.
Protected by this, Titus found the quickest path towards the centre of the rift he possibly could. The surroundings became more and more uncertain the further they advanced but only once, a small pack of daemons materialised so close to him that he had to dispatch two of them himself. Surrounded by flaming thunderbolts, Titus swung Helena in joyful vigour. The short encounter hardly slowed him down. When he checked, his comrades had fallen a bit behind. They almost looked worse than the daemons. Lightning and fire danced over their armours, bending to their command but also leaping from their shoulders and hands in a manner that showed how little control they imposed on the forces they wielded.
Titus decided that this needed to end lest they wanted to deal with another psyker holding open a rift.
Having withdrawn the axeblade from the last daemon carcass, he stormed forward.
Another pack of daemons came into being almost on top of him but this time, things went less smoothly. The beasts were giant, red dogs. Taller on four legs than the Space Marines stood on two and the thunderbolts earthed themselves harmlessly on their collars.
“Shit! Flesh hounds!”, Corven yelled, far closer than Titus had anticipated. “Watch out, they are immune to our powers!”
Had it not been for another band of daemons that attacked the hounds as soon as they had claws to hand, things would have turned ugly there and then.
This way, Titus shouldered his way through the throng and sprinted towards the feeble figure he could make out among the unholy swirls of the open immaterium.
Leaving his comrades behind against this mass of foes left a sting of guilt but there was nothing more sensible to do than close the rift. Everything else would have to wait and if all else failed, they would hopefully meet again when they stepped before the Emperor.
Titus had taken only a few steps when Bereveau suddenly was so close that he could reach out and touch him. To make sure that he was in range he grabbed the man. The frail body of the old man was light as a feather and hit the ground with a satisfying smack. Helena’s blade split his weak form like a bundle of dry twigs.
The warp gate collapsed.
Titus had no time for more. Mighty, slavering jaws closed around his shoulder guard to drag him off his feet. Like Titus had done it with Bereveau just a second ago, the hound slammed him to the ground with force. It put one paw on his body, adjusted its bite quickly and ripped Titus’ arm and quite a lot of his torso off with an ugly crunch.
The last thing Titus saw through the devastating pain was his own blood streaming from the maw of the monster. On the edge of consciousness he noticed the collar falling off the dog but was unable to make sense of it anymore.
Darkness enveloped him.
Wasting no time on noises, Vox rammed her sword into the back of the hound she had just relieved of its protective collar. It yelped and jumped sideways, confused that a psyker could hurt it.
By springing into the air it managed to buck Vox off and flee, taking Titus’ arm with it.
Vox hit the ground, already wrapped in white flames. Trying to shake a gauntlet off and force her screaming blade back into its sheath at the same time, she rushed towards her fallen sergeant. That the flesh hound cried out in terror when the flames singed it, was immaterial to her. All she saw was a bloody patch of skin Titus’ destroyed armour left uncovered.
For a moment, the world wavered dangerously. Then, she connected. In the silence of his realm Vox could only feel her own pain spiralling into the devastating fear to lose him again. She struggled out of the other gauntlet, grabbing Titus’ neck and pressing her face against his. There was a spark of life still in him but, oh, so weak! Never had this precious man felt so frail under her fingers.
Angry and helpless, she rammed an elbow into Corven’s face when he tried to pull her away. When he grabbed her again, she realised that he did it through the flames.
She looked up into his eyes. Corven stopped shouting whatever he had been screaming into her ear and shied back. He was pale.
“Damn it! What do you need?”, he suddenly growled.
“His arm”, Vox managed. Corven scooped up Helena from Titus’ lifeless fingers and was gone in an instant.
Holding on to the white fire while she had nothing to burn in this restricted realm of her beloved was like trying to juggle living fish. Fed only by her raw strength, the flames wanted to slip away from her but Vox persevered. She could not lose him again. He had only just returned to her. The thought of him winking out beside her after this was unbearable.
Holding the balance with grim determination, Vox prayed.
For the Emperor to help them out. For Titus to live. For Corven to be quick enough. For herself to be strong enough.
No, it could not end like this.
Aeons later, Corven fell to his knees beside her. Indistinctly, she made out the arm in the remains of black armour.
“Skin contact”, Vox gasped and was relieved that Corven understood what she meant. The flames were biting into her now, demanding ever more food and she could not have explained anything.
Corven removed the gauntlet from the severed arm and passed her Titus’ hand while he nudged the rest of it into position.
The shock of the cooling skin on the dead fingers hit her like a blow and time was up. It had taken too long. There was not enough strength left to fuel the flames and in this enclosed realm of his, there was nothing else to burn.
Vox’s features twisted in agony. She had kept quiet all the time, now she screamed. It was the inarticulate cry of pure dismay.
Corven reached for her when the flames began to die down. He leaned forward to touch his cheek to hers. To comfort her. To whisper soothing words. The implications were too horrible to think of. Vox shoved him aside with force. If Corven touched her, the flames would consume him.
And as this thought flickered by, Vox realised that she had something to burn after all.

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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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