Chapter the First: Scattered Clouds pt 2 of 5
Worming his way along the lip of yet another blast crater, he cried out in alarm as a strong hand reached out from behind him and hauled him away from the crater he was attempting to slide into. Abelard was tossed unceremoniously onto his back and found himself staring not at one of the elder, but a man. Abelard continued to whimper as he attempted to crab away from the newcomer. Still mostly deaf from his advance through the artillery barrage, he realized he must be making more noise than he thought, for the man who dragged Abelard into the small defile first clamped a hand of stone over Abelard’s leg, dragging Abelard again to his side and then clamping a gloved hand over his mouth. Bright spots of pain blossomed in Abelard’s teeth and jaw brought on by the punishing grip of his captor.
“Quiet!” though seeming far away, the command and glare that followed it pinned Abelard like a mouse beneath a cat’s paw. After ascertaining Abelard’s compliance, the other peeked around the rim of the debris that formed a tiny battlement. With one hand, the stranger reached over and with a grunt threw a heavy bolter onto his shoulder, and with a practiced hand reset the ammo clip and thumbed off the safety.
As he lay in the mud, Abelard began to regain his senses. The crushing fear receded, and Abelard found himself staring in shock at his savior. Though his uniform was of the tan and black of the One Seventy Seventh and he sported the crossed rifles of Abelard’s company, a third regiment patch was stitched below that. It was a hammer trailing a stream of fire over a green field, with the patch’s rim in silver. Several service hash marks covered the left sleeve, out of compliance with field regulations, but Abelard was unable to count them as he suddenly cringed under a shower of hot brass when the bolter opened fire.
“Veghard. Sixty-First Detatched Thunderers. Get out of my way.”
Veghard shuffled to the other side of the rock he had fired past. He kicked Abelard when he didn’t move fast enough and then bracing himself, fired several quick bursts. White teeth flashed though a coal black beard that was fuller and more meticulously groomed than an officer’s doxy as Veghard grinned down at Abelard. The short stump of an unlit cigar waggled its way from one side of Veghard’s mouth to the other.
Blazoned on the front of his blouse was his name tag, Veghard. An unknown chevron pattern at his lapel gave testimony of some rank beyond Abelard’s own White Shield. Thick gloves the widened out at the wrists covered his hands, but the bit of skin that peeked around the thick beard and from below the strangely billed combat helmet was pale. Arms as thick as Abelard’s legs held the heavy bolter, while legs near as thick as two of his own didn’t show the least bit of strain as Veghard moved back and forth now that Abelard was out of his way. A backpack, a non-reg modified piece of equipment, looked to be packed near to bursting with special pockets holding additional ammo clips. An odd looking lasgun was stowed along the side, within reach of Veghard’s free hand.
Scrambling to his feet, Abelard looked down at Veghard. With the heavy bolter on his shoulder, Veghard came up to Abelard’s chin, and Abelard was far from being the tallest in his platoon. Without the heavy weapon, Veghard would be hard pressed to be much over four and a half feet. Abelard began to giggle at the funny sight of Veghard’s diminutive height wielding a weapon that Abelard would barely be able to carry, let alone fire when a hand shot out into his gut, doubling him over. The loud report of the bolter accompanied by the musical chiming of the falling brass caused him to flatten himself to the ground while he tried to recapture the breath that Veghard had knocked from him.
“Time to move, boy”, Veghard reached down and pulled Abelard up to his knees as he gagged for breath. “On your feet! Shake it off!”
Another two bursts rang out and then Veghard scrambled out of the defile and onto the stretch of ground Abelard had been crawling along.
“On my six, boy. I’d give you a weapon, but I don’t want to lose Gracie quite yet. Keep up, or them scorpions will get you” Veghard laughed as he trotted off.
Veghard began to lope through the debris as if he had some destination in mind, seemingly to be oblivious that somewhere hidden in the tree line hid elder sharpshooters. After a moment’s hesitation, Abelard hurried after Veghard, easily outpacing the smaller man, only to be roughly grabbed and tossed to the ground.
“Keep your head down, or you’ll lose it, boy”, was all the gruff voice had to offer in apology.
“You’re one of them stunties!” blurted Abelard. “Aren’t all of you dead?”
He gulped at the sharp glare that was leveled at him, making him feel more exposed than he had a moment earlier. He waited for some retort or fist to add weight to the glare, but none came. Instead, Veghard turned from him and was looking along the lower portion of a slope Abelard remembered running over earlier in the day.
“Your artillery squads need a lot more training, I though White Shields weren’t used to man auxiliary units. They’ve messed up the lines of this battle” Veghard grumbled, and turned an ear to the sound of several distant explosions. “There they are.”
“Move out, boy.”
Without a glance back to see if Abelard was following, Veghard set off below the crest of the slope with a ground eating trot.