Everyone learned how to hear shells coming. The sound was little warning, but this time it was enough for Aumahn to dive into a supply dugout. Every surface was damp, earthen, and crossed with flakboard planks. Crates were piled over every wall, his only company in the dugout. Safety. That supply request could wait – Aumahn was not moving from this shelter until the shelling died down. It was the accepted way.
The initial storm of shrapnel became a rhythmic pounding. Pressed against the dirt floor, Aumahn felt the vibrations of each nearby blow. There were plenty, but the worst was already over. Most casualties occurred when the first shells struck, before the targets had taken cover. Now that he was in shelter, the bombardment was mere suppression. It was near impossible to dig someone out once dug in, yet the enemy seemed determined to try.
That other night, along the border between his regimental sector and the next— what had he overheard? A sermon? It had been a strange lecture, something about the ‘Master of Munitions and His blessings of firepower. The neighboring regiment was faithful, but not in a way Aumahn cared for; fixating on weapons seemed idolatrous. The God-Emperor was the master of mankind and all of man’s tools. As the pounding of shellfire continued, Aumahn tried to pray. He wished for a priest. Even spiritual succor from those odd neighbors would have been something.
Time passed. His chrono claimed that twenty minutes had passed. Aumahn would have guessed . The shelling continued, punctuated by hails of rocket fire. On occasion, a shell landed near the dugout entrance and embedded fragments around the staircase. How safe was he? Any dugout was better than being aboveground, but this was a shallow supply shelter. A direct hit from too big a shell and this shelter would bury him alive. How likely was such a hit?
Oh Emperor upon the Golden Throne, oh Master of Mankind, I praise Your name. Protect us— A renewed burst of impacts shattered Aumahn’s concentration. He pushed forward. Protect us from the evils— That boom sounded closer than the others. Aumahn kept trying to focus, but the shelling… it was hopeless. If he died, it must be his time. Please let the Emperor’s plans omit such a death for him. Maybe they wouldn’t. The bombardment kept going.
The noise of explosions escalated to a constant roar, impossible to distinguish when one shell burst ended and another began. The air grew thick and hot. The tattered curtain covering the dugout entrance did nothing to block the choking heaviness that permeated the battlefield. Fyceline smoke wormed its way into every nook and cranny. Shrapnel perforated everything up above. And it did not end. How long could such a bombardment last? Aumahn checked his chrono, then wished he had not. He was no raw recruit, but this was his first trench war. In his experience, artillery was fleeting, a hammerblow delivered when enemies were spotted— not this presence. How was this even possible? Aumahn knew that artillery ate up more supplies than other arms. He knew that the enemy must be pushing their limits to create such a storm of steel. But what worldly thing could do this?
Aumahn recalled the neighboring regiment and their strange beliefs about firepower. He had scoffed at the overheard sermon, but listening to this? Feeling the constant pressure? Seeing dust shake loose from the ceiling? It took something more than mortal to wreak this. The risk to his shallow dugout was increasing. What were his odds? Would the bombardment end before then? He was not safe, just safer than he would be aboveground. He racked his brain for knowledge of the trenches’ layout. There was a deeper dugout over in the neighboring regiment’s sector. The only problem was that getting there meant being exposed to the rain of metal above.
He inched towards the stairs. The press of noise intensified. Aumahn did not know how long he spent staring at the entryway. The curtain was little more than rags, and shrapnel periodically showered the steps with splinters. He contemplated his next move. The bombardment might end soon, with no need for further risk. The enemy could only have so many shells, so many gun tubes, and so many trained crews. But that was assuming mortal limitations on this elemental force. Somehow, Aumahn knew that it would continue. Waiting accomplished nothing.
Inch by inch, he crawled upwards. Shelter was a short sprint away. He could make it. His flak armor could take the smaller fragments. It was a gamble he had to take. Banishing hesitation, he sprang through the curtain. The noise was deafening. Aumahn sprinted and stumbled through the cratered trenches. Incoming rounds sprayed mud around the bends of the trench. Splinters buried themselves in the earth. Aumahn felt impacts on his flak plating. There it was— the deep dugout. He dove in.
Landing on the stairs was unceremonious and painful, but worth it. Rushing down the steps, Aumahn found himself surrounded by a few squads of unfamiliar faces— the neighboring regiment. In an instant they were checking him over for wounds, then sharing their water. He was not bleeding. Safe at last, Aumahn found a spot to sit against a wire spool. The roar of shellfire faded to a hum. An older man approached, dressed in a cassock. A chaplain.
‘Know any good prayers for this mess, father?’ Aumahn asked.
Concern and enthusiasm mixed in the chaplain’s eyes. ‘Plenty. Know anything about the ways of His firepower?’
‘I don’t, father.’ Aumahn looked to the stairway. ‘But I’m curious.’
About the Author
Born in Portland, Oregon, Eric is now a student & cadet at Texas A&M University and has been a fan of Warhammer 40,000 for several years now. His love of military history has carried over into an appreciation for all things Astra Militarum, starting with the Ciaphas Cain books which introduced me to the Black Library. Writing has been a passion of his since childhood, both in fan fiction and original works.