Somewhere between Metz and Bastogne, the 11th Infantry happens across a tiny, secluded village, ravaged and abandoned, it would seem, in the previous Battle of France. They decide to set up camp. One of the regiment’s scouts, having earlier performed its reconnaissance, tells the rest of his platoon of a decent-sized house in the area, still furnished and mostly intact, a comfortable place to spend the night.
It is full of unexpected amenities: some preserved food and clean bedding. Out back is a well, nestled between and long misshapen by the massive, snaking roots of an enormous tree that shades much of the property. The scout lifts a wooden pail out of its depths and, finding the water clean, hurriedly gulps it in sharp, stinging cold draughts.
That night, in spite of the rare luxury of sleeping in an actual bed, he doesn’t get a lot of rest. He dreams that he is fighting his way through a city. The variously tinted energies of strange new weapons color the air. Buildings and infrastructure tumble all around him. He tries to help a group of civilians to safety, but even they take swipes and throw rubble at him. Terrified, he dodges blows from all sides, though he eventually realizes that it doesn’t hurt when he is struck. Suddenly it seems that he can move about the city with incredible ease and speed. But so does the battle.
Soon he finds himself in a vast, labyrinthine foundry, lit orange and red by raining sparks and molten ore. The slaves occupied in its incomprehensible works are driven by a pharaoh who is also a monument to himself, living but soulless, insatiable yet impassive. The scout is gripped by a dread of something far worse than bodily harm. The fight becomes desperate. Outside, through gaping holes made as sections are blasted away, he can make out the limbs of ancient machines taller than skyscrapers, themselves waiting still and patiently to see the outcome.
In the morning, the scout wakes disoriented and more tired than when he’d laid down. He can’t seem to rub the fog out of one eye.