Although the sun (or whatever it was lighting up the Cherflammen sky) was sailing high among the clouds, we remained in our hiding positions behind several sand dunes that bordered the Sea of Sand desert and the Blighted Lands. Under strict orders to break camp and maintain silence, this was a test for the new and united federal demon army, trained and armed in the standards akin to the early 20th century militaries of my own world. Their mission was to eliminate the remnants of the ‘Knights of Cassandra David’ and a few Biorno clan supporters who refused to submit to the authority of the federal republic.
With me was the commander of this army, Shevaun Ilkes. Sent by Princess Noir herself, she was tasked not only with leading the new regiments to battle, but also with observing and report the performance of the soldiers to the demon king-president. Coming along was the famed retainer of the Biorno clan, the Lord Castrio Sargdhenerri. For him, he felt responsibility for the stupidity of some of his people, so he asked our permission to let him ‘end’ their foolishness himself.
“I’d really like to offer my heartfelt apologies to His Excellency, milady,” the Lord Sargdhenerri had been repeatedly saying. “While I did my best to honor our agreements, my soldiers disrespected me. Allow this old demon to kill himself as an atonement for this travesty.”
“While I understand your strict adherence to your code of honor milord,” Shevaun countered, “I implore you to stay your hand. Do not harm yourself, for your death is certainly a tragedy to your clan and to the Biornos.”
“Yes, I agree to Lady Shevaun,” I quickly backed her words. “Milord, think of this; don’t you think that your authority is more needed now than you are dead? If some of your people dared to disrespect you while alive, imagine what will happen if you kill yourself. His Excellency, the demon king-president, wishes no blood of his people to be shed, now that we are in a new era of peace. And honestly, you’re the only one with influence and respect to command a huge part of your clans’ forces.”
“But my soldiers still disrespected me…”
“Can’t help it,” I told him. “Not everyone will agree to our beliefs. This is the reason we should show them resistance is futile.” I mean, look, we’re introducing a new system, or idea, here. Of course, mortals were naturally resistant to changes; not only would it give them difficulty adjusting to the new norm, these people would also have to give up some of the privileges they enjoyed before the changes.
Just like what happened to the samurai of Meiji-era Japan. Their resistance to the reforms of the new government led to the Satsuma Rebellion, and the death of modern Japan’s hero, Saigo Takamori.
Well, though there were similarities, the situation of Cherflammen was still a far-cry from that of post-shogunate Japan. For one, there were seldom any resistance to the reforms we’re advocating here. The demon people, though steeped in old customs and traditions, were still curious about new ideas, and they’re willing to accept it as long as it won’t harm them. And second, there’s no ‘other party’ like a shogun or disgruntled samurai influential enough to lead a large-scale rebellion. If I may say, the only person I knew that was close to the qualifications of Saigo Takamori in this land was the Lord Castrio Sargdhenerri. But even he saw the wisdom behind our proposals and threw his wholehearted support behind the demon king-president.
The concept of unifying the demon realms under one ruler is brighter here than it was—let’s say—in Meiji-era Japan.
“…” At that point, the Lord Sargdhenerri said nothing more to my words. And it was an opportune time, too, for some of the scouts we sent earlier finally returned.
“Any news on the location of these rebels?” Shevaun asked, even though the scouts were still away at some distance.
“Milady, the Biorno rebels and the Knights have taken over a region deep inside the Blighted Lands,” one of them replied. “It was a cave, and they fortified the area around the entrance.”
The demon chamberlain then brought out a map of the Blighted Lands and the scout discussed what he saw in more detail. Then, we formed our course of action, and prepared for the battle.
The plan of action that the council of war came up with was pretty simple. It called for an offensive on the rebels’ stronghold, marching from three directions and attacking at the same time to pressure the enemy. There were proposals to rain artillery on them, but it was put down. Using artillery against the trees was counter-productive; not only would the vegetation minimize the effect of our shells, it would also alert the opposition and they could prepare in advance. By the moment we reach their positions, they’d already in the position to answer us with deadly fire.
The Battle of the Somme—though it did not happen in a forest—comes into mind.
At the end, a direct assault was organized. As the demons were exhausted in long wars, every commander of our army wished to end the battle as soon as possible. A lopsided victory was always welcome. I mean, any army leader would love that result. However, we had to be realistic. Injuries, and possible deaths, were always present in armed conflicts. That’s why, for that eventuality, the ghouls’ Medevac Corps stood nearby in the rear lines, ready to assist.
We aim to minimize the battlefield losses on our side. This was so because we’d like to send a message to our enemies—both current and potential—that their resistance to the authority of the federal republic was futile. As the armies of this world and of the others were still new to the concept of integrating time to warfare, we chose to use signals and messengers to synchronize our actions. After discussing it with the commanders of the regiments, everything seemed perfect and smooth-sailing.
However, there’s one problem with this plan.
Looking around the potential battlefield reminded me of one thing: ambush. The dead trees of the Blighted Lands may not have the thick leaves that gave normal forests that dark cover, but it could give the defenders a lot of hiding spots from which they could whittle down our forces. Again, with the artillery option out, the only other choice was a slow, careful approach to the enemy positions and attack them from a few meters. But, I was worried that if we deliberately slowed down our advance, the delay would give the other disgruntled demons a chance to change their minds and join the resistance, effectively prolonging the conflict and destroying the credibility of the new government.
When I told Shevaun about my concerns, she replied that I should not worry.
“I’m sending in the light cavalry to the routes to be taken by our forces,” she reassured me. “Accompanying them are local ghoul guides to ensure that no one can hide from us.”
For assaults like this, a prudent commander would always send in reconnaissance ahead of the main forces so they avoid ambushes. Be arrogant enough, and one could end as a perfect example of military folly, remembered and jeered for eons. The old demon armies would deploy their light cavalry for that purpose, similar to what Shevaun did just now. However, cavalries were only effective in maneuvering in wide spaces, such as plains, or rolling hills. Sending them to patrol a forest could be lethal. So, to avoid potential wastage of lives, I proposed an idea to Shevaun…
“Send in the Jägers,” I told her. “I’ll lead them.”
The demon chamberlain had a blank look on her face, and she just stared at me the moment I laid down my suggestion. She kept on doing that until it got awkward.
“Look,” I defended my point, “we need a force to screen the main armies ahead against potential harassing attacks, and especially, ambushes. The Jägers are trained to do just that, see?”
Shevaun’s doubts, however, were never sated. “Lord Greg, are you telling me to send you—our most favored and valued adviser—straight into a dragon’s mouth? Her Highness has strict orders for me to keep you safe.”
“Then my proposals will remain. Send in the Jägers,” I reiterated. “I’ll stay here.”
At that moment, Shevaun bluntly refused my suggestion, “Milord, it’s not that I’m underestimating the Jägers’ skills in battle. Honestly, I have high regards for them and their exploits during the Battle of Darkmoor. However, please understand that I’m conserving their strength. This is just a minor action, and as such, I believe that the Jägers should remain in the rear as a reserve. There’s no need to expose them to danger, unless necessary. It will also give the new recruits the battlefield experience they need.”
I said nothing after that. Her strategy was sound, and it’s not like Shevaun’s judgment had no basis. The new federal army was still young, and while the demon soldiers knew how to operate a gun, we’ve already upgraded to a bolt-action system. Hence, the need to learn new strategies and tactics to match the potential of our new weapons.
And there’s no better way of learning and adapting a soldier’s training other than on an actual battlefield.
So, I stepped aside and observed the demon chamberlain, as she gave her commands. Compared to her, I’m just a teacher who—until recently—lived comfortably in a relatively peaceful world. Shevaun was born and grew up in this harsh and chaotic world of endless warfare.
It’s not bad to learn from others, see?
Although, yes, I’m just hoping my worries are misplaced.
With a single horn blast, our attack began.
At once, the grenadiers threw the magic-activated grenades we designed towards the palisades and trenches prepared by our enemies. Unlike the ‘fragmentation’ grenades of my world’s modern militaries, these weapons exploded upon contact on the ground, giving the opposition no chance of hurling back the deadly projectiles to our lines.
Then, even before the dust and smoke settled, our armies attacked from their predetermined launch points, relying on the element of surprise and shock to overwhelm the defenses.
As per their training, the recruits of the federal army were taught to advance while their comrades provided covering fire from concealed positions. The first line would march fifty paces forward and then duck or hide to shoot, while the second line followed in alternate pattern. Their bayonets were fixed before the attack, hence they could shoot from afar, and press hard on close quarters.
Soon, the battle devolved into close fighting. The Knights—with their minds corrupted by the toxic Blighted Lands—had no care of whether they got shot or stabbed. These monstrosities continued to press forward even when their limbs, or body, were already hit. We lost a few soldiers in dealing with the Knights, though the recruits quickly found the method to destroy them by lobbing grenades on their slime-covered, sticky bodies.
For the rebel Biorno soldiers, they were armed with M1911s, stolen from the armories of their former overlord clan before the rest were surrendered to be destroyed. Unlike the Knights, the rebel Biornos could still think and fight with strategy and tactics. Because of this, they presented the most threat among our enemies, and we had to use another weapon in our arsenal to eliminate their positions.
“72 degrees to west!” the officer in-charge of the mortars bellowed. “Fire!”
At once, several rounds of mortars fell on that one spot where several Biorno soldiers were hiding, demolishing their fortifications. Then, our forces rushed to secure that spot, and kill anyone who offered resistance.
I can only sigh in gratitude that these guys haven’t discovered the concept of a ‘machine gun’, or this battle will be a complete carnage.
Amidst the furious attack and counter-attack of our forces and the enemy, the undead Medevac Corps ran across the battlefield to recover the wounded. They were rushed to my tent, where I healed them with my god-powers. From high in the skies, the undead dragon, Rosita, and her pilot flew over the site to direct their fellow undead as to where their presence was most needed.
If I may say, the training for these guys are effective, for everyone knew what they should do even as chaos reigned the battlefield.
Within an hour after the initial assault, the enemy defenses were cleared and secured. The remaining Knights and rebel Biorno soldiers retreated to the main cave, ostensibly to do a last stand. However, Shevaun called off a general attack, for the caverns in front of us were still unexplored, and she deemed it risky for our forces.
Instead, the federal army were ordered to dig in around the entrance. Patrols were also sent around the area to scour and secure possible exits the enemy could use to escape or bring in help from their sympathizers. Our trench lines were two-fold—an ‘inner’ one facing the cave for in case those inside would sally forth, and an outer defensive works for any outsider reinforcement attempts. Those were hastily dug, hence the shallow construction, for the high command thought that our stay here would be temporary while they debated on the next course of action.
“We can attempt to seal the cave entrance and choke them to surrender,” came a suggestion.
“That’s one solution. However, if they know another way out of this place, then we’d only unnecessarily expose the entire army to the poison of these forests. Remember, we haven’t explored these parts yet!”
“The Lord Sargdhenerri is proposing that he approach them under a flag of truce.”
“If it’s the rebels from his clan, the Lord Sargdhenerri’s plan may succeed. But, we’re also dealing with the remnants of the Knights of Cassandra David, with minds now twisted from their prolonged contact with the blight of this land.”
There were many of the suggestions put forward and shot down by the other generals as ‘unsound’ that the war council devolved into bickering. Not even the overall commander of our forces, Shevaun Ilkes, could come up with a better solution to our dilemma. As for me, I was just in one corner watching the ridiculous scenario unfold. My concern was, the longer we stayed here, the greater the chance the enemy could regroup and lick their wounds.
I mean, we’re the ones who are running after time, not them. Looking at the bigger picture, the ones who’ll lose in this battle of attrition would be the federals, not the rebels.
Something has to be done, and soon.
“Anyone here who can use wind magic?” I asked, drawing the attention of everyone to me.
“We haven’t brought a dedicated magicians’ regiment, but we can ask around,” a general offered. “What do you need them for, Lord Greg?”
“Well, before I answer your question Sir, do we also have alchemists with us?”
“This army would never march into battle without them,” another general revealed. “They are at the rear, producing grenades and gunpowder for our forces.”
“Great. Can they make poisonous powders?”
“I believe these alchemists with us are among the best that can be found all over Cherflammen,” Shevaun told me. “If you only need poisonous powder, then they can surely do it. Do you have a plan in mind, milord?”
“See, if we can’t retreat, or starve the enemy to submission, or conduct an assault against them,” I took a piece of paper and wrote my ideas on it, “Then we’ll force them to come to us. Mortals like you and me absolutely need air to breathe, right? So, to flush them out, we’ll deprive them of it.”
Poison gas. They came in many forms, like the highly-irritating chlorine gas, or the much ‘milder’ tear gas. Though its use was considered a war crime and was prohibited under the ‘1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases’ and the ‘1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare’, it saw extensive deployment during the dark days of the First World War. Designed to be fatal to the opposing force, it was soon realized that poison gas was more effective as a ‘harassment’ weapon that polluted and disrupted the battlefield, and demoralized an unprepared enemy.
The gruesome effects of this ‘weapon’ were highly-documented, well at least on a human body. For a flesh that’s been soaked in the toxic Blighted Lands, and being a demon body, I had no idea of its possible effects. But, in any case, to make our ‘poison’ effective, I asked the alchemists to make the powder of different chemical composition than the ones that could be found in this region.
I can’t ignore the possibility of the fact that these Knights and their rebel friends may have developed resistance to poison that enveloped the soil of the Blighted Lands.
Honestly, I was uncomfortable with this strategy, as chemical warfare often resulted in a slow, agonizing death. Nevertheless, this was war. And with limitations like the 1899 and 1907 Hague missing in this world, the morality of this decision was out of the question.
We have to put an end to this conflict as fast as possible. Including the use of inhumane methods.
“Milord, the poison powder is ready,” an orderly informed me.
“It’s fast!” I could only exclaim; I half-expected that the production would give us a few days of delay. However, the alchemists finished my request within just ten hours, right after the hour of long sleep.
“Well, I was told that they used the readily-available gunpowder they made before and added toxic properties to it,” Shevaun revealed.
“So, we can set those alight, too?”
“I don’t know, but it’s worth the try.”
I just nodded at her comment, and turned to the orderly, “Make sure the soldiers at the cave entrance are wearing soaked masks.” Yep, I won’t take my chances. Even though we got the wind with us, the risk of those lethal dust blowing back to our faces was still high, so I made countermeasures.
I took my position on a spot not too far from the entrance, yet relatively safe from dangers, as Shevaun would not allow me to even stand with the soldiers who’d cast the wind magic. Our plan of action was simple. The wind magicians would blow the poisonous powder into the cave. The relatively density of these dust would then allow it to settle on the ground soon, covering the possibility that the cavern in front of us could have deep pathways in which the poison might not reach.
And then the nastier part of this plan would begin. The fire magicians would set alight the toxic gunpowder, sucking all the air inside those caverns, forcing the occupants out to breathe.
Of course, our guns are waiting to massacre them.
Then, the signal was given. Within a minute or two, the cave entrance was filled with the toxic powder. To make sure that the poisonous dust would reach even the deepest parts of the caverns within the casting range of the magicians, some of them raised ‘dust devils’ to pick up the lethal dirt and carry those to the inner regions.
Good thing there was no wind blowing in that direction, blocked by the dead trees, or the dust might be blown back at our faces. Well, the soldiers were issued soaked masks just in case, but fighting would be much difficult in that condition.
As soon as the powder settled on the ground, the fire magicians took over. They cast fire magic that quickly ignited the toxic gunpowder and created a huge fire that blocked the cave entrance. The flames were so big and powerful—kindled even more by flammable materials thrown by the soldiers to intensify it—that we could feel the heat from a few meters away. Shevaun ordered that the ‘inner’ trenches be abandoned, and the soldiers from that part transferred to the second, ‘outer’ line.
Several more minutes passed, and we began to feel the ground shaking, as well as hear screaming noises from inside the cave. At once, the federal forces took their positions, and fixed bayonets. From behind the flames, we could see moving shadows, approaching our positions.
“Here they come! Fire!”
The first volley of bullets and grenades flew from our side and felled a few enemies. Then, another volley took care of those following the first escapees. The enemy, in their haste to escape the burning inferno they were in, didn’t even bother to put up a fight. Thus, they became easy targets for our soldiers.
Well, everything was like a ‘turkey shoot’, that was, until the Knights suddenly burst from the ground near the trench lines. Apparently, in their desire to ran, they dug tunnels that went past the cave entrance and led to our positions. Their ‘monstrous’ appearance surprised and terrified our soldiers, and the federal army lost their cohesion as everyone wanted to move away from the Knights.
“They are also coming from the trees!”
Much to our horror, there were also Knights coming from the direction of the forest behind us, some led by rebellious Biorno soldiers. I could tell that they were a separate force, for their appearances and equipment were still clean compared to the battered army that hid inside the caverns.
The new enemy army approaching us threatened our rear, where the supplies and reserve soldiers were located. If they captured those, then we’d be surrounded. Fortunately, the Jägers was on that side, and they could hold off the assaults of the Knights and the Biornos.
However, I need to organize the defenders on the rear too, as we are already sandwiched between the enemy armies.
“Lord Greg!” it was Shevaun’s scream. “What are you doing?”
Ignoring the demon chamberlain, I pulled my gun and rushed to rally the demoralized federal soldiers. Standing on the parapets made me a target of the enemy. Good thing they were armed with M1911s, which had a relatively short effective range, or the antiquated ‘crack horns’ of the old demon militaries.
“Come on!” I shouted encouragement as I emptied an entire cylinder of bullets against the Knights, “We can defeat them!”
The act itself was futile, given that the officer’s bolt-heater gun had enough firepower to fell another demon, but not a mutated creature. However, the sight of a human fighting the monstrosities created from the long exposure to the Blighted Lands’ soil was enough to steel the hearts of every demon soldier from our side. With renewed courage and determination, we conducted a bayonet charge to protect the supplies, as well as our escape routes.
It was total carnage and chaos. The Knights and rebels were equally-fierce in their fight, for they knew they’d surely be executed for treason once they were defeated. Likewise, being surrounded in their front and back, our forces had the do-or-die spirit. Everyone expected that if we’re captured, we’re awaiting a gruesome death.
The Jägers, meanwhile, fought and held off multiple assaults from the enemy until we reached them. The alchemists, protected by the Jägers, were tirelessly producing gunpowder and grenades to keep the fight going. As for me, with a bolt-heater revolver in my left hand and a sword in the other, I hacked my way across the battlefield until I reached my old command.
“Lord Greg!” an orc captain of the Jägers greeted me with a salute, “We’re holding them off pretty well.”
“As expected of you! Great work!” I handed to him my spent weapons and picked up a nearby bolt-heater rifle. “Now, we’ll push them back. Tell the Jägers to fix bayonets.”
At a whistle blast, the Jägers sprang to attack, followed by the regular federal regiments at our backs. We prioritized killing the Biorno rebels, for they still had the sanity to keep a sound command. Then, once we eliminated the ‘heads’, we advanced slowly as we shoot, and threw grenades to deal with the Knights.
The systematic counter-offensive checked the onslaught of the opposition and sent them into a panicked retreat. However, as we intended to end their threats, not only to the ghouls but also to the federal government, we never let them escaped.
The first bombs from Rosita finally fell on the enemy, and disintegrated a good number of them. The Knights who were injured were killed by our soldiers, seeing that as a ‘mercy’ for their irreversible corruption. As for the Biorno rebels, we hadn’t captured any one of them yet, for their code of honor dictated that it was better to die or kill oneself than to surrender to the enemy.
Kind of like Japan’s Bushido.
With the federal army finally regaining their morale and direction to fight, I finally passed command to the generals who were with us. They were the ones to continue the pursuit of the rebels, while I returned to Shevaun’s side as she was tasked with protecting me.
But then, just as I turned to head to the rear…
I felt something poke my back, like a person trying to get my attention. Then, my legs suddenly became wobbly, as some of the officers rushed to my side in horror. I don’t know what happened next as my eyes suddenly darkened.
Warning: Strong language, depictions of extreme violence