Chapter the Third
“Stop the bleeding. Start the breathing. Treat the wound. Check for shock”
Veghard could hear Abelard’s voice, though his eyesight was dark and he could not see. The boy was struggling, he could tell and try as he might, he could not help roll himself or be of any aid. Shock, he was in shock. Veghard felt both numb and drained of strength. His limbs did not respond to his wishes, and even as Abe struggled with him, Veghard felt lighter than the Overlord Airships he had crewed upon prior to his deployment within Sixty First Thunderers.
“Get over here and help me!” Abelard sounded panicked. Veghard hoped Novarius was elsewhere. Last thing they would need would be another dead trooper because some marine thought the trooper was too much of a coward. Novarius’s voice killed that hope, but gave new life to others when, without expectation, he sounded out in Abe’s favor.
“You will move when Abelard commands you to or I will dispense the Emperor’s Justice.”
Veghard was rolled over by Novarius. Veghard knew it by the uncompromising strength of the marine’s hand. As he was moved, Veghard realized his eyes were closed and that he was not blind. Opening them, he glanced around. Novarius had moved away and several troopers were now surrounding him, working on his leg and arm, though he could not see what they were working on. Looking beyond them, Veghard saw the smoke obscuring the bowl they occupied and felt tears well up in his eyes. Just beyond the cover of the smoke screen Veghard watched Novarius struggle with his heavy bolter. When he had been hit, Veghard realized that he must have failed to disable the anti-gravity aspects of his weapon. Some malfunction kept the anti-gravity running and now an Astartes carried the weapon, even if it was obvious he did not know how to wield the modified heavy bolter.
Looking away from the stumbling marine, Veghard’s eye fell on another squat kneeling between and behind two of the troopers who where wrestling bandages onto his arm. When their eyes meet, the new comer nodded, and Veghard realized that it was the spirit guide who had spoken to him just before the mad rush down to the assembled force Novarius and Abelard had managed to save. Veghard frowned at the other’s nod. It was bad enough to have a vision when he was healthy, to be wounded and weak would be unacceptable. The spirit gave him an encouraging smile, moved up between the two troopers, and held out a hand to help Veghard to his feet.
Pulling himself up with the aid of the spirit, Veghard looked back at where he had been lying. Unsurprised, he found himself looking exactly at what he expected to see; himself, still being worked upon by the troopers and Abe. His head lolled to the side, loose and limp. Veghard wondered how long it would be before the men realized they were working on a dead man and what they would do. After gazing at his body, Veghard took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and then let out a great shout of laughter.
“That is a new response, I must admit”, the spirit said as Veghard’s laugh fell to an amused chuckle. “Why the mirth?”
“I can’t be lead astray by you now, spirit. Look at me, I’m dead”, Veghard pointed to his body. “If I’m not yet, I soon will be.”
The spirit followed Veghard’s gesture and shrugged.
“You look alive enough to me.”
The spirit turned back to Veghard and placed a hand on his shoulder. Veghard felt a shudder run though him. Aside from the overly familiar touch, the spirit did not feel insubstantial or cold or anything other than a warm, breathing squat Veghard would expect to meet on any given day. The brotherly grip on him was disconcerting, as was the spirit’s unconcern of the wounds threatening Veghard’s body.
“You are not dying, Veghard. No more than the tiny amount you do every day you’re alive. You have a long road ahead of you and I am your guide for the first few steps on that road. I won’t be around long, and once I’m gone you’ll never see me again. You won’t be alone. Don’t worry on that account, you will have other advisors.”
The guide grinned and turned away from the men working on Veghard’s body. He motioned for Veghard to follow him and the two of them walked away from the smoke filled bowl.
"What guides?" Veghard pressed.
"Those that you will counsel."
"Not much in the way of guides if I'm the one to hand out advise."
The guide nodded in agreement but said nothing, simply moved away to the fingertop, oddly away from the ambushing eldar. With a quick glance back at his companions and a worried frown at Novarius, Veghard turned away and chased after. Coming abreast the guide, shock brought him up short.
"Your next guide," said his companion gesturing with an open hand at three squat warriors standing before them.
The three warriors bore the same markings and unit patches. Veghard shuddered at the sight of them, for each of them bore heinous wounds. Even knowing he was either dreaming or dying did not steel him for the knowledge that these men were dead, yet standing at parade rest waiting for, somehow, for him. One of the men were from his own brotherhood company, the other two were not. The second from a robot platoon, the last was a gyro-copter pilot. Beside him, the guide began to speak.
"Coming soon, a choice will have to be made. That choice will cause a chain reaction of events. Those events will have outcomes that will be the crux of yet more choices, and that will continue to repeat over and over.
"What does this have to do with me? You wan to ask? As a Living Ancestor you are able to look down the cause and effect of decisions in battle. It is for you to choose someone's action that will cascade into a victory, or if that is impossible, a tolerable defeat. That choice will be dictated by what you experience here. These men here are the result of the choices they made in the battle ahead, but only one of these three choices can be made. As what each of these chose effected the options the other's had to choose between. They can tell you what happened and the end result of their choices. Irregardless of who's choice you deem best, the one you choose will be going to their death. You can only get glimpses of the future though the memories of those who have died. They are not bound to time the way you are. Do you understand?"
Veghard grunted. He wasn't sure what he understood beyond he was likely dead, or dying, and deep in shock by now. He felt he was waiting more for these dead men to somehow turn into him and he would be trapped in some macabre nightmare of gruesome death and agonized dying. This talk of choices and predicting outcomes was beyond his ken. Humans may have psychics, witches, and warp-bound heretics, but not squats. Rock solid and more dependable than any Astartes. That described a squat, not a reality bending psyker.
"There is a catch. Each guide you call, each choice you make, drains you. Weakens you. Each subsequent call becomes more difficult that the last. This is a weakness you do not recover from. As time goes on, you will struggle more and more to gaze into choices of the future, and one day you will find that though you feel too worn out, you have the strength to call a guide, to have the future shown to you, and pick the best path forward. Yet once you have accomplished that, you will find that you do not have the strength awaken and your wisdom and counsel will be forever lost.
"Use your time wisely, Ancestor. Our peoples' fate rests upon you."
The guide smiled sadly and Veghard felt fingers of panic worm their way into his heart. He started to ask a question of the spirit, but shock stilled his voice as the spirit vanished, like a soap bubble popping, leaving no evidence of ever existing.
Frowning at the abruptness of the exit, Veghard's eyes turned to the three warriors before him. As one they bowed, then the one furthest left stepped forward. He knelt kissed his fingertips, pressed them to his forehead in benediction, and then pressed his palms together, raising them to Veghard. Feeling a fraud and foolish, Veghard completed the ritual of greeting by pressing his fingertips together and forming a peaked roof that sheltered the squat's upraised hands.
"You are recognized, Thorbjorn, son of Reginald and Matilda. Speak and know you are sheltered within the Hold of your Ancestor's."
The names had popped into Veghard's mouth as he had stood trying to figure out what he was supposed to say. Like any dream, the knowledge had been there as if he had known these three men his entire life. Thorbjorn, Grosstel, and Reese.
"Hail, and well met, Ancestor", Thorbjorn replied. "In my efforts at your behest..."
Thorbjorn's voice faded as the sound of a doomsday cannon engulfed the two of them and Veghard found himself surrounded by some fifty warriors who were formed up in a draw. Thorbjorn stood in formation, healthy and whole, though pale. The echoes of the cannon stopped the hearthguard who had been issuing orders and the entire unit watched as a Landtrain circled a low hill and pulled away. Looking over the troops and then inspecting the Landtrain, Veghard identified the Stronghold; Durnak.
Veghard knew that all arrayed before him was naught but a dream. The Stronghold icon blazoned upon the badge of the men was no more. Veghard himself had been on planet when this Stronghold had fallen. The loss of Durnak to the Tyranid was the falling domino that brought the Sixty First Thunderers into their detached duty with the One Seventy Seventh.
Thorbjorn continued in a monotone, his voice filling the air and sounds of battled fading in response.
"We were to escort the left flank train. Our hearthguard wished to bypass cover and I used my men to extended the line to at least maintain some control over that position. It looked like the situation you told me about."