Not Even The Dead

The cold wild whipped and whistled across the moor. Legion Commander Jord vad Reipi started at the open plain. He was clad in a large brown brimmed hat. His face was covered by a beak-like metal mask with glass openings to see out of. He had an thick brown leather coat on, leather gloves, and black boots. In his hands were four ornate barreled pepperbox pistols, each ready to be fired. If not for the pistols and gray insignia stitched into his coat, he would have looked as any doctor who treated plague victims.

It was a rare clear day on the moors, but not much colder than he had grown accustomed to. There was no fog, and the sky was a cloudless, light blue expanse. The sun shown down on both his army, and his opponents. Off over the northern horizon, the ocean lapped endlessly against the rocky cliffs. To the south were endless rolling hills, covered by a dark green grass. To the west stood Jord vad Reipi and his recently mobilized force. Behind them was a small camp for an army of its size, with only a few dozen tents and surrounded by makeshift palisades and cannon. Green and gray hot air balloons hovering above held sentries inside. Each was tethered to the ground, and in the wicker gondola sat a green uniformed sentry with a spyglass, long rifle, signal mirror, flags, and sack of grenados.

The primary force was almost entirely comprised of the Midland Republic's most infamous military unit: the Gray Legion. Commander Jord stood in the center of a wedge-like formation of the Gray Legionnaires. Each company of Legionnaires stood in infantry rectangles twenty musketeers across and five ranks deep. Each musketeer was clothed in an almost identical manner. Each Gray Legionnaire wore an olive green coat and pants with white and gray gloves and boots. In the hands of each Legionnaire was one of the Republic's newest weapons, the breech-loading musket. Able to be affixed to the end of each was a socket bayonet carried by each musketeer.

Their heads were covered by iron helmets with face concealing visors. Despite seeing the visors for years, they still gave Jord an uneasy feeling. They were wrought iron masks, each of an unmoving human face. Two holes for the eyes were drilled, but little of the individual Legionnaire's face was visible. On the back of each Legionnaire was the same symbol of the Legion that Jord had on his coat: a skull over crossed flintlock pistols, with the silhouette of a smith's hammer in the background. Beneath it was the motto of the unit: "Not even the dead see the end of war." Thrown in with the ranks were various types of cannon, volley guns, and rockets.

The Gray Legion formed an arrowhead facing the east, awaiting the arrival of the enemy. The sun glinted off their masks, creating a glare at anyone facing them from the east. Looking up, Jord saw one of the balloon sentries waving his flags. Using his signal mirror, he grabbed the attention of the other balloonists, and the sentries readied their long rifles and grenados.

As the intelligence reports said, the enemy came over the eastern plains, as they traditionally had. The Pontiff had declared another holy way against the Republic, sending countless illiterate fanatics to die in a foreign land. They marched forward, with the sun glinting off their equipment. Across the plains, Jord could see the size of the force was easily thousands strong, just as the intelligence had stated. Jord felt himself quiver a bit. This was only his third battle of this scale, but first time fighting along the coastline.

The Pontiff's force was composed almost exactly like the ones that he had seen before. The nobles rode on purebred white stallions, dressed in vestigial full plate suits. They had elaborately polished pistols and sabers, prepared to kill the defenders of the only bastion of freedom on the continent. Behind them was a mass of shouting, wild fanatics. Each of the peasants held different weapons, from ill-maintained muskets to pitchforks and improvised weapons. They had no uniforms, save poorly fit leather jerkins and some rusted, incomplete pieces of armor. Behind them came horses pulling cannon, dressed in red and gold uniforms, but still moving at different paces. In contrast to the well organized ranks of Gray Legionnaires, the Pontiff's force was an unruly mob. At best, the invaders were a rabble of the wealthiest and poorest fools on all of the continent.

The tide of ignorance was about to crash upon the rock of reason. The noble cavalry charged first, seeking to become heroes of their faith. Jord fired a blast from one of his pistols into the air. The blue smoke that came out of the shot indicated the start of his battle plan. The sharpshooters in the balloons got to work, opening fire at the cavalry leaders.

The nobles with the most hideously expensive accessories were the first to fall, as they stuck out the most. Below on the ground, the Gray Legionnaires moved with mechanical precision and efficiency. The artillerists loaded the cannons with grapeshot. The infantry fixed bayonets, and the companies closest to the cavalry let the nobles have a volley of musket-fire. The heroic charge of the survivors closed the distance, and was martyred with blasts of grapeshot at near point-blank range.

The crack of cannon, acrid smell of gunpowder, and screams of the dying filled the air with the a cacophany of war. With more of the Pontiff's would be heroes sent to their eternal reward, Jord discharged the second barrel of his pepperbox pistol, signaling the Legion to begin the next phase of the battle. Jord tried to focus on the enemy ranks, as he knew the professionals on the other side were far more dangerous than fools with delusions of grandeur.

The Pontiff's fools began to ready their own guns as the raving mob charged forward. Jord responded with a volley that sent fear into the hearts of the illiterate rabble. His artillerists fired off carriages with dozens of small rockets mounted on them. Based on a tale from a merchant who had seen foreign lands, the rocket-carriages could spray a large area with explosives and sharpnel. The rockets hissed and shrieked through the air, drowning out the battle-cries of the fanatics. The cries of rage turned into fear as the rockets caused them even more disarray.

Simultaneously, a battery of cannons perched behind the wedge of Gray Legionnaires opened up. A screaming volley of projected slammed into the rear echelons of the Pontiff's army, disorienting their own artillerists. Some of the cannons managed to get rounds off, but fire was disorganized and hectic. The retreating mob of rabble made coordinating another volley impossible.

Jord fired another round from his volley pistol, signaling the third phase of the battle. Either flank of the wedge began to advance in a pre-drilled formation. They moved with a professionalism unseen in any other troops. They moved in unison, with either flank advancing at the same rate at the same instant. The wedge began to flank and encircle the remnants of the panicked rabble. They opened fire at the same instant, sending lethal volleys to cut down the panicked survivors. A few tried making desperate charges at the encircling force, only to be run through by bayonets or clubbed to death with musket stocks. Jord almost winced from watching the carnage. He did not enjoy watcing the Pontiff's deluded fools die in such horrid ways, but knew the alternative was worse.

After what seemed like an eternity of surveying the carnage, Jord fired the final shot from his pepperbox signal-pistol. The Gray Legionnaires began to advance, killing any remaining forces foolish enough not to flee. Behind them, a recovery team emerged from the camp, killing any of the wounded enemy soldiers, and recovering the corpses of both sides. They dressed in outfits similar to Jord's, although they lacked the insignia of the Gray Legion on theirs.

They were doctors in beak-masks armed with pistols, shovels, and knives. They performed a necessary task after any battle the Republic was involved with. They harvested the dead from both sides, and prepared them for reanimation and programming. Not all were usable, but enough always able to be reanimated. Some of the corpses would be used to make laborer-zombies for the factories and forges of their cities. Others would be used as manual laborers on mines and farms. The sturdiest among them would be recycled into Gray Legionnaires, used to help defend the country. The soulless undead forces were commanded by the living, and the only thing that preserved the Republic from the Pontiff's relentless attacks. Jord let out a sigh of relief, and quit the field. When the next invasion came, they would meet their fallen comrades on the other side. Not even the dead saw the end of war.