It was a snake.
Barnaby Grathier screamed, adjusted his grip on the shovel to something much more aggressive and attacked it. The narrow trench limited him to overhead swings but he brought the edge of the tool-turned-weapon down five times, ten, fifteen. Every time he hit it, it moved, scattering clumps of dirt. Whatever it was, it refused to die.
By the time Crawford had arrived, he was franticly trying to scramble out of the chest-height trench to escape.
"What in the Light's name is going on here?!"
"There's a snake in there, sir!" Private Winfield replied, who had fetched the sergeant. Barnaby was on his hands and knees shaking at their feet.
"Can't kill it, sarge!" Barnaby wailed. "It's just... A demon maybe - I don't know!"
Nearby work had stopped curiously. Sergeant Crawford peered into the trench.
"Can't see a bloody thing, Grathier." the sergeant said, smacking him over the back of the head. "Get back to bloody work."
No. It was a snake. A demonic snake.
Barnaby saw the churned and frozen patch of dirt he had been attacking. There was no snake. Some of the nearby diggers began laughing and after a short moment, Barnaby laughed with them. It had been two days since he had slept and they had been warned about the effects of sleep deprivation. Disorientation. Hallucinations. Earlier that day, a rifleman had fired at the sky and fled for his life, claiming Deathwing himself was bearing down upon them.
With a self-depreciating chuckle, he jumped back in the trench. Wintergrasp was a terrible place to dig - all of Northrend would be a terrible place to dig a trench now that he thought about it. What made Wintergrasp worse was that nothing stood still. They'd man this trench for five minutes before they withdrew or attacked some Horde force somewhere. Currently, the Alliance held the fortress. They were just outside the walls helping with frantic fortifications before the Horde returned. They had been driven off twice and twice they had come back to reclaim this stupid place.
The 'why' of it never made itself known to Barnaby. The important thing was they keep that fortress, and if they lost it they threw their bodies upon it's walls until it was retaken.
"My turn, man." Winfield said. "Take a break."
Barnaby tossed him the shovel and hoisted himself out of the trench. Winfield attacked the frozen dirt with a vengeance, making good time. He was a hard worker, Barnaby thought. Every part of his body screamed sleep and he fought it. If he slept, it'd be the sleep of the dead and they'd need to kick him awake. Besides, when he slept he saw Marcus clutching at his throat, vomiting something indescribable in that unending sea of plague.
Marcus was dead now. Karl was dead. Bort the surly prick was dead. Part of him knew he should have died back at the Wrathgate with them. The gassing had been followed by two weeks of agony at a field hospital - out of thirty patients in his wing, only one other had survived - and then it was back to the 9th, who were now ankle deep in blood at Wintergrasp. Sometimes it still hurt to cough. And since returning, another four weeks had come and gone. He supposed he was lucky that--
Something hard connected with his ribs. Barnaby found himself looking up at Crawford.
"Get up, Grathier." he snapped. "We sleep when this trench is done."
Fuck. He had dozed off again. Barnaby rubbed his eyes and shook his head vigorously. He motioned for the shovel from Winfield, who shook his head and asked for five more minutes of work. Suit yourself, he thought. But if I'm idle any longer than that, I'll drift off again.