First and Only

First and Only by Dan Abnett Read Free Book Online

Book: First and Only by Dan Abnett Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dan Abnett
Tags: Warhammer 40000
simply chuckled and loaded another rocket into the huge launcher that he carried. A moment later, another section of trench dissolved in a deluge of fire.
    * * *
    T ROOPER C AFFRAN HEARD the music, a distant plaintive wail across the battlefield. It cheered him for a moment as he moved with the men under Major Rawne’s direction up over the bodies of the Shriven, side by side with Neff, Lone-gin, Larkin and the rest. Even now, poor Varl was being stretchered back to their lines, screaming as the drugs wore off.
    That was the moment the bombardment started. Caffran found himself flying, lifted by a wall of air issued from a bomb blast that created a crater twelve metres wide. A huge slew of mud was thrown up in the sky with him.
    He landed hard, broken, and his mind frayed. He lay for a while in the mud, strangely peaceful. As far as he knew, Neff, Major Rawne, Feygor, Larkin, Lonegin, all the rest, were dead and vaporised.
    As shells continued to fall, Caffran sank his head into the slime and silently begged for release from his nightmare.
    A LONG WAY OFF , Lord High Militant General Dravere heard the vast emplacements of the Shriven artillery begin their onslaught. He realised that it would not be today, after all. Sighing angrily, he poured himself another cup from the freshly refilled samovar.
    C OLONEL C ORBEC HAD three platoons with him and moved them forward into the traversed network of the enemy trenches. The bombardment had been howling over their heads for two hours now, obliterating the front edge of the Shriven emplacements and annihilating all those of the Guard who had not made it into the comparative cover of enemy positions. The tunnels and channels they moved through were empty and abandoned. Clearly the Shriven had pulled out as the bombardment began. The trenches were well-made and engineered, but at every turn or bend there was a blasphemous shrine to the Dark Powers that the enemy worshipped.
    Corbec had Trooper Skulane turn his flamer on each shrine they found and burn it away before any of his men could fully appreciate the grim nature of the offerings laid before it.
    By Curral’s estimation, after consulting the tightly-scrolled fibre-light charts, they were advancing into support trenches behind the Shriven main line. Corbec felt cut off – not just by the savage bombardment that shook their very bones every other second, and he fervently prayed no shell would fall short into the midst of them – but more, he felt cut off from the rest of the regiment. The electro-magnetic aftershock of the ceaseless barrage was scrambling their communications, both the microbead intercoms that all the officers wore and the long range vox-caster radio sets. No orders were getting through, no urgings to regroup, to rendezvous with other units, to press forward for an objective, or even to retreat.
    In such circumstances, the rulebook of Imperial Guard warfare was clear: if in doubt, move forward.
    Corbec sent scouts ahead, men he knew were fast and able: Baru, Colmar and Scout-Sergeant Mkoll. They pulled their Tanith stealth cloaks around them and slipped away into the dusty darkness. Walls of smoke and powder were drifting back over the trench lines and visibility was dropping. Sergeant Blane gestured silently up at the billowing smoke banks that were descending.
    Corbec knew his intent, and knew that he didn’t wish to voice it for fear of spooking the unit. The Shriven had no qualms about the use of poison agents, foul airborne gases that would boil the blood and fester the lungs. Corbec pulled out a whistle and blew three short blasts. The men behind him put guns at ease and pulled respirators from their webbing. Colonel Corbec buckled his own respirator mask around his face. He hated the loss of visibility, the claustrophobia of the thick-lensed gas hoods, the shortness of breath that the tight rubber mouthpiece provoked. But poison clouds were not the half of it. The sea of mud that the bombardment

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