“A message from Lord Deo.” spoke the undead officer, relaying the command in a mechanical, cold deep voice, as cold and deep as the tomb from which this partially decomposed corpse came from.
Onager was taking bites out of a red apple, enjoying the refreshing juices that dripped down his beard on this hot day. He had been pacing the courtyard of the bone castle, his black boots stomping on the skeletal framework that joined the entire structure together in one massive, living construct of Kiasmus’ Marrow Aspect.
“Deo is preparing to meet Garghent’s army in person. They have reached the first line of trenches beyond the border of Ophir. Initiate the plan.” The corpse ordered.
Onager smirked, it was so like Deo to use the third person in sending this message, which he controlled the corpse of and could just as easily talk as if he were present. Always one for dramatic effect and formalities.
“Kill them all.” The corpse-messenger said suddenly.
Kiasmus strolled over. “It seems our young lord is eager to face Garghent.”
“It won’t be like Vallis. The enemy is more competent, knows his powers and his Specters and has more total weapons.” Onager pointed out. “Deo is an able strategist, but he is reckless and prone to mood swings. It’s likely that Garriot will be off on Goblin’s World as well.”
“There is nothing wrong with showing your concern for our lord, but you seem to consider the negatives more than the positives.”
“I saw what Garghent did to the Coalition. You can’t have any negatives when fighting them. They are the strongest military on the continent, possibly the whole world.”
“Yet, you have returned to fight them again. Surely with your experience you have more reason to believe this time will be different?” Kiasmus countered Onager’s trepidation.
“Oh don’t get me wrong, Marrow, this time will be different. Garghent is going to fall. I just worry for Deo. Half his Specters are gone and he will be the primary target. They only need a lucky shot or a Specter to slip by Jan’s defenses…” Onager let it at that.
“Deo has nearly a hundred million undead soldiers. He will throw all of them into the enemy before surrendering. And cease your worries, even without me he will be protected. I sense Obyzuth has something terrible in store for Garghent.”
“You know what her power is?” Onager asked.
“Merely an instinct, a wisp of knowledge of what she has inside her.”
Onager nodded contemplatively.
“Deo will take care of his part. We must do ours.” Kiasmus dismissed the conversation.
“Aye, we’ve got a siege to carry out.” Onager looked at his apple which was reduced to his core and lobbed it over the battlements of the castle.
Kiasmus gave a mental order to his castle. Bone legs lurched out from underneath the castle and began easy strides over the landscape.
“I’ll go check on Bubonica and then prepare the equipment.” Onager went inside the central keep, moving past the bone table and the kitchen where several cooks were preparing a meal. He opened a trap door that descended into a cellar and navigated a dungeon of several passages.
He came to a false door and pressed the bone to release the latch that allowed the pathway to open.
Onager stepped inside and found Bubonica squatting over a bunch of rats, talking to and feeding them.
“Onager.” She said without looking. Her feral eyes turned on him only after speaking, the dim light of the torch casting a wild gleam in her shiny wide eyed face.
Onager cleared his throat from the smell of rats. “We are starting. When you find an opening, ring that bell to alert us. We’ll burrow in and give you the opportunity to sneak in the sewers.”
“Very well.” her voice was tiny and scratchy, just like a rat’s, thought Onager.
“You have everything you need?” He gestured to the unconscious prisoners, trapped in ribcage prisons. Garghent soldiers who were to be fed by Bubonica’s Rat Spores, supplying her with fresh meat for her Aspect.
“Yes.” Bubonica said sweetly, holding a rat in her hand as another crawled around her thin hair.
Onager bobbed his head and left, shivering unconsciously at the repulsive sight of so many rats and the thought of tiny rat spores eating their way and growing from inside those poor prisoners. They would awaken only to the feeling of their internals being chewed to bits.
Bubonica was not an enemy to be made lightly of, despite her diminutive appearance. One only needs to breathe in those spores and their life would become a nest of writhing rodents.
The original plan to use her for trench fighting was upended when the entire invasion was put in high gear. Deo didn’t want her involved in the fighting and so Onager came to Kiasmus with a modification for the Bone Palace, to add a dungeon where Bubonica could hide and wait.
Onager ascended back into the first floor and moved out into the courtyard. It was much hotter out here, the inside was surprisingly well insulated. Onager couldn’t help but think of his own bones, how he was a just flesh suit to Kiasmus and Bubonica.
“Surrounded by the damned.” He told a stationary corpse. He laughed at his own unsettled nerves and went around the courtyard, checking the bone catapults and ensuring they were ready. Of course they were. Kiasmus made very efficient constructs with Marrow. They were animated too. The arms would pull themselves down after a volley and could move to his orders, a courtesy of Kiasmus to offer Onager control.
Onager went up the bone stairs to the ramparts, checking the line of corpses and bone ballista they would operate.
Deo had given these undead order to reload the ballistae whenever the ammunition was empty, the ballistae would fire on their own.
Onager looked up to the topmost tower. Kiasmus stood, leaning over the crenellations, in full bone marrow armor. Onager followed Kiasmus’ gaze.
The metropolis of Garghent was in sight. And standing arms crossed mirroring Kiasmus’ own stubbornness, like a brownish dot on the familiar walls was Master Klyle.
This was good news. Klyle was defending Garghent rather than attacking Ophir.
It seems they wanted to keep tabs on Kiasmus with a Master of their own.
But Garghent was still far off in the distance. The castle had reached a hill and Kiasmus had the better vantage point and superior eyesight.
Onager only felt that Klyle was the little brown dot, based on the intensity of Kiasmus. Klyle kept that eye contact judging Kiasmus’ lack of motion.
Only the movement of the castle tore the two Masters from their wordless reunion. The castle dipped down the hill and into a tree line and Garghent disappeared from sight.
Onager focused his mind and breath. He summoned his catapult, the Ultima Thule, the furthest point of the planet, the end of the world.
The ghostly siege engine materialized in front of Onager in the bone courtyard, lined up with the rest of the skeletal catapults.
This was the plan. Move around the city of Garghent, constantly bombarding it with his flaming boulders as they felt around for an old passageway or a sewer that leads into Garghent. From there the castle will plant for a short period of time, long enough for Bubonica to infiltrate inside and from there lead her rat swarms into Garghent’s underbelly.
Their route would include old city plans of Garghent to search out any still operating sewer systems or ancient passageways left unblocked.
A city could be likened to a tree, Onager deduced. The sewers and underground paths were like roots that sprawled out below, connecting it to sources of water or drainage systems that kept the city clean.
Every city had exploitable weaknesses, Onager knew, as a student of sieges and a veteran of several himself, no metropolis was invincible. Maybe it was food stores that could be infected and so starve out a population, maybe it was corruption in the leadership of military that could be taken advantage of, maybe it was careless upkeep of infrastructure that allowed for vital points to target, perhaps even it was arrogance in believing one’s own indestructibility.
Whatever the case for Garghent. Onager would find it. He would feel out the city, learn its patterns and systems, study its habits and architecture, its history and very nature. All the while sending bombardments of flaming boulders from this castle of bone.
Kiasmus directed the palace through a forest ravine. They were just southwest of Garghent, on the far side from Ophir. The palace had no issue digging into the ground in order to traverse the slopes and streams. Large, round footprints remained the only sign that something big came through. The yellowish and off-white bone color would blend with the greens and browns of the summer forest. Without a direct visual, the moving bone palace walked camouflaged in the woody glade.
Climbing out of the ravine and beyond the tree line, the landscape transformed into rolling plains of grass and wheat and isolated farming communities. The palace marched to one such farming community that had a good view of Garghent and the castle planted down amidst a crowd of retreating farmers and scared animals.
Onager climbed back up the ramparts and looked around. The community was scrambling to evacuate as a regimen of soldiers marched toward the bone castle.
“Garghent won’t ruin their own villages to get us. They’d lose support. On the other hand they could just as easily destroy it and say it was us.” Onager was contemplating to himself out loud.
“I’ll take care of it,” came the grave voice of Kiasmus. His arm morphed in a sort of bone marrow trumpet. He spoke into it, addressing the villagers. “Remain inside, if you wish to live!”
“Clever.” Onager nodded.
A bullet nearly ripped that nodding head off.
Onager dropped to the ground as another bullet threw chips of bone around.
Onager hurried down the stairs and into the courtyard. “I’m firing on Garghent. Hold them off!” Onager shouted to Kiasmus.
The undead corpses left here by Deo were ordered to operate the bone ballistae in self defense. They were assisted by the ballistae’s own animism. They stood around waiting to reload as the ballista fired javelins at the approaching troops.
Onager loaded his own catapult and the other bone catapults with his fiery boulders that he generated with his Aspect.
He mentally adjusted the aim of the catapults, the bone one’s given control to him by Kiasmus. They reacted to his orders, shimmying into position.
Onager signaled his hand and launched the seven boulders into the air, the catapult arms tossing the flaming shot in a high arc.
Onager could see from his position that the shots didn’t reach their target. They were destroyed in mid air. There had to be at least several Specters using their powers defensively to stop the bombardment.
Garghent was buying themselves time as they came up with a way to stop the bone castle.
Klyle was wary, yet he stood like a statue on those high walls of Garghent.
Kiasmus and Klyle had fought to a stalemate, Onager had heard, though in reality Kiasmus had fought a losing battle but learned Klyle’s power and even absorbed the marrow of an arm before the end of it.
Klyle was now in the shadows and would fight with the disadvantage of not knowing how much stronger Kiasmus had grown from that.
But it’s not like Kiasmus could just take Garghent himself, even if he beat Klyle there would be too many enemy Specters to fight. Kiasmus was not necessarily suited for fighting the strongest of opponents. He had trouble beating Bisult in the siege of Vallis. His main skill lay in amassing bone constructs and fighting large groups.
Onager loaded and launched another volley only to see it blocked again.
Onager thought that Klyle was above the Marrow Aspect’s weight class, but Kiasmus somehow went the distance with Klyle, a testament to his fighting skill.
The point is, neither Master was totally certain they could win outright. But as is the nature of such Specters, they would fight again at some point to find out.
Onager loaded another volley.
The enemy soldiers were trying to damage the castle but decided against explosives due to the proximity of the villagers. The bullets did little damage other than small chips and dents. The bone castle was made from three Skullheads, meaning it had the density of several million skeletons.
The javelins were deadly precise as well, killing a few soldiers and forcing them to back off for now. Kiasmus didn’t even leave his tower.
Onager fired the next volley.
He closed his eyes and put his palms out. Where each palm pointed to, a flaming astral boulder appeared. He made seven, one for each siege weapon including his own and ordered them to fire.
Onager grabbed a stool and sat down. This was the beauty of his Aspect and what only Deo cared enough to plan around. His energy usage was practically non-existent. He could spend months firing at this rate of seven boulders every volley, at around one valley every fifteen minutes for ten hours a day. Being able to relax made this less taxing. Over his life he had trained for the long haul, giving up on creating many catapults or one mega sized catapult but rather a decent sized one that could fire for months. Sustainability and attrition. The way sieges were meant to be fought.
Onager’s endurance against a group of Specters. The best part was that Onager would fire randomly into the city. Sometimes at the walls, sometimes deep into the center and other times in concentrations or all seven at random points.
Sooner or later Garghent would be forced to sally out and fight the castle or else suffer endless bombardment, at which point Kiasmus would lead the castle back into the wilderness, fending off any attacks.
If Garghent really wanted to risk fighting Kiasmus and the castle, they would need to dedicate the resources for it, resources needed at the trenches of Ophir.
Onager launched the next volley.
A rat scurried toward him, keeping to the shadows through a path designed for it to remain hidden. A note was held in its mouth which it dropped before scurrying back through the little rodent tunnel.
The simple message came from Bubonica of course. Upon planting the castle, Bubonica released some of her rats through a trapdoor below the castle and sent them searching for a sewer. It had only been an hour, meaning this location didn’t even have an industrial sewage system, let alone one that connected to Garghent.
They would stay at the site until early morning to avoid inconsistency before moving to the next village, planting down and searching for another sewer tunnel. The timing needed to be long enough for the rats to fully vet out the sewers to see if they ran to the main city or not. Moving from sight to sight too early even without sewers might suggest they had a purpose in planting other than using the village as a hostage.
Garghent would only assume the movement was to stop from being surrounded completely.
Onager launched another volley…
No shot had landed in Garghent after a day of besiegement.
Nightfall found Kiasmus keeping watch in his tower. Just before dawn, he would order the castle to march, leaving this village in search of a new one.
Any trackers or scouts in the area would be taken care of first. Kiasmus would turn his marrow armor into wings and swoop in like a bat, taking lives and spilling blood, feeding on the marrow.
Onager retired for the night, going through the plan over and over again, searching for the counters Garghent would try.
Onager slept without dreams that first night of firing on Garghent.
There was nothing quite like a good siege plan to satisfy the body and mind for a well earned night’s rest.
The distant screams of Kiasmus’ victims didn’t bother him nor did the shouts of absolute fear and pain as tiny rats bore their way through a prisoner’s organs and orifices.
Onager was at peace in his element. Sieges were his favorite things in the world, he didn’t mind that the destruction of Garghent would likely mark the beginning of the collapse of human civilization, an epic siege was worth the end of an era.
Onager would have it no other way.