“Oh man, what a bastard!” Garriot was chewing on a piece of wheat, Goblin by his side snickering while making strange drawings in the dirt with his staff. “Take a look at him Deo, that’s Bisult.” Garriot tilted his straw hat up.
Deo followed Garriot’s finger, past their encampment, over the trench in the ground of no man’s land that they would have to traverse and charge through to get to the object of Garriot’s pointing. Bisult in the flesh, all two and a half meters of him, pure protein, built like an ox. On his forearm perched a wicked looking falcon, twice the size of any normal sized bird with razor beak and talons that glinted in the sunlight. In Bisult’s hand stood a spear with the diameter of any decent human’s fist and the hand around the spear the size of any decent human’s skull. Polite society would call it a spear but a soldier knew it was a javelin, the kind of equipment that gets launched by industrial ballistae.
Bisult’s body and face were badly scarred, though from the distance Deo was viewing him from making out specifics was impossible. He just looked deformed enough to be noticeable.
“He might be bigger than you.” Deo said to Garriot, watching as Bisult glared back.
Garriot scoffed. “I’m still a growing boy! Besides, I’ve fought bigger.” Garriot traced his finger around the Orgblade, remembering that harrowing duel from a not so long ago time.
“You take him down and I’ll say you’ve grown a few years.”
“I take him down, you owe me half of Valis.” Garriot retorted.
“You take him down and you can rule Ophir.” Deo countered sarcastically, implying Garriot would lose the fight. Garriot swore.
“My sword against his spear, I wonder which will break first.” Garriot pondered.
“Orgblade no break. Forged by old ones.” Goblin croaked in.
“You know it’s true when Goblin agrees,” pointed out Garriot. “So how do you want to approach this?” Garriot was referring to how they would break through the vanguard Vallis had stationed in the Diluvian Pass, over ten thousand armed soldiers and multiple layers of barricades, trenches and artillery.
“He’s got the damn place pretty well defended.”
Deo spoke slow, calculating several options in his mind while talking. “I am thinking through the problem. Bisult is making a statement with how dug in he’s prepared the Pass. He knows he can’t defend it forever but he wants to show me how taxing every step will take.”
“I say we just horde them, overwhelm the defenders and send them running tail between legs.” Garriot offered, discarding his piece of wheat and finding another to chew on.
“No, we will lose an unnecessary amount of undead and give them a victory in that sense. The kind of Specters they can field would devastate large hordes.”
“So what are the alternatives? Flanking is difficult with the desert steppe to the west and the mountain to the east.”
“And further to the east is the ocean.” Deo was looking toward the mountain that separated the pass from the ocean.
“Yeah but that’s still pretty far.” Garriot said realistically.
“We flood the pass, it is called Diluvian for a reason.”
“You brought buckets, lord?” Garriot teased, though not entirely following Deo’s train of thought.
“I brought labor. We dig a canal using the mountain as cover. In the meantime we attack steadily, enough to placate any suspicions. It will give us and Vallis a chance to feel each other out.”
Garriot was chewing the wheat furiously. “Fuck it, let’s try it. I’ll head the charges and you can manage the digging.”
Deo nodded, appreciative of how open Garriot was to the idea and his willingness to contribute.
“I’ll send Veinbreaker to guard the mountains from spies. This only works if it is a surprise.” Deo planned.
“I wonder how Bisult feels about surprises.”
“You can ask him when you’re fighting.”
Goblin was growling out a series of words that Deo couldn’t understand. “What is Goblin saying?” Deo asked.
“He approves of your plan. He says using the land to attack is goblin tactics.”
Deo smiled. “I would like to hear about some of those goblin tactics one day.”
Goblin snickered and snorted and continued his drawing in the dirt.
“So how long does a canal take to build or dig or whatever.”
Deo shrugged. “A day or two? With millions of bodies working in perfect unison with a single mind I can’t imagine it taking much longer than that.”
“Nice, I guess we just swim across after?” commented Garriot
“You can swim, I’m going around.” stated Deo flatly.
“You’re serious? Then why go through the trouble here?”
“For the confrontation. Bisult wants to test his opponent. Marching my undead through the desert is not an issue, all we need is water for us the living.”
Garriot was nodding his head, satisfied by the answer.
“Lord.” warned Jan, the Seravim Aspect and Deo’s personal bodyguard.
Deo looked to Bisult and a few of his officers walking through the canyon and stopping halfway. Bisult had his falcon perched on his arm and his javelin in the other hand.
“He wants to talk.” said Deo.
“Should we not kill him and be done with this?” Suggested Jan.
“His officers are likely advising him to do the same. We shall meet him, the four of us.” Deo rose and Garriot followed suit, Jan on the opposite flank. Goblin hobbled after them, propelling himself with his staff.
It took more than a few minutes to reach Bisult but finally Deo could see up close the legendary mercenary king.
The Yarak Aspect. He wore battle leather, a vest and leggings with a belt and undershirt beneath. He was the tallest person in the lot and his javelin even more so. The falcon’s eyes darted from Deo to Garriot to Jan to Goblin and back around, ever watchful.
Deo ignored the three Vallis officers as Bisult commanded the attention. One of his eyes was scarred shut, the artificial dimples of a bullet wound entering and exiting from cheek to cheek and half his head devoid of hair from old burn wounds. Scars traced random patterns of a dozen different weapons along his arms and neck and half an ear was missing and each recounted a battle and the tale of mortal wounds that this man Bisult somehow survived.
“Have you come to offer the terms of your surrender?” Deo initiated, well after each group had adequately sized the other. Bisult drew his challenging one-eyed gaze from Garriot and addressed Deo.
“Ha! Where’s the sense in that? Surrender before giving this lad a whelping?” Bisult meant Garriot, “I do enjoy the dry humor of a man about to die.” That was to Deo.
Deo wagged his finger. “No no, the humorous part comes later, for now enjoy the air you breathe and the sun you absorb and the grass you step on while it is still yours, for my horde is legion and they swallow air and blacken light and trample grass.” Deo’s gleaming purple eyes must have ticked off Bisult’s falcon as it cawed a high pitched warning.
“Be still great heart,” Bisult said to the falcon, petting it calmly “you can pluck those eyes of his that disturb you the moment he’s done breaking wind and starts fighting”
“It is settled then. You will have two hours to climb behind your trenches and barricades in preparation for the very last moments of your life that are not filled with the agonizing screams of the dead and dying.” Deo turned.
“Music to my ears,” grinned Bisult. “How much do hats like that go for?” he asked Garriot.
“It’s one of a kind, hand woven by a master.” Garriot replied politely.
“A pity. I think that this summer will be long and hot and my hair no longer grows on my head and I’ve decided your hat will do the honor of gracing my crown with shade.”
Goblin snickered and Garriot shot a nasty look at the green creature.
“After I’ve mounted your head on your own spear you can wear it as much as you want, old bastard!” Garriot retorted.
Bisult chuckled, turned and left. Garriot and Goblin followed after Deo and Jan soared to catch up.
“What was the point of that?” Jan asked, “there was no talk of accord or compromise.”
“We are going to war, that kind of talk is unnecessary.” Deo spoke while arranging his orders for his corpses.
“I do not understand.” Jan admitted.
“It’s a traditional sort of thing,” explained Garriot, “the leaders of both sides meet before a battle, face one another eye to eye and throw insults. It’s to gauge the enemy if nothing else.”
“Garriot, you have thought of a plan of attack?” asked Deo as they neared their side of the pass.
“Lead the assault when you are ready. Kiasmus is lagging behind so as not to reveal his skullheads. Expect flooding within twenty-four hours. Press the attack all day and night. Veinbreaker will be with me as I said. Jan you will fight with Garriot.”
“Sounds good.” Garriot and Jan departed to prepare for the battle.
Deo found the Carn Aspect squatting over an anthill and licking its finger when it crawled with ants.
“Do not fill up on ants. We fight now.”
Carn flared his nostrils and snorted.
“You will be my headhunter. Sniff out the enemy Specters and kill them.”
Carn growled and raised his hulking dinosaur body into a stand.
“Avoid Bisult, the ugly one with the falcon. He is stronger than all of us in a duel, including you.”
Carn moved his face mere centimeters from Deo’s and blew out steam from his nose. Deo didn’t flinch.
“You are at a fraction of your potential. Hunt their Specters and evolve your Carn.” Deo walked onward, leaving the angry Carn roaring at nothing.
The fighting would start before Deo reached the coast. Veinbreaker was already in the mountains with a team of mercenaries watching for Vallis scouts. Several million of his entire corpse force was assigned to the labor of digging what was essentially a huge trench from the coast to the Diluvian Pass with the mountain covering the operation and assuming Veinbreaker prevented anyone from relaying what they saw, the soldiers of Vallis will be drowning in ocean water by high tide the next day.
Deo planned a declining trench so that by the time the canal neared the Pass it would be finished underground, connecting to the Pass from the side and filling up the canyon in minutes.
That was the imagination behind the idea, actually pulling that off perfectly was easier planned than performed.
A radio call from Garriot told him to command his corpses into a charge. Deo closed his eyes and gave the orders to some 500,000 corpses into a blind rush. The Pass was not large enough for that many at a time but they would attack in endless droves. Deo was confident in Garriot and the other Specters to hold their own, but they were up against a veteran Specter and a professional army. The battle was a test and an important one. A blunder here in the Diluvian Pass could mean his entire human support resigning from his Throne, and mutiny in the worst case scenario. Humans are sore losers and quick to panic. It was why he came up with the plan to flood the pass. Regardless of how the day of battle went, progress toward Vallis would be made. Bisult would be forced to retreat from the flooded canyon and regroup with his city and the main army. Fighting Deo in open ground would be foolish as his hordes could easily flank and overwhelm.
The plan to take the Pass was safe without revealing an exploitable insecurity in Deo’s empire, that it was untested and made up of conscripts.
“But I win no matter what today.” Deo said to Bisult, though Bisult was nowhere near Deo. It also occurred to Deo that Vallis’ military was untested in a siege of this scale and it too was made up of conscripts.
Deo cracked his neck on both sides. “I think I’ll start with a sand dune to dam the water.” He shook all future schemes from his mind and focused on digging a canal.
“Why is Deo not here for the fight?” The Onager Aspect questioned again, while his spectral siege loaded its glowing green shot and prepared to lob it into the heart of the defenders.
“He’s going to flood the Pass.” Garriot replied, watching the battle carefully as it went into its fifth hour. Deo’s undead army crowded the canyon but Vallis was steadfast and gunned down scores at a time. Explosions and flashing colors indicated where enemy Specters fought. There were at least five or six obvious ones.
“Is that a good idea?” Oanager was rubbing his chin but released a shot that sailed in the air and crashed in a barricade killing several soldiers and destroying a machine gun turret.
“Deo’s going to manipulate the geography. It shows how serious we are about conquering Vallis.”
Onager shrugged, “the real question is how are we going to reduce some of those Specters of theirs. They outnumber us in that regard like what, four to one?”
“Did you count Goblin and me as one?”
“You shouldn’t, Goblin counts as his own.”
Onager threw up his hands in time with another shot. “Okay so three to one.”
“See, odds are already looking better.” Garriot chuckled and began a series of stretches.
“Because that’s how that works.” Onager muttered.
Onager was loading up another shot when a paralyzing fear locked him in place. He felt a pair of predatory eyes fixate on him from a distance. Onager searched the canyon for the source.
Everything in his body screamed to run and duck but his muscles refused to budge. Sweat gleaned down his brow and terror seized his headspace. Onager didn’t think straight and he found that he didn’t have the voice to talk. The falcon forced a fight or fright response in him.
Onager chose fright.
Bisult, from all the way in the center of the canyon, took a few steps back, leveled his spear overhead, took running steps forward and lunged his body, arm snapping and releasing the wide javelin. It’s trajectory was on course for Onager’s chest but those falcon eyes kept him rooted in his spot.
The javelin rocketed through the air, piercing the wind as if it were folded fabric.
A meter from his chest appeared Garriot’s Orgblade, timed just right to slam down on the spear. There was no dent in either Bisult’s spear or the Orgblade.
Onager snapped out of the paralysis. “How can he do that!” Onager scrambled to his Spectral catapult and focused his aim for Bisult, hands shaking uncontrollably. He was cursing nonstop. “How has Bisult developed his Aspect that far?”
Garriot was inspecting the spear when the oversized falcon charged into his chest, knocking him off his feet to land away from the javelin.
The falcon swooped around in a loop in a fluid motion and landed on the spear. It clutched the weapon in its terrifying claws and flapped its wing for lift. The falcon carried the spear back to Bisult and dropped it from the sky into his outstretched hand. The falcon rested back on his other arm and darted its eyes for another prey.
“Damn bird.” Garriot felt his chest for anything broken. Nothing but a bruise. “Why does your Aspect suck?” Garriot reclaimed his blade and went to Onager.
Onager grumbled but had no valid argument to disagree. Especially not after having his life saved by Garriot. His Aspect being mediocre was something he struggled to come to terms with his whole adult life. Garriot just casually saying it was a wake up call. The near death experience was also a wake up call to be fair.
“In any case, that Bisult has gotten a lot more powerful! He never used to have a bird.”
“Just keep aiming for their heavy guns!” Garriot shouted as he left the flat that Onager had set up his Aspect.
Garriot saw Goblin at the entrance to the canyon, dancing around the symbol in the ground he had carved earlier and chanting indiscernible phrases. At last a bonfire of crimson red erupted to life. It stayed in place, not spreading past the warding symbol.
“Witchfire.” Goblin spurted. He took his staff and plunged it into the fire, removing it after a few moments. The top of the staff was on fire only. Goblin poised the staff and growled, a green fireball zipped through the canyon, growing in size up until the point it crashed into a group of seven soldiers. Their flesh frayed and crackled.
“I’m going in Goblin, give me cover!” Garriot ran by Goblin, joined by a small squad of mercenaries and another wave of undead.
Bisult’s spear destroyed a line of some hundred corpses before being reclaimed by the falcon, only to be thrown again, decimating scores of undead. But scores more took their place. Vallis held their ground against the onslaught. Between heavy machine guns, landmines and a vibrant array of Aspects, many thousands of Deo’s army found their final resting place.
Onager and Goblin kept a consistent barrage of bombardment to harry the barricaded defenders who were entrenched behind steel barbed wire. There were four such rows of these trenches with another at the top of the Pass, the far side from the entrance Deo’s army attacked from.
The first trench had yet to be breached.
Garriot saw a few enemy Aspects that stood out in particular. Two were a brother and sister duo, the Cube Aspect and the Orb Aspect. The Cube was a huge energy field, cube shaped of course, that isolated entire sections of the battlefield. Any undead caught inside were imprisoned and could easily be dispatched from there. It also barred the way from further attacks, strategically allowing any weakening parts of the defense a moment to recover from being overrun. The Orb was a ball of killing energy that attracted anything near it. The sister could control the Orb, moving it to and fro incinerating dozens of corpses every second.
Someone else was spraying acid from their mouth after drinking gallons of water. The acid melted bone and flesh into piles of bubbling ooze. There were others still causing enough damage to visibly put a halt to Deo’s advance.
The narrower section of the canyon and Deo’s unspecific order of charge made the attack seem disorganized and weak. The undead were easily beaten by Vallis. It seemed to Garriot that every single one of Vallis’ Specters were perfect for handling a horde.
The last thing Garriot thought before joining the fight was how right Deo was to attack the very land. Vallis could easily defend this Pass for weeks, exacting an irrecoverable toll on Deo’s army. Deo factored that potential outcome without ever having battled Bisult before.
A shot from Onager wreaked a segment of the barbed wire wall and in poured the undead in endless droves. The first defenders to plug the breach met their end to a dark blur as Jan flashed his black blade to vicious effect.
Garriot sliced a man in two and pivoted his sword to block incoming bullets. The shells reflected off and Jan appeared at the shooter and stabbed him in the chest.
“Where is your lord?” Bisult’s voice boomed over the chaos of battle. He was nearing Garriot.
“He was bored and went to take a nap!” Garriot shouted back.
“You’ll do just fine then!”
Garriot was ready to fight Bisult.
But Bisult happened at a pace beyond Garriot’s skill. The javelin thrust at Garriot, skimming his shoulder while Garriot backpedaled. There was no such thing as a counter strike against Bisult and it took everything in Garriot to survive.
The giant falcon swooped down but immediately had to swerve out of the way when a fireball shot at it.
“Jan!” Garriot called. “Keep that bird off me!”
Jan turned from who he was killing to fly after the falcon. He launched into the air to intercept it and engaged in aerial combat. The falcon was clearly a master of the skies but Jan wasn’t restricted in his movements of gliding in the air. Jan charged in for a slice and dodged before the falcon could turn its head to bite or swipe its claws. Its stamina was prodigious but it was fighting a losing battle versus the angel.
Bisult was well aware the state his falcon was in but knew an opening for killing Garriot was near. Garriot had many wounds and was reacting sluggish. If not for that Goblin of his throwing fireballs from across the battlefield Bisult would have been done with Garriot by now.
Garriot struggled for breath but his unbreakable sword kept blocking Bisult’s javelin. Bisult moved in close, shouldered Garriot out of his defensive stance, sent a crushing right hook into Garriot’s chin and kicked him in the chest. Garriot fell back, seeing stars and the blurry figure of Bisult.
Bisult stepped in to finish the job when another huge fireball cut off his path. Bisult had to leap back and in that moment saw his falcon receive a deep stab in the side. Bisult cursed but left Garriot to save his falcon. “Kill him!” Bisult ordered a Specter.
That Specter was the Arquebus Aspect. Any object in his hand could be fired off like a gun, be it a stick or a book or even another weapon like a sword. It bordered on the childhood imagination of make belief, but with the grim reality of being able to fire very real bullets. The mechanism for reloading was whatever he chose, magazine, pump, bolt action. He usually chose one that matched the shape of the object. Right now he held onto a cylindrical muscle massage roller. He always took it with him when traveling and it produced some deadly large shells.
Arquebus ran to get a clear line of sight to the enemy Specter, his gun resting on his shoulder with the same arm securing it in place. Arquebus aimed his shoulder cannon.
He never saw the Carn Aspect long jump from his side. Carn bit off his throat in mid air without breaking stride. Arquebus fell lifeless and throatless to the ground.
Carn’s teeth dripped with blood. Garriot managed to get to his feet in time to see a small cube float his way. Garriot was in a ditch and tried climbing out but struggled with his bulky weapon.
Being caught in the Cube’s prison meant certain death. He braced for the firing squad that would enter with him.
But Carn ran and dove at the Cube, biting down with his jaws. This didn’t damage the Cube but it trapped Carn instead of Garriot.
The Cube expanded like a virtual room loading in. Garriot and the undead around the area were pushed back. Carn was trapped inside the Cube.
The Cube Specter cursed. “Take out the dinosaur anyways!” Troops filed up to enter the Cube from a one way entrance he could manipulate open.
“Go! Go! Go!” The twenty soldiers rushed into the Cube and opened fire with their rifles. Carn charged them, leaping over where they were firing and landing in the middle of them all.
The Cube Aspect was getting anxious when no one exited his killing prison for a few minutes. “Come on.” He sent another squad into the Cube as his sister came to his side. Their Aspects made for a ruthless combination.
Garriot stuck around the first trench now that Vallis had been evicted from it. He held off Bisult long enough for the undead to overrun the first trench, forcing Vallis to the second trench. Mercenary soldiers joined in and started firing at the defenders in the second trench further into the canyon, which was at about the center of the Pass.
The plan now was to slow the fight down but keep the pressure on enough for Vallis to remain engaged in the fight. Garriot called Deo and told him to reduce the number of undead charging at a time. Send too many and Vallis gets overrun and retreats, meaning no flooding. Send too few and it is obvious something greater is being planned. Garriot had to judge how he felt the attack should go.
Jan crash landed in the trench not too far from Garriot. He saw a javelin sized hole in one wing and a broken sword. Garriot pulled the boy up to check on him.
“I am fine.” The Seravim Aspect said but then collapsed back into a sitting position.
“Need to get you a sword that doesn’t break so easily.” said Garriot, remembering when the Orgblade shattered the angel’s black sword.
“How?” Jan asked,
Garriot shrugged. “Improve your Aspect, or find someone with a legendary sword like I did and then kill him and take his shit.” Garriot offered his hand again. “Here, stand. We must keep appearances up. They cannot think we are simply waiting around as I am sure they already suspect something is coming.” Garriot was rubbing his bruised chin. “Deo you bastard, you better hurry up before they beat us.”
Garriot made eye contact with Bisult who was tending to his wounded falcon. Bisult grinned, the kind of grin that said ‘next fight, you die’.
Garriot watched in utter dread the soldiers of Vallis prepare their weapons, adding bayonets and drawing hatches and other close range weapons to deal with the undead.
They were preparing to charge!
“Why the…” Garriot rushed to one of the mercenary captains. “They’re going to charge, what do we do?” The Cube was still blocking a quarter of the Pass and Onager was still launching his mildly effective catapult shots.
The mercenary’s eyes went wide. Nobody expected a charge because no one thought the defenders would risk their position. But now so many humans in Deo’s army were in the first trench and the hordes weren’t being managed specifically. Vallis was going to charge in a wedge and defeat a majority of Deo’s living army.
“Fall back.” Deo’s voice came on Garriot’s radio. “I’m flooding it now.”
Garriot sighed in relief. “Retreat!” He shouted and the call was taken up until all several hundred of the humans took up the orders and heard them.
Vallis charged through the undead swarm, carving a path back toward the first trench.
Deo stood on an outcrop overseeing the pass as a half kilometer of canyon wall opened up with a furious wave of ocean water and the countless undead that were there to dig the final wall. Deo finished two hours earlier but had waited for the afternoon hightide to start. The water started to fill up the canyon when Vallis realized what was happening. Deo dug his canal in only four hours from the start of the fight.
He had grossly underestimated what several million drones with limitless energy in perfect tandem could accomplish. The canal was wide and deep, allowing for water to fill up the clay soil that lacked the ability to drain the water, hence why the Diluvian Pass was prone to natural flooding during rainy seasons.
The water was already up to the toes and crashing and waving about. The undead were still ordered to attack and Vallis, caught off guard, started to suffer serious casualties, bitten and pummeled and drowned by corpses.
The Cube deactivated and there Carn stood over a pile of bodies, roaring in fury and glory over his conquered foes, the bodies of the Cube and Orb Aspect among the fallen. His tongue and tail billowed from his roar and water splashed around but the hundred plus Vallis dead under his feet gave Carn such a triumphant rage that he ignored the flood happening.
Deo spotted Bisult, whose falcon felt itself being watched, turned its head to caw at Deo. Bisult shouted in anger at Deo, knowing he had lost, and threw his Javelin at the Death Aspect.
On the cliff of the canyon Deo stood, the sun setting behind him, silhouetting his form into a shadow, save for his glowing eyes. Dull orange light reflecting off the ocean water caught the sailing javelin with a twinkle as it sought out the shadowy form of Deo on the cliff’s edge.
The javelin was aimed to remove Deo’s chest. As the javelin arced above the canyon, Deo commanded dozens of undead to jump off the edge to spear themselves. Deo stood unmoving as the spear dropped to his boots. Bisult clenched his teeth and his fist.
Vallis had no choice but to leave the Diluvian Canal, thoroughly defeated.