Necromancer Unmanned: Chapter 29

Necromancer Unmanned
Chapter 29

Plans and Secrets

Colonel Moreno was at his makeshift desk looking over reports when Keir entered the mostly intact building. The hopelessness and fear that had filled the mans dark eyes when they'd first met had faded. There was a hint of iron and hope when he spoke now. Keir was glad to see it, this was going to be a long war and defeatists could bring it all crashing down.

“Mage Keira, I trust your errand went well,” Colonel Moreno said.

“Yes it did Colonel, and I now have what I need for a special project. How much longer will it take to gather the supplies?” Keir asked.

“We've reached the granaries and armoury, with the dead working through the night we should have everything in three days, and can return to base on the fourth.”

“I'd like to request a wait, I need five days to perform a ritual that could mean victory or defeat.”

The Colonel leaned back in his chair, scratching his chin. “I don't like being in enemy territory for any longer than I need to be.”

“I understand, but the scouts and ghosts haven't seen anything other than small packs of demons within three days of the city. If I have five days, we'll have an army that would rival the Undying Army at its peak.”

That made the Colonel's eyes widen. The Undying Army had numbered a million professional soldiers and dead before Keir, his heir and his most important officers and mages had been assassinated. Even for a continent wracked by genocidal war, that type of army was not to be idly cast aside.

“How will you manage that? Raising several thousand drained you and the other mages.”

Keir smiled at the question. It was a good one. “Those were desperate measures, using brute force and raw power. With all the mages helping me, careful placement of runes to amplify and direct the magical energy properly, and using the overwhelming necromantic energy that is saturating the city, we can do something I'd only practiced on a much smaller scale.”

“Five days, you say?”

He nodded.

“There are some damaged wagons that can be repaired, harnessing the demon dead to them will mean a few more weeks of food and more weapons.” Colonel Moreno tapped his desk. “You have five days, we leave on the morning of the sixth.”

“Thank you, Colonel. I'll get started immediately,” Keir said. Not waiting for a reply, he made his leave, there was much to do and very little time.

Jaris was waiting outside, studying the dead city with melancholy eyes. “Shall we begin, sir?”

“Yes, I'll give you two hundred dead to start setting up protection runes around the camp, work areas, and the roads between them. I want them done by dawn. I'll explain what we're going to do with the mages and go over my notes for tomorrow.”

“Are you sure about this, sir? You've never tried anything on this scale,” Jaris asked, playing his role of sober second thoughts that had made him so valuable in the past.

“Death is so thick here even the dullest person can taste it in the air. If we can control it we'll create an army that will make the demons shake with terror.”

“And if it goes wrong we have no idea what could happen. You should know better than most how painful dying can be.”

Grinning, Keir said, “You had best make sure the protection runes are done properly then.”

“Very well, sir.”

***

Keir waited while the mages read over the ritual. Their part was relatively simple, they needed to supply a slow, steady stream of energy into the runes. They'd be working in groups with one person channelling energy until they needed to rest, than the next would take their place. Creating the runes would be the hardest part. One would be at the very heart of the city, four more would be placed several miles away in each direction. If there was a single flaw in them they might simply not work, they might not work as efficiently, they could release a wave of dangerous energy, or they could explode destroying everything for several hundred yards.

Von, who was officially in charge of the group and Keir, was the first to speak. “These runes look a little like amplification runes, but they're on an entirely different level. Something of this size has never been tried before.”

Doing his best to look reassuring and cooperative, Keir answered. “They work. I did this ritual once before, it went according to plan.”

“How large of an area did you experiment on?”

“It was a battlefield, covering about one hundred yards where the worst fighting had taken place,” he admitted.

The assembled mages suddenly looked uncomfortable. Von raised his good hand, stopping any comments. “This seems like a very risky plan. We have what we came for, that should be enough.”

“How many demons do you think will arrive over the winter?”

“That's impossible to tell. We don't have good intelligence of what's going on more than a few days away.”

“With all due respect, Mage Von, we both know what is going to happen. According to everything I've read, and everyone I've talked to, the demons will assemble an overwhelming force, possibly with new demons we have never seen before and flow over this region like a flood. Even creating as many ghosts as I can every day, we won't have a force capable of stopping them. The basic ghost is too weak and simple. Trying to make stronger ones as I have been will mean we don't have enough to stop the demons.”

He looked at Von daring him to contradict him. There was only uncomfortable silence. “Here and now we have an opportunity to create an army of powerful dead that can properly meet and challenge them. We won't get another chance unless you can point me at another major city that was recently turned into a charnel house.”

“You're sure this won't backfire?” Von asked.

“Tomorrow I will go out with you and any mages you desire to personally prepare the runes. That will take the entire day because I will be triple checking everything, and expect you to do the same. Unless we all prove to be utterly incompetent, the worst that should happen is the ritual doesn't work or isn't as effective as it should be.”

There was short pause as Von looked over the papers again. Finally the mage nodded. “Very well. We'll head out just after dawn.”

“There is one important detail you should all know now, everyone will be told tomorrow, but it's very important for you,” Keir said, looking each of the mages in the eye. “When the ritual starts, do not wander out of the immediate area. There will be protective runes in place to protect you from the magical energy, and I already have runes being drawn around the camp and work areas. Anything outside of those areas could be very deadly. You'll have food, water, medicine and bedding, along with some soldiers to help you. Until the ritual is done on the night of the fourth day, do not leave the protected space. I don't know what will happen to you, but it probably won't be survivable.”

His audience, which had been looking nervous before, became paler and started going over their papers again.

***

It was late the next day when Keir placed the last rune on a thick stone wall in the north of the city. Jaris watched over his shoulder, consulting a piece of paper to make sure it was perfect. Finally the ghost nodded in satisfaction.

Leaning against the wall, careful not to touch the lightly etched rune, Keir allowed himself a few moments of weakness. The mental concentration of creating the runes, channelling just a trickle of his power into them, as he used his magic to weaken the stone so he could carve the rune into it, was exhausting. He'd been doing it since dawn, and the moon was rising in the sky as the sun disappeared.

“Sir,” Jaris said, “are you sure about this?”

The cool, gritty stone felt good against his skin. Taking a sip from his flask, he rinsed his mouth out, trying to get rid of the powdered rock that seemed to coat it. Spitting, he took another, larger drink of the lukewarm water and swallowed. “It's the only way. Anything else I do will merely slow the demons down. The hatred, anger and energy here is beyond almost anything I've felt before.”

The ghost's eyes narrowed as he realized just how much more dangerous the ritual was than he'd previously thought. “Just how do you think you'll control it, once you've given this hate and anger a body?”

Looking around, he saw Von was sitting on his horse, drinking some painkiller for his wound. The other mages were looking over the central and most important rune. None were close enough to hear. Keir smiled at his ghost. “I won't.”

“Are you insane!” Jaris hissed.

“No. I'm going to raise this entire city as the maddened dead, who only have one goal, killing the demons that slaughtered them and left them in agony. I'll make sure I control a few thousand of them, but over a hundred thousand monsters will sweep this region clean and attack any demons that try to come near us.”

“Keir, this is beyond foolish. This is the type of horror story your enemies claimed you were doing. How do you know these mad monsters will only attack demons.”

Waving his hand at the dead city, Keir snarled. “Look around. You see what the demons have done, there is almost no one left. This isn't a war for territory, or dominance. It's a war to the death. Either the demons die, or we do. I'll be able to keep the dead from attacking us long enough to get back to our base. After that, they can kill anything that moves, and it won't matter because anyone left alive within five hundred miles is with us.”

“Did dying remove your senses. This is a plan that could all too easily go out of control, or destroy what trust your allies have in you.”

“They don't trust me. Most of my so-called allies have me leashed like a dog, doing their bidding. The ones who will follow me, are zealots thinking I'm a chosen one here to lead them to glory and salvation. If I fail, I don't even want to imagine what they'll do to me.

“I'm desperate. Every night I dream of my past, reliving the worst moments of my life. And then I wake up and wonder if I've been cast into the Abyss for my sins. I have a general who only keeps fighting so he can kill as many demons as he can before dying. There are a few thousand soldiers and workers, nowhere to fall back to, no way to build new weapons or supplies, and an overwhelming enemy I can't understand that has decided I'm a true threat. What am I supposed to do?”

His old servant didn't shrink away from his outburst. “I expect you to think and plan, like you normally do. Remember what happened when you last let your emotions get the best of you? It restarted the War of the Dead, and ended with your death.”

“Only because I wasn't hard enough.”

The sound of horse hooves striking the paved street gave Keir enough warning to hide the anger that filled him.

“Is everything OK?” Von asked.

“Yes, Jaris and I were just discussing the ritual. He's a bit nervous that something could go wrong,” Keir said.

“You're sure this will work?”

"Of course. If I wasn't I wouldn't risk it,” Keir replied, smiling confidently.

Jaris nodded in agreement, his pale face revealing nothing.

“Very well, lets get back to camp,” Von said.

___

Necromancer Unmanned will be updated every Sunday. My other story Doom Valley Prep School will be updated every Monday.

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