Death of a White Shield
“Fear not the psyker, xeno, abomination, nor traitor! They will fade as fog in the heat of the sun and we, the faithful, will triumph! Remember! The Emperor is our stronghold!
Abelard listened to the inquisitor as he stood in formation. He had finished his basic training, along with hundreds of his fellow recruits. Each stood, a white disk emblazoned upon his blouse. Though training was done, no one would be considered a soldier of the Imperium until after the successful defense of their homewold. Until then, they were only white shields.
As the inquisitor wound down in his speech, officers turned to their men and the parade ground emptied as the white shields were marched off towards the frontlines that had closed in upon the city, home to the older boys and younger men that made up the bulk of the fighting force that had been cobbled together as the main force of the Imperial Guard was ravaged.
I fight for the Emperor alone. He alone is my rock and my protector. I trust in him at all times. Remember! All our power and love belong to the Emperor.
The prayer rang in Abelard’s mind, and fell quietly from his lips, as his unit marched along the road. Other units fell away, but his block of white shields advanced alone down a road through a broad open field. He wondered where and what the attack would be. The rumors that passed through the camp had been such a jumble of contradictory news that Abelard finally stopped listening in. Many a fist fight broke out over whether the attacking xenos had either been so beaten back that no one would see any fighting, or the whole cause was lost and the entire camp was nothing but a sacrifice so that the planetary government and elite could safely evacuate.
When the attack did come, Abelard was totally unprepared. Rather than burning lasers and desperate firefights, they came under fire of an artillery barrage, fired by their own bombards.
The rounds came without warning. Great plumes of dirt, smoke and shrapnel shot up around them, filling the entire field they were crossing. Men filled the skys as rounds fell into the midst of the formations that moved towards the enemy positions that were the low rolling hills ahead of them. Discipline did not take over. There was no orderly dispersal with sergeants and officers taking quick command to tell men to go to break up and go to ground. Instead, like ants disturbed in column, it was every man for himself, each running pell-mell, scattering in all directions, running into each other, into new impacts, or being tossed into the air with rocks, dirt, and the already dead. Abelard found himself, like the others running in blind panic. Escaping the dangerous road for the dubious safety of tall grass. Tripping over a dismembered corpse, Abelard missed the explosion of an artillery round, but he no sooner jumped to his feet to keep running when the concussion of another blast lifted him up, and tossed him.
Abelard curled up in a tight ball, tears of pain and terror bleeding out of him. The words of his mother came to him, a poem to put him to sleep; Lift up your eyes to the hills; your help comes from the Emperor. He who keeps you will not slumber. The Emperor will keep you from all evil.
But the Emperor did not seem to be paying attention right then. The explosions continued to rain death and destruction down upon the white shields in the field. In an eternity, Abelard felt, more than heard, the barrage getting marched towards the hills that they had been heading towards and the chaos of the past few minutes calmed.
Peace and quiet descended upon the field. Abelard slowly uncurled himself and stood. Abelard looked about with a silly smile plastered to his face. Among all the dead, others were standing up as he had. The survivors began to mill about drunkenly. As his sergeant walked up to him, Abelard could not help but greet him.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk with the wicked, whose delight is in the law of the Emperor. He is like a tree planted by the water. Sheltered and nurtured, he grows unafraid.”
“Enough of that Abe. Form up and let’s move towards the hills.”
As the men were formed up and moved towards the hills, death descended again in the form of the xenos that were supposed to have been decimated by the bombards. The singing discs of the enemy ripped and tore through Abe and his compatriots. Seeking cover where there was none, Abe crawled, ran, and was dragged by the sergeant in a vain attempt to fight or survive the xeno’s attack.
As he was dragged over a piece of surviving fence by a superior, wearing the helmet of one of the fallen, Abe realized that he had long lost his lazgun. Blood sprayed over him as the soldier was shredded by the shuriken rounds fired by the xenos above them. Spun around, the cacophony and destruction everywhere he turned, Abelard staggered trying to find direction and focus in the battle around him. Faces of friends and strangers alike appeared before him, shouting incoherently and pulling him about before getting lost in the fog and smoke until Abelard found himself bouncing about, the sounds of battle fading into a drone that blanked all other sound. Another round of barrages fell upon the fighting forces and as Abelard felt himself lifted again into the air, as the ground slammed into him and indescribable pain assailed him as darkness took his sight.
Abelard tried to breath. The world was falling away. The din of the battle faded and he knew death was not far off. His limbs were as dead wood, unresponsive to his wants. His thoughts turned to his mother, her smiles and her hugs. Her words came to him as he let everything go.
“The Emperor is my protector. He leads me on paths of goodness and light. He shields me from evil. Within his fortress, I am safe. Forever.”
As he lay in the mud, Abelard began to regain his senses. Abelard found himself staring in shock at his savior. White teeth flashed through a coal black beard that was fuller and more meticulously groomed than an officer’s doxy as the short stump of an unlit cigar waggled its way from one side of the soldier’s mouth to the other.
“Veghard. Sixty-First Detatched Thunderers. Welcome back.”