Monday, April 20, 2015

Argonne, but not Forgotten 2

Earth, France, 1918 - the Argonne Forest

Leaving the bunker, the squad headed west until they found a creek where they could wash.  Camping above the creek, they were waken the next morning to the sound of horses.  Below were the wagons of French villagers carrying wagon loads of corpses.

Jack Haytham confronted the villages, threatening them when he saw the bodies writhing.  Louis stopped him from shooting - noting the corpses were unmoving to all but Jack - and approached the villagers.  The village leader Bernard Martel told him they collected the bodies of the dead to bury.  Traveling with the villagers, dressed in what the squad took for traditional Roma garb, was a man called Eugene. 

Eugene introduced himself and immediately offered to keep (everyone's guns, packs, and anything else he could see) "safe for you."  Louis Mentur suspected Eugene was not really Roma, but kept the knowledge to himself.

They followed the villagers through a countryside that was oddly quiet for the front.

This village sat in cleared farmland surrounded by the Argonne Forest with a stream running through.  Smoke trails from the homes flattened in the morning chill and formed long streamers of white across the sky.  In the center of the village sat an old church, probably dating to the Middle Ages Waecter decided.

The locals stared at the squad plus one as they followed the corpse wagons toward the local church.  An old woman on her front porch, sweeping away fallen leaves, returned to her home quickly, slamming her door shut.

Entering the church, the squad was met by the local priest - Father Absolon - who welcomed them to his rectory at the back of the church.  Though he'd ministered to the villagers for over a decade he still felt himself an outsider.  The last few years of war had been difficult, but he noted surprisingly the village had been spared the occupation of any troops.  When Gustav told him about the bright light in the forest, the priest told them the incident sounded familiar.

Louis had remained outside with Rudy Mcgraw.  He watched the corpse wagon leave the village shortly after arriving and continue into the forest.  He and Rudy decided to collect their other squad members and follow the wagon.  Eugene tagged along despite being told to leave.

In the forest, they found the villagers tossing bodies into a large dug pit.  Hiding, the squad watched the village elder chant and a purple glow from a crystal necklace he held illuminated the pit.

Louis, for reasons unknown to the others came out of the underbrush firing on the villagers.  His comrades followed his lead.  As they approached the pit, dozens of reanimated corpses crawled out to meet them.  Everyone but Jack and Louis ran, and the village elder laughed.  Louis tossed grenade into the pit, and Jack shot the elder.  When the elder began to heal from his wounds, they ran.

Back in the village the squad proceeded to the church, where they barricaded themselves.  The priest joined them holding an old journal book kept by the church since the middle ages.  He referenced passages dating back centuries regarding the walking dead, bright flashes of light and strange noises like an orchestra of violins.  

Outside, the corpses of soldiers pounded on the door and windows.  They heard chanting beyond.  A bit later, they heard the sound of strings filling the air and the pounding stopped.  Louis decided they should leave. The priest remained, but gave the book to Gustav

Outside, the sky had darkened and they watched a line of lamp lights snaking into the distant hill.  Running for the edge of town as the violin screech grew louder, they were thrown to the ground by a giant clap.  Waking later, the moon high.  The squad found the village remained intact, but the church was now gone.

Though they wanted to rest, Jack and Louis pressed the others onward, following the trail of lights.  They sky had clouded and as they walked a thin rain drenched them all.

Eugene had managed to outfit himself with a German rifle, pistol and helmet somehow during the day.  He also had a sack on his back the jingled.

Rudy'd taken several bottles of wine from the church and was busy getting drunk, while Jack grinned gleefully saying they had killing to do.  Gustav noted they were all far gone when Jack began making sense.

Approaching a ring of mehirs, they found two men standing guard near the an opening.  Jack and Louis snuck over to the men and killed each quietly, though Jack dropped his man into the hole.  Waiting for someone to rush out, they waited breath held.  But no one came.

Slowing making their way down old worn stone steps in near darkness, they saw a pale purple light from a tunnel ahead and the low roar of chanting.

When they finally came to a large cave, they stood above a circular room with a great purple crystal in the middle.  Surrounding the crystal were villagers as well as German and French soldiers.

Near the crystal stood the elder Martel, two other villagers and a small group of children and bewildered soldiers.

They quietly discussed a plan. Louis then thew grenades into the crowd while the others fired.  People screamed and began rushing for another tunnel on the opposite side of the cave.  The three men in the center returned fire injuring Rudy.  The rest of them rushed to the bottom firing.  Eugene touched the crystal and passed out.  Jack killed the village elder and then shot the crystal only chipping it.

Bright light poured from the chip and the cave was wracked by an earthquake.  Carrying Rudy, Gustav fled following the villagers/soldiers.  Louis grabbed Eugene.  As they followed the German and French soldiers began shouting "What is going on?  Why are we here?" and Louis realized they had killed many who were enthralled.  Gustav and Rudy looked at him in confusion and horror, but Jack just laughed.

An earthquake collapsed the hilltop into a crater.  Once outside, the soldiers agreed to go their separate ways without fighting - too shocked to do anything else - and the remaining villagers also vanished.

Treating Rudy's wounded knee as best the could and waking Eugene, they began the long march back towards Allied lines.  Eventually, slipping through only to learn most of their former division had been killed.

Louis returned to Paris - taking Eugene with him - to report to his elder brother at the Tete de Morte headquarters. 

Gustav and Rudy went to an American hospital.  By the time, they were treated and returned to duty, the Armistice had been announced.

Jack was to return to an Australian unit, but vanished.

The story continues with The Funeral of Gustav Waecter, part 1