The bitter wind whistled wildly around their heads, the rain poured from the sky in thick globules, breaking on the mud and the sky hung black with the smoke of destruction. The air hummed with the sound of artillery, occasionally accompanied by the percussion of the screams of pain. The group huddled together in the narrow trench around a small lamp, the flickering flame barely giving off enough light to see more than a few feet away. The War had been going on for a few years now, they had all joined up eagerly to fight for what they believed to be right, the continued expansion of the Paroshi Empire across the continent, but the rebels of Kalos had dug in and halted their advance westwards. Now that they had seen the horrors of warfare however, their minds strayed towards desertion, home and their families.
Benedict was the youngest amongst them, a sprightly young Scatterbug, the ruff around his neck was thick and matted with the sludgy ooze from the ground, he was the only one left with any optimism, he knew deep in his heart that the Empire would not fail. They had always succeeded, just like in the tales his grandfather used to tell him. To his left sat Victor, a surly Venipede who despite his constant scowling cared deeply for Benedict as a brother. Victor's antennae were crooked and a scar lay across his face, stretching from beneath his left eye to his mouth, the result of a failed defusal of an Electrode. The final member of the group sat across from the two youngsters, Sergeant Samuel, a grizzled old Scyther, riddled with more wounds than an Octillery has suction cups, his gruff exterior was betrayed by his eyes, they were tired and he longed for an end to his constant battles.
The Sergeant sighed, the fuel for the lamp was running low and the temperature was dropping. They desperately needed supplies, but communication lines had been cut by the rebels in the days beforehand. He turned his head to his right, staring at the wall of the trench, contemplating. The nearest trench with Paroshi forces was half a mile away across no mon's land, trying to cross that in these conditions was suicide. The rebels had snipers lined up across the border, they would cut him down in an instant, then again without the necessary provisions they would all be dead within days. He looked at his younger charges, the last remaining of their division, and particularly at Benedict. He had come to see the Scatterbug as a son, the boy had a family who cared deeply about him, and his eyes glimmered with hope, he had faith in the Empire, a faith that he himself had lost long ago. He couldn't bring himself to be responsible for this boy's death. Not while he had a chance to do something about it.
“Boys,” the Sergeant wheezed, turning towards them once more, “It's not looking good out there. We won't last more than 3 days like this. I...”
“But Sergeant,” interrupted Benedict, “We must keep going. It's our duty to the empire to never give up, we must never surrender. Remember the words of Walrein Churchill? We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in Kalos, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” He beamed with pride as Victor and the Sergeant grimly smiled, his enthusiasm was infectious.
“Regardless Benedict,” continued the elderly Scyther, “as it stands, we will not survive for much longer unless we can do something. We can't signal remotely for help, so there's only one thing for it.”
“You're going out there aren't you.” Victor responded, not as much a question as a statement, “You're going to try and reach another trench to get the message back to headquarters. You won't make it.”
“I don't know unless I try,” came the blunt reply from the Sergeant, slowly helping himself up from the ground, “There's life left in these old wings, not much, but enough to get there. And I think the higher ups could forgive an old mon for trying one final heroic act in order to prolong the war effort.”
Benedict spun a message using String Shot, the words simply stated “SOS Div 21”. He passed it to his mentor who tucked the string under his abdomen and smiled. As he stretched his wings, the aged Scyther let out an almighty groan, his body was tired. This was it for him. He slowly shuffled over to the wall of the trench and climbed the ladder, waiting at the top for the right moment. He looked back down at the two young bugs and said his final words to them,
“Goodbye, and good luck.”
The wind slowed down and the artillery stopped, the air hung stale in the silence. With a great heave, the Scyther leapt over the top and began to beat his wings furiously, using the last ounces of strength that he had.
Benedict & Victor sat in silence, their ears trained on the ground above, listening out for any indication as to what was going on. The first Sniper shot whistled through the sky, followed by another, and yet another. Benedict's face fell as he heard the shots tear through the air, increasing in number and ferocity. The rounds repeated for minutes before a sudden silence hit. The Scatterbug looked at his friend, downcast and said
“They stopped. That means...”
“It means nothing Benedict. They either got him, or he got to safety. The only way we can know is time. Now come on, the best thing we can do is rest.” Victor had a strange calm to his voice, almost as if he had accepted the twist of fate the universe had thrown his way.
4 days later
Dawn broke over the battlefield, the orange sky littered with hazy smoke from the smouldering embers of the Kalos trenches. The Paroshi had hit hard during the night, the Talonflame air force striking down with a furious barrage of flames, destroying numerous strategic targets and decimating the rebel forces. The last of the fuel had been used during the night and the two small bugs were shivering in their trench. They were bordering on hypothermia and didn't have much long left. They woke to a sudden cry from the skies.
“Noivern. They've come to finish us off,” remarked Victor, too tired to resist the inevitable. Benedict merely wept, too weary to wail at his impending doom. The swarm of Noivern landed by their side, the leader grinning fiendishly, leaning down to Victor and opening his mouth.
“Division 21 I presume? Or what's left of it at least. We've got our orders to bring you back to base. You will behave on the flight won't you boys?”
Without a chance to respond, Benedict & Victor were swept up by two of the Noivern and carried high into the skies. Benedict shut his eyes tight, he was afraid of heights, the kidnapping was of little concern to him compared to this ordeal. Victor merely lay docile in the grip of his captor, too he was too feeble to put up any meaningful resistance. It was only a matter of time before he met his fate.
The Noivern descended rapidly, landing gracefully on a well worn balcony in the centre of a fort. Victor was puzzled, he recognised where he was.
“Well then, Division 21, we found you at just the right moment,” came a voice from behind them. Victor turned around and found himself facing a towering Pyroar. “It's a good job we found Sergeant Samuel when we did.”
“But... The Noivern... The Sergeant...” stuttered Victor.
“My boy, didn't you hear?” Continued the Pyroar, “we struck a deal last night with the Noivern that convinced them to see the error of their ways and defect to our cause. They provided us with a rather useful list of strategic targets, and we supplied them with a large amount of gold. We found Sergeant Samuel 2 days ago collapsed in a trench, he managed to make it across No Mon's Land single handedly. In fact, he was holding your message.”
“You mean? He's alive?! Can we see him?” exclaimed Benedict, perking up finally after his flight. The Pyroar grimaced,
“I'm sorry. But he was exhausted from his ordeal and passed away last night. There was nothing we could do, he seemed to finally be at peace with himself. “
Victor and Benedict broke down on the ground, their emotions numb. They hadn't expected much, but to have their hopes raised briefly before being dashed again had crushed them. A single tear left Victor's eye.
“Boys, now is not the time to grieve. Now is the time for celebration. The war is over.” remarked the Pyroar, walking towards the fort, “we shall have you examined before you are both discharged from our service. You will soon be back with your families.”
The two bugs lay breathless on the cold stone, they were free to return home, but they were no longer the mon that left their small villages those many years ago. A single snowflake fell from the sky, Winter was coming, and not a moment too soon.