An air of silence hung over the battlefield apart from the odd words of command being bellowed from officers and sergeants within the Eighty Seventh. ‘It was the calm before the storm’ thought Nhim, as she watched the creatures obscured by the billowing dusts of the Red Wastes silently advance towards the trench line. “We’re dead, we are all fucking dead” muttered a young soldier under his breath beside her. The boy was dressed in the red and white uniform of the King’s troop but it was torn and mismatched like every other soldiers here and it hung ill fitted from his malnourished body. He clasped at his rifle so tight his fingers nails were beginning to make indents into the un-oiled wood.
“Hold firm boys,” shouted a hardened gunnery Sargent as he paced the lines behind the nervous riflemen “Don’t fire until I say boys, we are only gonna have one shot at these horrors before they are upon us”. Nhim watched as he stopped beside her and plunged the lower half of his halberd into the mud so it stood upright beside him. He drew a fine pistol and barged between the nervous young soldier and Nhim, knocking her to the ground.
“Aim right between the eyes if whatever is coming our way has em!” She heard him shout. “And if not just make sure you hit the blasted thing! Today you earn the silver the king pays you boys!” continued the sergeant as he cocked the fine flintlock pistol and aimed it towards the advancing beasts.
Nhim once again peered over the parapet of the trench and could now see the advancing enemy much clearer. At first she could only make out dark shadows but as they came closer she saw deep set glowing red eyes in the skulls of the beasts along with black lizard like scales adorning their bodies. Each creature stood about 5ft tall and lumbered towards them on two legs. It was hard to make out, but every few moments she caught a glimpse of razor sharp, clawed hands, that protruded from the creatures upper body. It wasn’t until they were only thirty meters from the trench line, that Nhim noticed each beast carried a single cloaked rider. She tried to count their numbers but for the third time lost count as more creatures appeared and broke into a charge towards them.
“FIRE!” Bellowed the gunnery Sargent who stood to Nhims left. The hammers of a hundred flintlock rifles fell simultaneously and a thick cloud of gunpowder smoke filled the air. Before her vision was obscured by the smoke, Nhim watched as some of the shots found its target in the closing gap and a few of the beasts fell.
“FIX BAYONETS” shouted the gunnery sergeant beside her as he steadied his pistol. He was yet to take his shot as a pistol would be far too ineffective at this range. Nhim heard the sound of steel scraping on steel as the men of the Eighty Seventh drew their bayonets and attached them to their rifles. ‘This was going to end badly’ thought Nhim as she sunk back below the trench parapet and grabbed her bag of the few medical supplies she had remaining. The Eighty Seventh had already suffered heavy losses and she doubted they could hold the line this time, what was the point in all this endless death if the enemy just kept coming in greater numbers?
With a crack Nhim heard the gunnery sergeant fire off his pistol and she turned at the sound, just as one of the monstrous creatures jumped clean over the top of the trench line and landed with a heavy thud behind them. Once again the gunnery sergeant knocked small Nhim to the ground and grabbed towards his halberd. With the effortless grace of a well drilled veteran soldier, he spun the weapon around into two hands and drove the steel pointed end towards the beast. The lizard like creature reared exposing its soft underbelly and throwing its rider into the mud behind. It let out a terrifying roar and Nhim saw razor sharp teeth line the beast’s mouth along with a long purple tongue that dripped with green syrup-like saliva.
The gunnery sergeant remained un-phased as he drove the sharp, steel pointed halberd into the creature’s belly. The point plunged a good four inches into its chest and the creatures roar turned into a scream of pain. Nhim watched as its body crashed down on top of the gunnery sergeant snapping the halberd in two. The creatures claws grabbed out and tore deep cuts into the sergeant’s torso as it struggled to regain its footing. Suddenly Nhim heard another crack of rifle fire. The younger, nervous soldier must have frozen and not taken his shot with the others, as he had rounded and fired directly into the beast’s skull. Black scales and green blood exploded from its temple as the shot found its target. The heavy body of the creature instantly fell to the floor trapping the sergeant under its weight. As life faded from its red eyes, blood began to pour from the wound and spilt onto the sergeant’s face. He started screaming as Nhim saw the blood trickle across his eyes and begin to burn away at them with an acidic power.
Nhim stood in shock, rooted to the spot. The smell of burning flesh filled her nose. She was unable to move as she watched the horrific scene unfold before her. She had seen men die before, even listened to them beg for their mothers as they bled out, or whisper final words to loved ones to her, but never anything like this. As she watch the acidic blood burn and disfigure the sergeant’s face, she began to feel the very essence of her soul split and her mind began to unravel.
For a third time Nhim felt herself knocked to the ground. As she looked up and wiped the mud from her eyes she saw the nervous soldier barrel past her, brandishing his rifle by the barrel with the butt raised above him. He continued to charge screaming in both anger and fear towards the beast’s rider who was starting to come too. He swung the rifle down in a club-like fashion on the hooded rider. Nhim watched as he repeated the attack several more times, scarlet red blood erupting like a fountain with each swing.
The young soldier stopped as apart from a twitching foot, the rider laid still. He dropped his rifle and looked up at Nhim. A mad smile broke out across his face as tears fell from his eyes and he dropped to his knees. Nhim heard a familiar mighty roar as the leg of a second beast thudded into the mud beside her. The other leg landed heavy on her back, claws penetrating into her. She heard an officer’s horn blow in the background as her vision began to fade and sink slowly into darkness. ‘Was this death?’ She thought and began to panic. Nhim mustered all her strength, opened her eyes and clung to life. She could hear officers calling though the chaos of battle for a general retreat. Nhim felt the beast’s weight leave her body She looked up to see it walking towards the soldier on his knees. Through blurred vision Nhim saw the claws of the creature pierce the boy’s chest but he did not scream. The creature toyed with him for just a moment until the rider pulled on its reigns. With one powerful bite its jaws closed around his head and torso ripping him in two and throwing the remains beside Nhim.
Nhims breathing started to become shallow and she felt a sharp pain in her chest. She began to cough and blood spluttered from her throat. Nhim had seen this injury before; the creature must have punctured her lung as it landed. She closed her eyes and let the darkness take her. She felt a wave of relief come over her as she accepted her end and let go. Her last thought that day was of eating bucklerberry jam scones on the dock. A time before she knew what war was. She began to smile and drifted into the darkness.