Many, in the days since the first trenches were laid across Magos, related the ungodly things they saw on the battlefield. And many of these words made it into print, albeit in some vague half-truth form that gave the Great War an air of malevolence on the home front as well as in the trenches. Come the onset of the War, Flanders West was something of a clockwork genius and artist-inventor whose speciality lay in automaton, homunculus and simulacrum. Flanders constructed eccentric and expensive dolls for the rich of vary sizes, proportions and function that were more talking piece than child’s toy. A celebrated specialist craftsman in his own way, when the war begun Flanders was drafted into service before drafting was even introduced for the common man. But then, there was nothing common about Flanders or his work.
Flanders was enlisted to serve in the coming battles of the war. And though he never set foot on the battlefield, Flanders was granted more or less abundance of clockwork materials and a factory of workers – all at his disposal and all at his say-so. Needless to say, Flanders worked quite clandestinely and even his wife knew nothing of where her husband had gone. He had simply disappeared one day.
I never met Flanders West personally. But rather, merely puzzled together the story told above from fragments – rumours, half-heard whispers, glances at intelligence documents on an officer’s desk and other dubious sources. But I do not doubt he exists, or that my interpretation of events is close to accurate. But in truth, I know Flanders West far better by his handy work. I first encountered the fruit of Flanders’ genius when advancing, quite rapidly, across No Man’s Land. There, we saw the enemy trench looming before us like a great scar in the earth, a wound inflicted by some ancient god of war. But it was then that I noticed something most peculiar. Men, soldiers, where emerging from the trench quite unbothered by the bullets flying around them and failing to heed fallen comrades. More than that, these soldiers did not launch a counter-charge but merely set their rifles at a flat, horizontal angle, and advanced slowly but surely across No Man’s Land towards us firing in perfect unison with precision timing. The sight was quite unnerving and I stopped, standing shocked and aghast as these silent, striding things came towards us. As they neared, I saw that though their outlines were functionally humanoid their bodies lacked all features – encased in a smooth, shiny skin of tin that was absent all identifying mark. My jaw dropped, and I suppose my rifle did for as the nearest one approached me its arms swung back in a perfect arch before thrusting forward to pierce by bowls with its bayonet. The tin soldier withdrew the blade promptly and efficiently before advancing onward, not bothering to check that I was dead.