Chapter the First: Scattered Clouds pt 4 of 5
Moving with his accustomed purposeful stride, Novarius moved swiftly along the tree line as he attempted to ascertain if the Warp Spiders who ambushed him had indeed traveled in this direction. The lack of tracks or signs of passage frustrated him, and in his heart he knew lacking more marines he was more likely to miss the necessary egress points the Warp Spiders had to use. If speed had not been their need perhaps he would have found some sign of their passage, but their attack and failure to follow up upon it pointed to an urgent need for speed. A flicker of movement caught his eye and his bolter came up to face the danger even as he turned to identify the disturbance.
Beyond the sparse edge of the woods he moved through was the blasted field that had been pounded by the bombard company far back in the distance. Next to an uprooted boulder stood two men, an Imperial Guardsman and a Squat Warrior bearing a heavy bolter. The guardsman was oblivious to Novarius’s presence and location, but the squat looked right at him and sent a nod and sketched a quick salute to him. Once he had done that, he tugged on the guardsman and began to trot along the tree line, though it was soon obvious the two would cross under the trees another few hundred feet away.
Without conscious thought, Novarius abandoned his hopeless attempt to follow the Warp Spiders and began to run an intercept course that would meet him up with the squat and the guardsman. It mattered not if the two had any communications as his forming up with the unlikely pair would begin to satisfy his requirement to reestablish contact with Imperial forces. He continued to scan deeper in the wood as well as ahead of him. The sudden lack of enemy was maddening. The short, deadly attack on his battle brothers had brought up his anger, and his own ambush of the small Guardian squad did little to appease him. Novarius found himself fearing that even with the distant sound of combat that was obviously drawing the other two soldiers towards it, the eldar were long gone. That they had achieved their goal on this flank and had reduced the advancing Imperials to two guardsmen and a single marine.
It was without incident that the three met together at the blasted edge of the wood. Abelard had not even seen the marine until Novarius stopped beside them. Abelard was bent over at the waist with his hands supporting him by bracing his knees. The heavy footfalls of the marine caused him to look up in surprise and almost caused the young man to faint in shock.
“Veghard. Sixty-First Detached Thunderers.”
“Novarius, Fifth Company”
Veghard looked at Abelard who was shocked to be faced with a space marine. Though the marines were not commonly encountered by the average guardsman, many dreamed of getting to meet them. When Abelard still did not speak, Veghard did for him.
“This is Abelard, One Seventy Seventh, White Shields.”
Novarius looked the panting, sweating White Shield over. No backpack, no weapon, no obvious wounds. It all added up to either a deserter or coward. It also explained why he and his battle brothers had not received the support they had been told to expect. If they had known that it was a White Shield force, they would have had more battle brothers accompany them on the mission. White Shields were to prepare an enemy position for attack, not support Astartes in straight up combat. Remorselessly he raised his bolter. This Abelard would pay for his failure now.
Veghard, the squat, batted Novarius’s arm with one of his gloved hands. Novarious found himself battling with being either shocked or angered by the intervention. He had never been touched by anyone who wasn’t a space marine. Within his helmet, he glared down at the abhuman. He could not help but wonder if both of them were not traitors and were trying to desert. With the evidence of Veghard’s attack on the Guardians, Novarious was at odds with himself on whether he should administer the Emperor’s Justice on the two of them or not. Veghard’s gruff voice interrupted his internal debate.
“You don’t want to do that, son. We’ll be needing him soon enough.”
There was no fear in the squat’s face, only an implacable glint in his eye that actually gave Novarious pause, a reaction that gave him a start when he realized that Veghard could elicit such a response from him. Veghard continued to steadily regard him, until something in his body language satisfied the squat and Vegard turned from him. While doing so, Veghard reached to the lasgun that was stowed on the side of his backpack. A quick tug pulled the weapon from its stowed position and he offered it to Abelard.
“This is Gracie”, Veghard said to Abelard. “She’ll do you right if you remember a couple things. One. She’s not your standard issue. She’s my work. So if you’re rough, she won’t fire for you.”
As Abelard took possession of the weapon, Veghard’s hand continued to caress the lasgun as he explained the modifications done.
“Two. Her range is better than that excuse you called a firearm. Use the scope for anything beyond a block or two. Three. She’ll get warm to the touch, so don’t panic. Finally, she cycles faster that what you’re used to. Which means that I don’t want you to waste energy spraying like you were shown in training.”, Veghard explained what he had done to the lasgun, and finished with a cold tone that caused the boy’s face to pale and send a shiver of remembrance down Novarious’s spine.
“You will not lose Gracie. You will not hurt Gracie. You will tend her before you care for yourself. If she touches dirt or water, you will be punished for it and if you do lose her, she will be the last thing you lose. She is your wife now, so treat her as such, but I am still her father and I reserve a father’s right to protect his daughter. Do you understand me?”
While the trooper nodded vigorously, Novarious could hear the echo of the training cadre officers drilling weapon care into him and his fellow aspirants and the punishments dealt to those who failed to maintain weapon discipline and care.