Veghard licked his lips, nervousness had a grip on him he could not shake. As a squat, psykers were a phenomenon left to the Imperium. They were not an issue among the Squat worlds, and now he did not know what he should expect or what kind of defense he needed. The spirit, if that was what it was, watched Veghard with a concerned look on his face.
“Time is not a commodity we have much of. I need to guide you, to explain what you might see.”
“What I might see?” Veghard asked.
“Opportunities, Veghard. Opportunities”, the spirit looked about expectantly. “We need to move on from here. You’re strength will not hold out forever. Besides, this never happened. The Farseer tried for this version of history, but he wasn’t able to change what had been chosen. If you don’t listen to me, he will get ahead of you and you will be at his mercy.”
Veghard frowned. This wasn’t making much sense to him. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples, trying to separate out what the spirit was talking about while he tried not to think what would happen to him once an inquisitor took custody of him. The spirit’s next comment caused his eyes to open in surprise.
“Perfect! First pull out of the box. You’re a natural, Veghard!” The spirit laughed.
Below them, the bowl had changed. The eldar lay where they had fallen to the combined fire of Novarius and the One Seventy Seventh. Movement at the top of the hill caught Veghard’s eye. Ghostly figures raced along the ridgeline before going to ground. Once in place, on some unseen signal, the figures began firing down upon the Imperial forces celebrating down in the draw. Several of the guardsmen fell beneath the fire of what seemed to be five figures. Down in the draw, Novarius gathered the remaining men of the One Seventy Seventh and had them retreat back to cover among the rocks of the draw they had just exited.
“This, Veghard, has already been chosen. It is a decision that has already been made. You see those rangers there? When you wake, you won’t be able to see them as they are now, but you will know they are there. The Living Ancestor who set this line has already deployed forces to ensure its eventual victory. The rangers are the gambit played by the Farseer once she realized a Living Ancestor had made this decision.”
“What!” Veghard exclaimed. “A Living Ancestor made a decision? A Farseer’s gambit? What in the name of the Emperor are you talking about?”
The spirit turned to look at Veghard.
‘Listen, though you won’t really understand, it will make sense before I go. Farseers always seem a step ahead of their opponents, right? This is not superior planning on the Eldar’s part, but instead based upon the Farseer’s ability to manipulate the information gathered from whatever oracle, be it runes or some other device, they use to scry with. The information they gather is, to be blunt, little more than good news versus bad news, but some inspired actions on the case of a few individuals makes even something as simple as good or bad news into a seemingly unstoppable force.
“The Living Ancestor, by contrast, does not need to interpret a bag of runes. He is instead advised by the spirits of ancestors who are not constrained by time as the living experiences it. The Living Ancestor can, by focusing on what he is shown, reduce the acts of random chance and can, in turn, advise the warlord on the best action for a given engagement.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Veghard exploded. “Aside from not making any sense, that’s simply impossible, besides being flatly absurd!”
“And yet it will become second nature to you”, the spirit seemed unmoved by Veghard’s anger. “Those rangers, what will you do? How will you save your men?”
A sharp pain stabbed Veghard in the back of the head as his head struck a rock. With a jarring thud, his wind was knocked from him and he rolled around on the ground trying to catch his breath. Gaining his feet he looked about for the spirit, but the odd feeling of a dream was missing and so was the spirit. Veghard glanced quickly at the ridge line. Nothing stood out and below he could hear the beginning of a cheer from the surviving troopers. Gripping his binoculars, Veghard surveyed the opposite ridge where he had seen the ghostly figures of the cloaked rangers. It was so quick that if he had not been looking for something, he would have missed it, a shift of grass against the breeze and the flash of metal. Dropping his glasses, Veghard grabbed up his heavy bolter and began to run down the slope to the troopers below, hoping he would be fast enough to get them into cover.
*** ***** ***
As the action against the Fire Dragons came to a close. Novarius finished the final Dragon, burying his combat knife deep in the chest of his assailant. His thrust, deflected by a chopping block, had become fouled under the Dragon’s arm and Novarius took advantage of a hard to reach vulnerability in the Eldar’s armor. A ventilation vent, set high in the armpit, positioned at the tangent formed by the cuirass served as his entry point. A high pitched grunt was all the Dragon could muster as Novarius’s augmented strength allowed him to drive home his strike. Unceremoniously Novarius dumped the Eldar’s body to the ground, freeing his knife.
Novarius frowned inside his helmet as more damage was assessed and recorded by his armor. By the Emperor’s Blessing, none of the wild shots from the fusion guns of the Dragons had found their mark, though just the passing of the super heated plasma was danger enough. Saved by the virtue of its design, and the diligent care Novarius applied, his armor had kept him alive in what would have cut down any Imperial trooper, but Novarius still paid a price in new aches and burns. Such wounds would have to wait for care, but for now he had the painkillers and stimulants to hold him till an apothecary could be found. Turning about, he watched the troopers who climbed out of the draw that had sheltered the few remaining. Dozens lay in and out of the draw, on both sides, and across the bottom. The flamer the exarch had used left even more as unrecognizable charred remains clinging futilely to insufficient cover. Abelard, who Novarius had anticipated having to execute when the boy almost failed to follow the squat’s order, was now waving forward the paltry remains of the One Seventy Seventh White Shields totally oblivious to the carnage that lay about him. As one of the last troopers climbed to his feet, Abelard brought himself stiffly to attention and saluted the soiled officer
“White Shield Terrence reporting, sir!”
“Abe? By the Emperor, you’re alive!” The officer looked shocked to Abelard, and the others of the unit began to cluster around the boy. The office sketched a quick salute and joined the others who gathered around Abelard and began to pelt him with questions. The men were all talking over each other and no sense could be made of the hubbub, all the while Abelard was trying to recount what had happened and how he had been reunited with them. Frustrated, Novarius moved up to the group of men. As his shadow moved over them, silence fell. After a moment where he said nothing, Abelard broke the tableau.
“Sir, this is Ultramarine Novarius. It was him and the squat I was talking about who brought me here.”
The officer paled as he looked up at the towering marine. A shaking hand attempted to salute, but the gesture failed and the man quailed under the unmoving gaze of the marine. His men shuffled behind the officer quickly and left Abelard to stand between the officer and Novarius alone. Abe looked from the officer to Novarius and back again at the rest of the troopers. When he realized the officer was unable to speak, he turned to face Novarius.
“Novarius, this is Lieutenant Germain, commanding officer of Third Platoon, One Seventy Seventh White Shields”, Abe paused to allow the Lieutenant to speak, but Germain simply stared open mouthed at the Ultramarine who stood before him.
“These are some of my squad. Michael, my sergeant, Gregoria and Damon.”
“We’re all that’s left of your squad,” interjected Gregoia, causing Abe to pause for a moment before continuing.
“I don’t know the rest of you, other than that you’re from second and fourth squads”, Abe turned back to Novarius. “What do you think?”
Novarius was silent for a moment. He contemplated the cowed Lieutenant and the men who had clustered behind him as they had the stones of the draw. Altogether there were not quite thirty troopers, and all of them were on the verge of breaking entirely. Morale was what was at stake and the Lieutenant and the sergeant were both unequipped to pull their platoon together. Novarius glanced at Abelard who was watching the assemble men, a frown on his face. Novarius felt the white shield had changed after his reckless charge down the hill. Even now, rather than feeling flush from his success and crowing about it to his fellow troopers as was usual for the average guardsman, Abelard was more concerned with the subdued air that surrounded his compatriots. That and it was to Novarius that Abelard was looking for a solution.
“You have served the Emperor well today. You alone have blunted the Eldar offensive and I salute you. For the Emperor!” Novarius thrust his bolter into the air above him and repeated the cry again and again. After his second cheer, Abelard joined him and they continued until the remaining men of the One Seventy Seventh joined in.
As the troops chanted for the Emperor’s victory, Abe was the first to lower his voice from their cheering. From rock knuckle he had charged down into the battle was Veghard, his short legs pumping him along as fast as he could go. Abe started to move towards the squat warrior and his motion caught Novarius’s eye. Novarius looked up at Veghard as he ran down the hill and was disquieted by the wide eyed look on his face. Novarius moved up to intercept Veghard and Abe fell in a step behind. The troopers continued the chant and began others as they regained their fighting spirit, their voices covered Veghard’s rushed warning as he came to a halt.
“Ambush! An ambush!” Veghard gasped as he came up to his two compatriots. “On the ridge! Eldar rangers! We need to get the men back into cover!”