The Hollow always surprises.
A narrow trail that dipped down into a slim valley led out to a field of carnage, one I was well-familiar with.
I’d seen plenty of similar sights during the Great War, although I admit I wasn’t expecting to see such a one in the Hollow.
The stench of death was ripe, and it was accompanied by the skittering of feet. I couldn’t see any corpses, but that wasn’t a surprise. There could be hundreds half-buried in the churned earth past the tank. Thousands just below the surface.
The sound of feet was familiar, too.
A black head with bright eyes and twitching whiskers popped up from the tank and peered at me.
It was the biggest damned rat I’d ever seen.
I suspect it might have been as tall as myself if it stood on its hind legs. The thing opened its mouth, and yellow teeth, broken and chipped, could be plainly seen.
As I watched, it crawled out of the tank and in its forepaw was a battered brass horn.
I drew my Colt and thumbed the trigger back.
The rat snarled at me, brought the horn up to its muzzle and blared out a note even as the slug from my Colt tore its throat out. The rat slumped down, blood pumping from the wound as the horn clattered down the tank’s side.
The earth rumbled beneath my feet, and all about me, the earth twisted and roiled as rats by the hundreds broke free. Noses twitched as they smelled the fresh blood of their comrade, and they drew forth bayonets and long knives.
My pleasure at seeing them without firearms was short-lived.
A rattle of chains caught my ear, and when I turned to look, I saw a team of rats maneuvering a 75mm cannon into position.
As the bladed rats raced towards me, I gunned down the artillery team.
But it was only the briefest of respites.
Another crew leaped up to take their place, and I was forced to move backward, firing as I went.
The rats tried to rush me, seeking to overwhelm me with their numbers.
The Colts thundered.
The rats soon stumbled over their own dead, and I retreated into the valley, pausing long enough to gun down the few rats ambitious enough to follow.
It was time to find another way to my mother.