The medicae aboard The Furnace of Vengeance was filled with the stench and stain of battle. It seemed to emanate from every surface. Even after combat was at an end, the war still raged on in surgeries, regenerative treatments and, when all else failed, the sober work of the Narthecium. It was a scene Leonidas knew all too well from the facilities aboard the ships of the Azure Flames. He had been relegated to their unpleasant care more times than he could count.
He had felt eyes on him from the moment he had entered the Angels Sacrosanct’s strike cruiser, but nowhere more than here. Augmented serfs and initiate Angels of the Sanguinary Priesthood all watched him with a mix of shock and suspicion. Only the medical servitors, slaved to their appointed task, paid him no heed. Leonidas let them look. He had business here that could not be avoided.
Among the bare slabs filled with the wounded and the dying, one area had been sectioned off by deep crimson curtains, emblazoned with a white, winged blood drop. As Leonidas approached, the curtain parted and an Astartes in the stark white of a Sanguinary Priest emerged. His armor was stained with dark blood that was already crusting over, and his head hung low, either in contemplation or in simple exhaustion. When he saw Leonidas’ approach, however, anger filled his youthful eyes, and he met the Azure Flame’s stride with his own.
“How dare you? This is a sacred place!” the Sanguinary Priest shouted.
Leonidas had prepared for this. To enter another Chapter’s medicae uninvited and unescorted was an act of sacrilege. It was more than a place for death and salvation - it was a place of vulnerability. Vulnerability was something no Astartes could brook, especially to the eyes of an outsider. This was a delicate moment, and Leonidias was not a man for delicate moments. He had to try, though.
“Brother-Apothecary,” he said softly, bowing his head. “I swear to you on the honor of the Azure Flames, I do not mean you insult or to stain the friendship between our Chapters. Whatever secrets might be glimpsed here will go with me to my grave. Please. I wish only to see him.”
“Get out,” the Priest said, drawing a wicked half-moon power axe. The field hummed to life and crackled with a promise of violence. “Leave now, never breathing a word of what you saw here today, and you may live, but you do not make demands within this sanctuary.”
Initiates were beginning to circle him now, hands at the hilt of their blades. Quietly, solemnly, Leonidas stood his ground. “Brother,” he said, “I understand your rage. But I must see him.”
“Bastard!” he spat. “One step further, and I w—”
“Protus!” came a phlegmy, choking voice from beyond the curtain. “For Emperor’s sake. Let. Him. Through.”
Every Angel in the room froze at that voice. The Apothecary’s power axe went silent and was stowed at his back once more, but he continued to stare at Leonidas with pure contempt. Then he spoke.
“I am going to sterilize my instruments. Be gone by the time I return,” he said in a gravely whisper. Then he turned and stalked to the attached purification chamber, and the cloud of initiates dispersing to tend to their duties. Leonidas was suddenly left alone. Gently, he parted the curtain and entered to see his friend, possibly for the last time.
There was not much left to see.
Voldo Canis, the parts of him that still remained, lay on a cushioned cot, encased in a jungle of wires and tubing. An augmentic arm was missing, either lost in battle or removed from the scorched socket on his shoulder. Scarred and scalded flesh covered the rest of him. Below the waist, Canis simply ceased to exist. A host of tubing protruded from his abdomen, hooked into the machines surrounding the Chaplain’s bed, doubling for lost organs. The fact that he had survived such injuries was a grotesque miracle.
Canis’ head, a nearly unrecognizable lump of scar tissue and exposed skull turned to face Leonidas. One bloodshot eye stared out from under those masses. “So,” he said between wheezing breaths. “You’re here after all.”
“I came as soon as word reached His Hammer II,” Leonidas said with quiet reverence. “Throne of Earth, Voldo, I am sorry.”
“I am not,” Canis said. “One more day of duty. None could ask...more.”
Leonidas nodded. “Many others can’t say the same.”
“Yes,” Canis said, his one eye clenching in sorrow. “So many gone. The Angels Sacrosanct...shattered,” he said. “But when...the Silence was broken...we held fast to our oaths.” His eye opened once more, satisfaction glinting even through its rheumy patina. “We met the enemy, and we won.”
“We did,” Leonidas said. Canis seemed to drift off, then, his one eye fluttering as his breathing went steady and shallow. Then he felt Canis’ hand wrapping around his gauntlet.
“Wanted to...thank you,” Canis said. “For what you said. Before. The Whitecloak is dead. They say that I will lead...what remains...of the Angels.” He let out a series of short gasps, which Leonidas realized were the closest approximation of laughter that Canis could likely make. “The. Fools. Who can lead...a Chapter...from a Dread...nought’s shell?”
A knowing smile spread across Leonidas’ face. “You’d be surprised.”
Canis looked at him quizzically before falling into a fit of hacking and wheezing. The fluids in their tubing began to move rapidly, and warning chimes sounded from the machines surrounding him. Leonidas looked away, letting Canis retain what dignity he could.
Eventually, Canis looked up again. “What you said. Leonidas. It was true. Good... and true. So much rage. It would... have consumed me.” Canis thrashed his head about, clearly frustrated by his inability to properly say what it was he wished to say. Finally, he lay back, looking at Canis with a pleading sincerity. “Needed to let it out. When I lead. I will remember it. Always.” he said. “Thank...you. My friend.”
Canis' voice trailed off and his eyes shut. The life support mechanisms decreased their tempo and the alarms slowly faded to the repetitive four beat tattoo of an Astartes' heartbeat.
“Good journey, Voldo Canis. Reclusiarch. Hero of the Imperium. Master of the Angels.” Leonidas said softly, and left, pulling the curtain shut behind him.
The Sanguinary Priest was waiting as he exited. Leonidas was prepared for glaring hatred in the man’s eyes, but instead he saw the sorrow, uncertainty and loss that he remembered in the hours after Iperin was won. Another Chapter left changed, hollowed by victory.
Leonidas gave the man the briefest nod before sweeping past. Later, as his Thunderhawk left the Furnace’s docking bay for His Hammer II, he said a silent prayer, for his friend, and for his Chapter, to truly find their way home.