This short was my entry for HOES #3, Betrayal
Are You Ready, Brother?
‘Are you ready, brother?’ a voice softly asked.
Uninvited and unexpected, the sudden question shattered Bravvick’s brooding reverie. His mind swam back to the moment as his eyes focused on the warrior seated ahead of him. Despite the identical appearance of the Astartes’ seated along the rows of the Stormbirds passenger bay, Bravvick could pick out the helmeted figure of Eudeves, crammed between Zors and Paelleoth.
‘Bravvick?’ Eudeves asked.
Inside his own helmet, the Space Marine sighed and closed his eyes. ‘Yes, Brother,’ he responded over the private vox channel his squadmate had contacted him through.
‘Are you ready?’ Eudeves repeated.
Am I ready?
Can I be ready
? A sudden onslaught of emotion assailed him, a tidal wave of nauseating guilt intermingled with confusion and… fear
. ‘There is no preparation for this,’ he said softly. ‘Nothing could prepare us for what is to come.’
As if in sympathy for his inner turmoil, the landing craft shuddered as it broke the atmosphere. The hundred of his brothers aboard shook about in their restraining harnesses like ragdolls, as the inelegant craft fought against the shear of the wind and the sudden resistance of the air.
‘We have a clear plan,’ his comrade stated, ‘all has been laid before us, and the only deed that remains is its execution.’
If only it were so simple.
‘I am afraid I do not see things quite as black and white as you.’ He paused, fighting down the bile that threatened to surface. ‘Do you not realize the magnitude of what is to come? The implications for the future?’ How could he be so foolish? Could he not see, not understand?
Eudeves was silent for a moment, possibly lost in his own thoughts, possibly ignoring Bravvick’s imploration on the matter. The moment stretched on, lost in the pulsating vibrations overwhelming the cabin.
Finally, Eudeves responded, ‘The ends justify the means.’ His voice was soft, and Bravvick knew that at least some understanding of the import of their actions had finally materialized. ‘We must do as our Primarch has taught us.’
Shaking his head, Bravvick sighed again. ‘I only wish it were so easy, Brother Eudeves.’
A new voice cut through their conversation, the stern voice of their Brother Sergeant, ‘Are you ready, brothers?’ he asked. Bravvick sub-vocalized his affirmation and fell silent. ‘Prepare yourselves then, we will be on the ground in two minutes. Check and confirm basic combat loads: ammo loads, det loads, ration loads,’ their Sergeant paused a moment. ‘Steel yourselves, my Brothers,’ he said, ‘for what we do today shall forever resonate across the stars. Remember that, remember why we are here, and you will have the fortitude to go on.’
Closer to the aft of the Stormbird, the solitary figure of Sergeant Ulises stood as he addressed his warriors. ‘If you find yourself doubting, look to your left and your right. Your Brothers will be there, and they will be strong. Do as your Brothers, and you shall do your duty.’ Ulises cocked his head for a moment, ‘Ninety seconds,’ he called out, ‘you are
ready, my Brothers.’
The rest of the flight passed in a blur of checks and rechecks as Bravvick verified bolter round counts, frag and krak grenade availability, chainsword operability, and a myriad of other small details to ensure that he was ready to jump out and fight if the need arose.
It did not. The Stormbird landed softly, and the trembling dulled to a background roar as the engines cut off and the egress ramp lowered. As one, the Marines stood and faced to the rear, their bolters held at port arms across their chests in pristine parade manner.
Cutting himself off from his emotions, Bravvick stared at the back of the head of the Marine in front of him, simply falling in to the flow of the detachment as they jogged out the back of the landing craft.
Immediately, a new rush of activity and sound assailed his senses as a scene of utter cacophony greeted him. Thousands
of Astartes ran back and forth, hauling anything from field-ready defensive emplacements to crates of ammunition. Running in line behind his Brothers, he did see a pattern to the chaos, as every Astartes was set about fortifying the plateau upon which the drop site was situated.
But more so than the activity, he could feel the hatred
. The warriors around him reeked of bitterness, of anger. Although not cursed with the wych-sight, the complete antipathy that radiated from many of the assembled Marines was staggering. Each command barked, each functions-check of weapon systems was tainted with the underlying enmity that filled every corner of the drop zone.
‘Eighth Company, on the Colours!’ Ulises called out to his men over the vox.
Immediately, the formation shifted left towards the fluttering emerald Standard. It was wedged directly in the middle of the massive defensive line, shadowed by rapidly-constructed ramparts that stretched for a kilometer in either direction. The Marines rapidly fanned out, assuming a firing line behind the Aegis barriers.
Then Bravvick heard it. The sounds of distant battle, screams of hate and betrayal, of Titans and Marines butchering one another by the thousand.
Slowly, the sounds died out as more and more Space Marines fell into their positions along the defensive line. Bravvick waited, his hearts in his throat. Am I ready? Can I do this?
Never before had he known doubt, and now it threatened to crush him under its immeasurable burden. He could not believe it had come to this, it had all gone wrong. Everything he had spent the last hundred years fighting for was, no, had
disintegrated. Squinting, he could just make out figures on the horizon, drawing nearer by the second through the cordite haze as they ran towards the drop zone.
‘Are you ready, Brothers!’ Again those damned words, the question of loyalty and of belief. ‘Are you ready?’ Ulises called out yet again.
I am not...I can not...
He looked to his left at Eudeves, who stood immobile, resolute. He looked to his right at Brother-Sergeant Ulises, who met his gaze and nodded. Bravvick swallowed his revulsion and primed his bolter.
In the distance, a single burning flare shot into the heavens.
The Raven Guard and Salamanders drew nearer, equal parts exhaustion and relief evident across their noble features as they sought haven and resupply from the fierce battle on the Urgall Plateau.