Necromancer Unmanned: Chapter 5


Need a Miracle
By
Domoviye

Keir pored over a paper that explained what little was known about the demons biology. Mostly it told how to kill the various types. A large pile of similar papers sat on the small desk of his room. He had sent his living maids to their small ensuite sleeping quarters, leaving only Hanina silently massaging his shoulders, as company.

The demons were going to be a challenging enemy. They appeared to be living weapons, the smallest ones, Imps, Dark Hounds and Gnashers relied on speed and numbers to swarm opponents, bringing them down with razor sharp claws and teeth. Larger ones, Brutes, Crushers, Reapers and Renders, were slower, but well armoured, able to take several gun shots to the abdomen, and occasionally even surviving head shots. They would attack en masse with the smaller ones, relying on sheer numbers and strength to reach their foes.

They also had flying creatures called Screechers. They weren't very numerous, and they were easily killed. So they usually attacked scouts, artillery crews, lightly defended positions, and if absolutely necessary would attack a strong point to buy time for other demons to get close and attack.

Then there was the largest demon. The Gigantes were massive armoured beasts that were more like stone walls, even surviving light artillery fire if hit from the front. If they weren't killed, they would hit the line of humans or a stone wall and trample everything before it. Only deep trenches or the thickest walls would stop them. And while they were being dealt with the smaller demons would be hiding behind it or swarming the defenders.

Two Demons were more like living artillery. The Cannon Mouth was fed boulders or anything available, by Imps and spit them out like a cannonball with enough force to travel over a mile and shatter stone. The other was called the Horn Blower, it was an infantry killer. It could let out a shriek that burst mens lungs and eyes, leaving them utterly deaf if they survived.

There were others used on the battlefield in smaller numbers. The Vile released a stream of acid from forty feet away, dissolving anything organic. The Jumper would run at a group of humans, jump a great distance over fortifications and release a toxic gas, killing or blinding and burning everything around it.

The worst one was The Worm. They were as tall as a large horse and very long. They would burrow under the ground behind the defensive lines, then rise to the surface. The demon itself could only kill a human by thrashing its body around, but its tunnel was always swarming with smaller demons. If enough of them opened their tunnels it would lead to disaster as the fighters were swarmed on both sides.

The final demon that was confirmed and not just a source of rumours, was The Shadow. It would slip past guards, melding into shadows, virtually invisible, and slay officers, leaders, and other important figures, but it seemed to be made specifically for mages. Fortunately it seemed to be rare, only appearing when the demons faced particularly tough opposition. Keir frowned at this, it proved the Demons were intelligent, and he'd probably be facing it soon enough.

The only advantages humanity had were magic and explosives.

The demons seemed to have some magic of their own, but it was only defensive, used to stop scrying, and to form a shield if a ritual was going to tear apart their army. On the battlefield it was never used, allowing mages to use their magic as they pleased.

While learning that magic was very useful in the war was encouraging, Keir was more impressed by the vast increase in explosives. Landmines, explosive shells from something called artillery, he presumed that they were more advanced cannons, hand bombs, and rapid firing guns, the advances in weapons in a mere three hundred years was amazing.

But sheer numbers and strength had pushed humanity back. If the demons ran into a defense they couldn't swarm, they went around it, cutting it off from resupply. Constant probes and minor attacks would eventually make the defenders run out of gunpowder, weapons, food, and manpower, then they attacked the weakened corpse.

Large rivers, lakes and the ocean were the biggest obstacle. Some could swim or fly over the water, but the largest drowned. Instead the demons went around, finding a ford, a bridge, or simply travelling upstream to its source and going around it, sweeping downriver like a flood. And if that didn't work they had other means of crossing.

The island city of Ilha, on the Reka River, had contained a million people and held out against the demons for three years, surviving on fish and supplies coming down the river. Eventually the demons had pushed hundreds, possibly thousands of their gigantes into the water, letting them drown, and trampling them down with yet more demons. Eventually they created a bridge and destroyed the city.

Keir had to admire the simplicity of the solution, even as he shuddered at the thought of facing such creatures.

He allowed himself a few moments of silence after reading about the fate of Ilha. He remembered spending several pleasant weeks in the city after they agreed to join his empire. His treasury had given the people a festival that would be remember for a generation. The palace had been a wonder of the continent, shining like the moon when he'd married Princess Katherine, sealing their alliance.

Putting the paper down, he sighed in tiredness, frustration and thought. He dearly wished General Moreno was alive. While Keir had proven to be a capable general, he had learned everything from his old friend. People paid so much attention to his undead, most of them didn't realize it had been Moreno that had truly allowed his empire to expand and hold out against all comers during the long war.

“Moreno would already have a strategy to slaughter every demon on the continent,” he muttered.

Unless he could find another military genius, it looked like he'd be facing the demons on a mostly even field, a massive army of the undead who didn't die easily, against a massive army of demons who didn't die easily.

That wouldn't do. He had made it a point to never meet the enemy on an even playing field. “How can I tilt things in my favour?” he asked himself.

If only he knew what living forces he had at his disposal, he could come up with a real plan. Looking out the window, he saw it was well into the night, and no one had deigned to consult him. A servant had given him the papers hours earlier and then they had seemingly forgotten about him. It seemed like he was supposed to be a brainless weapon that merely followed orders.

That wouldn't do at all.

Going to the window, Keir stared into the night. His eyes shifted looking at the magic and energy that roiled and writhed in the air. Concentrating he wove hundreds of ghostly constructs into existence. Inside each one he placed a basic personality, they wanted to look over the human army at the pass, studying their weapons, behaviour, armour, defenses and food. Then they would scour the surrounding area of the pass, looking for demons, counting them, learning where they were and how healthy they seemed.

Finally he gave them an order to avoid each other after they were done looking over the humans, staying at least one hundred yards from the nearest construct. It was crude, and would lead to them missing demons and important details, but it was the easiest way to ensure they didn't all look at the same thing.

“I don't need detail, just a general picture,” he told himself. Perfection was the enemy of success, better a good enough action now, then the perfect one an hour late.

Releasing the constructs with a final instruction to return by dawn, he watched their faint forms disappear into the darkness. Yawning, he took of his robe and went to bed. He would need all his energy the next day if he was going to survive.

**

“Father!” Estelle shouted, rushing over to give Keir a hug. “I didn't know you were coming.”

He returned the hug, wondering how his daughter had reached seventeen so quickly. “I wanted it to be a surprise. It took a bit of work convincing Elijah to only give me an escort of fifty men, so you wouldn't hear us arrive. The other three hundred will be arriving soon, along with the army of servants and bureaucrats.”

“He agreed to that,” she said, wide eyed with shock.

“I also have all of my ghosts with me. He told me if he saw one ghost left with the entourage, he'd come charging along with horns blowing.” Releasing his daughter, he gratefully sat in a nearby chair. At sixty he couldn't spend several day on a horse as easily as he once did. “Now what did you think of the five suitors?” he asked.

Taking a seat across from him, Estelle muttered a quick spell, filling two empty goblets with wine from the cellar for them. As he sipped his drink, she began playing with her thick, curly black hair. “Considering the trouble with the aristocrats along the Yellow Coast, I should marry Prince Acastus.”

Keir heard the briefest of hesitations in her voice. “Do you like him?”

She wrinkled her nose. “He is a bit too pompous for my liking. He believes his family name and their former position as leaders of the region, make it only proper that we marry and you bestow him a position worthy of his status.”

“He'll take whatever position I see fit to give him, and kiss my feet for the honour,” he replied. “Which one did you actually like?”

“Eyob caught my eye. He is very talented with magic, and I've enjoyed walking with him in the gardens. He has some very interesting ideas for increasing the grain yield of the Kurmanji region.”

Smiling, Keir nodded at her choice. He was sure that his daughter wasn't at all interested in how handsome the young man was, or his reputation as a poet. “Very well, I'll send a message to the High Duchess, informing her of your choice. We'll hold the wedding a year from today.”

“But what about Prince Acastus? If I marry him, it will help settle the region,” she said.

He took her hand in his. “I gave you a choice of five suitors. Each of them are important in their own way, and your marriage to any of them will help the Empire. If I believed I needed to marry you to some overblown prince, I would, but that is not the case. So be happy that you can marry a man you like, while also doing your duty. Now summon your maids, we're having an engagement feast tonight and you must look the part. I'll tell Eyob the news.”

**

Keir slowly woke up from his dream, his pillow wet with tears.

Wiping his still crying eyes, he wondered why he had relived a memory instead of a more typical dream. “Maybe it's a side affect of resurrection,” he told himself.

He'd have preferred a nightmare to memories of his lost family.

Getting out of bed, he relieved himself without too much difficulty in the bathroom. The facilities were different from his time, with ingenious plumbing, but it was easy enough to use. Dealing with his own changed plumbing was not so much difficult as surprising. He was quite familiar with the female body, having studied many such bodies scientifically and intimately. Finding himself in a female body was rather different however.

He didn't have time to worry about such things. Today he would meet his army, and hopefully he would be able to talk to the general, so they could work out a strategy that would let them survive to fight another day.

Going to the window, he saw that it was still an hour or so before dawn. Wrapping a light blanket over his shoulders, he took a seat and silently called his ghostly constructs back to him. Many of them were already on the way back, so he didn't have to wait long for the first to arrive.

As they got close enough, his mind filled with images of what they had seen. From long practice he was able to move through the memories, focusing on what he needed while forgetting the unnecessary ones.

The fortifications were several rows of hastily dug trenches, with dirt thrown up in piles to protect the soldiers and slow the demons. Logs, rocks and odd looking wires were spread out before them, to slow the demons a little more and break up their attack into more manageable waves. A few strange looking cannons, most likely the artillery he had read about, were well behind the lines, protected by swivel guns against the flying screechers.

It wasn't much, but at least it had been made competently.

The soldiers on the other hand made Keir's heart sink.

Men and women were sleeping fitfully, huddled together against the cool night air, guns held in sleeping hands. They were ragged, filthy and thin, the majority had dirty bandages covering wounds. Too many of the soldiers who were still awake were drinking, sometimes alone, other times together. Even drunk, they had a defeated look in their eyes.

The sentries who looked over the dark field before them, were half asleep from exhaustion. Some were drinking from their flasks, others silently cried, a few were slumped over not even bothering to keep watch. Many of those who were awake were shaking in fear, clutching their guns or flasks like a lifeline.

Behind the lines, was the cavalry. The horses were well cared for, but the riders who slept near them were half starved, sleeping on top of ragged, threadbare blankets, with only their clothes to protect them from the cool air. Almost all of them were wounded, and they were as filthy as the infantry, but their ranks and the fact that they were all sleeping showed they still had some order left to them.

Keir had seen many armies like this in his time. His enemies would see the massive Undying Army advancing, hear the moaning of the undead, catch glimpses of his ghosts as they scouted their lines, and at night their would be a sea of campfires, lighting up the darkness. Smaller, poorly led armies had broken, with soldiers slinking away into the darkness never to return, or planning to break as soon as they could when the battle started. The ones with good leaders had stayed in formation, planning to fight, but knowing they would die.

This army was waiting to die. They had given everything they had, and there was nothing left in them.

Turning to the demons, he saw the forest filled with the monstrosities. Long limbed dark hounds, covered in thick almost spike like fur, with mouths that opened too wide and four tiny glowing yellow eyes slept together in small packs. Sexless, child sized Imps with thick, leathery skin, long talons on their feet and hands, and needle sharp teeth in grinning mouths, sleepily bickered and poked at each other as they huddled in mounds of bodies. Two legged, scaled Gnashers, with massive jaws and teeth and little else, didn't seem to sleep, instead they ate anything they came close to, plants as well as dead humans, animals and even demons, ripping off huge chunks of wood and flesh, losing most of it as they sloppily chewed their food.

The Brutes slept alone, their stout thick legs looking more like tree trunks then flesh, four arms clasped over their bony torsos. Reapers were curled into balls, their long scythe like arms held tightly to the sides of their sinuous bodies. Crushers slept in pairs, their oversized arms and hands looking ludicrously large compared to the rest of their scaly body. Renders slept on their bellies, their large tusked jaws were large enough to snap a man in two.

His ghosts didn't see any of the larger demons, for which Keir was very grateful. But as he looked closer at the ghosts memories, he saw there were several dozen bat-like Screechers, they covered the trees like a furry coat. They didn't look like much, but a close look at the child sized flying creatures showed how sharp their claws were.

There wasn't time to count all the demons, and he knew that he hadn't seen the entire army. He estimated that there were five or six thousand near the pass, with who knew how many a little further away.

They would roll over the fortifications by noon, and hit the barely manned gates of the keep soon after. “They're going to need a miracle to survive,” Keir said.

Watching the sunrise, he began to grin. “Lucky for them, I'm a miracle.”

___

The Necromancer Unmanned will be updated every Sunday night. My other story The Oubliette, will be updated every second Friday, and Doom Valley Prep School will be updated every Monday.

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