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The March of the Dead

Author: 
Stariovarius
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
493

Tasala slumped down around the fire, chewing on the burnt leg of week old meat in his hands. Tough, the first hints of rot coming through in the taste, it was nourishment, but only just. His unit had been chased all across the central plains of Karlak, never given enough time to stop and rest for even a full night, and was now so battered and bruised that it was at less than half normal strength. Most of the other half, well... the other half was chasing them. Tasala had seen one of his friends kill another, hacking at the head until it had been a pulped smear on the ground. One had been dead then, and both of them were dead now, just one was hunting him down.

The necromancers and channellers who'd risen against the emperor had been waging a war for five years now, pushing downward from the northern border, each year another chunk disappearing under their control. This year... this year was the worst of all. The undead were now all the way to the fertile central plains, and that meant no crop for the kingdom. Another year like that and they'd lose not to the undead, but to starvation. There had already been circumstances of cannibalism to stay alive, and the upcoming promised more.

Troops were free for the necromancers. They just dug up graveyards, slaughterhouses, old battlefields, wherever there were dead bodies. The kingdom had been warlike enough that this made the supply basically limitless. Tasala had seen, and smelled, some of the rites to their god, needed to bring the dead to life. They liked performing the rites just across from the living, letting the living know that the horde grew every night. The next morning, the channellers would be marching the newest soldiers out to fight.

The living had seen every conceivable beast by then, from normal soldiers made out of the freshly killed warriors they fought to farmyard animals. Tasala and the troops with him had laughed when they'd first seen chickens used in battle. “We've won this war now, they're reduced to fighting us with food!” Joy sank to fear once the tactics became apparent. The undead troops would attack, and while the living were occupied with those their own size, the chickens would peck at their feet and legs. The necromancers had pulled out the beaks and replaced them with nails, spikes, bits of broken blade, anything that could wound. Often rusty and filthy, anyone injured by one of these weapons would often have wounds that festered and rotted, making the wounded a heavy drain on the living's resources.

Tasala continued to gnaw on the meat in front of him, the sour taste overcome by the fear of starvation, and the knowledge that the next meal was often a day or more away. He and his soldiers had fought today, and lost, again, forced back even further out across the plains. The generals, smart warriors that they were, had thought they could hold the undead cohorts here, for, while an ever growing number, the rotting soldiers moved slowly and disjointedly, the necromancers who kept them mobile unable to control the whole army at once. So, raiding parties had been sent out, Tasala among them to harass the supplies coming for the living leaders of the dead army as well as to spread terror and ruin among the overrun populace, reminding the cooperators among them just who their allegiance really belonged to.

Both goals had failed. The supply trains were not wagons and mules, but long strings of undead soldiers marching to join their brethren at the front, pulling or carrying the supplies with them on crude carts or merely in bags. Once attacked, they dropped the supplies and pulled out weapons, winning most of the battles by sheer weight of numbers. Those groups sent out to remind the captured populace and cause havoc failed too. For all the damage they wrought and crops they burned, some raider died to a stray bolt or arrow, and every killed person rose again. The deep raiders dwindled, eventually forced to flee by hunting groups of undead or caught and wiped out.

Harassing attacks on the main army had served no better. Through long experience, the living knew that ruining the head or chest of an undead destroyed the store of magical energy that kept it powered. The first two raids had gone well enough, only a few men lost to infrequent resistance, and large numbers of the undead smashed by bullets from the slings and crossbows the cavalry now carried. After those first two, the dead had come back with their own counter: rotting corpses of any swift animal. Horses, deer, even birds were seen among the dead ranks. Those large enough carried riders with bows and arrows or javelins, matching cavalry to cavalry. All of the animals had their front legs and forward torso studded with spikes, crushed glass, or blades. Those carrying no rider simply picked a living cavalryman and ran into it, impaling man and mount on the spikes jutting from the rotting body then thrashing wildly, causing grievous cuts to be ripped open on the living targets. These wounds didn't kill unless the dead had gotten lucky, but they crippled, removing any hit in this way from the field of battle for months, maybe even forever.

Tasala's legion had been one of these raiding parties. They'd had a fairly successful raid today, cutting a great swath through the flank of their enemy, but as they rode away a pack of these devilbeasts, hidden in a thicket along the route home, had swarmed into the cavalry from pits among the trees, leaving almost a third of the raiding force as casualties. After that debacle, his cavalry unit now had only four out of every ten men healthy for duty, barely enough for them to remain operational. Most of the men in Tasala's unit, including Tasala himself, had begun to see the combat as futile. Destroying the undead was like trying to kill an ant nest by stomping on the ants one at a time.

 

The March of the Dead © Stratovarius

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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