The first thing he felt was the sensation of being jerked upwards. Softness enveloped him, heating up what had been cold. It surged through his existence like a hot river of light. There was movement around him and change. He heard a voice. Warm and powerful. It called a name and with pleasant surprise, he realised that it was his. He had forgotten the sound of it but now, it streamed back into his existence like strong muscles wrapping him in liveliness.
Titus pushed towards it, rising through layers of consciousness. The voice enveloped and guided him on his path. It echoed through him, engulfing him in heat and light. It told the story of a body he had forgotten as well. Suddenly, he remembered. It had been strong and whole and as if the memory alone was enough Titus could feel the renewal sweep through him. The sensation of returning life filled him with a never known bliss. It swept him up and away, bathing him in the joy of being alive. Almost flying on the swift winds of energy, Titus pushed closer to what was waiting for him on the other side.
A pair of eyes greeted him when he opened his. Blue like the summer sky over Terra.
“Move your right arm”, the voice bade him and he heard it with more than just his ears. These tones had been anchored to his hearts and mind for a long time. Their tendrils alone bestowed solace and healing.
He obeyed with an unthinking smile and the movement brought the sensation of another hand holding his. He intensified his grip on it and this seemed to pass muster.
The flames went out.
Without warning all the pain and reality they had shielded from him crashed back into him. It felt like being hit with a giant hammer. Titus groaned and had trouble orienting himself. Only when her weight was removed from his chest did he realise that Vox had collapsed on top of him. He sat up and saw Corven holding Vox’s limp body cradled carefully as if trying to protect her from an uncaring world. The rune priest looked a bit singed and Titus could smell burned hair and overheated circuits.
A quick look around told him that the body of Bereveau lay next to them. Apart from this, they were alone. No beasts were visible in the whole area. Their voxes picked up the chatter from their comrades and their helmets and gauntlets lay scattered around them. Again.
Good that Tiberius was spared the sight of this, Titus thought in passing. Then, his attention returned to what really concerned him.
Corven pressed the unconscious Vox to himself and only when he turned his gaze to him, Titus became aware of how shaken the rune priest was.
“Welcome back”, he said woodenly.
“What happened?”, Titus wanted to know.
“Vox decided to pay your price, you lucky son of a bitch”, Corven declared flatly.
Titus stood up. His whole right side still hurt but the pain was different than before. Quite bearable now. One by one the memories of what had just happened returned. He looked to his right. In the gap between his torso armour and arm pieces, he could see a strange pattern of raw flesh and skin. It did not bleed but there had been a lot of blood there. He moved the arm. Gone lifeless for the disconnection the armour felt heavy and dead around him but his arm inside was strong.
“Where have the daemons gotten to?”, he wanted to know, methodically sorting through confusion and disrupted memories.
“Fled when she started playing with this white fire of hers”, Corven grumbled. The Space Wolf rose to his feet as well but stubbornly refused to let go of Vox.
Titus tried to understand what had been going on. Vox had emphasised that she would be unable to heal him due to his resistance but not only when Corven had mentioned it he had been certain that she had used the white fire on him. How had she managed it? She had fallen unconscious the last time she had used the white fire as well but why was Corven as stricken as this? What had happened? His gaze was dragged to a point where dreadful movement happened.
“She’s bleeding”, he commented and a dull pain made his stomach try to crumple up as he said it. Bright red blood dripped from Vox’s limp right hand. It was impossible to tell where it was coming from. The polymer underneath the armour plates was airtight. Only where her gauntlet had been removed was a breach for the blood to find its way out. If it was as much as this, the wound was bad.
“Nothing we can do about it”, Corven said lethargically while glancing down at the puddle of blood he stood in. “At least where there’s blood there’s life. Now, grab your gear and let’s get moving before anything comes back here.”
Titus followed this advice while Corven tried to figure out a sensible way to rearrange Vox’s limbs. He still refused to let her out of his grasp.
Half a minute later they had a blazing row about who was allowed to carry her. In the course of this Titus found himself absolutely unwilling to back down. Not even his sense of duty could make him bow to the higher ranking Corven in this matter. In the end, they tied her armour pieces to her and each grabbed one of her shoulder plates to drag her along.
They made contact with the other troops and were ordered to rendezvous with Ferone. Bolters in their free hands, they set out.
“Corven?”, Titus asked after shooting a white critter out of the air.
“What?”, the Space Wolf snapped.
“Why did you put the gun away?”
“Earlier when you found us.”
Corven gave him a sidelong glance.
“Didn’t you want me to?”, he inquired in his gravelly tones.
“Since Vox had just threatened to attack you, I didn’t expect you to.”
Corven shot him another, rather longer and much more calculating glance.
“I want you to understand that I’m only telling you this because, apparently, you have managed to become the bailsman of my little brother here”, he said.
“That’s my little brother”, Titus stated grimly.
“She was my little brother before she was your little brother so, fuck the hell off and shut up before I change my mind!”
Titus looked Corven in the eyes. He said nothing and the Space Wolf was the first one to avert his gaze.
Corven cleared his throat.
“We – that’s a librarian ‘we’”, he explained. “Are taught this from early on. If you fall under the suspicion of chaotic taint, drop everything. Stop thinking and be yourself as hard as you can. Daemons never get the details of a personality quite right and you just have to hope like hell that the person holding the gun to your head knows you well enough to pick up on those details. Yes, well. And in a situation where I had my claws at her throat, she was more concerned with the pistol wrongfully aimed at you. That’s Vox for you.” He shrugged and fell silent. Titus found nothing to say either, so they just went on. Sometimes they shot things.
It took a while to reach the commander. They encountered a few scattered Space Marines on the way, hunting in pairs. This included the other half of Aegis. Titus ordered his comrades to join them and they took the time for Dankwart to check on Vox. She turned out to be unconscious but alive. When they heard this, it became apparent how tense he and Corven had been. Suddenly, their spirits rose and they could not be bothered to hang around anymore. They left Dankwart to carry Vox and went out hunting anything not unreasonably far away. Left without orders, Tiberius decided that watching the back of his apparently badly wounded sergeant was the smart thing to do here. This development made their progress a little more erratic.
When they finally arrived behind the lines of fighting brothers, Ferone awaited them with a wooden expression. Like most of the Space Marines here, he was covered in different kinds of the enemy’s blood and his own too. Something had gotten through the iron halo that adorned his head and ripped open the right half of his forehead. It had been an insignificant but enthusiastic wound. Despite this, he managed to look haughty and aloof.
He greeted their salute with a nod and demanded: “Corven, report!”
“Commander, I’ve seen so much crazy shit today I can’t tell you what actually happened”, Corven met the order smoothly.
Ferone managed to give him a look without twitching a muscle in his pale, noble face.
“Tell me how the rift was closed!”
“Sergeant Titus killed Lord Bereveau who was responsible for the whole mess”, Corven reported without missing a beat.
Ferone turned his steady, unyielding gaze towards Titus who made the sign of the aquila in self-defence. Someone less in control of himself than the commander might have sighed.
“Very good”, Ferone said slowly and Titus imagined that he could see the wheels turn behind the Blood Angel’s blue eyes. Vox and Titus had been involved in another warp incident. There were problems headed their way.
“Titus of the Ultramarines, for your deeds today you are hereby promoted to Watch Captain.”, the commander ruled firmly. “Take over. Clean up this mess. I just had word that Inquisitor Zork wants a private conversation with me. I’m agog to hear what he has to say at this point in time”, he declared but it sounded like he already knew what the inquisitor wanted to say. Then, his gaze turned towards Vox who hung limply over Dankwart’s shoulders. Now, Ferone sighed.
“Is he dead?”, he asked.
“No, commander”, Dankwart answered.
“Praise be to the Emperor for His mercy”, Ferone said and a very small smile of relief stole into his features. “This means that we still have no casualties”, he said. “I’d like you to keep this score while I’m away, Captain Titus. I’ll hear your full report before you write it down.”
“Yes, commander!”, Titus replied with another salute and Ferone left.
“Dankwart!”, Titus turned to his apothecary. “You tend to Vox. Somewhere not here”, he specified. Dankwart nodded and took her away. Titus exchanged a short glance with Corven, who was grinning at him.
“Captain, eh?”, Corven said with an impish gleam in his eyes.
“Yeah, you know how it is”, Titus replied, shrugging his left shoulder because the right one still hurt when he moved it. “Promotion hits you sooner than you think”, he concluded with a slight smugness to his smile.
“Right”, Corven said and stepped up to him. He smirked while he laid a hand on Titus’ right shoulder piece. It was so bent out of shape that the crest on it was hardly visible anymore.
“Well, first casualty”, the Space Wolf said casually. “My congratulations!” He slapped him happily on the plate.
Titus managed to suppress the groan.
“Let’s celebrate my promotion by kicking the hell out of this place”, he suggested instead.
“You might want to delegate the kicking to someone who can still walk straight”, Corven mused.
“Now, now Corven”, Titus said pleasantly and started to check his firearms in a provocative manner. “Don’t be sulky just because I got to close this damn rift. You can always ask for a rematch.”
Corven laughed quietly.
“You really want to make this a challenge?”, he asked, his dark eyes twinkling between his scars.
“Of course. I’ll take Tiberius with Gladius and Saltus, you can have Morsus and Pugio. Let’s see who gets the higher kill count. No psyching around, just good old warfare. First one to lose a man loses and afterwards, we’ll drink to our success. What do you say?”
“I’d say, you should consider exchanging that blue shoulder piece of yours for something that does you justice, captain!”
“I will trade this crest for death and nothing else”, Titus said solemnly.
“Pity. I was going to suggest a grey shield with a wolf’s head.”
“You do me too much honour, epistolary.”
“Indeed, captain!”, Corven agreed happily. “Let’s begin!”