The Treading Titans
Summary: The Riverland Republic is an impoverished, rural nation along the coast. It is the sole nation remaining after the great empires of the world collapsed into ruin. As titanic beasts stir, the Republic and its desperate leaders may be the only thing standing between the world and the utter extinction of humanity.
Where Titans Tread
The first beast stirred a decade before it awoke. The clash between the Imperial Expeditionary Force and the Republican Northern Garrison. I was a regimental messenger there, sprinting back and forth to deliver updates between companies of soldiers. We had ample time to dig in, so the Colonel I worked for was confident in his fortifications. It was fortunate for me that I was not in his fortress went it fell.
The Shangra Empire took offense to our pacification of the western warlords, especially ones they'd spent time courting. I think they'd were sore about having been driven out of the western hills a half-century earlier, so they spent time grooming every brigand and barbarian they found to harass our interests. It was a justified mission, especially as the locals were grateful for the liberation efforts. Our northern neighbors, and sometime invaders, however, were not.
I was just a messenger and translator, not even a soldier, trained in diplomatic protocol and foreign tongues more than battlefield tactics. Nevertheless, the Colonel demanded someone with my skills, so I served to the best of my abilities. I learned to appreciate physical fitness during my time under Colonel Bao, since his scribe write fast enough to match his mouth. Some of those orders were clear forgeries, in case enemy spies or scouts should kill me, but I had a good picture of how the war fared.
The Shangra forces seized six towns in the border province, but our irregular forces tied down most of their forces. The Expeditionary Force's leader wanted a large symbolic victory over us, but they lacked the numbers to march south. As they struggled to mass troops, our garrison occupied the Stonewall Citadel. It was the tallest hill on the borderlands, built atop a First Dynasty outpost. I remember charging down the craggy paths with fresh orders was always easier than returning. As I'd trudge up the hill after a successful delivery, I knew there would be a stack of fresh orders waiting for me.
It was towards the last days of the war when I felt something was amiss. The Shangra commander, General Long, was desperate for a victory. He'd forced-marched his army far south, torching the land as he went. I always thought it was needlessly spiteful and petty, especially given he'd caused us to miss the harvest. Turning peasant farms into kindling sent a haze over the land, which seemed to follow his troops wherever he matched.
The good news was, like a blinded beast, he blundered through each of our traps. The rough terrain in between the Citadel and coastal plains was ideal for our ranger corps and combat engineers to prepare all manner of ambushes. A company of our light infantry was effectively a regiment in that terrain. We'd let his entire army march in, before we started really hitting their supply convoys. Half-starved and furious, General Long's legion besieged the citadel.
General Long positioned himself in the center of his army, turning all of his artillery towards the Citadel. Long used every device his siege engineers devised: siege mortars, ballistae with rocket-assisted bolts, firebomb-hurling catapults, and more. Our forces merely dug in, repelling his buffoonish sappers and probing attacks. Once they nearly surrounded us, Bao sprung the trap. I thought the ground shifted beneath us, but I attributed that to a lucky hit from enemy artillery.
We set their powder reserves on fire, which rapidly spread to their food stores. The soldiers moved forwards from the Garrison and its sprawling fortifications, bypassing the siegeworks the enemy set up around it. Halberdiers and pikemen, backed by musketeers and arbalists, fanned out into their pike-and-shot formations. Our vanguard crashed into the Shangra's panicked troops, as more and more of our forces entered the battlefield. I was sprinting up and down the battlefield, handing out scrolls to officers. I even passed off one to an officer engaged in a sword duel, who caught the scroll as he ran his opponent through. Impressed as I was, I had other deliveries to make.
The disciplined ranks of Long's army collapsed into a disorganized rabble. I saw them flee towards the mountain pass, with the General's bodyguards trying to cut down fleeing soldiers. They were overwhelmed by the sheer mass of the retreat, and crushed under the tide of panicked men. In my hand, I carried the Colonel's orders to our light infantry: continue harassing the fleeing soldiers on their way back home, and thin their ranks as much as possible. It was quite ruthless, but it was necessary to ensure they didn't regroup and try again too soon.
There was some degree of cosmic irony, carrying a military command that saved my life. As I once more descended the hill, I felt saw palisades jerk to the sides. I stopped for a moment, wondering if an enemy artillery battery was striking too close. I sprinted down the spine of the hill, on the side opposite the mad battlefield. In all my time before or since, I was never so frightened.
The thing rose from the base of Stonewall Citadel. I thought it was a rockslide at first, given the dust and grit that rose into the air. As I heard the gasps of soldiers beside me, and felt the tremor of the ground beneath me, that I realized this was no landslide. The earthquake caused the plain beneath the hill to collapse. Stone crumbled like dust as it ripped open the land itself. From the fissure rose an appendage, a massive tendril like that of some chitinous sea creature. The soldiers around me stared silently, like a gallery of statues. I found myself running.
I was at the bottom of the hill when Stonewall Citadel collapsed, killing all still inside it. By this time, only a handful of the enemy remained on the battlefield, and our remaining forces rushed back towards our fallen fort. The fissure that opened was filled in by rubble, leaving no traces of the monster but scared soldiers and delirious survivors. Officially, it was recorded as an earthquake. Unofficially, I was too afraid to challenge it for years.
Now, I am aware circumstances have changed. What little remained of General Long's army made it back to there border to achieve a hero's welcome, as they claimed to have besieged the Citadel in an epic battle. The Shangra civil war started the following year, which worsened since. Our fortifications have been restored, our villages rebuilt, and crops replanted. Yet now, our greatest foe is not some enemy army. It is what laid beneath our land for centuries, perhaps longer. The first of these awoke directly beneath the ruins of Stonewall Citadel, the same beast I saw so long again.
Yet hope is not lost. Just as our country was able to so defeat an army outnumbering us, we may yet defeat these treading titans. It will require sacrifice, the likes of which the Republic has never faced before in its existence. Our entire history has been a battle, whether against the tropical storms, the pirate raids, the western warlords, or foreign invaders. The only difference is the foe now comes from beneath our very feet, rather than marching across our borders. As I gather the worthiest from across the Riverlands, I know one thing: we will humble these titans. They are not the only ones that can stand tall and shake the heavens.