Tag Archives: military

Banzai

Toshi dove face first into the mud, narrowly dodging the hail of machine gun fire flying from out the dense brush of the jungle. As the rounds splattered into the ground, chunks of displaced clay and grass flew up into his face. A hand from above grabbed Toshi by the collar of his uniform, dragging him up and over a nearby crater.

“We need to get out of here!” His savior screamed.

Toshi took a moment to wipe the mud from his face. At first he could not concentrate on anything other than the hissing of hot lead zipping over the crater wall. The man yelling at him was his friend. Yukio Kitano.

“Why are you still sitting there?!”

Toshi took a deep breath and tried to push the noise to the back of his trembling mind. Bullets crackled from all sides, shrapnel shredded through the trees, planes raced above them menacingly. The Americans were finally here.

Yukio shouldered his rifle and loaded a clip of rounds into the breech. He gave Toshi a quick nod, signalling that it was time to go. Toshi gripped his weapon tight, looking for any comfort it could provide. He shuttered out an anxious exhale as he ran his finger down the cool steel barrel.

The pair burst into action. Leaping out of the crater and sprinting with shoulders hunched through the tall grass. Shots crackled past their ears, but they kept running.

“This way! Follow me!” Yukio exclaimed.

He led Toshi down a game trail to a narrow creek. They splashed through the water, slipping on the algae covered river rocks. They kept trudging their way against the flow until the gunfire was reduced to gentle knocks in the distance. Yukio pointed at a cement staircase and they scrambled up the steps. Back into the lush jungle foliage.

“Stop! I need to stop for a moment!” Toshi shouted.

As he gasped for breath, Yukio drank greedily from his canteen.

“You know.” Toshi labored. “I never wanted any of this.”

Yukio grunted in agreement as he capped his canteen. He cocked his head to the side.

“You know the only reason I enlisted was-“

A single shot reverberated close by. The pair flinched, throwing their hands protectively over their faces.

“What the hell are you doing?” An imperial officer climbed out from the brush, a hand on the hilt of his sword. He holstered his smoking handgun, awaiting a reply.

Surprised, Toshi tried to formulate an excuse. But could only seem to muster a collection of broken syllables.

“If we didn’t need men, I would cut you down where you stand.” The officer continued.

With a gloved hand he reached into his satchel to reveal a pair of white strips of cloth. A red dot bled through the center so as to resemble the Japanese flag.

“Here. Take these.”

Yukio looked over at Toshi nervously as they folded and tied the flags over their foreheads. The officer directed them to a clearing where a large group of almost fifty men stood at attention silently. All of them with headbands knotted around their heads. An unspoken tension built as the popping of machine gun fire inched closer. The officer cleared his throat with the same mechanical tempo.

“It has been a great honor to lead you up to this point. I have asked a lot of you, and now I will ask even more.” The officer drew his sword and held it above his head. “Defend the homeland at all costs!

The soldiers around Toshi and Yokio echoed his sentiment with fanatical cheers. The two friends swapped worried looks as the officer charged through the jungle, pointing his sword in the direction of certain death.

TENNO HAIKA! BANZAI!!

*Long live the Emperor! Ten thousand ages!*

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Blink

There was nothing left of Hiroshima but smoldering ash. I had left yesterday to buy some ration tickets in one of the villages down the coast. I came back to nothing but flattened ruins. How had this happened?

Lines of refugees inched up the hills surrounding the city in all directions. They moved like ants, but instead of breadcrumbs they carried the mangled and dying.

I did not have any family in the city. I suppose it was good fortune that I had lived as a street urchin. I had no connection to anyone, so I was spared the pain of losing anyone. But all the same, I was broken inside.

The old newspaper factory, whose owner had given me work when begging stopped working.

The bridge, whose heavy wood planks shielded me from the stinging rain.

The fishing pier, whose waters yielded delicious seaweed when my stomach was empty.

The city had been my family, my caretaker. And now all that was left was a black scorch on the earth. I wept for my beautiful city.

My whole world- blinked out of existence.

The Crop

This was a guest post I did on my friends blog a while back. I have included the link for the original post below. Please feel free to read it here or there. If you do click the link check out my friend’s blog, his content is great-

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/the-crop/


I opened my eyes to the poorly lit interior of a canvas tent. A woman in a blood stained nurse’s uniform was standing over me with a clipboard in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The air was stale and unfamiliar. I sat up. My mind raced at the possibilities.

“Try to get some sleep” The nurse cooed, “There will be plenty of time for questions when the doctor is in.”

Her soothing voice put me at ease and I let her ease my head slowly back onto my pillow. my eyes shut once more.

I opened my eyes again and a harsh light assaulted them. I raised my hand in defense. Through the gaps between my fingers a blurry figure approached. I lowered my hands and soon the image sharpened into that of a man in a long white coat. A doctor. He set down his lantern and stroked his long grey beard thoughtfully before speaking.

“Do you know where you are?” He stared at me intent on getting an answer.

“N-No”

“Fine. That’s fine.” His voice was reassuring but his face looked troubled. “Do you know your name?”

I thought for a moment. I searched into the far reaches of my memory for an answer. Everything was too hazy. It was like staring into a black void. My forehead was getting unbearably hot and I could feel beads of sweat forming above my eyes.

“Stop.” The doctor raised his hand then gave his beard another stroke. “We’ve had a few cases like yours. Stress induced amnesia.”

He picked up a clipboard on a nearby table and flipped through a few pages. He gave yet another stroke before resuming.

“Your name is Franz. Senior lance corporal, 35th infantry division. It seems you and your unit were ambushed in Belgium. You took shrapnel to the knee. It seems the rest of your unit was… Not so fortunate. You were the only survivor.”

He looked back at me for a reaction. I had none to give. I didn’t know these men. I didn’t even know myself. Franz.. That sounded right. I didn’t have time to sort out the rest.

“Doctor! Doctor!” A man burst through the tent flaps with a flickering lantern in hand. “The Butcher has struck again! The man… He’s still alive!”

“My God!” The doctor dropped the clipboard on the ground and swiftly exited the tent.

I could hear the clamor of townsfolk gathering outside. A woman screamed and wailed. I needed to see what was going on.

It took all the strength my arms could muster to lift myself off the bed. I landed on my feet with a thud. In an instant my knees buckled and I collapsed face first onto the hard dirt floor. A sharp pain ran up my right foot to my hip. I couldn’t contain my yells of pain.

I winced a few more times as I struggled to my feet. I found my balance and limped to the illuminated tent flap, opening it to a truly medieval scene.

“Cut him down for God’s sake!” A gruff voice hollered from the crowd.

I pushed and limped my way through the mob. Every man, woman, and child was armed with a torch, holding them close with strong grips. Their absolute terror was visible. As I neared the center I was united in fear with my countrymen.

A pale, malnourished man hung from a frayed rope nailed to the doorway of a great brick building. He was suspended by a black, blood stained meat hook through his shoulder. Writhing in agony, only hoarse gasps for breath left his tortured expression. The doctor rose out of the mob onto a nearby barrel, brandishing a shining steel surgical knife. With a single stroke, the tension in the rope was relieved and the thin man fell into the outstretched arms of frightened townsfolk. The crowd went silent in anticipation for what would happen next.

“He lives in the forest..” The man spoke softly between labored breaths. “His eyes are black like the night. With teeth like knives and shattered bone, The Butcher is coming for us all..”

The silence was broken. Everywhere groups of people murmured amongst themselves.

“STOP!!”

The silence resumed. Everyone looked to the doctor, standing above them all like a voice of reason. He gave his beard a long stroke before continuing.

“We mustn’t succumb to fear. He lives in the forest. We’ve known this for a while now and done nothing out of fear. Fear for our lives, fear for our children’s lives. How many must die before we do what must be done? Tonight we strike at the heart of our fear. Tonight we go into the forest and come back with the Butcher’s head!”

The doctor’s speech was met with a roar of approval. The dynamic of the entire town had changed. They were out for blood. The doctor hopped off the barrel and made his way back to the tent.

“You, come with me.” He grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me through the canvas flaps of the tent. “All the other wounded men here are in urgent condition. It appears that you can walk. That means you’re coming with us. I have a feeling you’ll be useful to us later on.”

The doctor opened a footlocker under my bed and rummaged through it. He pulled out a neatly folded uniform and  dirty steel helmet and thrust them forcefully to my chest. The impact pushed me back a couple steps.

“These are the possessions you came in with. Put them on and meet us outside. You can’t go into the woods like that.”

I looked down and for the first time, noticed the lack of clothing on my body. I was draped in a light blue medical gown, my back was exposed to the elements as well as any prying eyes.

I donned my uniform and limped outside. My right leg was still painfully brittle. The mob was reforming. Swarming from their homes with whatever weapons they could find. Pitchforks, cleavers, and axes dotted the crowd. The doctor, along with a few others, stood at the front of the group with bayonetted rifles. He spotted me and gestured for me to join him. As I limped past the townspeople, I basked in their admiration. I imagine a uniformed German soldier joining their hunt instilled a sense of duty. A purpose to focus on. One much more preferable to fear.

As I neared the doctor he held out a wooden cane. I grabbed it and leaned my weight on it.

“It’s best for all of us if you can keep up.” The doctor stroked his beard and turned away.

We rallied the people and followed the tattered dirt road out of town and into the wilderness of the Black Forest.

About a half mile in the road disappeared, replaced by leaves and gnarled roots. Wolves howled in the distance, signaling our arrival into their domain.

“How much further?” A faceless voice called out.

“Not far” The doctor replied.

Over the next couple of hours the twisted roots and tall pines were replaced by sharp rocks and jagged cliff walls. A path revealed itself as the doctor led us closer. He skillfully dodged and turned through the maze of broken rock. We struggled to keep up. He waited for us at the mouth of a perfectly circular cave. We followed the doctor inside.

The cave opened up to a massive chamber. Everywhere the lanterns illuminated glimmered magnificently. The walls were lined with tiny crystals budding from the rock. The townsfolk were mesmerized by the shimmering lights. Something was strange about the way they stared. It was unnatural. We found blood soaked rags in a corner of the cave. No doubt this was where the butcher had made his unholy home. We heard crying from the next chamber. The doctor signaled for us to follow him before disappearing into the darkness. The mob nervously chattered amongst themselves.

On the floor was a man sobbing to himself. The tattered rags that draped his body were dripping wet. He had a great grey beard that had grown down to his chest. The man ran his fingers through the black sand of the cavern and stared up at us. His eyes were black like the darkness around us. As more people flooded in, the small room filled with light. The walls were adorned with frayed rope, hooks scattered throughout the sand.

“It’s him!”

“The Butcher!”

The people took turns expressing their disbelief. This pathetic man in front of us was the Butcher everyone seemed to fear so much?

“We’ve found the Butcher.” The doctor stood over the man and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “He will stand trial tomorrow at noon.”

“Fuck that!”

“Let’s kill him right here!”

“What of justice?!”

The mob argued amongst themselves causing the man to writhe on the ground at the sound echoing through the cavern. I wasted no time in taking control of the situation. I ripped one of lengths of rope from the walls and fashioned a noose around the Butcher’s throat. As I tightened it, he let out a low growl. I didn’t pay it much mind.

“Here’s what we’re doing!” I screamed at the crowd and they settled down. “We’re going back to town and giving this man a trial. Anyone who doesn’t like that can go back home and wait for justice to be served.”

The doctor nodded approvingly and handed me his firearm. I slung the rifle onto my shoulder and prodded the Butcher forward with my cane. The people cleared out of the way as the man stumbled into the next chamber.

“NO! NO!” The Butcher clawed at the rope around his neck. “NOT HERE!! I THOUGHT I WANTED THIS BUT I DON’T!! I DON’T!!! ANYWHERE BUT HERE!!”

What happened next was so fast I have trouble describing it. The crystals glowed with an otherworldly energy. The Butcher’s posture straightened and he shot me a confident smile with his sharpened teeth. What I saw in his eyes was pure insanity. A chill ran down my spine. Then the cave went dark.

“Hello?! Doctor?!” I called out to the darkness, but I somehow knew there would be no reply.

Feeling along the damp walls, I limped out of the cavern. I shredded my hands as they guided my way through the maze of jagged rocks, and I bruised my body tripping over the tangled roots covering the forest floor. It was well into the afternoon when I had finally left the Black Forest behind me and walked into town.

The streets were silent. Bodies suspended by rope and hook jostled in the breeze. I did not know their names, but I recognized their faces. All of them were dead. In the center of town a man in a white coat stood, staring at the setting sun. The doctor.

I limped over to his side, my cane breaking the silence with every slap against the cobblestone. When I glanced over he was stroking his beard uncontrollably.

“They’re all dead.” The doctor paused and took a long, shaky breath. “All except the children. I must go back to the cavern. That is my fate.

“Doctor, please. What are you talking about?” He ignored my interruption and continued.

“Lead the children, become someone they respect. But control them with fear. When the bodies start appearing blame me. ‘The Doctor'” He chuckled to himself. “When the time is right and they are grown, take them to the cavern. Leave their children behind to complete the next crop. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.”

The doctor placed his hand on my shoulder and stared into my eyes. His were filling with a strange black liquid. He shot me one last glance before disappearing into the wilderness. Stroking his great beard as he walked.

I stood in the town square for what seemed like hours. Eventually the children gathered around me. They asked about their parents and I explained everything. A strange force compelled me to lead them. Many years later I led them to their deaths. Their children would know me as ‘The Soldier’ and the crop would be resown. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.

 

Gunner

As the Black Hawk touched down the marines sounded off down the line and hopped into a field of tall crab grass rippling from the sweeping force of the rotor blades. They bolted from the LZ and within seconds disappeared into the thick Bosnian wood. I gave the signal that we were clear and chopper lifted off to return to base. We were about 20 feet and rising when I spotted an armed teenager laying low in the brush. He couldn’t have been older than 16. There was a worn AK-47 in his hands and a bright red bandanna over his mouth. I called it in.

“Base, this is Blackjack. We have an armed fighting-age male in hiding near the LZ. Requesting permission to waste this sucker.”

Silence

I kept the red bandanna in my sights. There was nowhere to run for this bastard.

“Blackjack this is Base, are you taking fire?”

“Negative”

Silence

“Request denied. This is a blacklisted operation. No unnecessary fire.”

The kid scrambled out of the thicket and made for the wood. No doubt to relay our movements to his friends. By the time our boys made it to their destination they’d find nothing but an empty house and a pile of mutilated Bosnian women. I had heard the stories, seen the pictures, time and time again they beat us to the punch.

I turned to the rest of the crew. “Well, this op’s a bust”

“Cool it Russ.” Mike turned away from the controls for a second to shoot me a meaningful stare. “We’re just here to serve our time and go home. Don’t look for trouble.”

“I feel like it’s a waste of a flying metal death machine if we don’t waste some Serbs!”

Rico chimed in from the other door-gun. “You were born too late man. This ain’t Vietnam.”

“Trigger happy bastard.” Mike chuckled to himself. “I swear sometimes you forget who the damn pilot is.”

It was sundown when we landed back at base. A shanty town of tents and sandbags overlooking the Lašva Valley. I collapsed into my bunk without dinner. In the distance the morbid lullaby of small arms fire ushered me to sleep.

After briefing the following morning, I assumed my station on the right door. Mike fired up the engines. The blades began to whir, whisking away the faint morning mist. In the valley below the haze had settled into a sea of dense fog. The tips of buildings just barely poking through.

The peace was broken by the clamor of boots on metal. French soldiers brandishing baby blue UN helmets scrambled into their seats then promptly burst into song. A cacophony of guttural French noises. They acted like they owned the place. Cocky bastards.

We took off into the damp Bosnian air and proceeded along the route to Sarajevo. It was a three-hour trip there and back so I got comfortable. I leaned back in my seat and captivated myself in the crashing waves of white below. The small islands breaking the fog changed from carefully spaced geometric rooftops to intertwining rugged treetops. I was so mesmerized that it took me while to notice that familiar Bosnian song coming from below.

Small arms fire.

The reverberating pops were impossible to place in the sprawling thicket. One thing was for sure. People were dying. I looked deep into the fog for several minutes, searching for any signs of life. A dull red flash flared up at the base of a nearby hill. My heart raced.

“Mike, we got activity down there. Red flare at 3 o’clock. Could be civilians asking for help.”

“Dammit Russ. What makes you so sure they’re trying to signal us?”

“Because they’re lighting more.” The lights multiplied and danced around.

“I think we’d better check it out.” Rico interjected.

The singing died down and the French soldiers chatted amongst themselves. Their tone was low, secretive almost. As we brought the chopper down, the fog rolled back layer by layer. The scene unfolding before us was harrowing. I fought to keep down an acrid metallic taste down in my throat.

The dancing lights weren’t flares. They were people.

The lower we got, the more bloodcurdling their screams and pleads for mercy became. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was one of the French soldiers. He tossed off his baby blue UN helmet before speaking.

“We have seen this before. It is the Serbs. Whatever you decide to do, know we are behind you.”

I let that sit for a while. What could I do? I hesitated to contemplate the potential backlash before continuing.

“Base, this is Blackjack. Calling in an illegal war crime in progress by the Serbs at the Southwest end of the Lašva Valley. Requesting orders.”

“What kind of war crimes? Please specify.”

“They.. They’re burning them alive.”

Silence

“Are you taking fire?”

“Negative.”

Silence

“I repeat. Are you taking fire?

“Negative.”

Silence

“You may defend yourselves utilizing lethal force. I will not authorize an attack. I ask again. Are you taking fire?

“Neg-Affirmative. Yes we are taking fire.”

The man on the other end let out a static-filled chuckled.

“You are clear to engage. Waste those suckers.”

I shouldered my gun. Ahead of us the Serbs leisurely walked back into the thick wood. I let off a burst to their side, catching one in the leg. The rest broke into a sprint for the cover of the tall pines.

“Bring her around for a strafing run Mike.”

The Black Hawk maneuvered into position. The French soldiers cheered and took up firing positions along the side doors. Their guttural chanting spurred my heart to a quick, lively beat.

As we charged, I got a steady bead on the Serb bastards fleeing for their lives. I savored the kick of the gun as I let loose on their asses. The smell, the justice, the sheer spectacle of it all. It was all so right.

“Trigger happy bastard.” Mike looked back at the crazed grin on my face and chuckled to himself.

 

Black Blood 146 B.C.

The screams of women and children echoed in the night as they ran for their lives through the puddles and narrow streets. They flooded past us into the dimly lit agora at the center of town. We stood our ground. Stands that once shelved aged wines and the finest silk lay in pieces strewn across the ground. We had stripped them to construct a small palisade there to shelter those unable to fight. We stood at the opening alongside a handful of the local militia as its only line of defense. Thunder boomed overhead. I could hear the vicious growls of the enemy as they approached us in the darkness. I grabbed the whistle around my neck and loosed its piercing shriek.

“Form up on me!”

My men moved into position in line with me at the gap in the wall. We lined up our tall red shields to plug the hole. There were only five of us left. Hopefully it would be enough to keep them from getting past. Behind us, the thin line of militia readied for battle. I could see the terror painted onto their faces. Most had never seen battle. It’s good we were here. Young children hastily ran down the line, distributing javelins and spears to them. I turned to Decimus, my second in command. His joyful face seemed out of place in the chaos that surrounded us.

“Hey Achaicus, if we die, I’m still going collect on those three denarii you owe me.” He joked, oblivious of the chaos around us.

“If we die, I’ll pay you back in Persian whores when we wake in Elysium.” I responded with a smile.

The wails of dying civilians grew louder. The enemy was close. I looked around at my men. Crassius and Marcus stood to my left. They were identical twins of large stature, they had been terrified by battle in the past but now they stood calm and collected. They had been calloused by our first encounter. Though their faces were void of expression, I could see a burning desire for revenge glimmering in their eyes.

Good, we’ll need that

Decimus and Quintus stood to my right. I had known Decimus for a long time and was honored to fight by his side. He possessed an indomitable spirit that had kept us sane this whole time. His confident grin assured me that there was a chance we might survive the night. Quintus was quite small for a Roman and extraordinarily meek in day to day life. But when backed in a corner, his energy and skill in battle were unmatched. Under his blood stained helmet he furrowed his brow and grit his teeth. He was ready for what was coming, and I trusted that he would fight with us to the death, should it come to that.

The screaming off in the distance suddenly and instantaneously ceased. Replaced by the curious patter of raindrops on steel. I unsheathed my sword and held it high above my head. The panicking civilians in the palisade went quiet. The militia raised their javelins, ready to hurl at my command. The only voice that could be heard was that of a lone infant crying among the refugees.

Moments later we could hear the unsettling mass of growls. A lone figure shambled into the light and stood still. His skin was grey. His open mouth, smothered with blood and overflowing with bubbling saliva. I recognized his mutilated face. I had killed him. The Greek breastplate he wore was punctured and stained with black blood. We had to be wary of his bite or embrace a frenzied existence after death. We had all seen it happen before. We called them the inferi. The dead.

A large group of corpses followed him into the light. A few wore the heavy steel armor of the Roman Army, they were crouched onto their hands from its weight and moved like four legged beasts. They barred their teeth and snarled furiously at us. It was disturbing to see our own transformed into such terrible creatures. If all went well, no more would be added to their ranks this night.

As the group continued to gather in front of us I sliced my sword forward through the air.

“Now!”

The militia unleashed a volley of javelins over our heads. Many struck home in the chests of the nonliving. They fell to the ground from the force of impact, only to rise moments later. Black blood pooled on the floor. Those impaled through the face went limp and collapsed. A sharp blow to the head seemed to be their only weakness.

The Greek soldier in front was impaled through the stomach, forcing him to stumble backwards. He paused for a moment before growling and sprinting straight for us, followed en mass by the horde. The Roman inferi resembled rabid wolves as they charged on all fours, mouths open with hunger and animalistic desire. We beat our swords against our shields in anticipation.

“Spears!”

The militia hastily picked up the bronze spears at their feet and rushed behind us forming two tightly packed rows of men. The first row crouched and stuck their spears through the gaps between our shields. The second stood and pointed their spears out at head level. It would be moments before they were upon us. I gritted my teeth.

“Brace for impact!”

As the inferi crashed into our line it took all of our strength to keep from staggering backwards. The Greek soldier had been stopped by a spear through his heart just a couple feet in front of my face. I could smell his wretched breath as he inched closer. Scraping his flesh along the wooden shaft of the spear, nothing seemed to distract him from the desire to sink his decaying teeth into my throat. I thrust my sword under his chin. Straight into the brain. The supernatural glow left his eyes as he went limp. I twisted my sword arm around in the internal mush of his skull for good measure before pulling it out. The spear he had been impaled upon kept him standing upright. I looked around to asses our situation.

Decimus was frantically kicking at a Roman corpse trying to gnaw at his exposed ankles. I came to his aid with a sharp kick to the corpse’s side. It flipped over and lay at Decimus’s feet. He brought his shield down swifly. The head was severed with ease and black blood squirted in every direction. Decimus shot me an appreciative grin. I smiled back and turned my attention to the other men.

Quintus was shielded from the rest of the inferi by a limp corpse that had been stabbed through the forehead in the initial charge. He slashed furiously at the husk of a body in vain.

Efutue!” He cursed. “It’s not fair Achaicus, this fellatrix is standing between me and the action!”

I nodded reassuringly. At least he was safe and holding the line. I looked to my left. Crassius and Marcus worked together like hunter and hound. Crassius kicked away the arms supporting a crawling Roman corpse. It quickly collapsed under the weight of its bulky steel armor. Without pause Marcus drove his sword home straight through the base of the neck. Three slain Roman inferi were piled at their feet.

I heard a loud snarl in front of me and turned my attention to my own share of the fight. A Roman corpse had attempted to crawl between the legs of suspended the Greek soldier and had gotten stuck just below the Greek’s groin. He snapped at me and I instinctively stabbed downward at the beast’s scalp. The blow merely glanced off his thick steel helmet. He moved his head wildly in an attempt to escape. I placed the bottom half of my shield under his chin and lifted his gaze upward. Once I could see the pure darkness in his eyes I stabbed again. This time the blade struck home between his eyes. His stare lost its urgency as black blood drained to the ground. I pulled my shield back to my body and he slunk to the blood stained floor under the Greek soldier.

We were starting to gain confidence that this night would end in victory until a deafening mass of growls gripped us with renewed fear. At least two full centuries of inferi stood at the edge of the light. Greek hoplites and Roman legionnaires side by side. Decimus sliced a standing inferi across the chest as it charged toward him. It spun around and turned to its fellow undead, snarling for aid. They let out an unnervingly human cry and charged.

“Brace yourselves!”

They smashed into us with the force of a rolling wave. I was knocked back into the militia behind me. They struggled to keep the inferi at bay, but their strength failed in a matter of seconds and the dead rushed into the palisade. Welcomed by a cacophony of screams from the old, the women and the children. They eagerly leapt over us at the opportunity for easy prey. I looked up at the Greek corpse I had killed. Black blood dripped down from his chin and spattered onto my forehead. The sound of Quintus’s voice snapped me out of my daze.

“Achaicus! If we don’t get out of here right now we’ll be inferi chow!” Quintus struggled to push aside the plump corpse pinning him to the ground. “Let’s go!”

We all wiggled around to free ourselves from the immobilizing weight of the corpses. Marcus easily shrugged off two large Roman bodies and frantically grasped my hand to lift me up. He nervously glanced over his shoulder at the ensuing chaos. I thanked him and scanned our surroundings to find a route of escape. To our rear, the militia scrambled out from under piles of corpses and ran to protect their loved ones. The refugees were being consumed in an inferi feeding frenzy. Thick spatters of blood and severed limbs flew through the air.

Their desperate screams as they were ripped apart shook my skull to its core.

Some of the militiamen realized the futility in fighting and simply fled out along the main road through town. Crassius and Marcus stared eagerly at the road. I could tell that they wanted to follow the militia through the most direct route through the city. My instincts urged me to run with the herd, but I knew that more inferni could be lying in wait. Breaking off from the main road was a narrow alleyway wedged between two extravagant villas.

“That way!” I pointed my sword its direction.

We bolted to the alleyway, careful not to give any more notice to the slaughter behind us. For the sake of our sanity we absolved ourselves of any responsibility for what had happened to the refugees at the hands of the inferni. When I reached the narrow alleyway I did look back once for good measure. The inferni were still occupied in the palisade and the bloodcurdling screams were ever present in the night. I disappeared into the darkness of the alleyway and my men followed suit.

By the time the sun was just beginning to crest over the craggy hills of the Greek landscape we had put significant distance between us and the doomed city. I sat down on a patch of grass underneath a large oak at the top of a hill and gestured for my men to join me. This was the first time we had stopped moving since our retreat from the city. The morning dew gave the ground a cool, seductive comfort. After a few silent minutes had passed I stood and urged my men forward. We needed to keep moving.

“We’ll head that way” I gestured to the West. “We should make progress towards camp. They need to hear our report before they send out any more-”

“And then what?” Marcus stood to face me. “Regroup with the legion? We fought a few hundred inferni back there, now you ask us to face thousands?”

“We need cohesion and discipline. Five men cannot survive on their own and I’m willing to bet the legion needs as many men as it can muster.”

“Achaicus! The legion is gone! All we know is that wherever there are people there are inferni! I say we go North along the coast, find a ship, and leave this forsaken place!”

“We have a duty to aid the Republic! I will not doom fellow Romans, MY men, to die! Not if I have yet to lend my aid! We can still win this war Marcus!”

“I don’t give a damn about your Republic or your precious war! I’m not looking to die! I’m going North! Anyone who wants to live can join me.”

Crassius stood behind his brother. Quintus and Decimus stood behind me and cautiously placed their hands over the hilts of their swords. I stared at Marcus. He was taken aback by the anger in my response.

“Come with us. We’re going West!”

Futete! Make me!” Marcus unsheathed his sword.

Everyone drew their weapons and raised their shields. The tension on the hill was amplified by a moment of silence.

“If you desert, I’m going to have to kill you.”

“You can try.”

Marcus threw a powerful swing at my head. I blocked the blow with my shield and thrust my blade at his chest with the intent to kill. Crassius parried my sword with his own and with a single kick, knocked me to the ground. Decimus and Quintus came to my aid. The distinct clamor of steel on steel echoed through the empty landscape. Quintus was a more than a match for Marcus, but Decimus struggled to fend off Crassius’s fury of blows. I scrambled to my feet. A stinging pain from my ribs was excruciating, but I managed to put it to the back of my mind. I held my shield high and charged Crassius. Decimus sensed my attack and sidestepped out of my way. Crassius’s face turned to shock as he instantly realized what was happening.

Just a moment too late my friend

I crashed into him, slamming him forcefully onto the ground. He gazed up at me with a dazed expression as I lifted the hilt of my sword and smashed it down onto his forehead. He flailed his arms against my armor. I did it over and over again, savagely beating the energy out of his large body. Blood poured off of his head and onto the dewy grass. Decimus watched in horror at the animal that had taken hold of me. His skull began to give way and the struggling ceased. Each successive blow resulted in a brittle snapping sound until my hilt had dug itself deep into his face. My attacks slowed as my rage began to fade. I looked down at my blood soaked hands. The pain returned to my ribcage. It felt good, like a twisted reward for a job well done.

Marcus, still fending off Quintus, was enraged by the death of his brother. His blows increased in frequency and strength. Quintus staggered back at every blocked attack. He soon found himself at the edge of a fairly steep portion of the hill. Decimus ran to Quintus’s aid. With both of them on the offensive, Marcus was quickly overwhelmed again. In an act of desperation, he cried out and slammed his body into Quintus. He screamed as he was thrown backward and down the steep edge of the hill. Decimus raised his sword to strike, but was dispatched by a swift kick from Marcus. He too was sent tumbling down the hill. Marcus breathed heavily and hit me with a smoldering glare.

“You killed my brother Achaicus.” He looked down at Quintus and Decimus. They were frantically climbing back up the hill. They would be here soon. “I’m going North. Don’t try to stop me. You kept one of us from leaving, I hope that pleases your damn Republic.”

I sat there, still on top of of Crassius’s lifeless body. I could see the burning rage in Marcus’s eyes. He spat at my feet and walked away. Quintus and Decimus finally made it to the top of the hill ready for a fight. Instead they found me standing, staring down at Crassius’s mutilated face. Was it worth it?

Decimus placed a firm hand on my shoulder.

“You know I’d follow you anywhere right?” The usual joyfulness in Decimus’s voice was replaced by a low, serious tone.

“I have trust in you Achaicus. You’ve kept us alive this long.” Quintus chimed in.

I flashed a weak smile at them. I pointed West with a blood soaked finger and began walking down the hill. Quintus and Decimus looked at each other with concern and then hurried to join me on the road back to camp.

A Fair Trade

We marched up the hill in the morning fighting the bitter cold. It had been raining for days, and our boots sunk into the deep mud it had left behind. by the time we had made it to the top, a thick fog had rolled in from the west obscuring all visibility below. We heard the not so distant barking of orders from officers to subordinates. No doubt they knew we were here. Our platoon had been on the move for days, but a burning passion kept us going.

Napoleon had landed his armies on British soil. Our homes were under attack.

We all read about it in the papers, but no one believed it to be true. Napoleon had sent his armies by air aboard a massive fleet of balloon transports. Though many had perished crossing the English Channel, many survived. Enough to give us a run for our money.

Although the prospect was terrifying, we had been given assurances. Most of Napoleon’s forces were concentrated to the south in the Siege of London. He had precious few artillery pieces and no doubt they were all accompanying his main force. All we had to contend with were smaller raiding parties he had sent North to pillage and send back supplies to feed his army. The whole platoon had all wished to see combat on one of our patrols, and our wish had been granted this day.

The army had become an unorganized mess since the invasion, so we took what we could get. Most of the men were new conscripts with no combat training or experience. They were all so confident and full of life. I envied them. The only people worth knowing were the veterans. There were only three of us.

Crawford was a stoic Scot with a permanent scowl fixed onto his face. We had both fought the French in Spain a few years before, and knew how terrifying the looming battle would be.

Williams also fought in Spain, though Crawford and I had never met him before a few weeks ago. His hands trembled whenever he heard the French tongue. He had definitely seen his fair share of war on that godforsaken peninsula.

Though not a veteran of combat, First Leftenant Cliff, our platoon commander seemed a capable man. Though like the greenhorns he constantly spoke of glories and spoils after our victory. That scared me.

We fell into line at the orders of Cliff and took a strategic position among the piles of boulders just past the crown of the hill. Everyone was silent as we waited for the first shot to be fired. What came next shook us all.

A horn sounded and we heard a stampede of hooves. We had been preparing for an infantry charge up the hill, but this was much worse. We had no time to reposition. One of the conscripts screamed in terror. He got up from behind a boulder tried to throw down his weapon and rout. Cliff quickly drew his pistol and shot him down. Then he began rapidly barking orders.

‘Get behind those rocks and fix bayonets! When those bastards pass through they should NOT be able to see you! When I fire, form up and follow suit!’

We crouched behind our rocks as if it were our saving grace. Crawford glanced up at me while attaching his bayonet and whispered.

‘Just like the peninsula, eh boyo?’

Just like the peninsula I thought to myself. I looked to Williams, who had begun shaking uncontrollably since the sound of horses began. He was now clam and collected.

The sound of hooves grew louder until we saw the horses charge past. I looked up and saw that no soldiers were atop the steeds. In fact, no saddles had been attached at all. These horses had been nothing but a diversion. I turned to notify Cliff, but before I could the sound of hooves had vanished over the hill and a more familiar sound filled the air. The sound of infantry screaming as they ran toward us.

Cliff screamed to us to fall back into line three men deep in front of the boulders and fire by rank on his order. We all rushed into formation. Many of the recruits tripped on their way to the line. Cliff waited until we were all in formation to give the order.

‘Front rank! Fire!’

We unleashed a volley of lead down the hill followed by a cacophony of screams. Us veterans had chosen to be in the front rank as an example to the men. As soon as we had fired we knelt down to reload. They did the same.

‘Second rank! Fire!’

The second rank fired and knelt down to reload by our example.

‘Third rank! Fire!’

The third rank fired a volley in the same fashion, but by then the French soldiers had appeared through the fog. They were yelling and firing wildly at us.

‘Front rank! Fire!’

Only Crawford, Williams and I had reloaded in time and squeezed off well placed shots into the mass of men. The conscripts stood to brace for impact.

‘Prepare to charge!’

We tightened our formation and faced our bayonets out toward the enemy. No one spoke a word except for Williams who had madly begun versing scripture.

‘CHARGE!’

We all yelled valiantly at the top of our lungs like men possessed as we ran down the hill. We crashed with the deafening sound of wood on wood and metal on flesh. Crawford and I had stuck together and pushed a poor Frenchman flat on his ass. Williams ran from behind us to sink his bayonet into the man’s chest. The thick fog had still not cleared and it seemed empty as Crawford, Williams and I searched for another man.

We found one on top of one of the greenhorns. Bashing his face in with the butt of his musket. Crawford charged and kicked the man off. I quickly sunk my bayonet into his throat.

Williams was locked in a fight with a man nearby. Both had lost their weapons and were rolling around in the mud. I grabbed the Frenchman’s gun and fired a shot into his side. Williams quickly gained the advantage and proceeded to smash his head with a nearby rock. I turned my attention back to Crawford only to find him staring at me, standing limp. He fell and revealed a French soldier. His uniform soaked in the blood of Crawford’s back.

I screamed like a wild beast as I charged him. I parried away his musket with my own and slammed him to the ground with the full force of my body. He fell and stared at me with wide eyes.

cèdecède!’ he yelled with his arms up to his ears, but I ignored his pleas.

I positioned my bayonet in between his eyes and thrust it downward. He squirmed in agony as I drove it deeper into his head. A slow death is what he deserved. Finally his skull gave way and my bayonet moved forward without obstruction. The Frenchman twitched once and stopped moving. I sensed someone watching me and dug out my weapon to face my new enemy. Williams stood there, disturbed by what he had witnessed. I stared back with a coat of blood over my face.

Soon afterwards, a horn from down the hill sounded a retreat. The French forces routed into the fog and soon vanished into obscurity. Cliff gathered the remaining men and ran after them. But after a few minutes we could no longer hear them. Only Williams and I were left among the field of lifeless corpses sinking into the mud. I stared at the man I had killed so viciously and then at Crawford’s bleeding back. The only part of him now sticking above the mud. Williams came to my side and looked down with me at our fallen comrade.

‘It wasn’t a fair trade’ I whispered.

‘It never is.’ Williams replied.

“Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”- Arthur Wellesly, Duke of Wellington