Voldo Canis was about to go to war for the last time.
The aging Reclusiarch’s body creaked and groaned quite literally as his augmentic arm and leg swung in time with the biological equivalents on his left side. Slowly, he advanced through the great hall in The Font. He paused to admire the harsh glare of Sacrosanct’s unforgiving sun streaming through the breathtaking stained glass beatifications of Sanguinius. Chiding himself for wasting time, he pressed on, heedless of the chronic pain of his joints.
As he entered the Halls of War, serfs outfitted in radiation-resistant gear burst into activity, retrieving his ancient Terminator plate and the other accoutrements of his wargear. Within ten minutes, the capable serfs had turned an old man barely capable of walking into the instrument of war he remembered being. As Canis stood, two men struggled to hold aloft Remembrance, his Crozius Arcanum. Canis took it with great remorse that he may have to use it in anger today.
He thanked each of his servants in turn. Several sported the markings of benign melanomas brought on by Sacrosanct’s harsh conditions. He prayed over each of them, briefly, and strode back into the great hall. The thick lead-lined doors parted for him as he exited into the hellscape of Sacrosanct’s atmosphere. Gone were the vibrant colors shone by the stained glass; replaced with the stark monochrome of bleached and weathered battlements of The Font. Canis strode with slow purpose to the Tomb of the Fallen. Along the way, several of the Angels Sacrosanct bowed their heads in acknowledgement. Canis paid them no mind. Their souls were safe.
His war was to save the soul of one particular Angel.
Arriving at the Tomb, he paused to say a brief prayer of deliverance from the foul plague of doubt that had poisoned his mind for weeks. He had meant to do this yesterday, and the day before, and so on. But he had not until today. Things had changed.
Several levels of security stood between him and his goal. He was waved through all but one without stopping. The last door, though, would prove more difficult. As he approached this door, Voldo Canis saw the one thing he expected to see. The one thing he prayed that he would not see.
His best friend.
Aerin Protus, Sanguinary High Priest stood before him. Canis’ pupil, spiritual successor, and confidant. How many wars had they fought together? How many foes slain? Canis’ mind was too old to count them. Aerin had saved his life when a huge Ork chieftain had torn him limb from limb and had lovingly crafted the augmentics that bore him to this very point today.
Canis approached, not slowing until coming face-to-face with his old friend. Protus’ boyish face and spray of blonde curls could not hide his grim countenance. It was plain on his face; he too hoped that this moment would not come. The two friends stood in stark contrast to one another, almost mirrored in intent. One, in the deep black of a Chaplain, the other in the bright white of the Sanguinary Priests. Canis holding Remembrance, and Protus holding Parting Sermon, the wicked half-moon axe that was the traditional weapon of his forebears.
Neither moved for several heartbeats. Behind the death mask of his armour, Canis studied his younger friend. He wanted to stay forever in this moment. But he could not.
“Aerin.” He finally said.
“Voldo.” Protus replied with the ghost of a smile.
“I must speak with him.”
Protus’ smile faded. “I am sorry, Reclusiarch, but Lord Titus is in seclusion for…”
“This cannot wait, Protus. I must see him.”
Instantly, Protus’ stance changed to that of readiness, his weapon held low and menacing, his shoulder guard facing the Reclusiarch.
“I have my orders, Voldo. Please. Leave now. Let him be.”
Canis sighed, and carefully placed an armored gauntlet on his friend’s shoulder. Protus eyed him with caution, but did not move.
“My friend,” Canis said. “There is no time. Do you think I do not know his state? I have not come to deliver Judgement, but as a counselor, to bring news to the Master of our Chapter. He has a decision to make; perhaps one of the most important in our history. Please. Do not let our Chapter go leaderless for the vanity of one man. We need him now. All of us.”
Protus stood like a stone for just a moment, staring daggers at the Reclusiarch. Then he stepped to the side, his gaze cast downwards.
“You will not need Remembrance, brother.” Protus said.
“I hope that is so.” Canis replied. He advanced, past Protus, and to the door which held one of the meditative chambers for the Order of the Calm Heart, which currently held one whose heart had no such calm. The sensors of his suit picked up the faint sounds of ragged breathing from the door beyond, which cut off has he came to a stop.
As he raised the dark gauntlet of his Terminator Armour to the reinforced Adamant of the chamber door, he was stopped by a voice from within calling out “Come!” Canis sighed and lowered his hand to the complicated double-bar latch that sealed the meditation room. He pushed the door open gently to reveal a spartan space of dark metal, marred only by fixtures for ventilation, sanitation, a desk, and a shallow bench on which to sleep. But these features were lost as Canis beheld the final purpose of his mission:
Avestus Titus, The Whitecloak, High Justice of The Telestia Sector, Peer of the Imperium and Chapter Master of the Angels Sacrosanct.
Clad not in his resplendent armour, but instead the pure white robes of an initiate for the Order of the Calm Heart. Titus stood, dwarfed by the titanic form of Canis in his Terminator plate, yet somehow his grandeur and charisma shone. Even now, humbled as he was, Canis would die for this man at a moment’s notice.
“I’ve been expecting you.” Titus said.
“I’m sure you have.” Canis replied, carefully squeezing his form into the room. “Do you know me?”
“Voldo Canis, I know you better than I know myself.” Titus said with warmth that contradicted his usual serious demeanor.
“…then, the treatment? The Crucible?” Canis offered.
“Failed.” Titus spat. “Two weeks ago I underwent the trial. It seems I am not destined to join the Order of the Calm Heart. It has only delayed the inevitable.”
“Fourteen days… and the treatment failed… then…” Canis trailed off.
“What can I do for you, brother?” Titus said, regaining the bearing Canis found so familiar.
“I… come to bring ill tidings, my Lord. The Silence is undone. The Black Fleet is scattered and the archenemy lays siege to the Omega Station. Traitors and daemons, possibly even the foul beasts of the Hive, striking in unison. They mean to take it, Lord.”
Shock played across Titus’ face for a moment. “Echoes of Kalan,” he whispered. His lips then shrank to a tight line of resolve. “Then there is no time for me, brother. We are called to war. The Angels must answer.”
“…and what do you intend to do?” Canis asked hesitantly.
“My duty.” Titus answered. “Strip the garrison of The Font to all but the most necessary defenders, and inform the Furnace of Vengeance that we are to leave upon the hour. Wake Brother Abraham. We will need the foresight of the Ark of Memory, and I know that even in his dreamless sleep he hungers for war.” Titus ordered as he gathered the meager belongings strewn about the room.
“My lord...” Canis said “…I am not sure that is wise in your current condition.”
Titus’ demeanor changed like flipping a lightswitch. Gone was the collected commander Canis knew and trusted. In his place, a storm of fury raged. “Oh, will you stop mothering me, Rogal? My wounds from the Wall have been tended to. Father needs me. I cannot sit in the palace while we are besieged.”
Canis’ breath caught. He had been a Chaplain of the Angels Sacrosanct for long enough to know exactly who Titus believed he was right now. He also knew not to break the vision with the harshness of reality. “My apologies, brother.” He said, carrying on the ruse. “We should make ourselves ready. The forces of Horus could renew their attack at any minute.”
Titus sat on the bench, obviously distraught. “I can’t believe he did it, Rogal. That they did it. They betrayed our father.”
“They are traitors. We will hold until Roboute arrives. Do not despair.”
Titus sighed. “If only I could talk to him.”
“No, to Horus.” Titus answered wistfully.
“Talk… to the Arch-Traitor? To what end?”
“He was led astray. Think, Rogal! Our brother Horus, the most trusted of all of us, turning against all we have fought to build? No. I don’t believe it. Something dark influences him. If I could just get through to him, I know I can bring him back, no matter what fate has decreed.” Titus said with such conviction that Canis almost staggered. The Black Rage channeled the memories of Sanguinius through its victims, but in all his years, he had never heard anyone consider saving Horus. Was this what their primogenitor felt on the eve of his death?
Suddenly Titus had a faraway look in his eyes. He began breathing raggedly again for a moment. He looked up at Canis. “How long was I gone?”
“Only a few moments, my lord.” Canis replied. He affixed Remembrance to his belt and slowly removed his helmet. As Titus beheld Canis’ face, his own expression was a mirrored sorrow of the pain Canis felt in his soul. “Please my Lord…” Canis said extending his hand. “Come with me, now.”
“…yes. I think that would be for the best.” Titus said, taking Canis’ hand.