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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 78: Kondor 26
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Previous chapter: Chapter 77: Hastings 27
Ahead in the darkness there was movement. It looked like the approach of a large body of men; but it didn't move like men. Whatever they were, they moved in choppy, abrupt fits and starts. Yet they moved swiftly, a darkness, a plague of uncounted locusts covering the land.
And it seemed they brought darkness with them. A thick cloud cover moved across the stars behind them, and when they stopped less than a mile from the walls, the darkness continued over the castle, blotting out the moon, and headed for the horizon beyond. Were morning to come, no one would know it.
The assault began. The enemy charged the walls, scores of corpse-like bodies, and began trying to scramble up by hand, piling on top of each other like inhuman ladders. A hail of arrows from the battlements pierced the topmost, toppling their growing pyramids and sending bodies crashing to the dirt. They tried to reform, to resume the climb, but the missile storm intensified, driving them back. Dozens of broken forms lay in pieces strewn in the dust.
If that's all they've got, Kondor thought, this isn't going to be so bad. Yet it was already clear that the advance guard numbered in the hundreds, and a few hundred men were all that the humans were expecting to raise.
In their second assault, the enemy charged the gate, throwing their corpse-like forms against the iron-reinforced oak as if trying to batter their way through. Flaming oil was poured down on them, and many fled; yet some continued to beat on the door while the fire consumed their flesh, until their blackened bones fell into piles on the roadway.
And Kondor realized two important points about the enemy. One was that they were very resilient, able to fight long after taking injuries which would kill a man and through pain no man could bear. The other was that although they were stupid enough to try anything once, they learned from their mistakes.
And even as he realized this, he saw new movement in the distance.
He couldn't see well, but he thought perhaps he could improve what he saw. The clouds were dark, certainly, but he seemed to recall that ultraviolet light was plentiful both at night and under clouds. It also seemed reasonable to expect that creatures who moved so quickly were warm blooded, or even if cold blooded gave off some heat. Digging into his medical kit, he found his eye patch, and put it over his good eye. He then grabbed the control for the blue spectrum, and rolled it up, up, beyond the visible end of normal sight, until the terrain came alive with an eerie blue glow. He had found a band of reflected ultraviolet light.
Next he grabbed the red control, and pulled it down toward infrared. He knew there would be heat out there, he just had to find it. The men on the walls began to glow in patches of bright red where their skin was exposed, a more purple shade where they were covered and their body heat was more mixed with the reflected ultraviolet radiation. He could also see the hot roadside and the bones from the fire, glowing red against the blue landscape. It was very pretty, in an ethereal, alien way.
But the distant enemy remained blue. Perhaps, Kondor thought, they are cold blooded; or perhaps in this cool night their body heat is dissipating in the breeze. Whatever the explanation, he could still see them at the blue end.
And what he saw confirmed his fears. He spoke aloud; the castellan was there, and although the man didn't count Kondor among his assets, at least he would hear.
"More troops have arrived. Some are skeletal, carrying bows and arrows. Others are more corpse-like, but with gaps in their bodies unlike the troops we've faced already."
"The ghouls and skeletons," the castellan answered. "You can see them?"
"I had to adjust my eyesight, but I've got a pretty good view of the field now."
"You are a more magical creature than I knew. Can you keep me informed of their movements?"
"Well, they aren't doing much yet. The skeletal ones seem to be forming into ranks. The ones you call ghouls have sent a detachment into the woods."
"They'll be preparing a battering ram for the gate, and using missile cover from the skeletons to reduce our ability to strike back. Prepare the ram catcher!" he shouted. "Ready the archers, and make sure we have oil! The next attack will be an assault on the main gate!"
But the next attack didn't happen just yet. As Kondor peered through the strange blue-purple world, he saw movement in the tree tops, and then nothing. The brains of the opposition had arrived. The battle would get tougher.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #50: Stories Progress. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: