Headquarters, Army of Abigor, Western Iraq.
It had been dusk when the flier had arrived. Abigor had been standing outside his tent, basking in the last rays of the setting sun when the flier had staggered in. A very badly wounded flier, its body dreadfully burned along one side, its damaged wing causing it to fly unevenly. As it approached, Abigor saw that it had lost an eye from the same burns that affected the rest of its body.
“Your Excellency, I bring word from General Merafawlazes.”
Abigor looked at the battered flier. Was this the best Merafawlazes could send to bring news of his victory? It was insult. Abigor paused for a second, a deliberate insult? Was this Merafawlazes’s attempt at deposing him? “What word?” His voice was curt and irritable.
“Sire, terrible news. The Army of the North has been defeated. It is in full retreat heading south. The enemy are pursuing it in their Iron Chariots. They move fast sire, faster than the swiftest Beast. As our infantry run, they are being crushed by the Chariots. It is a disaster, Merafawlazes says beware of the fire lances and the Iron Chariots for our forces are helpless against them.
“Defeated?” Abigor was stunned by the news. “How?”
“The humans have terrible magic sire. They cause the ground to erupt and swallow our infantry whole, their fire lances tear them apart. They can call up thunder at will and their breath leaves nothing but the dead where they breathed. In the sky, their fire lances seek us out no matter how much we twist and turn. One touch from them is death Sire. One passed close to me, did not even hit me and look what its fire did.”
Abigor listened in shocked disbelief. There was no way this story could be faked, no Duke would admit to so crushing a defeat. No demonic army had been defeated, not since That defeat, the one before time had properly begun. Abigor had been at that battle and known defeat then. He remembered its taste and suddenly, after countless eons, his mouth was filled with it again.
“Come to my tent, tell me all that you know.” He saw the flier hesitate. “You have nothing to fear.”
That’s what they all say the flier thought, before they kill the bringer of bad news
An hour later, Abigor was trying to absorb the flier’s description of the battle. He had his own battle plan market out on his map, in essentials it was simply a larger repeat of Merafawlazes’s attack. Cavalry first to break up the enemy line, then the infantry in a thick mass to swarm over the wreckage and finish the enemy off. He had his 28 infantry legions in a huge block, seven legions wide, four deep, the ranks massed tight and deep. By all that was traditional it should have been invincible. Merafawlazes had thought that, now Merafawlazes Army was dead or running.
“They hid behind the hill you say?” Abigor’s voice was thoughtful.
“Sire, they did. They were lined up behind the ridge where they could not be seen by our force. Only after our army had been almost destroyed by their magic and we fliers slaughtered by their Sky-Chariots did they venture over the crest and charge us. Even then they did not dare to fight in honorable hand-to-hand combat but let loose their fire-bolts at us from a distance. Only when our comrades lay wounded and helpless did they close on us and then they crushed the wounded under their chariots.” The wounded flier dropped back to his knees again, still not quite sure he could believe the fact he was alive and uneaten.
Abigor thought the information over. He had to change plans, his original was an open invitation to a massacre by the human mages. His mind mulled the information over. His original front was over a mile long with the ranks extending almost two miles backwards. If he lined his legions up in single row, they would form a front almost five miles long. His mind chewed away, the human magic slaughtered by area, why stop at lining up his legions side by side. There was no need for the legions to maintain their block, 81 ranks deep. Suppose each Legion formed three blocks 27 ranks deep? And those blocks were lines side by side? Why, that meant a front approaching 15 miles wide! Abigor stared at his map, with a front like that, he could extend beyond the range of the human mages and their magic, envelop their flanks and roll them up. It was brilliant. It was also, of course against every concept of demonic warfare. Battles were decided by massive blows aimed at the center of the enemy force, the two masses colliding and slugging it out. This idea of thinning his lines and enveloping the enemy was, wrong somehow. Yet the humans were wrong, they didn’t fight like warriors, they lacked the spirit to close in to hand-to-hand combat range. That hadn’t always been the case, there had been examples in the past when humans fought demons hand-to hand. They’d always lost of course.
He wrote the new orders down on parchment and then added another thought. The enemy mages had to be on that ridgeline. If they could be prevented from casting their spells, that would be a major part of the enemy’s defense gone. So he added another line, ordering all the infantry to keep firing their tridents as rapidly as they could recharge them. It didn’t matter if they hit anything, just to keep that ridge crest under continuous fire. Then, he turned his attention back to the flier still cowering in a corner.
“You, what is your name?”
“I need you to take these messages to the legion commanders. It must be done tonight.” Abigor was about to issue the usual blood-curdling threats when he stopped himself. This one had flown in with the messages although terribly wounded. Hell ran on fear and terror but surely nothing could be worse than what this flier had already faced. “Tomovoninkranfat, you have already served me well and I thank you for everything you have already done. I see your wounds and know how much this must cost you but these messages must get through.”
To Abigor’s astonishment, Tomovoninkranfat drew himself up. “Your wish is my will Sire.” And he left clutching the parchments in his unburned hand.
Behind him, Abigor felt another wave of surprise. Could it be that it wasn’t necessary to terrorize everybody in sight in order to get things done? That praise and trust could sometimes work as well?
Headquarters, Multi-National Force Iraq, Green Zone, Baghdad.
The great screen in General Petraeus’s command center was showing a sudden surge of activity in the baldrick Army that lay along the Wadi al Gudrhat. Formations were beginning to move shifting sideways, the deployment changing. Far over their heads, the Global Hawk was faithfully recording everything they did but what it could not do was tell General Petraeus why they were doing it. That, he had to work out for himself.
“A night attack Sir?” An aide spoke with unease. It was hard to make a guess based on intentions with so little to go on.
“Could be. They’re moving sideways though, not forward. Extending their line. I’d guess this move started when word of what happened on their flanks started to trickle in.”
“Perhaps they’re trying to replace the flank cover we destroyed yesterday?” Captain David Tall was jumping in with both feet as usual.
“Could be.” Petraeus repeated the same words absent-mindedly. “Any other suggestions?”
This was his “school for Captains”, the time when his aides were invited to give their opinions on what the situation on the display actually meant and what should be done about it. Later they would compare their opinions with what had really happened and learn.
“I think they’re scared.” Captain Ellen Yarborough flushed slightly as the General looked straight at her.
“Why do you say that Ellen?”
“Because they don’t know what hit them yesterday. They’re still trying to piece it all together. Look what hit us over the last 24 hours. Cavalry, phalanxes of infantry, I mean real phalanxes General, only those harpies were anything even remotely modern. Now look what hit them. Tanks, Mick-vees, artillery, MLRS. Its completely outside their terms of reference. So they don’t know what hit them.
“What they do know, Sir, is what we did to them. I bet the commander over there has reports coming in and he’s trying to make sense of them. He’s noted we kill wholesale, not retail. So, he’s thinning his troops out, trying to reduce his casualties by giving us less to shoot at. He’s also extending his front and might hope to outflank us but that’s a secondary thing.”
“Anybody any comments on that?” Petraeus looked around.
“It means he’s pretty smart. They didn’t fight smart yesterday.” Tall looked around at the group gathered around the screen.
“Oh yes they did.” Another officer, Captain Keith Renshaw cut in. “They fought very smart in their own terms. Can you imagine trying to stop that attack with spears and bows? They’d have stomped straight through us. And they kept going even while we slaughtered them. Can you imagine a human army taking a battering like that and keeping up the advance? I can’t.”
“Important point that Keith.” Petraeus spoke approvingly. “They showed a lot of guts. They didn’t change plans though, that tells us something about how fast their command structure can handle changes. Ellen, you make a good point as well. The commander over there is responding to what happened, doing so pretty fast.” He paused and looked at the display again, it had updated to show the baldrick positions moving further sideways. “Whether he’s simply reducing the richness of the target environment or has thoughts about outflanking us doesn’t matter. What he’s doing gives him the option and we have to allow for it. Any suggestions. Ellen?”
“The critical point is here, at Hit. If Hit falls, and its right on our front line our extreme right flank, he can cross the Euphrates and come down between the river and the Buhayrat ath Thatthar. Cut us off from our supply lines. We have two brigades from the Fourth Infantry Division in reserve, I suggest we order one of them to move to cover that area, position them east of Aqabah. With the divisional M270s in support. That way they can either block the baldrick advance or, if they don’t cross the river, swing and hit their left flank.”
“Comments?” Petraeus looked around.
“Sounds good to me.” There was a mutter of agreement.
“That’s because it is good. Gives us plenty of options. One change, the MLRS launchers stay where they are. They have the range to support the 4th from their present positions and we might need that firepower. 25th Mech and 10th Mountain can provide most of what we need but I want to keep one battalion of M270s on a ready-to-shoot basis in case of unexpected developments. Thank you.”
Petraeus turned back to his display. The baldrick line was definitely extending and thinning. Yarborough had been right, they were learning fast. Not fast enough though.
DIMO(N) Conference Room, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA
“Doughnuts and Coffee ladies and gentlemen and, errr, other lady.”
There was a quick stir as people descended on the refreshments trying not to be seen as too keen to grab the iced donuts. Lugasharmanaska looked at the plates with a distaste and a certain element of despair. It had been a week since she had eaten and her body was screaming for raw meat. These balls of fried plants were of no use to her.
“You don’t like donuts Luga?”
“I eat meat. Fresh meat. Not vegetables.”
“Donuts aren’t vegetables.” One of the women present, a dedicated vegan didn’t like the way this conversation was going.
“Donuts are made of flour yes? Flour is from plants. Plants are vegetables so donuts are vegetables.”
“I must try that on my doctor.” One of the men spoke quietly but the vegan lady still glared at him.
Robert O’Shea was speaking to the Pentagon kitchens on the telephone. They had some standing ribs down there and he asked for the largest to be sent up. “Beef all right Luga?”
“Human is better but any meat will be good.” She noted the expression on the faces of the rest of the people in the room. “You do not eat your dead?”
“No.” It was a short, clipped phrase.
“How strange. So you just waste them.” Lugasharmanaska shrugged and then her eyes lit up as the raw meat arrived. She grabbed the joint and ripped at it with her teeth, tearing off large lumps and swallowing them. The vegan lady nearly fainted. There was a general agreement that they’d learned a first important thing about the baldricks. Their table manners were appalling.
“If we might get started.” O’Shea looked at Lugasharmanaska who was still grunting, snorting and tearing at her meat. He couldn’t help thinking it was a charming sight to see somebody enjoying their food so much. “First item, communications. We can communicate back up to Hell on a one-to-one basis but that’s all. Luga, how do we open a portal.”
“You can talk to people back home? Then you can open a portal. Just add more power. Get more of your mages to add their power to the message. First you can get messages through then with more power the message opens a gate. It’s easy. As long as you use a Nephilim to contact.”
“What’s a Nephilim?” The vegan lady wanted to keep Lugasharmanaska talking in case she decided she wanted some more meat and created another display like the previous one. The stripped bones were still on the table to remind her of what that sight had been like. Idly, Lugasharmanaska picked one of the ribs up, cracked it open with her teeth and sucked out some marrow.
“Nephilim are humans with demon ancestry. Long time ago, when we were here before, we mated with humans. We succubi still do. Sometimes there are offspring from such matings that are both human and demon. Now, the demon ancestry in a Nephilim is mostly very small but enough remains. We can contact them even from our dimension.” Lugasharmanaska thought carefully, how could her information be valuable without giving away too much? “We can make you see what we want you to see but we must be able to see you for that. But with Nephilim we can contact make messages without seeing.”
“Is that how you come to Earth.”
“Yes. We contact a Nephilim and use our mind-mask to establish a message link. Then our leaders add more power and form a gate we can step through.”
Lugasharmanaska looked around and saw the growing affection in the eyes of the people around her. And gratitude for her assistance. She was doing well, and her stomach was full at last. Only one person present didn’t like her and that was the woman who had complained about eating meat. Lugasharmanaska eyed her and wondered, purely academically and without any intention of actually trying, what she would taste like.
Observation Room, DIMO(N), The Pentagon, Arlington, VA
“What do you think of her Robert?” James Randi looked at O’Shea, his eyes twinkling slightly.
“Well, she’s not the sort of girl I’d take home to meet my mother.” O’Shea thought for a second. “On the other hand, she eats humans so I might take her to meet my ex-wife. But in her way, I thought she was quite pleasant.”
Randi smiled and shook his head. This was why the JREF always filmed their tests and trials, it was amazing what one could see when a situation was played back. “Watch this Robert.”
It was a film of Lugasharmanaska eating, her teeth ripping at the meat, blood spraying around her, running down her chin. She was looking around, half suspicious that somebody might take her food but it was obvious that her eyes were also assessing the chance of eating one of the other members of the meeting.
“Quite pleasant Robert?”
O’Shea looked appalled. “I don’t remember it like that. Oh, I noted she was a bit gross when she was eating but nothing like that.”
“That’s why we record all of the tests we do. See things that get missed first time around. We’ve noticed how that succubus seems to get on everybody’s good side very quickly. Nobody had much bad to say about her. There’s something we need to look at here.”
“We all had our foil caps on.” O’Shea sounded defensive.
“I know, anyway it seems like we need to investigate this a bit more. Robert, something your people can look at, I need to get go and get more power pumped into our links to hell.”
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others