Chapter The First
White Shield Abelard threw himself down into the dust and grime below the ragged remains of a stone wall, a sharp jab in his shoulder told of a sharp rock he had not seen while scrambling for cover. The report of shots fired and the resulting pinging of ricocheting shuriken let the panicked boy know how close he had been to being shot. Dust caked his mouth and nose and he huddled atop his lazrifle, panting into the ground. Explosions peppered the ground beyond his makeshift cover, and he waited for the ill fated round that would fall on the wrong side of the stacked stone fence that was his lone protection from the Eldar forces arrayed against him.
Forcing his eyes open, he fought to turn his head to the side, looking down the line of the low wall to see how much of his squad made the mad dash. The artillery barrage continued to fall, and Abelard knew it was just a matter of time before he would be under the guns of the bombards that were blindly firing into the coordinates they had been supplied. It had been the sick joke of a common problem back at the barracks, artillery that failed to stay within the proper firing coordinates and troopers dieing by friendly fire. It had been a mad dash across the short field. Mad and bloody, for Abelard watched the men ahead of him, as they charged together, get cut down by the withering fire coming from the Eldar in the tree line ahead. Looking down the wall Abelard could see that he was the only trooper on station at the wall.
A slap to the back of his head caused him to turn to look the other way. There in the dirt along side of him lay Sergeant Michael, Germain, Gregoria, and Damon. The lieutenant was speaking to him, but the concussion from the barrage was still ringing loudly in his ears, there was no sound but an eerie quiet that masked all other sounds. The order was clear though. They were not stopping at this shattered wall. They needed to continue as the barrage tapered off. He was a moment slower than his fellows nearer the center of their platoon and again he was the helpless observer of death as those first brave souls made their last vault over the stones that made up the low wall that sheltered them from the barrage. The lieutenant reached back and grabbed Abelard by his webgear, dragged him out of his stupor and over the stones. Thrusting the boy ahead of him, White Shield Abelard stumbled forward, blindly following his fellows, mouthing prayers of protection to the Emperor that He ward him from the deadly rain of shuriken fire, or at least make sure there were far more guardsmen than Eldar. That and hoping the lieutenant did not shoot him for not being fast enough.
Of all his prayers, he realized as he suddenly found himself flung like an unwanted toy, he forgot to pray for protection from the bombards. With the world spinning crazily, it seemed even the ground reached up to hit him too. Blood was on his hand as he fruitlessly mopped at the side of his head, thinking it was sweat, and a fuzzy realization occurred to him that his helmet was missing too. His arms shook as he tried to lift himself up. Another helmet presented itself to him and as he prepared to put it on his head, in the band he read its previous owner's name; George.
Abelard continued to blindly crawl through the rubble and debris kicked up by the bombardís barrages. His face was streaked from his tears and the grime of the battlefield. His lazgun was lost, as were his companions. The withering fire of the Eldar wiped out their charge and his companions after splitting him from his troop. Shame and fear were all that kept his body moving. Fear of the Eldar warred within him with the fear that one of the commissars who patrolled the army seeking bad behavior to make examples of would find him and shamed by his cowardice, for he never even fired a shot once from his missing lazgun.
His shaking hands dragged him around great boulders tossed into the air by the massive explosions that continued to pound the ground all about him. Abelard tried to think which way he was supposed to be moving, as well as how he lost his rifle. His last thought was a panicked blur of watching the fastest of his platoon getting cut down by their hidden enemy and a confused view of sky as the concussion of an nearby blast knocked him down. Now he was alone, unarmed, and lost. The One Seventy Seventh in their tan and black were reduced in number to a single white shield who was almost too terrified to even keep moving.