Chapter the Second, part 5 of 5
The rushed squat’s warning did not fall on indifferent ears and while Abe looked shocked from Veghard to looking around the crest of the hill surrounding them, Novarius turned to the rabble of Imperial troopers.
“Ah-ten-hutt!” Novarius called out in the trooper’s jargon. Sharply, the milling troopers jumped to attention, awaiting his next order. Scanning the faces, Novarius was frustrated that fear was still too prevalent. Whatever danger was out there, ranger or otherwise, being trapped in a killing field was not what Novarius needed with what was looking like the dregs of the One Seventy Seventh. Rather than the strongest surviving, this white shield unit was survived by the weakest and most craven. It was a theme that often played out in the white shield units, more often than was desired.
Whatever order Novarius was planning to give was too late. Near the rear of the unit, a trooper fell as the crack of a sniper’s rifle echoed through the bowl. In response, Veghard’s heavy bolter began its own staccato report, drowning out other shots. The squat’s uncanny riposte to the initial shot seemed to have fouled the other snipers’ fire as the additional shots went wide, even as the troopers began diving to the ground. Two shots did ricochet off Novarius’s armor, striking burnt pauldrons, but failed to penetrate the heavy plates. Scanning the top of the ridge, Novarius could now see the rangers as their cloaks failed in the frantic movements caused by Veghard’s suppressive fire.
Novarius turned back to the troopers. The lieutenant was lying flat on the ground, trying to make the smallest target possible, while his troops were diligently following his example. Abe alone, once the shock of the initial round of shots was fired, knelt down and was attempting to follow Veghard’s lead, firing blindly up the ridge.
“The scope, Abe!” It was all Novarius could spare the boy, who nodded and pressed his eye to the attachment of Veghard’s modified lasgun. Novarius reached to his utility belt and pulled two blind grenades. The bowl gave all advantage to the rangers, even if they were outnumbered by the Imperial forces. He knew he needed more time to organize what was left of the One Seventy Seventh and how to get it. With deft pulls, Novarius activated the two grenades, and tossed them out between the ambushers and the troopers. It would take seconds for the smoke to rise and provide cover for the troopers and Novarius hoped it would be quick and enough cover to protect the men around him.
The sergeant watched Novarius’s action and turned to the men nearest him. “Blind grenades! Quick, men! Let’s lay down some cover for us!”
Atop the ridge, the rangers had no hesitation as they turned their attention to Veghard. The first shots missed the squat, who seemed quite deft under the weight and bulk of the heavy bolter, even as he fired back at the Eldar. The rangers were quick to adjust their aim, and as Novarius’s blind grenades began to cloak the bowl, two rounds scored hits on the squat. With a guttural cry of pain, Veghard dropped his heavy bolter and fell to the ground. Abe cried out in shock before calling the attention of Novarius.
“Veghard! Veghard! Novarius, Veghard’s been hit!”
Abelard, without thought to his own safety, jumped up from his position and ran to the fallen squat. His back to the Eldar, Abelard grabbed Veghard and struggled to turn him over. Panting from the effort and strain, Abelard checked the wounds. One had gone though the meaty part of Veghard’s thigh, while the other had gone high in the arm. Abelard pulled out two bandages from the first aid kit set in the back of Veghard’s utility belt. His fingers fumbled in their haste to pull the bandages out of their pouches. The first he placed over the thigh wound, it was bleeding the heaviest. Pressing the dressing over the wound, Abe leaned his weight onto the wound. There was the entry as well as the exit wound, and he could not figure out how he would be able to care for both, let alone the arm wound. He could not even tell where the exit wound on the arm was.
The dressing he pressed onto the wound soaked through in moments, and Abe tore the next dressing open. His mind raced as he tried to think what to do and chanted, unaware of himself, the simple training he was given when he was pressed into the White Shield recruitment program.
“Stop the bleeding. Start the breathing. Treat the wound. Check for shock.”
Over and over he repeated himself as he struggled with the heavy squat. Struggling against the weight of his friend, Abe looked up to see lying in the dirt scant feet away from his lay two of his squad mates; Damon and Gregoria. Their eyes were wide as they watched him struggle with the bleeding squat. Anger flared in Abe, anger that the two of them would rather lie in the dirt rather than help another and would even do nothing but watch as someone else struggled while exposed to enemy fire.
“Get over here and help me!” Abelard ordered the two. “Both of you! Now!”
The two troopers were still too scared to move when Novarius arrived. The marine took one look at Abe’s struggle to stem the bleeding of Veghard’s leg wound and with one arm rolled the squat so that Abe could reach both side of the wound. He then looked at the two troopers, freezing their blood with a glare. Both quailed as Novarius raised his bolt gun at the two of them.
“You will move when Abelard commands you to, or I will dispense the Emperor’s Justice.”
The two troopers nodded their acquiescence and scrambled to Abelard’s side. From around the four of them, several more blind grenades popped and spewed forth more white smoke, billowing out from around the bulk of the One Seventy Seventh. Novarius grumbled to himself, the sound coming out more as a growl, the troopers had not tossed the grenades far enough and would find themselves more blinded by the smoke than the rangers above them. Looking away from the fallen squat, his eyes fell upon the heavy bolter. Veghard had somehow managed to drag himself away from the weapon after he had been hit and now the bolter lay beyond the cover of smoke. Realizing they would need the firepower of the heavy weapon and trusting to the strength of his armor, Novarius stood and moved quickly over to the abandoned weapon.
Shots rang out as Novarius emerged from under the smoke’s cover, though he was not hit. As quick as he could, Novarius grabbed the heavy bolter and tossed the weapon up onto his shoulder, fitting himself into the harness. Unexpectedly the heavy bolter pulled him almost over, and only his reflexive putting out of his leg stopped him from falling onto his back, even then he was still forced to take two steps to stop his surprising momentum. Just as his backward momentum was being checked, the heavy bolter jerked Novarius forward, almost with a will of its own. Novarius fought with the sudden reversal of direction when, without warning he was sidestepping to try and keep the heavy bolter settled on his shoulder. He could not seem to get himself into the saddle of the bolter and it was only by virtue of the drunken dance that he was being forced into that kept the ranger’s from landing any hits upon him.
Staggering about, almost in a panic at his inability to stabilize the heavy bolter, Novarius realized the bolter was not adding the appropriate load to the capacity of his armor. His loss of control was more of his over compensation for the expected weight, though the sudden shifts of the bolter had also confused him. The odd dance had brought Novarius back under the cover of the blind grenades, and as realization dawned upon him, Novarius relaxed as he sank into his knees while he attempted to allow himself to simply hold the heavy bolter and not correct, or overcorrect, the motion of the squat’s weapon. As Novarius allowed his momentum to sink into his legs, the bolter settled onto his shoulder and the saddle closed itself over his shoulder, gripping the armor tightly. Hesitantly, Novarius stood upright. The bolter, which should have been a drag against his motion, rode smoothly without hindrance and Novarius marveled at how light the weapon was.
Another modification by the squat, like what he had done to his lasgun, only this modification answered for the diminutive, though heavy, man’s quickness even under what should have been a crushing burden. Novarius stowed his bolt gun and reached out to a curious handle he had seen Veghard grip occasionally while firing. He had originally though the handle was to stabilize the weapon, but he knew now Veghard would have not needed any such device. Several buttons lay within an easy thumbs reach, and Novarius tentatively pressed the most prominent of them. Through the sight, a laser marker appeared and Novarius was disappointed for the mundane targeting aid, but he turned the muzzle of the weapon towards the top of the unseen ridge and fired a quick burst to test the recoil for the oddly weighted bolter. Braced for what he expected to be even more recoil, Novarius was not ready for the odd vibration that shook the heavy bolter. He cut the burst short, afraid that perhaps the weapon was unstable as Veghard had warned Abelard of in the use of the lasgun. He looked through the smoke to the fallen squat, disappointed that he had fallen unconscious. Novarius needed to know just what to expect from the modified weapon. Its power would be needed to clear a path for the troopers and Novarius and he wanted to know the new properties the squat had built into one of the most standard of heavy weapons.
Turning his attention away from the bolter, Novarius took stock of the state of cover they had from the blind grenades. Moving deeper into the smoke, he came back to Abelard and his two squad members. Together they had managed to stem the bleeding wounds the squat had. Stabilized for the moment, Abelard turned his attention to Novarius.
“Do we retreat?” He asked hesitantly. Since the run and the reckless charge into the Eldar, Novarius’s tenor towards him had changed and the marine’s command to Damon and Gregoria to follow Abelard carried more significance than Abe though Novarius was aware of. While Novarius had wrestled with Veghard’s heavy bolter, Michael had come to Abelard’s aid in treating Veghard and once the wounds had been treated, requested Abe’s next order. Even with the change in his attitude, Abe was very leery of addressing the marine directly, except none of the troopers of the One Seventy Seventh would even look directly at the marine.
“Marines do not retreat”, Novarius’s voice turned cold and Abelard felt its bite and shivered. Novarius though did not seem to take true offence at Abelard’s question. His voice seemed distant, as he contemplated a thought. “We will advance in a different direction.”
Novarius patted the heavy bolter. “This will give us the firepower we need to break out of here. Abe, detail a rear guard. We will circle around to the finger we came up. The rear guard needs to keep the smoke up to make the rangers feel that we are too frightened to move and are staying pinned here. Bring Veghard, with the Emperor’s Grace he will come around soon.”
Abelard nodded to Novarius and turned to the lieutenant. “Sir? What is your”, Abe paused as he searched for the right word. “Suggestion?” But the lieutenant shook his head and Abe looked to Sergeant Michael.
“Yes sir. Second Squad will form the rear guard”, the Sergeant answered Abe who nodded.
“I’ll have Gregoria and Damon make a sling for Veghard and carry him. The lieutenant and I will take Fourth Squad with Novarius. Keep an eye on Second Squad, won’t you Sergeant?” Abelard was uncomfortable telling the sergeant what to do, but with Novarius standing over his shoulder, he was afraid that if he did not direct his fellow troopers, Novarius would kill him for cowardice and all the rest of the white shields as well.
Satisfied with the arrangements, Novarius turned and started to move back down the draw towards where he, Abe, and Veghard had come from before they had found the One Seventy Seventh. Behind him, the troopers divided themselves according to Abe and the Sergeant’s orders. More pops of smoke, followed by a few tentative shots around the area of the grenades, as the Fourth Squad attempted to keep the attention of the rangers. The paltry remainder of the Third Squad made a makeshift stretcher for the squat while Fourth Squad trotted to catch up with the departing Novarius.