The Last Argument of Kings
A hundred legions of rain drops thundered above the the heads of soldiers awkwardly asleep in their bunks inside this one of many dozens of bunkers lining the forward trench. Thunder roared in the distance and the dark horizon was lit with the briefest flashes of light as the storm continued to grow ever more violent. A constant barrage of rain and hail had been berating the bodies and minds of the many hundreds of men and women stationed at the forward trench, both in the bunkers or the several forward operating posts that formed an elaborate connection along the ravaged, beaten grasslands (if they could yet be called thus) across Pangaea; the trench stretched from coast to coast without a single single breach in the line, for three days and nights or more without respite. The bunkers, or trench houses as they were affectionately named by the army, were situated some fifteen feet under the drenched muddy fields yet still each drop seemed as loud as a musket shot; and the hail was several times louder.
The sound of thunder grew louder as each minute passed and soon the ground began to tremble. A forward observer standing atop a tall metal structure several feet above the tallest building in a nearby operating base called out to men on the ground below her. Her voice was inaudible to anyone who wasn't within a few metres of the tower. Immediately the entire company present in the trench stood at the edge of the wooden walls and peeked over the barricades into the foreboding badlands before them. The land was black and barren in the night as clouds blocked the moon and no stars shone over Pangaea. The forward observer however caught glimpses of several torches in the far distance, waving wildly as though being carried by a runner. Soon after several more joined with large spaces of empty blackness between each light. Every night the same event occurred and every soldier knew what it meant.
Several runners ran along the outside of the trench calling to each company they passed who hadn't yet seen the torches. A young woman also ran along the outside of the trench from the nearby base with a long musket in hand and a grey hood covering her rain-soaked face. Her named was Boadicea and the soldiers lining the trenches stood at attention as she raced past them at great speed before dropping down into one section of trench which was filled with a foot of rain water, and entered one of many trench houses. Tapping the butt of her musket against the wood floor and drawing her hood back, she spoke to this battalion's commanding officer:
"There are torches on the horizon. The companies are gathering at the front as we speak. Have this section's battery ready, Colonel, and send up flares every five minutes spaced at one hundred metres."
The colonel dressed in the army's red uniform jacket with white breeches and black boots (frilled and trimmed with various threads of gold) stood at attention as Boadicea entered the trench house and saluted her for as long as she spoke until she allowed him to stand at ease as she finished speaking. He bade her a 'yes, sir' and inquired how many men were on the horizon. Boadicea could only say that some hundred or more torches were lit, which meant that the number could easily be multiplied three or four times. The colonel took a deep breath and straightened his uniform before his officer's cap and stepping out into the painfully cold night calling for flares to be sent up and for the artillery battery to be prepared. Firing these particular weapons during the rain was painfully difficult due to the soaked powder and fuses, so the soldiers were instructed to cover their weapons until absolutely ready to fire. Flares of brilliant red were fired into the night sky as far as the eye could see along trench, a hundred or more on both sides. The sky was illuminated and the ground was now visible; covered with deep craters from artillery and dozens of bodies littered the ground. The pyres that were erected to burn the many bodies that were added to the field each night were now soaked from the constant rain and would have to be reconstructed in the coming days. Now the cause of the thunder could be seen: hundreds of men clad in ragged cloth and torn fur scrambled over the varies deterrences in the field such as barbed wire and fox holes. They were running as fast as their legs would carry them and seemed to be fueled by pure rage alone, dragging clubs and axes made of wood and stone, as well as a few stolen swords and spears. Their faces were muddy and unwashed, specked with blood and their eyes were detailed with many red veins. They were the monsters that have plagued Pangaea for centuries with their endless numbers and equally limitless rage which seemed unfounded. They were not men of a rival nation or army, but seemingly came into existence out of nothingness, as forward reconnaissance teams had taken on the dangerous job of venturing beyond the forward lines into the hinterlands north of Pangaea and found no cities or structures save those of rubble and splintered wood that had been ravaged by these wild men over the years. Each night they attacked the trenches in the hundreds with renewed anger and determination.
Here Woad entered, with a musket four cubits long in his hand. The iron point gleamed in the firelight and was fastened to the body of the musket by a ring of gold. He wore garments very similar to Boadicea: a brown cloth cloak over grey upper-wear and trousers. Half a dozen leather straps crossed his torso and waist, holding various compartments and satchels filled with various items, some containing scrolls and books, others with black powder and bullets for his musket and pistols. Brown cloth hung around his waist down to his knees and was torn from many days of wear. He wore heavy boots of leather, studded with iron with steel toe caps. Boadicea stood at attention as he entered the room from another section of the trench house, much as Colonel Llane had stood before her. He waved his hand in some manner and bade her to stand at ease.
"Boadicea," he said with a polite bow of his head which was met with a bow from the woman in question. "How far out are they?" he asked his subordinate and friend.
"Perhaps three furlongs by now, though they close much ground with every second. Colonel Llane is preparing the pill boxes and batteries and his companies are at the ready," she replied and followed behind Woad as he left the trench house with his musket in hand, half of which was covered by a cloth to prevent the rain from soaking the powder in the gun's chamber.
"They are here already, Lord Scholar!" cried Colonel Llane over the sound of the deafening rain and hail as it clattered against the hard oak wood that the trenches were constructed from. Indeed the wild men that plague Pangaea each day and night were barely over a hundred metres away and they came with force in a number beyond what the eye can see.
Woad waved his hand to the commanding officer and peered over the edge of the trench. He could hear the shouts and cries in some guttural language or another that these creatures spoke. They snarled and roared as they stepped ever closer to the trenches. The sound of volleys of gunfire were already resounding throughout this section of the trench from both sides and soon the sound of cannons followed. Woad instructed Colonel Llane to 'make ready' and from there the officer was given full command as Woad stepped back.
"Make ready!" cried the colonel as he drew his sabre and raised it partway into the air in front of him. The order was carried far along the trench by his subordinate leftenants. The company present in this trench brought their rifles up to the ready and primed to fire.
"Present arms!" The muskets then formed an orderly, disciplined line as the soldiers peered down the sights over the edges of the trenches. Their hands were trembling violently as the barbarians swarmed in great numbers forwards them, waving clubs and axes above their heads as they closed the last few yards to the trench.
"First rank -" The colonel lowered his sword sharply and cried "Fire!" to the company. Immediately each soldier in the line immediately before the field pulled their trigger and an immense cloud of grey smoke filled the night air. Hundreds of rounds were fired in that single volley and an equal number of wildmen fell to the ground with gaping, bloody wounds to their chest and midsection.
"Second rank," cried the colonel and the first rank immediately stepped backwards as the second rank stepped forward and assumed their position at the front with their muskets now lined above the edge of the trench. "Fire!" A volley identical to the first fired and another mass of men fell to their knees or face first into the soaked, muddy ground. "Company - Fire at will!" was the last order the colonel gave for some time after which the entire company fired in irregular volleys at their own individual targets. The artillery battery also fired several volleys of heavy solid shots were scattered and destroyed masses of the barbarian men at once.
Woad and Boadicea both fired some two dozen shots or more combined in irregular volleys after the second rank had fired. Very few men made it to the trenches (at least to this particular section of the vast trench network) save for a few who managed to use their dead comrades as shields of meat to absorb the fire and make their way into trenches swinging their crude weapons to and fro wildly, snarling and spitting, cursing and crying various words in their guttural language. Needless to say, these individuals were made swift work of.