Chapter the Second
Storm Front on the Horizon
Back on the battlefield, the three new acquaintances appraised one another. Abelard ran his hands over the modified lazgun Veghard had handed to him, familiarizing himself with the couple different controls. Abelard could feel the anxiety that surrounded him begin to slip away. Whether it was the gigantic presence of Novarious, Veghard’s unflappable calm, or having not only a weapon in his hands again, but what was obviously a superior piece of equipment than his standard issue lazgun, Abelard did not feel as though the sky had closed in around him and trying to force him into the dirt.
Novarious had also given the lazgun an inspection. He was mildly impressed with the weapon, but used the time to surreptitiously observe the other two. Abelard, he could see, was standing straighter, breathing more regularly. Veghard after making sure Abelard understood the differences in his new lazgun, had turned away from the group and was surveying the area around them. Novarious had seen Squat warriors before, but he had never had to interact with them and while he had heard of their stalwart nature, heard how they were as impervious to fear as any Astartes, he had never given the rumors any credit. The few sentences he had traded with the Squat gave some credence to those rumors, for Veghard had not so much as blinked at having to speak to him. An almost unheard of feat in Novarious’s experience. Only commisars seemed to be able to control their fear when addressing one of the Emperor’s marines.
Veghard looked the young boy over. Getting caught in the barrage still had him rattled, but against normal human behavior, Abelard had not broken. Veghard’s concern did not diminish though. He was pleased that Novarius had not kill the boy outright for having obviously lost his unit, his weapon, and his field gear, but he was not sure how long the marine would stay his hand. A mercy that would not survive any failure on the boy’s part Veghard knew. He also knew that they would need the boy, and soon.
Vertigo struck Veghard having him drop to the ground on one knee. His vision blurred and the sound of his own breathing drew to a deafening crescendo. Though their voices were garbled and indistinct, Veghard knew the other two were speaking to him. He was unsure of their concerns as even the tones of their voice were lost between the breath of his lungs and the now thunderous drum of his heart. The streaks of white and tan sloshed about his vision. He could tell that others had joined the three of them. He could feel them moving about him, though they said nothing. Only Novarius and Abelard spoke and Veghard tried to calm their fears and explain what had happened to him. Then as suddenly as it befell him, the world snapped back into focus.
Veghad found himself kneeling before a map drawn in the dirt. Novarius and Abelard were knelt down to either side of him with Abelard speaking to him.
“And once we have rejoined these forces here, in which we will not…” Abelard’s paused, puzzlement creasing his forehead. “How do you know we won’t face any opposition?”
Novarius nodded his agreement and added a comment of his own.
“The white shield is right. This map is incredibly accurate, but we have no updates of enemy movement. These guardians that were stationed here were at best advanced warning of any broken units working the area, which will bring reinforcement, most likely in the form of their rangers.”
Veghard looked at each of his companions. He was still struggling to ascertain how he even drew the map, but he could not shake the feeling of assurance that if he moved and followed the directions of the map he seemed to have drawn that no harm would befall him. Time though was limited. Looking at Abelard, Veghard knew that the man would be crucial in the moments ahead, just as he knew the working of his lasgun. It felt like a half remembered conversation, the actual words and arguments used forgotten, but the gist and outcome remembered. Novarius would not be swayed. He would have to decide for himself if he would follow Veghard and Veghard knew that the likeliness of that was slim. Abhuman as Veghard was, it was a show of extreme will that the marine was even speaking with the two of them.
“Time is not on my side”, Veghard had decided to attempt to explain himself would be a fruitless endeavor. “Elements of the One Seventy Seventh will have been driven along that ditch line.”
Vehard toed a point of the map in the ground. “The Sixty First’s initial orders were to hold to the left and ensure the shields were not flanked. The remainder of the thunderers will still hold that position and that is where I need to be.”
Vehard picked up his heavy bolter and sank his shoulder into its harness.
“Emperor guide you, Astartes”, he saluted the marine and then turned and barked an order to the white shield. “Abe, on my six and stay close.”
The next thing Abelard realized was Veghard trotting down the low ridge he had been illustrating to him and the marine. With a trepidatious look towards Novarius, Abe jumped to his feet and, crouching low, ran after the squat warrior. In a space of a few steps, he overtook the shorter man. Remembering his last chase, Abe made a point of keeping to the rear of Veghard. He cradled Gracie at port arms as they trotted along the draw, fear beginning to gnaw at his gut again. Abe could not control his breathing and found himself panting, almost out of breath, even though Veghard was not pressing forward with any great haste.
As the two ran along, the lack of action or enemy fire, Abe found himself recovering. No whistling shuriken flew by, no explosions from incoming missiles or grenades. The absence of opposition began to bring more of a sense of boredom than fear. A feeling that was shattered when Abelard looked to his right as he scanned the copse of trees that they were passing beneath when the deep marine blue of Novarius’ armor loomed up above him. Abe stumbled, almost losing his footing. He had first thought that the marine would shoot both him and Vegard down when the squat all but ignored the marine’s concerns. Though when they had moved some distance, and no shots rang out, Abe thought that Novarius had decided to go elsewhere. Running almost silently, a shocking feat to Abe, the giant marine had moved up and took position off his right shoulder.
The silence that had fallen over their area, was shattered by a scattering of laser fire and the high pitched whine of some unknown weapon from ahead of them. The draw continued ahead and wound down to their left, chasing the sloping end of a finger from the crest of a hill. Veghard veered up and out of the draw and began climbing the side of the finger, choosing a small outcropping of rock at the midpoint from the top of the hill. The area was clear, for the copse of trees had fallen to their rear. Dry grasses that only came to their knees was the only cover available to them besides the hill they had yet to climb over. The rocks that Veghard was navigating towards formed a military crest along the ridgeline of the hill’s finger. Kneeling down, Veghard looked to the both of them. Abe felt the fear that had receded earlier return with such great force that his bowels almost turned to water.
“Abe. You will lead from here on. I want you charge over the hill at this point, the rocks. You must cross at their peak! Look!” Veghard pointed emphatically at the outcropping. “From there, you will start to lay suppressive fire into the forces that are holding the high ground. Stay focused! Novarius and I will be just above you in the saddle.”
Abe’s face paled as the blood rushed from his face. Veghard swiftly reached out and slapped him hard. Spots flashed in his vision as he tried to clear the ringing in his head.
“If you cannot do this Abe, your usefulness to the Emperor is finished. Novarius will fulfill his duty. Climb the rocks. You are behind the Eldar here. Remember the map? Fire down upon them. Surprise is on your side, and once the shock of your fire is absorbed, we will be set at the saddle. You are free to choose your action after that. Get to cover if you need to. We are not alone. The rest of the 177th is there, pinned in the draw. Only you can save them.”
“But…”, Abe’s voice was weak. “Novarius is astartes! Why can’t he do it?”
“We all have roles to play, Abe. This is one is yours.”
Novarius slammed the bolt carrier on his bolt gun, bringing a fresh clip into the receiver. Abe jumped at the unexpected sound. The expressionless helmet hid his features, but Abe knew the marine would shoot him down if he felt Abe was too frightened to do as he was told. Veghard stared hard at the boy.
“Go!” Veghard said to him, and pulled him around to face the last short yards to the crest of the finger. “Go! Now! They need you to pull the Eldar’s attention away from them!”
Abe did not look back. With what seemed as just three steps, he found himself standing atop the exposed rocks that seemed to form a knuckle in the hill’s finger. A wide low bowl was formed below him. To his left, deep in the draw, was the remainder of the 177th. Just before him though, advancing in rank and fielding suppressing fire, aspect warriors of the Eldar forces closed in on the pinned men below them. Abe brought Gracie up to his shoulder, depressed the firing stud, and with a high pitched whine Gracie threw bolts of light down and into the side of the Fire Dragons that were clearing out the humans from before them.