Somewhat disoriented, Azrael awoke. Above him he saw the pearlescent surface of an eldar habitent shimmering gently. Tiny sounds told him at least three of his brothers were asleep near him, and people were moving about outside, their sounds muffled. Experimentally, he moved and tried to sit up. Except for a slight dizziness he encountered no problems so far, and he had to marvel once again at the eldar healers’ abilities.
From his sitting position he could see Bethor, Damian and Calidus, deeply asleep, recovering from their wounds. One cot was empty.
He stood up, and had to concede that he probably should have given himself more time. A few seconds later though he staggered over to the partition, unable to stop himself. He parted the drapery and looked around.
Another empty cot. Pristine and untouched. Sweet Sanguinius! He grabbed the tent pole for support, and caught his breath. Casting about he found his robe, and when he had dressed himself, he had also found enough strength to leave the tent.
It felt to him as if a gloom had settled over the camp, it was much quieter than usual, subdued somehow. His uneasiness grew. The marine stopped the first eldar he came across, catching his arm. “Please, where is Fayak Autarch?” he asked him, and the eldar winced, whether at his touch or at the mispronunciation, Azrael could only guess. With an elegant movement he pointed towards a tent slightly to the side, freeing his arm from the human’s grip at the same time.
Azrael walked over as fast as he could manage, and peered inside. A gut-wrenching feeling of understanding gripped him when he saw the slender body lying under a red shroud on a litter in the centre of the tent. Red, the colour of the fallen, symbol of the blood of mythical Eldanesh. With two giant steps he had reached its side, streching out his hand to pull away the shroud.
“Shh, Azrael, don’t.” came a whisper, gentle and compelling, and full of sorrow.
Fitheak! Too fast, he whirled around. Fighting to stay upright he stormed across the tent to where she had been standing silently in one of the alcoves, paying her respects. Forcefully he grabbed her shoulders, partly to steady himself, partly to shake her with relief. She gave off a startled gasp.
Appalled, he let her go and dropped to his knees, grasping her hands. Impulsively he kissed her fingertips as though they were a holy relic of his chapter, and sent a silent prayer of thanks to his primarch. Sanguinius be praised, she was up and alive!
Suddenly struck with self-consciousness he released her wrists, feeling he had overstepped a boundary. He opened his mouth to apologize.
Azrael… Her touch on his mind, ever so gentle. Rare. Unexpected, but not unwelcome. Looking up, he saw her face turned down towards him, profoundly moved, while she tried to get him up and steady him.
Do not worry about me. I will heal. So will Ezekiel, with time. He is still in the healers’ tent, and you may go and see him whenever you like.
Her hand rested lightly on his forearm. There is another matter. She tasted worried, shaken even. There has been a battle in orbit. Many eldar ships have been destroyed, and many souls have been cast adrift. There will be no re-enforcements, as the chaos fleet holds the system now. All our ships and those of the Imperium are gone. This planet is besieged.
He felt her shock, genuine and immediate, and he could very well understand her. They were all planet-locked now, surrounded by the forces of chaos, which had just stretched out its hand for them.
Employing only the smallest amount of pressure with her fingertips, like a dancer, she led him outside, walking slowly at his side. The slight limp in her step did not escape him.
I do not think you should be about already, Azrael. Get some rest, please, while there still is time for it. I am afraid we will need all our strength in the days to come. And there will be precious little respite for any of us. She could read his questions easily off his mind, so she continued, speaking now in a low voice: “The attack yesterday seemed to have been the enemies’ only move planet-side, so far. We expect the main invasion to begin any time now. Calahan Battleseer has called, and we will decide what to do. To be honest, considering our numbers we will not have many options, I fear.”
Parting with him at the habitent, she turned to leave. Only then did he think about asking her an obvious question: “Lady, who rests in that tent?” His glance strayed back to where they had just come from.
A shadow crossed her face.
“Eriadan Exarch of the Shadow Hunters. He died drawing the fire of the walking tank away from us. None of us would have survived otherwise.”