When soldiers die on the field of battle, they are not judged. As long as they remained true, that being that they did not betray or desert, all soldiers will go to the same place upon death. It does not matter on which side they fought; it only matters that they did their duty. All warriors are placed aboard the Train of Soldiers where they ride for the greatest battlefield of all.
They ride the Train of Soldiers bound for the gates of Hades, where they will join in the great siege. They are armed with what weapons they left the land of earth with and will fight the demons with them.
I am one such soldier. My name is Sir Frederick, and I fought for Jerusalem during the Great Crusade. I was killed by one of the Islamic soldiers. It was a stabbing right through my heart. My flesh is healed, but my armor still bears the wound. In my hand is my longsword and on my back is my shield. Curiously, I am not surprised by any of this. I sit on a bench in one of the cars of the Train of Soldiers. Somehow, I know all that I need to know. The car is made from steel and there are no windows and it is illuminated in a red color by a pair of overhanging lamps.
All around me are warriors from other times. I can recognize a Norse Viking from folklore and I spy a French soldier. And there are other men I cannot recognize with weapons I cannot identify. Next to me is a man wearing a strange cloth uniform, a helmet that looks like a pot, and a strange stick made from both wood and steel. I ask, “What is your name?”
“Private Nigel Turner of His Majesty’s Army,” he tells me with a proud grin.
“So, you are British?” I ask.
“And from when are you from?”
“1917, from what we keep calling ‘The Great War.’ You look like some kind of Crusader, is that right?”
“I am a Templar, yes.”
“Please to meet you- eh, what’s your name?”
“I am Sir Frederick,” I replied. I was unsure if I should trust him or not.
“Sir Frederick, then. Are you excited?”
“Well, about the battle! We’re going to storm hell itself!”
“I know not what to feel,” I replied truthfully. I looked at his… stick and then asked, “I am curious, what is that?”
“What, this?” He laughed, “Of course, how could you know! It’s a Lee-Enfield standard-issue rifle! It’s a bit like a bow that, eh, shoots small bits of metal at very high speeds. Very deadly and very long range.”
“Fascinating,” I stroked my beard as another man sat next to me. This man was dressed head to toe in cloth and he bore a great object of metal, not unlike Private Nigel Turner’s ‘rifle’. I assumed it was also a rifle of sorts, though this one was more fearsome. I asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Faddel bin Solamin, servant of Allah.”
Remarkably, I felt no hostility towards him. This man, somehow, seemed to be my comrade. So, I kept the conversation, “I am Sir Frederick, a Knight Templar. From when do you come?”
There was a nervousness to his voice, “To your western mind, I am from the beginning of the second millennium. I committed holy war against the Americans.”
“Americans?” I asked.
Turner answered, “From well after your time, Sir Frederick.”
“Ah,” I was unsure what to make of it. “Do you know when we will be arriving at Hades? I am eager to disembark.”
“Eh, I, uh, I don’t know,” Turner removed his helmet and scratched his head. “I suppose we should ask, but I haven’t got any idea who we should bother.”
I stood and looked around, but saw no one who looked as though they knew anything of use. “I don’t see anyone who could help us.”
“Perhaps we should be patient,” Faddel suggested.
“Yes, we should,” I agreed.
But this did not satisfy Turner, who stood and walked over to the wall, “Here, a ladder, we can climb up and look for answers!” He climbed and once he reached the trapdoor and pushed, he told us, “It’s bloody locked!”
“Then sit down,” I told him. “We will know soon enough.”
We sat there for a long time without talking. I cannot tell you how long and for some reason, it seemed as though more had joined us. There were no more from my time, though I saw a man dressed like Turner, but I could not tell if they were from the same time. Instead of satisfying my curiosity, I sharpened my blade. Until, finally, Turner broke the silence, “I had a thought.”
“Well, let’s think about this for a minute,” he licked his lip. “Time. Apparently, time has no meaning here, right? I mean, look around. You’ve got soldiers from every time period all waiting for the same thing and everyone knows exactly what they’re doing here; exactly what this is. There are even people who shouldn’t have any idea what a train is, but they aren’t questioning it.”
“This is true; I did not know what a 'train' was before I was here.”
“So, if time hasn’t got any meaning, what if there isn’t a question of ‘when’ we’ll arrive?”
“I am not sure that I follow.”
“Maybe it’s a question of ‘how’ or ‘why’.”
“I still do not understand.”
He scoffed, “Look, since time has no meaning, then waiting around won’t mean anything either.” That made more sense. I figure. “Well, I’m not waiting around. I’m going up there and I’m going to find some answers.”
“Did you not say that it was locked?”
“That’s why I’ve got this,” he flaunted his rifle at me. I only shrugged as I followed to try and discover just what it is he intended to do. Turned jogged his way to the hatch and pointed his rifle at the hinges. Without hesitation, he squeezed a switch on the rifle and the front end exploded. I recoiled in fear! And then he pulled a lever on the top, a small tube of brass flew from the rifle, and then he fired again. After again pulling the lever, he used the butt end of his weapon and forced open the hatch. “Got it! Come on, let’s go up!”
I watched as he climbed. The other soldiers watched us, but didn’t seem willing to follow. Before I could climb the ladder, Faddel got on before me. I let him climb and then followed. What I saw up there, I would not forget. All around was fire. There was a great wall beside us and looking to the distance, I could see another wall. It was then I noticed that we were surrounded by these great walls! There was such a smell of sulfur and burning flesh…. Turner looked to me and asked, “Look! We aren’t going to hell! We’re in it!”
“By Allah,” Faddel cried softly.
“This must be some sort of deception.”
“Look! I can see the front of the train! Let’s head up there and we’ll get this sorted right out,” Turner walked onwards. Faddel and I exchanged glances and then followed him.
“That man must be fearless,” Faddel said to me quietly.
“Fearless or foolish. Perhaps both.”
“Agreed, but I must know. I was promised many virgins as my eternal reward, not this. And especially not… hell.”
We had to jump over the car separations, but it was an easy journey. As we pressed on, I could see mineshafts and I thought that I could see souls in the distance, but I could not be sure. In my mind, I knew that we were in hell, but I did not want to believe it. The fires burning around us, however, said otherwise. At last, we arrived at the last car of the train. It appeared to be a steam locomotive, but how I knew that, I do not know.
Faddel was the first to jump down and then Turner. With hesitation, I followed. Something in me could sense that something dire was at stake. I was correct.
When I arrived down with them, I found both Faddel and Turner pointing their weapons at what could only be assumed was a demon. It was a red beast with great horns and a mouth full of snarling, flaming teeth. It laughed at us.
“So, this is hell!” Turner exclaimed.
I raised my sword, “What do you say, creature?”
It laughed, “Yes! Yes! This one is correct, you are in hell! You are here for your punishment, the only punishment fit for a soldier! You prepare and fear for a war you will never see and you are all confined as prisoners! But you don't know it! So perfect!”
“Then how did we escape?”
The demon laughed again, “Because you are chosen. You have come here to me where you are to accept a… greater fate.”
“Greater fate?” I asked.
“Yes. You are the bravest of the soldiers here. Does that not deserve some sort of reward?”
“Do not listen to him!” Faddel cried.
“Of course you do!”
“What is this reward?” I asked.
“Purpose,” the demon laughed.
“Purpose? I’ll show you purpose!” Turner pulled the trigger and Faddel quickly followed him.
The demon laughed, “You think your weapons can hurt me?! HA!!!”
“Then what are we doing here?”
“What did you think to do, kill me? And then escape?”
Turner threw his rifle to the ground and curled his fists, “Yeah, I intended to kill you and then maybe derail this train. After that, I’d free everyone on this cursed train.”
“You would fight for an impossible cause?” The demon mused. “Such a thing is noble. But foolish.”
“No, not foolish, merely right,” I told the demon. “But you would not know such things.”
“I know more of right than you could ever know!” The demon barked. “But you have passed the test.” The demon turned around and pulled a lever. The train suddenly stopped. I looked out and could see a barren plain. The fires, death, and suffering were gone.
“What is this?” I looked out. I saw blood and soldiers fighting in the distance. I watched as one was cut down, but then a great angel descended and took him away.
“This,” the demon laughed softly, “is Valhalla.”
“Valhalla? From Viking legends?” Turner asked.
“Yes, yes, indeed! Only the bravest and most noble of soldiers will go here after death. You have passed the test, have you not? Valhalla is yours to walk.”
“How do I know this isn’t some other test?” Turner asked as he picked up his rifle.
“You would prefer to ride my train for eternity?” The demon laughed. “This is no test. You will fight with purpose during the day and drink in the night. You will all fight in the most glorious eternal army. Now, go!”
I looked to the men with me and we mustered our courage together, just as we had on the train car. These are my comrades. We are brothers in arms in the eternal war. Together, we shout and charge to the front line. For glory!
As my brothers charge ahead, I stop and look behind me. The train is gone. I wonder still if perhaps this wasn't some other hell, yet at the same time, I cannot think of a better reward. Here will be eternal glory and never death. I look down upon my blade and then raise it to the air. This is my fate. So be it! Glory!