Liliedhe: The Splinter in my Brother's Eye
Deathwatch training is hard. It is not just about learning to combat unfamiliar threats in unfamiliar ways with unfamiliar weapons. Ways to wage war are what Space Marines have been created to master. No matter how new, no matter how badly the deck is stacked against them, they will deal.
The problem is far more mundane, and far more insidious. Ego. Ego and prejudice. Space Marines are geneforged demigods of war - but that does not explain all of their effectiveness. It all comes down to Brotherhood. In exchange for giving up a human life, with all those things humans consider important, Space Marines gain something else: a family that will support them unconditionally.
Like all families, battle-brothers will bicker, bait each other or quarrel. When push comes to shove, though, when lives are on the line, battle-brothers stand together. Grown from one geneseed, raised through the same nightmare of hypnoconditioning and battle, a Chapter stands by its own. Battle-Brothers die for each other.
In the Deathwatch, this natural advantage does not exist. Here, Space Marines do not share geneseed or upbringing. All brotherhood they have, they must develop from scratch. This is often difficult, as there rarely is a clean slate between Chapters, and differences in style, in tradition, even in beliefs lead to clashes.
And then there are the cases of genuine bad blood…
“The Ophidium Gulf. The Veiled Region. Where are my brothers? What did you do to them?” The rough, scorched voice of Navarre, the Black Templar, reverberated from the grey marble tiles of the ablutorium. The Veteran stood at an angle, feet planted solidly on the ground, leaning slightly forward and bracing his massive hands against the wall, while cold water rained on his shaven head, wide shoulders and scarred and branded back. Without leaving this position, he turned his head to the side, glaring over the impressive bulk of his biceps in the direction of the Space Marine who had just entered.
Asphodel, the Dark Angel Apothecary, much younger and less heavily built, showed no sign of having heard the question. He calmly strode into the room, a towel over his shoulder which he placed on a hook, before picking another sprinkler and turning it on. He turned his head up and allowed the water to fall on his face and broad chest, still completely ignoring the glare of the Black Templar, who now turned from his meditative position so he could watch his maligned brother.
Still the water rained down, cold and slightly salty, forming streaks over his broad face, beading on his jutting brow and dropping onto scarred cheeks. Some of it pooled in the grooves formed by the bulky muscles on his shoulders, before overflowing and splattering on the stone tiles. Several drops carried a faint red tinge they had picked up while travelling the geography of old and new wounds scattered over the canvas of the veteran’s body.
“The Ophidium Gulf. The Veiled Region. Where are my brothers?” He repeated, his tone stone cold, the grinding of gears broken centuries ago.
The Dark Angel lowered his head and turned around, before rubbing water into his short dark hair. His body, slighter yet than the older Space Marine’s, offered much less structure to the falling drops, allowing them to swiftly flow over swarthy skin and pale scars, although they were just as pinkish in colour when they fell onto the grey marble and made their way towards the drains.
“They helped your brothers. They won that war for you, and you threatened them. You stole their victory from them. You killed them when their backs were turned.”
This was the moment when the other Space Marines in the Ablutorium began to take notice. A dozen eyes, light and dark, in human colours and much more exotic hues, turned towards the Black Templar veteran and the younger Dark Angel. Bad blood between Chapters, prejudices, baiting and arguments were nothing new. This, this straight accusation was.
And still the Lion’s son showed no reaction. He had taken one of the scrub brushes and was working the bristles over the exposed parts of the black carapace, turning his back towards his accuser as well as the spectators.
“I will not turn my back to you, Dark Angel. I have sworn an Oath to fight here, and if that Oath demands I fight with a member of a rotten Chapter like yours, I will. But I will not trust you, nor allow you to watch my back. In Dorn’s name, be glad my Oath protects you, you scion of traitorous curs.”
Now, the drops raining from the Black Templar’s fists were a deep red, congealing on the tiles as he ground his nails into his palms hard enough to draw blood. The massive muscles in his arms, shoulders and neck bunched, the tendons standing out like white ropes. His voice had dropped ever lower, and yet, everybody in the ablutorium had heard his speech.
Finally, the Dark Angel stepped out of the water, picked up his towel from the hook where he had hung it and wiped himself dry. Then he turned and walked towards the door, still giving no notice, no sign, however miniscule, he had heard any of the insults and accusations.
Only when he stood under the doorframe connecting the ablutorium to the dimly lit antechamber, he turned and looked at the tense, seething figure of the veteran, and addressed him. His voice was deep and smooth, calm, without emotion or judgement and his eyes were cold and quiet. “Consider this, brother. When we are in the field, I will hold your life in my hands.” He paused, and suddenly smiled, a thin expression, twisted downwards by the duelling scars on his cheeks.
“If I was the debased, traitorous cur you insist I am, consider this, too.” The Apothecary placed a hand on his chest, right where the progenoid lay craddled underneath skin and muscle and bone. “I will hold your legacy in my hands.”