It's about this guy:
Working summary: A very sad man goes to war. Will big gay romance save him? Maybe.
Currently at: 100k+ words. Wow! That's a lot of homoerotic literature!
What, did you want some kind of excerpt? Something to sink your teeth into until I can finish this monster of a project? Well it's your lucky day, because here's a juicy piece of Act 1 to tide you over until the project is done. Bear in mind, this is all I'm willing to share until everything is done and properly edited. I'm happy with this scene, but there's a lot of organizing and reshuffling to be done elsewhere. Don't expect anything else until completion! Although the strongest and most handsome of you might stumble upon some secretWIPs......... Until then, read on:
Anzo spent the entire day with his heart in his throat, wondering. He kept his eyes locked onto the deadlands, trying to pick out even a hint of movement. Only a fool would have attempted the journey back in the cruel light of day, but Anzo's patience was paper thin. He wanted so desperately to see Jan, belly down, dragging himself back to the Valbaaran line. But the man was smart, he would wait until nightfall. That's what Anzo had done himself, after all.
The grey sky darkened as the hours stretched on until, at last, night sank in. And Anzo waited, squinting out into the shattered landscape every time a flare went up. No movement. No one sneaking back. He could smell dinner cooking somewhere down the line, though he hardly had an appetite. When Sergeant Morgan finally came to relieve him, Anzo was quick to volunteer for first watch. The sergeant looked at him crosswise, but he wasn't about to push back on the matter.
"If that's what you'd like," Morgan said.
And so Anzo took up his post out on the fire step, peering out into the darkness once more. Flares went up every fifteen minutes or so. One from their side, then one from the far side. Surely they’d help Jan find his way back.
But he never came.
Anzo's hands and feet were going numb when his relief came by. It was Witty, who had obviously just woken up.
"Head back," he yawned, "and get yourself some rest."
Anzo just grit his teeth and turned back to the line. He'd seen nothing all night, and he still saw nothing.
"He's still out there."
Witty sighed and patted Anzo on the back. "I know. But what can you do? Just go back and rest up, yeah?"
He couldn't. He needed to know. Anzo slung his rifle over his shoulder and braced both hands on the parapet.
"I'm going to find him," Anzo said. "If anyone asks, you couldn't stop me."
True enough, Witty didn't even bother. "You're mad," was all he said.
Up, and over. Anzo crouched so low to the ground that he was practically crawling. He knew where the gaps in the wire were, even in moonless darkness. When the first flare arced overhead, Anzo instantly froze in place. He resisted the urge to dive into the mud; the movement would only draw attention to himself. In the moment, he was just another dark lump on the black morass. He stayed stone-still, even as his ankles shook from holding himself mid-step for so long. As the bright white light fizzled out and the cover of darkness returned, Anzo again crept forward. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.
The first body was not far away. He crouched down next to it and rolled the soldier over onto his back. The body had long gone cold. In the darkness, Anzo could barely make out the man's face, but it was enough to know he wasn't Jan. Anzo reached into the man's tunic to pull out his tags, snapped the leather band, and tucked it into his pocket. Onto the next.
As he was peering down into the face of the next body, another flare went off. He got a better look at the man, and it took every ounce of nerve not to leap back. His eyes were hollow, and the sockets were clearly rat-bitten. The man's jaw hung slack; there was no tongue inside. Slowly, slowly, Anzo reached into his tunic to snap off his tag. The minutes crept on, worm-like, as Anzo and the empty-eyed corpse stared each other down. The second the flare light faded, Anzo scrambled onward.
And then, over the sound of his boots sinking into the muck, Anzo swore he heard breathing. A ragged, heavy, labored breathing. He squinted through the darkness and saw a blurry shape turning toward him.
Someone was still alive.
Anzo slunk over and, sure enough, the body yet lived. As he loomed over the lying figure, two hands shot up and grabbed him by the lapels.
"Stretcher... stretcher-bearer," the man rasped, his voice like sandpaper.
It was Captain Titor.
Anzo tried to shush him, but the captain's voice was only growing louder.
"Please," he warbled, "stretcher-"
Anzo had to clamp his hand down over the captain's mouth.
"I'm taking you back," he hissed, "but you have to stay quiet"
The captain nodded, and when Anzo pulled his hand back, all he heard was that hoarse breathing again.
Anzo couldn't tell where Titor had been hit, but it looked like he still had all his limbs screwed on properly. All the same, it was obvious the man was in no shape to walk. He'd have to be carried back, though how that would work, Anzo hadn't the slightest clue. The quickest way would be to sling the captain over his shoulder and walk back, but they'd both be picked off in a second, standing straight up like that. Anzo shifted around in the mud, circling the man, as though that would give him answers.
Finally, he had an idea. Not a good idea, but an idea.
"I need you to hold on," he whispered. "Hold on as tight as you can."
It was with great difficulty that Anzo pulled the captain out of the mud and onto his back. He resolved to crawl back like that, wearing Titor like a great, burdensome cape. To the captain's credit, he clung on dutifully, his arms hooked around Anzo's throat. It was comfortable for neither party, but it worked.
And so, Anzo began the long crawl back to the Valbaaran trench. Hand and knee in the black mud, plodding through the dark of night, all with a shuddering, shivering body clinging on. And then, another flare. Anzo halted, and he felt the captain's breath hitch.
No one could see them. They were too low to the ground, they were too dark to discern from the shattered earth. Anzo had to believe this. He focused on his breathing. In, and out. In, and out. The flare overhead was a spotlight, a great hand that pointed down directly upon their heads. Here! Right here! A single bullet would end it all. But, by some divine’s mercy, there were no eyes sharp enough to pick them out of the butchered landscape. As the flare fizzled out, Anzo again began crawling forward. His throat was so painfully dry.
His arms were caked in mud. The weight on his back bore down like a hundred angry boots. He crawled so much further than should have been possible. Anzo knew he should have found the trench by then. Another flare went up, and Anzo froze in place. Fifteen minutes had passed already. There was bile on the back of his tongue. His eyes darted this way and that, desperate for a sign. Any sign. And then, finally, he felt a spark of relief. Anzo could see the gap in the wire ahead. They were close! He bit down on his tongue as the flare arced through the sky with a painful slowness. It felt like all the world's eyes were upon him in that moment, and the pounding in his ears drowned out everything else. As darkness bled back in, he crawled forth with a renewed vigor, desperate to close the final gap.
"Incoming!" Anzo called. "Wounded coming down!"
Immediately, there were men waiting to pull Captain Titor back down to safety. The poor bastard bit back pained cries as best he could while Anzo passed him down into the trench. In the lamplight, Anzo could finally see the two dark wounds. One in the thigh, one right in the gut. Poor old Titor had been lying in the muck like that for a full day and two nights besides. Anzo peered down at him from over the parapets, and Captain Titor's weary eyes locked onto his.
Anzo hoped he could survive it.
As the captain was tended to, Anzo was quickly forgotten. No one noticed him creep back out into the darkness, out past the razor wire. He snuck back out in the cover of darkness, taking a serpentine path as he went. He was determined to scour the entire sector until he had an answer.
It wasn't long until Anzo found the next body. This one was cold to the touch. With a quiet SNAP, the tag broke off between muddied fingers. Anzo tucked it carefully into his pocket with all the others. And then, barely a minute later, another. This one was face down, cut off at the waist. It was not hard to turn the body over. The tag snapped, and Anzo crept along. He could not afford to linger.
Anzo could not tell how many hours he wasted, sneaking from body to body, dodging flare light all the while. None of those bodies were Jan. There was relief and frustration both. He could still be alive out there somewhere, just like Captain Titor was. Where, Anzo could only imagine. But the way forward was clear; as winding as Anzo's path became, he was careful not to stray too near the Kenoran lines. But when he scoured the muck in all the middling zones, no other choice remained.
He crept forward, toward the dim light seeping over the Kenoran parapets. As he snuck onward, he began to pick up faint sounds between the odd falling shell. Voices. Voices in a language he didn't know. Anzo felt an icy hand around his throat. Their trench was now barely a stone's throw off. If he sneezed, they would all hear it. He bit down on the inside of his cheek as the next flare shot up. He froze in place, hardly daring to breathe in the accusatory white light. Even a moderately diligent watchman would be able to see him clearly now. Anzo's only hope was to stay as still as possible, so as not to draw any eyes.
Only when the flare fizzled out could he exhale. But that only meant it was time to move forward once again. As he pushed onward, Anzo still moved in a sweeping motion. He had to cover as much ground as he could manage. He doubted he would ever get another chance. And if Jan was still alive, neither of them could afford to wait another night.
Creeping ever closer to doom, Anzo wondered what he would do if he found Jan half-buried in the mud and cold to the touch. Would he scream? Would he make it back to the Valbaaran line before the world fell out from under him? Anzo knew Jan kept a diary in his breast pocket. A letter home, his photographs... And his wedding ring, too. Anzo wouldn't forgive himself if he couldn't mail that much back to Jan's wife. Doris would need something to remember her father by. Anzo could already feel pinpricks in the corners of his eyes.
He knew it already. He knew it when he left the trenches. It was like a knife between the ribs. Yet, despite it all, Anzo still crept through the mire, still pulled forward on the slimmest hope that none of it had yet come true.
Another flare. Anzo swore under his breath and froze again. His heart hammered in his ears, and his eyes darted about. More bodies, none of them so much as twitching. He made a note of the best path to take to each of them. He couldn't see their faces from where he was crouching, so he'd need to check each one before he could be sure. But then-
Just over the parapets, Anzo heard screaming. Overhead, air sliced by hot steel. Despite himself, Anzo dove to the ground just as the shell made impact. The blast was so loud Anzo could feel it in his bones, and not just for the spray of dirt that rained on his back. Over the ringing in his ears, Anzo could hear swearing in that foreign tongue. It landed barely a yard out from the Kenoran line, but it had surely not come from Valbaaran-way. Someone on Kenor’s artillery line must have gotten a bit too sleepy in that ugliest part of the night.
Anzo now lay chest down in the muck. In the remnants of the flarelight, he glanced about. A few scant yards to his right, he could see a shallow crater, just shallow enough to give precious cover to the body inside of it. A brown uniform, blackened by wet earth. Shivering.
"Tsst!" Anzo hissed through his teeth.
The body in the crater snapped its head over to him. In the dimming light, Anzo recognized the face staring back. He could see the whites of Jan's eyes.
And then, the world went dark again.
Anzo carefully peered toward the dim lamplight that hazed over the Kenoran parapets. He couldn't see anything obvious. Did a sharpshooter have Jan pinned in place? Is that what kept him down there all this time? Anzo would need to make his next move with terminal caution.
"Draw him out," Anzo whisper-shouted down to Jan.
Through the cover of darkness, Anzo could see Jan shuffling about, keeping his head below the rim of the crater all the while. If he could see that much movement from where he lay, he had no doubt a marksman could as well. Jan unbuckled his helmet with mud-blackened hands and balanced it on his bayonet. Slowly, carefully, he raised the helmet over the crater rim and into sight.
All the while, Anzo pulled a grenade and tugged out the pin.
Jan's helmet leapt back from the force of the bullet, but Anzo's eyes were already locked onto the cracking barrel.
He flung his grenade in that instant. The moment he saw that barrel withdraw, he was out of the mud, and so was Jan. There was a scream, and then a blast. No time to linger. Anzo let Jan take the lead, and they scrambled through the darkness as rifles cracked all along the Kenoran line. There was a great commotion of shouting at their backs, and Anzo pushed forward with bolts of lightning flowing through every inch of his body.
Red flares were shot up immediately from both sides, and the pair of them stopped in place. Every eye was peeled now. The Kenorans fired blindly out into the darkness, thirsty for retribution. A bullet zipped over Anzo's head, and his breath died in his throat. The moment the flare went out, they both ran like rabbits with wolves on their heels. But another flare went up immediately. Again, Anzo was frozen.
Little did he realize, riflemen were about to be the least of his worries.
There it was, that horrible sound. The far-off WHOOMF of artillery fire. All Anzo could do was dive down into the mud and pray the shells didn't find him. They whizzed through the air, up overhead, and then pounded the ground with a screaming fury. Anzo could feel the very earth shuddering beneath him. The first few fell gracefully ahead of him, into the middle of the deadlands. They would need to mind the new craters pushing forward. But then-
The angry fist of god slammed down next to him. Anzo felt the blow echo through his entire body. Hot earth hit him in the back, threatening to bury him in place. His head spun, and Anzo could do little but wait for the pain to set in. He had been hit, he had to have been hit. It was too close to have spared him.
And yet, as the red light faded, the slap of pain never came. In darkness now, Anzo carefully shook the chunks of earth off himself and again rose up off the ground. Jan was already up, Anzo could just barely see the outline of him in the murky dark.
"I- I think so," Anzo whispered.
Without another word, they crept forward. More shells landed, further off this time. The final one crashed down behind them. And then, silence. Nothing but the sound of two pairs of boots creeping through the mud.
They slunk past splintered trees and a foundation stripped of its structure. Over crumpled old wire, and then funneled through the gaps of the new wire. And then, the parapets.
"Incoming!" He called. "Hold fire!"
Anzo and Jan both hit the wooden floorboards, each as miserably mud-soaked as the other. Jan was shivering from the ferocity of it all, and Anzo gasped for air. They were surrounded by watchmen in seconds, and Anzo realized he didn't recognize a single one of them.
"You fellows look like death!"
With trembling hands, Anzo uncapped his flask and gulped down the cold water inside.
"H-company?" Jan asked, panting heavily.
"Nah," one drawled, "This is E-company. H is west of here."
One of the watchmen held a lantern over Jan, and then Anzo. "Neither of you are hurt?"
Jan rose to his feet. "I don't think so," he said.
Anzo shook his head. He still didn’t know.
"Well then, you should get on back. I'd imagine H-company will be missing you."
Anzo sat there a moment longer to catch his breath while Jan tried to wipe some of the muck off himself. Finally, Anzo rose to his feet, and the pair set off down the line, weaving back toward their post. For as much as there was to be said, neither was ready to say a word.
By the time they made it to Backbend Boulevard, the sentries were completely wired.
Copper was the first to run in with a greeting.
"God's wings, Witty said you'd gone over the top! Brought Titor back and just went right back out! I was sure you were a goner!" Copper punched Anzo's shoulder, his grin stretching from ear to ear. "And you!" He turned to Jan. "Missing since we all went over. I'd marked you for dead, I had."
Anzo finally allowed himself to smile. Laugh, even. They'd done it, somehow. Both of them. Made it out there and back in tact. In the moment, he half expected himself to wake up from the dream, but it never came. Rather, the early risers had come out to greet him. Slap him on the back, shake him about. Schmidt gave him a great bear hug. And then, Jan.
Jan grabbed Anzo's shoulders and looked him dead in the eye. He didn't say a word, but he didn't need to. Anzo nodded, Jan nodded, and there was nothing more to be said.
When the excitement wore down, Anzo shuffled back to the bunker. The rush was wearing off, and his blood was turning to stone. Every step was an effort. Without so much as bothering to untie his boots, Anzo collapsed onto his cot. In moments, he was gone.
How exciting! I can't wait to see what else happens! Stay tuned for the full release of Tales for a Shattered World, coming whenever I manage to finish it! The story covers a span of seven years so like. Bear with me.