Elias stood above his trench, flicking away the dying remains of a cigarette. His boots were caked with mud and he had long given up on cleaning them. Fifteen days ago he was at a very elaborate baby shower for a close friend. Ten days ago the entire population of Skion was drafted to fight the swarming horrors that had fallen from the sky. For nine days he had been hard at work building the planet-spanning defenses around the the 40th latitude, the line of defense drawn to check the advance of the space-borne foe. There were no civilians any longer, only soldiers and children. He sighed, staring into the darkness, barely eight days of combat training to his name, standing amidst the greatest defensive network ever built, waiting to die. Somewhere just out of sight was the foe, devouring the remains of a network of defenses that had been overrun. Elias didn't know how many lines of defense were behind him, but he had watched the number ahead dwindle down to zero. This was the front now. The fight would soon be right here.
"Elias, artillery is going hot soon," a voice warned from below. It was Jocey, his sergeant.
"Aye," he acknowledged.
Elias wanted to stand up top for the first volley. The concussion of a hundred thousand shells launched all at once promised to be better than any drug. He'd wait for the first flashes of fire in the distance before hunkering down, then his vision would be darkness and mud until the sick green lights of the swarm filled the sky and betrayed the start of battle. Seconds later he startled when the batteries opened up. If not for his helmet dampening the sound he would have gone deaf. He smiled, just a little, as the blast radiated throughout his body, one speck of dust in the face of such fury. Long seconds of silence passed before a second wave of hate. The ground vibrated against his boots as the distant night lit up with fire as the first shells landed. He tried to imagine the foe dying in the roar of fire and shrapnel as he hopped down into the relative safety of the trench.
"You okay?" someone asked.
"Better now," Elias lied.
The shelling lasted for hours, explosions becoming background noise, almost unnoticeable in their regularity.
"Finally," Jocey said slowly, as a sickly green shadow extended across the battle line.
Elias hoisted himself to position, rifle ready to deal death, suddenly feeling quite weary.
As the line assembled Elias heard a nearby gunshot spitting into the dark. Elias joined them. The entire line groaned and discharged lead into the dark as the swarming beasts came into view from the long shadows. They screamed and died amidst the hail fire, erupting bright green and black with blood and gore. Teeth grit down the line as the foe crawled closer and closer, their numbers holding in the screaming lead. Flame belched from the line as incendiary weapons lit the horde. Magik swirled amongst the ranks as War Priests and other seers blessed the troops. The first wave to hit the line is never the mass of giant monsters but rather the scuttling beasts beneath them. They slam into the trench like water, innumerable biting things washing through and chomping straight through to the bone. Elias fell back in their tide, tumbling to the muck underneath a carpet of howling monsters. He pulled a knife from his thigh and slashed something, green goo spilling across his visor and open mouth. He was hauled to his feet, Jocey barking orders in his helmet, "Get back! Move back!"
He obeyed, rifle slung over his shoulder. Someone was atop the trench, firing a belt-fed weapon into the masses reaching the forward lines. The spent casings rained harmlessly off of Elias as he jostled his way backwards, surrounded by the rest of the retreating line. Everyone was screaming something. The trench opened into an intersection and Elias slipped trying to duck off to one side. As he slammed unceremoniously into the dirt he felt rounds zing above his head. A firing position had opened up right where he was standing. The screams of otherworldly horrors told him that there hadn't been many of his countrymen behind him.
Elias ran. There were few other options. Single soldiers dueled with beasts beyond their ability, dying in blood soaked mud as they were overrun by the horde. Elias slipped again, his limbs unstrung by fear and betrayed by the slick earth. A Champion Marine charged into his vision, tearing a Titan in two with some giant bladed weapon. Elias scowled beneath a blood begrimed visor, crawling in the mud toward anywhere else. The Marine continued his advance, splitting the oncoming horde with the ease of a child through a field of wheat. With a grunt Elias found himself pulled to his feet, Jocey appearing to assist. She punched his shoulder.
"Come on!" she called, as if they weren't fleeing imminent doom. They ducked into a bunker as more Champions sprinted with glee into the fray.
"What I'd give to be one of them..." Jocey mused, slamming a magazine into her pistol. Elias noticed the smoldering remains of her rifle still slung across her chest.
They sprinted back into the din, feet pounding through the trenches. Each time they found a position to form up it toppled in minutes, overwhelmed by the massed hordes of crawling foes. There couldn't have been enough rounds on a hundred planets to hold against the rising tide. Their position was made up of miles of trench works and Elias knew they'd never outrun the foe to reach the end. Still, they pushed on, yard after yard disappearing behind them, soaked in the blood of their friends and the piles of the enemy. The foe simply crawled over the top of the burned and torn bodies to scream into the face of a thousand guns.
Elias and Jocey were almost to another intersection but a shadow made Elias kick his sergeant into an empty firing bay. "What the!" she swore at him before seeing the threat. The monsters were crossing transverse now. They were pushing so deep into the defenses they could crawl unopposed down the line. The air still sung with the crack of guns and roar of distant artillery.
"We have to move," Jocey said, defeated, tossing her empty pistol. It landed in the muck with a soft splat.
Without a word, and expecting death, they ran back into the trenchway. They were not greeted by screaming horrors but instead by a gore-blasted Champion Marine building his own defensive position with the screaming dead. He tore them with his bare hands, hardly moved by their fury, facing them with unstoppable valor. Elias and Jocey simply ducked behind and moved toward the rear. Fatigue gripped their limbs as they ran through the thick muck of the trench, weapons long spent. They turned a corner and Elias rebounded off of a large, solid object. As he gathered himself the object turned around and Elias' eyes widened with horror as a Titan stared him down. Jocey attacked first, a tired shout in her throat and a bloody knife in her grip. It bit into one of the beast's legs as it spun with hatred. It tossed her aside with ease and struck downward at Elias, who was still struggling to his feet. His errant legs saved him again and the Titan's limb slammed into empty mud. Jocey struck, weaker this time, fighting for breath. Elias pulled himself into a sitting position, hands clutched around a rifle he found in the muck. The first shot slammed into the Titan's armored abdomen as it lunged for Jocey. Elias was so close to the Titan he couldn't miss. He held the trigger down until it clicked empty but the monster didn't seem to notice. Jocey was dodging the many limbs of their enemy, the close quarters of the trench keeping the Titan from using it's full body in the fight. Elias was on his feet now, swinging the rifle like a club. The weapon broke in half as he brought it down on the Titan, a dismayed groan following as Elias ran out of options. The Titan finally found its mark, spearing Jocey through the calf and lifting her into the air. Elias jumped onto its back, trying to delay the inevitable. He wailed on the Titan as it split Jocey open, spilling her blood and tossing her spent body against the trench wall. A concussion tossed Elias from the creatures back. He heard it screech and turn toward something else, already forgetting his battered body as it sat in the muck. He pulled himself with agonizing slowness toward Jocey’s body. Her limbs seemed to sink into the bloody mud, splayed unnaturally as only the dead can. Elias didn’t have time to mourn. He tore her ID tag from her chest plate and took off in retreat, not bothering to see what had distracted the beast that nearly erased his existence.
Time blurred as Elias ran, or rather, walked. He couldn't run any longer, his limbs would not respond. Every step was harder. Every breath lurched from his lungs with greater effort. Around him staggered others from the shattered bastions the swarm had overrun, weaving slowly through the defenses their comrades held with stubborn valor. He was practically deaf from the repeated concussions of a thousand different gun barrels. The fresh fighters let their broken brothers and sisters through, stepping aside for a moment before throwing more hell at the enemy. Elias finally slumped into a bunker, heaving with fear and exhaustion, ready to accept his death.
"Brother!" he heard, somehow, from someone nearby, his eyes looked for the sound but his head stayed still. In front of him knelt the bone-white armor of a Champion Medic. The words seemed to vibrate in his skull, as if the warrior could reach into his head to force Elias to understand.
"You look like hell!" the medic said cheerfully. Elias could sense a sick grin.
A rush of adrenaline shot through Elias, air rapidly filling his lungs, energy coursing through his veins. He saw a long needle in his leg attached to the Medic's wrist.
"This will pick you right up, brother," the medic said, patting Elias on the shoulder.
Before Elias could thank him he was yanked onto his feet. He felt new, as if he had woken from a peaceful slumber. The medic chuckled, a dark laugh that resounded in the confines of the concrete fortification.
"Give them hell for me," the medic said, shoving a rifle into Elias' chest, "There is much glory to be won!"
Elias' head seemed to run a thousand miles a minute, throbbing with the desire for action. What had that medic given him? He stepped back into the trenches, new rifle in his fists, itching for battle. The sound hit him like a train: a thousand coordinated blasts throwing hatred at the enemy. He mounted a firing stand and took in the grisly sight. The sickly green lights hung in the night, casting long shadows across the corpse strewn defenses, the light from gunfire echoing in the dark. He seemed to stare not at a well built fortification of wood, steel, and stone, but a ocean of organic muck, the remains of a million monsters and the men and women they trampled. His mouth gaped, skull still raging, as he looked upon the horror of miles and miles of battlefield. The foe came like an ocean, crawling over the mountains of their dead, dying in the storm of lead and steel, paying dearly for every inch. On the horizon he saw the flashing fireballs of orbital bombardment and distant artillery fire. Left and right the trench works reached the horizon, every inch locked in the madness, man and beast waging unceasing war upon one another. It was magnificent in its incomprehensible horror. Elias added his rifle to the chorus of obliteration, teeth bared in fury, chemical high filling him with rage. Every bullet sung with the name of a lost friend.
A Champion Marine strode behind Elias, cheering loudly in the violence, having the time of his life.
"The foe halts here, brothers and sisters! No more will we submit to the enemy! We have drawn our line and we will break them here. Listen to the songs of our guns!" He paused, hands outstretched in the flickering light of the muzzle flashes, "Listen to the chorus of battle we lift to the heavens! We will win glory unending today! We are the bulwark upon which the enemy will break!"
Elias slammed another magazine into his rifle, Jocey's tags dangling from his fist.
"We are the bulwark," he whispered as he poured death into the enemy.
"We are the bulwark," he said as he stood in the firing line.
"I am the bulwark," he shouted as day broke over the slaughter, his rifle spitting fury, sun peeking over the field of shattered corpses and mountains of dead.
Elias could feel the chemical high flagging, slowly losing ground to his exhaustion. A warplane streaked over the line, dropping thunderous munitions on the enemy. Dozens followed. This was victory, Elias could feel it in his soul. Behind him a cheer rose alongside the endless rain of steel and lead. Perhaps the foe was breaking. He finally let the fatigue take him, dropping onto the calf-deep pile of spent casings.
Sixty miles above the fury of battle, the war cruiser Iron Maul hovered, endless streams of fire raining across multiple battlefields. Its commander let the phantom of a smile creep across his stoic features.
"Keep up the attack," he said, repeating the same order for the hundredth time. The foe was running out of monsters. He studied the readings carefully, double checking every missive and report. The 40th latitude was holding with great stubbornness. In some territories the allies had even been able to counter-attack; to retake that which was lost. The smile grew across his face. He couldn't hold it in any longer. Finally, some good news.
Elias woke up forty hours later in a bunker hospital, his vision filled with pitted white armor and a familiar voice.
"I heard you were here!" the medic's voice boomed, a wide grin spanning the width of his bearded face.
Elias winced, head throbbing with withdrawal.
"This will take the edge off," the medic said, shoving a jug into Elias' hand.
Elias took a sip, "Vodka?"
"Victory vodka!" the medic cheered, a similar cry echoing around him. "Drink with me, soldier!"
"Elias," he wheezed, bringing the drink to his lips.
"A fine name, Elias. I am Aldhor!"
The warriors drank together, a celebration of the first victory in the War for Skion.
Is it similar to my entry from last year? Yes. However, since it fits better into my canon for the Skion troops I felt it was appropriate. Might write another one so I can do something different but I'm not making any promises.