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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 66 - 70
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:28 pm 
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Beelzebub’s Command Post, Northern Front, Phlegethon River

There was nothing left, nothing that Beelzebub could see anyway. He could see what was left of his harpy flock, the ground black with bodies where human magery had slaughtered them. A few survived, some because they were outside the area affected, others by some weird fluke that defied definition. Others were staggering around, their movements jerking and ill-coordinated. But of the foot-soldiers who had been caught under the dreadful barrage of mage-bolts, there was nothing left. The ground was bare, harrowed, even the vegetation was gone. Swallowed up by the rolling earth that had thrown Beelzebub himself from his feet and shaken him until he thought every bone in his body would break.

He cudgeled his brain, trying to get the thoughts in his head back into some sort of order. The blow had been shattering, a huge part of his army had been squeezed along the banks of the Phlegethon, most of his harpies had been concentrated over the human defenses. Just what had he got left of the 243 legions that had started this battle? Not all his legions had been in the waves that had fallen victim to the human mages, surely not all of them had died. He clawed his way to his feet, shouting for a harpy to carry his messages.

One presented himself, dirty, stained, muddy but alive. “Sire, I come from Pritograshnaris, Commander of the sixth line of your Army. He begs your forgiveness sire, but he reports that he must halt his advance while he re-organizes his force. His forty legions are in disarray my Lord.”

“Casualties?”

“Not many Sire, the human mage-fire fell short of his line. His formations were disrupted by the earthquake caused by the mage-fire, the foot soldiers could not remain standing while the ground rolled under them. Many are injured but they can still fight….” The harpy stopped, awkwardly, not knowing quite what to say next. Or, rather, not knowing how to phrase the message so that he could survive delivering it.

“What.” Beelzebub snapped the response out.

“My Lord, the soldiers, they are reluctant to advance still further. They fear the mage-fire will come back for them and they fear the magery that destroyed the harpies still lingers there.” The harpy dropped his head and waited for death.

Beelzebub reflected that it had been a long time since he had last eaten and he could use a snack. However, harpies were in short supply after that terrible mage-blast. It was an unfamiliar feel for a Lord who had built his forces around his harpy-flock. He needed this one alive. Snacks could wait. Anyway, his foot-soldiers were right, the human magery was lingering, he had seen some of them flee forward to escape the mage-fire, across the river and they had died convulsing and twitching just as the harpies had done. The human defenses were still there, he adjusted his vision to long range and saw the hole torn in their lines, a hole that barely scratched its depths and one that new Iron Chariots were already moving in to fill. He knew what would come next, the chariots would charge and crush his force. It suddenly dawned on him that his 40 surviving legions were the only organized military force between the humans and Dis.

“Go to Pritograshnaris, tell him to suspend the attack. Form a defense line on the, no, behind the hills. If the humans can fight from behind hills, then so can we. Dismount the naga from their beasts and get them ready to fire on the human attack. Human magery and mage-fire have broken this attack, now we must break theirs. After you have delivered that message fly south and see Chiknathragothem. Tell him that our attack here has stalled due to magery of unprecedented power. It is now down to him to break through the human defenses and repel their army. We shall block the road to Dis. He must be the hammer and we shall be the anvil with the humans crushed between us. Now go.”

Thankful to be alive, the harpy left. Beelzebub stared after him, then concentrated on the area in front of his position, where the first five line of his army had once been. Incredibly, survivors were moving down there, pulling themselves out of the very earth itself. They were picking themselves up, retreating, staggering would be a better word, back to where his new defense line was forming. His decision to end the attack was the right one, but even if he hadn’t made it, what was left of his army would have made it for him. For the first time in his long life Beelzebub knew the full meaning of defeat. It didn’t mean that the benefits of fighting on did not match the costs, it meant that an army could no longer fight. In his heart, Beelzebub knew that this war was lost, that it had been lost before it had even started.

“Sire.” A Greater Herald was landing. Beelzebub was shocked, the creature was gray and visibly shaking. “Sire, something terrible had happened.”

Satan's Palace, City of Dis, Fifth Ring, Hell

The four B-1s had already made three runs over the target area, assembling their radar picture and ensuring the primary drop point had been properly identified. Their fourth run was the real thing. At almost the same instant, the four B-1Bs released the MOPs. The four massive bombs began accelerating at 0.8 Gs and quickly turned nose-down, presenting a small, hardened cross-section to the granite they were about to strike. As they fell, the radar in the nose of each B-1B tracked the fall and the approximate trajectory, and automatically radioed small corrections to each corresponding bomb, causing the fins to slightly turn, adjusting its course. In just under forty-seven seconds, the four bombs had all covered the five-and-a-half mile drop, and at precisely the same time they struck the bronze roof of Satan's palace in a square twenty meters across.

As it happened, an unlucky orc was standing directly beneath one of the bombs, which was now hurtling down at more than 1,250 miles per hour; he was crushed into a paste before he realized what had hit him, and his remains were carried down in front of the bomb as it crashed through the floor into the basement, and then through the basement floor into the rock foundation of Satan's palace. Each of the four bombs traveled approximately 130 feet into the granite underneath Satan's palace before the fuses in their tails initiated. The combined 120,000 pounds of steel and high explosive detonated an instant thereafter.

Because granite is far denser than air, the speed of sound in the rock is much higher than the speed of sound in air. In fact, the speed of sound in granite is approximately 19,500 feet per second. As the bombs detonated, a shockwave formed in the explosive material and hit the surrounding rock at more than 20,000 miles per hour, driven by the gas products of the reaction. Impact from the shockwave vaporized the granite surrounding the bombs, creating a core of superheated rock vapor which followed the pressure wall as it continued at half again the speed of sound through the granite, vaporizing rock which it encountered.

The four roughly spherical shockwaves met each other in less than four thousandths of a second. If an observer could have seen the meeting in a cross-section of the granite foundation to Satan's castle, he would have seen the four spheres of superheated gas seem to merge as they encompassed each other, merging into what would appear to be a flattened pancake, centered at the center of mass of the four bombs and traveling outward at mach 1.5. Looking up, he would see Satan's castle -- and he would focus on the single wavefront traveling upward, about to reach the surface.

The rock holding back the volume of gas melted under the onslaught of the shockwave, draining energy from it and slowing it until it slipped under the shockwave threshold and became a particularly large and destructive pressure pulse, traveling at just under the speed of sound. Just under six thousandths of a second after the bombs first initiated, the pulse from the blast reached the surface. When it did, several things happened at once. Where it touched the foundation rocks, the stone out of which Satan had built his palace transmitted the pulse upward, buckling and crushing the huge building blocks where they stood. Where it touched nothing but air, the spalling effect threw huge chunks of rock into the air, jarring from the spur and turning them into missiles that arced upward and outward to descend in a ghoulish hail onto Dis.

As the pressure pulse reached the edge of the spur, the energy had nowhere to go. If the spur had been made of some extremely ductile metal, it would have sprung out and then back, reflecting the pressure wave back into the interior and causing it to ring like some gigantic, unimaginably deep bass gong. As it stands, granite is nowhere near as flexible; therefore, the pressure wave fragmented the surface of the spur into house-sized boulders and threw them out into the surrounding caldera like pebbles.

Meanwhile, at the top of the spur, the pressure pulse traveled up through Satan's palace until it reached the roof, which popped off like an immense champagne cork, jumping several feet before it started to fall back down into the interior as the support columns buckled. Seven thousandths of a second after the detonation of the four MOPs, Satan's sprawling, magnificent fortress, built over a period of scores of millennia, began to crumble, its hard granite rock left with no more structural integrity than a sand castle facing an incoming tide.

Out on the long causeway that lead along the spur from the main circle of Dis to the promontory of Satan’s palace, Belial lay stunned by the bombs that had demolished the work of millennia. The rolling, heaving shockwaves had thrown him off his feet and tossed him around on the ground as if he was of no more account than a kidling. Once, in the great feasts at Tartarus, one of his minions had said that nobody could call themselves drunk unless they couldn’t lie on the floor without holding on. Now, Belial knew what that meant, he’d tried to hold on to the ground under him but he had failed and it had evaded his grasp at every turn. He was dazed, half-blinded by the great cloud of dust that was enveloping the whole area. Beneath his taloned feet, the ground was still shaking as the after-shocks reverberated in the structure or the rocks thrown high in the sky made their way back down. He tried to stand but the ground was too unstable, too riven by the blasts to allow him to do that. Instead he crawled, trying to find some cover from the rain of fragments that descended around him. In one corner of his mind, he realized that this was the human response to his attacks on Sheffield and Dee-Troyt. Abigor had said that when the humans fought, they went for the top first, decapitated their enemy and cut away his ability command. The humans had done as Abigor had warned, they had gone straight for the top. Then, another part of his brain told him that this was an insight he had better keep to himself. Speaking of it would mean a hideous death.

He tried to get to his feet again, this time making it as the rolling aftershocks faded away. The causeway in front of him was crumbling, even as he watched, another section broke away and fell into.. what? He needed to see, to assess what damage had been done. It had to be huge, incomprehensible. Belial was beginning to know his enemy and when humans wrought destruction on their enemies, they tended to go for the huge and incomprehensible.

Slowly, carefully he made his way along the causeway, to where the crumbling lip marked the edge of the crater where the bombs, oh Belial knew the right words now, a bomb dropped by aircraft, not a magebolt from a sky-chariot, had landed. Back in Tartarus, a few humans had turned their coats and told what they knew of human destructive powers. In some cases, they knew just the names, in others a bit about how the weapons worked. But this? None of them had mentioned this.

Nearer to the rim, the sentries that had guarded the entrance to Satan’s palace were dead, blood trickling from their noses and mouths. Other than that there was no reason why they should be dead, there were no obvious wounds on their bodies. Had the bomb been poison? And if it was, why had Belial himself survived. There was much here to think upon and for a brief moment Belial wished that Euryale was with him. The gorgon would see a pattern in this, somehow.

Then, Belial looked down and realized the full scale of the shattering blow the human aircraft had delivered. The whole of the promontory that had served as a base for Satan’s palace was crumbling, subsiding into the caldera below. He watched it falling, the ground slowly shifting downwards as it settled, spreading sideways as the weight of rocks above compressed those underneath. Somehow, without thinking it through, Belial knew that the settling would continue for days. There was no hope for those under the ruins, they were either being choked by the dust or crushed by the constantly-settling rock. With another flash of insight, Belial realized that the demon’s superb resistance to wounds and infection was going to be a terrible curse here, death was inevitable but the process of having life crushed out of them was going to take much longer.

Of Satan’s palace there was no sign. Then he looked closer, and realized he was wrong. There were signs of it in the settling debris below. Sheets of bronze from the roof, shattered pieces of statuary, blocks of dressed and polished stone. That was all. Satan’s palace had taken millennia to build and work on it had never really finished. Always there had been extra stones to add, extra rooms, crueler and deeper dungeons. Well, it was all over now, the palace had been destroyed and its monstrous occupant with it. Belial felt like screaming with despair, all that work, all that planning and scheming, the stunning success of Sheffield, the lesser success of Dee-Troyt, all had been aimed at restoring him to Satan’s favor. Now, Satan was dead, or dying of slow suffocation in the ruins below. It had all been for nothing. Standing on the crater rim, looking down at the devastation, Belial wept with despair.

Free Hell, Banks of the Styx, Fifth Circle of Hell

The explosions had echoed and re-echoed around the great caldera of hell, stunning the demons and suffering humans alike. Lieutenant (deceased) Jade Kim saw the shining bronze palace on its rock high above and far away, start to crumble. In painfully slow motion, the whole great structure collapsed, the very rock it was based on falling into the caldera underneath. Kim realized that at least some of the debris was landing on humans, killing them (again) before they could be liberated. A sacrifice, but one merited by the majesty of the sight that was unfolding above her. ‘Shock and Awe’ she thought to herself, an overused and much-discredited phrase but one that was curiously appropriate to the sight.

“Way to go fly-boys.” Her voice seemed to blend in with the rumble of the collapsing rock. “That’s the Air Farce, go straight for the top with the biggest bombs they can carry. B-2s I guess, or B-1s.”

“You’re saying things we don’t understand again.” Titus Pullo couldn’t restrain himself from the half-joke, even in the face of the incredible sight before them.

“Sorry, Titus. We have big aircraft, bombers, to carry very large bombs. I guess the B-52s are being used elsewhere and the other types we have are B-1s and B-2s. They must have used bombs that penetrate deep into rock and ruptured the very foundations of that place. There’s nobody left alive in there, that’s for certain.”

“Good, very good.” Lucius Vorenus was looking at the subsiding ruins with quiet satisfaction. “Then he’s dead.”

Kim was about to respond when she heard another sound, the sky-tearing noise of jet fighters moving fast. The six aircraft erupted out of the dusty sky, arching over Free Hell and orbiting around. They were loaded for air-to-air, she could see the batteries of missiles hanging under their wings.

“British, Typhoons.” Then there was another wound, one that she found achingly familiar, the rhythmic whoop-whoop noise of helicopter rotors. She’d never realized how much she had missed that noise before. They were helicopters all right, big ones. Single rotor amidships, that meant either Marine CH-53s, Russian Mi-171s or British Merlins. Some were carrying slung loads, others were clean and one of them was coming straight in. She saw it touch down only a few dozen yards from her and figures started to pour out. Camouflaged figures wearing red berets. British paratroopers. One of the figures detached from the rest and came over to her.

Lieutenant Jade Kim?” There was a heavy accent on her rank and she guessed what was coming next.

“Present Sir.”

“I’m Colonel Andy Jackson, commanding officer Two-Para. My compliments ma’am, you’ve done a splendid job here with vanishingly few resources. What you’ve created here is something of a military miracle. But, as I’m sure you must realize, this is getting to be a situation that requires a lot more force. I’ve brought my battalion in with men and we can set up quickly. As senior officer here, I’ll be taking over command. Could you bring me up to date on your defenses please? I understand there’s some nausea coming this way.”

“Certainly Sir, I’ve got our maps at hand I’ll…..”

“Welcome to Hell Colonel.” Jackson looked surprised, a man had just arrived, one with a vaguely familiar face. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gaius Julius Caesar. You say you are a Colonel? That makes you the commander of a cohort?”

“Err, I think so.” Jackson thought quickly, his 700 men were about a cohort.

“But not the First Cohort though.” Caesar’s lips twitched slightly. “I am First Consul and commander of two legions in this area. That makes me a General I think. And Jade King is the Second Consul of the forces in Free Hell, which includes one of my Legions. So, that makes me at least, the ranking officer here. And in any case, I represent the civil authority in this area. So, command authority falls to me I believe.”

“But you have no idea of what modern forces are capable of.” Jackson was caught completely off guard.

“I have some idea, Second Consul Kim is a good teacher. But, you are right so I must ask that you remain in your position, commanding your Para. Perhaps we can get together and work out how best we can deploy your men.”

“Sir, with all due respect, I must insist…”

“That’s very good then, After all, the principles of strategy doesn’t change much although weapons have obviously done so. Have you read my book on Strategic Principles?”

“It’s been lost I’m afraid.” Kim was trying to stop laughing. The sight of the British officer trying to think of reasons why this shouldn’t be happening was hilarious.

“Not any more. With nothing else to do for 2,000 years, I’ve re-written all my books from memory. By the way Jade, your translation of the Civil War is very incomplete, allow me to give you a full copy. I’ve signed it for you. Anyway, Colonel Jackson, what forces did you bring with you.”

“Err, my battalion, a battery of 105mm field guns, Land-Rovers with machine guns and grenade launchers. Lot of grenade machine guns. And we have a forward air observer group. We can pull in a lot of air power if we need it.” Jackson shook his head, he’d been outmaneuvered and he know it. But then, it was no shame to be embarrassed by losing to Gaius Julius Caesar. Now he’d lost, the next priority was to do the best job humanly possible for his new commander. Honor demanded no less.

Beside him, Jade Kim felt a mixture of sadness and relief. Her little state had suddenly become a Roman province but at least she was out of the hot seat at last. Away from the dreadful nagging fear that her next move would be the mistake that brought everything crashing down around her ears.

_________________
There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:29 pm 
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Chiknathragothem’s Command Post, Southern Front, Phlegethon River

The harpy landed, its wings shaking with exhaustion. “Sire, I bring much terrible news.”

“Speak.” Chiknathragothem didn’t have time to worry about the usual genuflections.

“My Lord, the humans have unleashed magery of unimaginable power. Beelzebub’s Army is stalled, its casualties are beyond counting. He has forced a crossing of the Phlegethon but is unable to make headway into the human defenses. The human mages breathed death over his forces, their spells robbing his harpies of the breath from their bodies, of the very air from their lungs. His harpies died as one, nothing like it has every been seen before.”

“That could well describe our whole war with these humans.” Chiknathragothem was impatient, he had better things to do than listen to a litany of disaster, even if opportunities lay in them. “Tell me something I have not heard before.”

The harpy gulped but he had been tasked to deliver a message and deliver it he would. “The humans also delivered a huge number of mage-bolts, so many that they blended together into one huge cloud of death that drank Beelzebub’s army. Together, barely one demon in four survives of his force. He has abandoned his attack and is pulling back in defense to block the road to Dis. He charges you with penetrating the human defenses and crushing them against that defense.”

“Is that all.” Chiknathragothem’s voice clearly indicated that he was contemplating a quick meal.

“No Sire, the worst is still to come. The humans hit the city of Dis itself. They have destroyed His Infernal Majesty’s palace, crumbled in and the rock it stood on so that only a pile of sand and ruins remains.”

“His Majesty…” Chiknathragothem had gone gray with shock. “Did he survive?”

“Nobody knows Sire. If he was in his palace then he did not. More than forty Grand Dukes and Dukes are known to be dead, and the palace staff are all gone. The dead number in their thousands. And, My Lord Beelzebub says, if Yahweh gets to hear of this catastrophe, and he will, then there will be nothing to keep him out of Hell itself.”

Shocked to his core, Chiknathragothem stared into the distance, trying to imagine the full consequences of what had just happened. If Satan was dead, then the great bulwark against Yahweh absorbing Hell into his own domain had gone. There was more to it than that, the human life-energy that all demons gathered and paid as tribute to Satan was suddenly without purpose. Satan had used it to boost his faithful servants over the barrier that existed between this level and the next. That was, after all, what the great pit of Hell was all about. The demons served Satan and in exchange he used the life-energy he had gathered to save them for eternity in the next dimension. All of this would be lost if Yahweh was allowed to make his way in and seize Hell for his own. The celestial abode that had been split apart so many, many millennia ago, would be reunited once more.

Unless, Chiknathragothem suddenly realized, another took over the role of leader, seized power and used the system Satan had devised to guarantee his own survival. In a flash of inspiration, he suddenly realized why Beelzebub was abandoning this fight, he wasn’t blocking the humans from Dis, he was advancing along that road himself, to seize power and take Satan’s throne. He, Chiknathragothem, was being left as the rear-guard to distract the humans from pursuing Beelzebub. He was a sacrifice to Beelzebub’s ambition.

For a wild moment, Chiknathragothem thought of pulling back himself, of setting out for Dis in an attempt to beat Beelzebub to the punch. Reality quickly intruded itself and squashed that idea. Beelzebub’s Army blocked the direct road and was much closer to Dis than Chiknathragothem’s. Beelzebub had the direct route, Chiknathragothem would have to go around him. There was no way, no way at all, that Beelzebub could be beaten to Dis. Then, another thought entered Chiknathragothem’s mind. He had battered his way through most of the human defenses, the end of the great zone of little fortresses that could do so much damage was in sight. One more push, one more effort and he would be through. Then, the human army would collapse. Beelzebub might enter Dis first, but it would be at the head of a defeated army, a thin shadow of the great force that he had once commanded. On the other hand, once this battle was one, he, Chiknathragothem, could also enter Dis but at the head of a victorious army, one that had defeated the humans who had destroyed Abigor and so badly crippled Beelzebub. The inhabitants of Hell were practical, they would back a winner over a loser any time.

So, he had to win and had to win fast. That made his decision obvious. He would have to group his remaining forces here, at the point where victory was on the point of being won. The remaining naga, the remnants of Belial’s wyverns, all in a concentrated blow. Overhead, Chiknathragothem heard the wailing sound of the human sky-chariots as they tore into his dwindling flock of harpies. His army was mauled, badly mauled, but nothing like the scale of destruction that had been visited on Beelzebub. The white mage-fire had been a shock, more for the horror of its effects than its real damage, but that was all. And there were fewer sky-chariots than there had been. His advancing foot-soldiers had found the wreckage of two, brought down by the wyverns with their great spiked tails, but it seemed as if the humans were running out of them. Everything suggested that this battle was at the point of balance. His one more push would win it, and with it a far greater prize than was being contested here on the plains of the Phlegethon.

Command Cave, Free Hell, Banks of the Styx, Fifth Circle of Hell

“Estimated force of 35,000 baldricks, at least 30,000 foot, the rest harpies. They’re the dangerous ones, not much firepower but they can get at us and our ability to bring them down in droves is limited.” Colonel Jackson looked around at his companions. He’d had an embarrassing discussion over the radio with his commander when he’d had to admit that he’d been outmaneuvered, politically speaking of course. In retrospect, he couldn’t honestly critique his decisions. He’d had a very questionable maneuver to pull off, one that depended on a junior officer’s instinctive deference to an officer of much higher rank. He’d gone in hard, trying to bulldoze her out of the way and accept his command before she had time to think the situation through. It had worked too, only how could he have known he would run into Gaius Julius Caesar? Some historians had questioned Caesar’s skill as a politician, well, he had been on the receiving end of that expertise and could now testify that the reality of the man lived up to his reputation.

The infuriating thing was that he, Jackson, had been right and what he was seeing proved it. The young American Lieutenant had done well, that was certain enough, but she’d done it through luck, guts, the inability of the baldricks to accept that humans could fight and, most of all, her serene ignorance of the fact that what she was attempting was impossible. Her whole operation was running on borrowed time, if this crisis hadn’t arrived, something else would have done. Time to rub that in a little.

“So, how many troops do you have Lieutenant?”

“Armed with our weapons? Around thirty. Split equally between the two flanks. About sixty more with captured baldrick equipment, some reinforcing the positions on either flank, the rest string out along the river.” Jackson and Caesar exchanged glances, the Lieutenant was a pilot, not a ground-pounder and her dispositions had made that fact clear. They were an invitation to disaster. “I know, I know, but we’ve got some things running for us. The whole area on these flanks is a maze of minefields and demolition charges. Ever since we blew up Asmodeus, we’ve got the baldricks too scared to put their feet on the ground. Just often enough, when one of them does so, it kills them. The river is wide open, I know it, but we can’t be strong everywhere. He who tries to defend everything….”

“Defends nothing. Quite right Jade.” Caesar looked at the map, probably the first accurate one that had ever been drawn in Hell. “Colonel, you’re the expert, I’m just the representative of the free human population down here, what do you recommend?”

Jackson caught the fleeting smirk on Kim’s face and guessed that Caesar had been given a quick introductory lesson on the concept of civilian control of the military. And was now using it to his advantage. Oh, it was to his own advantage, Jackson knew that, Gaius Julius Caesar was up to something. That insight came from the simple appreciation that Gaius Julius Caesar was always up to something, the only real question was, what? Jackson was highly doubtful that the man’s ambitions were restricted to a few square kilometers of mud on the banks of the Styx. Still, that matter could wait until later. As could the command issues that this whole little skirmish had highlighted. He had no doubt they were being discussed at a much higher level than his.

“We must assume the force moving along the river is our first priority. I’ll string my battalion out along that front, its thin coverage but with down here with modern weapons, we can hold much longer fronts than in normal wars. I’ll have to depend on your people to hold our flanks Kim. But frankly, if the baldricks hit us with a coordinated attack, both flanks and the river, we’re gone. There is no possibility of us stopping an attack like that.”

Caesar got up and stared across at the great cloud of dust that hung over the site of Satan’s palace. “Well, we’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen, won’t we?”

Palace of Deumos, City of Dis, Hell

Deumos stood on her balcony, looking at the same great cloud of dust. For weeks she had been struggling with the problem of what to do and where to cast her allegiance. At first, she had been swayed by her vassal Lugasharmanaska’s opinion that humans could not lose. She had seen them invade Hell, seen their columns first make the Martial Plain of Dysprosium untenable to the demons and then bring it under their sway. Then they had started to build up their defense along the Phlegethon and Deumos had been on the verge of casting her lot irrevocably in with them. Then, had come news of Belial’s success at Sheffield and she had hastily reconsidered, to make a firm decision might yet be premature. Dee-Troyt had confirmed that, or so she had thought.

Now the humans had struck at the very heart of Hell, they had utterly destroyed Satan’s palace. And, presumably, Satan himself. That meant the great ruling force that dominated Hell had gone. As soon as Yahweh found out about that, he would be on the move, trying to reclaim the lands that had been torn from him at the end of the Great Celestial War. Deumos didn’t have to have explained to her what that would mean for her and her kind. Succubi were despised in Hell but reviled in heaven. Yahweh’s return meant death for her and her vassals. Hell had to have a new leader, and quickly.

That led to the obvious question, who. Like any baldrick, Deumos had a simple answer to that, her. The question was, how. Once again, the simple fact that Succubi were despised in Hell stood in her way. To make her own power hold, she had to have powerful allies. Which Grand Duke would be willing to ally with her. Despised or not, her Succubi were powerful allies who could offer much intelligence and influence to the right duke. But who? Deumos realized she didn’t even know which Dukes were still alive.

Then, that thought made her kick herself. She had missed the obvious. The Dukes were not the most powerful forces in hell any more. Humans were. The destruction of Satan’s palace proved that. She went to the couch in the corner of her room and sat down, her mind already roving across the gray expanse that marked some sort of dimension she could not describe or explain. There were bright lights in that expanse, the minds of her Succubi. Without being able to explain why, she knew which light belonged to who. She was looking for one light in particular, one that would be far removed from the rest.

Luga, child are you there? Deumos’s mind had the sickly-sweet sound of an adult cooing to a child

Yes, my liege. How may I serve you.

Deumos was momentarily irritated, she expected a lot more groveling than that. Obviously too long an association with humans was having a bad effect on her. Still, punishing her for that could wait. Child, what is the situation on Earth? Are the humans in despair at the loss of their cities?

No, my Liege. Not in despair. Furiously angry would be the best description. There have been riots in the streets here, people demanding that the destruction of Sheffield and Detroit be avenged by the ‘nuking’ of all hell. I do not understand what they meant by nuking but it does not sound friendly. You must have seen the action the humans have taken in response.

There were riots caused by our action? The humans massacred their own then.

No, my liege. The police and Volunteers restored order and they arrested those who caused acts of violence but the rest were allowed to demonstrate. It is their way. It was helped by the news that the volcano over Sheffield has finally stopped and the Detroit attack is slackening quickly. Otherwise, the demands for a nuking might not have been so easy to ignore.

[i]Luga, child, this war must end before even more die. I would wish to speak with the leaders of the humans. Perhaps together we can find a solution to this horror.


Lugasharmanaska’s mind-voice betrayed her suspicion. Another thing for which Deumos decided that she would have to pay later. My Liege, I can arrange such a meeting but I must counsel caution. The humans are in an uncompromising mood and will not listen to much in the way of appeasement. The leaders here speak of unconditional surrender when they think of the future of Hell. They will not settle for less than that. If you wish to have influence with them, then you must offer them a way to achieve that.

The impertinence of the comment ground further at Deumos’s nerves. How dare this minor vassal give her such advice? She would, Deumos decided, spend many, many years screaming in agony for such impudence. If she liked humans so much, perhaps tossing her into a boiling lava pit with them might be suitable. Your wise advice comforts me child. I will think on this. But arrange for me to meet the leaders with whom you deal and I will see what agreements we can make.[i]

Deumos closed the contact and relaxed. Now, how could she bring enough Dukes into her orbit to make her an ally the humans would value?

[i]Conference Room, White House Washington DC.


“Mister President, the supplemental funding is through. I just hope we can survive the peace when the war ends.”

“That may be a long time. What’s the progress in production.”

“It’s picking up, but we’re still expending munitions a lot faster than we can make them. We’re running low, the projections are that we’ll bottom out before we are completely expended but it’s going to be close. It’s lucky the Russians are carrying the load in the latest battle and that they can use a lot of Chinese stuff. Otherwise we would be really hurting right now.

“Army’s doing OK, we’ve recommissioned most of the Abrams and Bradleys we had in storage and we’re working on the M113s right now. Light note Sir, we had some idiot called Sparks turning up and demanding we name the M113 the Gavin and build our forces around them. Anyway, we drafted him and sent him to Alaska. Apparently there’s a shortage of latrines up there and he’d digging the new ones. Anyway, as fast as we get the vehicles, we’re building up new units around them. The veterans from the battles against Abigor are worth their weight in gold as cadre for the new divisions.

“Air Force, well, we’re desperately short of heavy bombers and it’ll be months before we get more. Northrop are working on a simplified B-2, they’re stripping out all the stealth stuff and that cuts cost and production time drastically. Boeing are doing the same with the B-1, they’re using the B-1A as a base, not the dash 1B. Northrop say they’ll have a prototype B-2B up by the end of the year, Boeing a B-1C at the same time.

“F-22 and F-15E production is ramping up fast, F-16 more slowly. F-18s are doing pretty well and the first A-45s are coming off the lines. They’ll be going to the Navy for the carriers. The navy’s rebuilding some of its discarded ships, mostly Spru-Cans and Fig-sevens. Gas turbine ships we can bring back, the steam turbine ones are gone. It’ll be years before the Navy gets a lot of new construction though, we just don’t have the shipbuilding base we used to.”

“Any other problems we have to deal with John?”

“One big one Sir. Command. We’ve done pretty well so far but the command of the forces deployed is a mess. It’s just been thrown together as the forces arrived and the situation had been moving faster than we can get things tidied up. We’ve only got away with it this long because the guys at the top back there are professionals and are making it work. But, we had a minor fracas with the British yesterday.”

“Not another friendly fire incident?”

“No, although we’ve had all too many of those. Our lodgment in Hell is about to come under attack and the British sent reinforcements. Their commander wanted operational control, which was quite reasonable of course, but there were some disagreements on that and a local deceased human took over. One Gaius Julius Caesar.”

“I’ve heard of him.” Bush’s voice was reflective.

I should hope so thought Secretary Warner. “Anyway, its all sorted out and it never really amounted to much but it’s a warning. We’ve got to get a permanent, proper, flexible and fast-reacting command structure sorted out. Otherwise, one day we’re going to have a real problem that’ll get people killed. A lot of them.

“Two final things. One is that the kiddies on Kos are claiming you and Halliburton conspired to get this war started so you could make money on the share prices.”

“Good idea, I wish we’d thought of it.”

“Quite Sir. The other is our contact with the Succubae in Hell has said that Deumos, the Succubae Leader has asked for a meeting, she wants to come over to our side.”

“Aren’t we grooming Abigor as our ruler down there?”

“We are Sir, but the faster we can bring about the collapse of hell the better. We’ve still got Heaven to deal with, they’re quiet at the moment but how long they’ll stay that way is another matter. If this Deumos creature comes over to us, it might split hell up and bring them down. That’s why we whacked Satan after all.”

“Any word on that?”

“No, Mister President. Pictures show the whole palace and its foundation rock are gone, blasted to dust. But we still have no confirmation that he was in there. Abigor says he spends nearly all his time in that Palace so its pretty good odds we got him.”

“Hope so. Anyway, thank you John. Condi, do you have any thoughts on this command issue?”

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There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:30 pm 
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Headquarters, 302nd Motor Rifle Division, Left Flank, Phlegethon River Front, Hell

“Lieutenant Edovin, Georgii Aleksandrovich reporting for duty Tovarish Colonel.”

Colonel Aleksandr Klavdievich Parfenov looked up at the young Lieutenant standing before his desk. Reinforcements were always needed but this was an inconvenient time to say the least of it. The baldricks had ground their way through his division, at frightful cost, certainly but they had ground their way through. One of his regiments had been virtually destroyed, the other two had been badly mauled but they had done their duty. The baldricks had been pinned down by their defense, allowed to entrap themselves on the maze of strongpoints, minefields and barbed wire. The harpies had exacted their toll and the wyverns had been a bad surprise certainly. The nagas strapped to the backs of rhinolobsters had also taken their toll. The real cost to the baldricks was that their unit structure had been destroyed by the defenses, where once they had been cleanly divided into their legions, cohorts and maniples, now they were an amorphous mass of mixed units. What that mass didn’t know was that ahead of them, sitting quietly behind a ridgeline, were more that two divisions of tanks including his own tank regiment. What he didn’t need was another green Lieutenant.

“Transfer papers.” Parfenov stretched out his hand.

“I don’t have any Tovarish Colonel. But I am already assigned to your division.”

That triggered something in Parfenov’s memory. He dug through the status reports on his desk, trying to find the one he needed. As was always the case, it was on the bottom of the pile. As he had thought, the name was there on the casualty roster. “Edovin, Georgii Aleksandrovich, you are dead.”

“Yes Tovarish Colonel. But I am reporting for duty still.”

That thought Parfenov [/i]represents dedication to duty even by Russian standards.[/i] This was something he had to find out more about. He would indulge himself, he had the time to listen before the tanks went in.

“Tovarish Lieutenant. Tell me what happened.”

“It was harpies Tovarish Colonel. They set the engine compartment of my Shilka on fire and we had to bail out. We all got out of the ZSU all right, but the harpies got us as we were in the open. The BMPs we were covering tried to help us with their machine guns but there were too many of the harpies and they tore us apart. The next thing I remember was sailing through the air and landing in a river of molten lava. The pain was terrible, I was blinded and deafened, all I could think of was to get out somehow. I tried to crawl, or swim, a mixture of both really, to where I remembered the shore was. I got there and got out of the lava and started to crawl away. My hearing came back first, I heard a crackle of gunfire, then my sight slowly came back.

“There were Marines there Tovarish Colonel, American Marines. They had shot down a group of six baldricks, the bodies were still on the shore, and they were helping the people escaping from the lava. One of them came to me and asked me who I was. I understood every word he said, even though he spoke in English. I identified myself and told him I had been killed in the fighting along the Phlegethon. He asked my unit, then called on the radio to report finding me. Soon a portal was opened that took me to somewhere in America and then another brought me back to the great American base at the Hellmouth. From there, one of the Americans gave me a lift in a Humvee so here I am. Reporting for duty, Tovarish Colonel.”

Parfenov shook his head. It was quite a story. It also put a quite different complexion on this war, if they could get their casualties back this way, it would solve many problems. Create a few as well but that was for others to think about. “Were other of our brothers there?”

“I think so Tovarish Colonel. The baldricks just stack people into their pits and swamps as they are received. So those who die together tend to stay together. I looked for my crew but did not find them before I was taken out. But the Marines are guarding the whole stretch of that lava river, if they can get out the lava, they will return.”

“Good, Bratischka, very good. I have an assignment for you. There is an American anti-harpy unit not far away, a trials unit. They need a Russian officer as liaison, since you are dead and can thus understand Americans, I will assign you to them. Stay with them, help them as best you can and remember to report anything interesting you learn.

Site of Satan’s Palace, City of Dis

Belial did not know how long he had been standing there, looking down at the settling ruins of Satan’s palace. Time had a different meaning in a hell where eternity was a real, present concept. It might have been a few seconds, perhaps longer. All he knew was that tears of rage and frustration were pouring down his cheeks at the sight. Then, slowly, he became aware of a growing crowd crossing the broken stones of the causeway and staring also at the ruins. That jerked him back into the present.

“You, all of you, get down there, start digging. There may be survivors down there, waiting for us to free them. Get to work.”

“Why?” One voice echoed from the crowd. “Leave us alone,” was another. “He’s dead at last,” was a third. Belial looked at the mutinous crowd of demons and orcs and grabbed a trident from one of the dead guards. It was one of his best, he noted, a definitely premium product as befitted Satan’s personal guard. As he charged it, he swung his eyes over the crowd.

“You don’t rule an……” The orc had spoken unwisely, while Belial was looking straight at him. The trident flashed and the lightning bolt charred him instantly, his body collapsing on the stone. Next to him, two others were burned by the discharge and also fell, wailing with the pain.

“Any more arguments?” Belial looked around grimly. The killing had made him feel a lot better. There was a rumble of discontent but the outright mutiny had simmered down. For the moment. “Then get down there and start digging.”

The crowd edged over the rim and started to make their way down the wall of the crater to where the stone jumble started. Belial stood on the rim and watched, with more of the demons from the city joining him as word spread and curiosity brought out bystanders. Belial spread them along the crater rim so that the orcs working down below could be watched. The first down there had picked up bits of shattered rock and looked around for places to put them. Eventually, they set up a chain, carrying the rocks out of the crater and to the edge of the causeway where they could be dropped into the caldera far below. It took a long time but slowly a dent was made in the pile of wreckage that had once been Satan’s palace. It exposed the first victim, a crushed figure, lifeless.

Belial recognized her, it was Naphula. He recognized her griffin-like wings and the lion-like head. Once she had been a powerful Great Duke of Hell who had commanded thirty-six legions of demons. Belial had liked her, she had shared his taste for mechanical things and the unusual. Once he had even sought an alliance with her but his position as a virtual outcast, only just barely tolerated at court had precluded that. Her pride would not tolerate an alliance with as lowly a lord as he. Now, she was dead and her crushed body looked small and useless. “Take her body out to the causeway and place it up there. Do the same with the rest of the bodies you find. And dig faster. We may find our master awaiting our rescue at any moment.”

F-105D “Frankenwhoosh” 273rd Fighter Group, Over the Sixth Ring of Hell

The fact that any F-105s had survived at all wasn’t so unusual, but the sheer number of them had been remarkable indeed. The search through the museums had found no less than 103 F-105s of assorted marks, in conditions varying from the derelict to the pristine. Some had even had their engines and cannon still installed and three had been in immediately flyable condition. Over the last three months, 15 more had joined the 273rd making up one of its squadrons. They were all a blend of the most intact airframes with parts taken from the airframes too far gone to bring back into service, hence they all bore names starting with “Franken”. The single-engined aircraft were old and tired, all the museum salvaged aircraft were that, but they could still fly and haul bombs. They would do, they would fill the gap, until new aircraft came into service in enough numbers and the Thunderchiefs could return to their quiet life in the aircraft museums of America. Only this time, they would be sporting the red-and-gray camouflage scheme worn by the aircraft that fought in Hell.

Captain Casey “Loco” Jones angled his wings slightly and turned to follow the Styx as it meandered down below. The five other F-105s following him did the same. The aircraft were sluggish, the F-105 was stunningly fast low down but nobody had ever described it as agile. With six 750 pound bombs hanging under its belly, four more on each inner wing rack and one on each outer, a total of 12,000 pounds, the old aircraft were really hard to fly. It had been a wrench for him to be taken out of his Boeing 767 and put back into a Thud, but the old-timers who had flown the bird before were getting thin on the ground.

Down below, he could see a long black snake following the river. It was the column of baldricks he was hunting, apparently they were advancing on an area of Hell that had been liberated. Well, there were things he could do about that.

“All Frankenstein aircraft, target is below, roll out and follow me down.” Jones rolled his wings to vertical, feeling the aging spars and frames creaking in protest then pulled the stick back, hauling the nose of the Thunderchief around. Then, he leveled the wings, dropped the nose and rammed the throttle all the way forward. The F-105 responded gallantly, its engine surging with power, even through the filters built into its engine intakes.

Under his nose, the column was now stretched out before him, his flight path taking him along its length. Something that hadn’t been obvious before, there was a wall between them and the river, an old-fashioned, crenallated wall that marked the division between the fifth and sixth circles of Hell. That wouldn’t make much difference, it offered little cover and wouldn’t even get in the way of the bombing and strafing passes.

The target below was growing rapidly, this was a part of the attack that needed care. The Thud dived very fast and was too ponderous to pull out quickly. More than one F-105 pilot had been so interested in strafing his target that he’d left pulling out too late and flown right into the ground. A gentle pressure on the stick, pull the nose back and then release the bombs. Behind him, the dark green 750 pounders dropped clear, their tail fins spreading sideways as they opened up to slow the fall of the bombs. Those retarding fins and the long fuse extenders made sure that the bombs would explode above the ground, maximizing the radius covered by their fragments. The F-105s streaked over the column of baldricks, unleashing their total of nearly a hundred bombs onto the figures below, then used the energy they had built up in their dive to get clear. By the time the bombs exploded, they were already miles away and thousands of feet above the devastation their bombs had caused.

At the top of his climb, Jones rolled over again and started his second pass. The bombs had mostly hit around the head of the column so he thought it would be only fair to give the rear some attention. He put the pipper of his cannon sight on the last ranks and squeezed the trigger, haring the vicious rasp of the M-61 as it pumped its shells into the scattering mass of baldricks. Then, he lifted the nose, marching the tracers along the column, only ending when he was getting too low for comfort. Still, he had some ammunition left and a part of it was used on a harpy that staggered across is nose. Then he was away again, once more climbing for altitude.

“Frankenstein aircraft, formate on me, we’re going home to get some more goodies.” If there were any he thought quietly, the rate we’re using the stuff up, the day when we run out can’t be that far off.

The six Thunderchiefs formed up into a loose arrowhead and started back towards the Hellmouth and home. Up ahead of him, Jones saw something that he couldn’t quite identify so he angled his course to take a closer look. It was further away than he had thought, mainly because the objects were so much larger.

“Just what the blazes is that?” the voice on the radio wasn’t quite identifiable but Jones shared the sentiments. It was a huge, misshapen beast, flying in an ungainly pattern, not quite holding a true course or height. He looked harder, it had wings of course, and a tail that seemed to act as a rudder. Then he caught his breath – it had seven heads.

“It’s a hydra, a flying hydra. And its huge, those wings must be three, four hundred feet across. Uh-oh look out guys. There’s wyverns with it and we haven’t seen ones like this before.” The wyverns were far larger than any that had been reported to date and were a brilliant gold in color. Jones started to count them and as he got to twelve, they broke formation to attack his aircraft. Simultaneously, the hydra dived away and started to break for cover, it might be ungainly but it was fast.

Jones picked out one of the Wyverns, the old Thud was no dogfighter but this wasn’t the time to argue matters. Once again he firewalled the throttle and felt the surge of power from his engine. The formation of six aircraft split into three pairs, one heading up and right, one up and left, the center pair with Jones in the lead went straight up. He glanced at the speed tape-gauge, he was pulling almost 18,000 feet per minute in a climb that was close to being straight up. As his speed bled off, he timed his climb, then rolled the F-105 over and dropped the nose. The wyverns were beneath him and his chosen target was in the perfect position for a gun pass. The Thud accelerated downwards and he moved the pipper so that it was on the tail of the monster. Then his cannon rasped again and he saw the tracers thudding into its body.

It was a short burst, it had to be he’d used most of his ammunition up on the column of troops. He saw tracers flashing past his wing, his wingman was firing as well, using up what was left of his cannon ammunition on the stricken wyvern. The creature was flailing, dying, the ball that ended its tail whipping through the air. That ball was dangerous, it had already cost the humans aircraft and that had been from the much smaller wyverns seen over the Phlegethon. It didn’t matter though, the Thuds were clear and three of the wyverns were dying, shot to pieces by the 20mm gatling guns in the nose of the F-105s.

“Any sign of that hydra?”

“It’s gone Loco.”

Jones swore quietly, a modern aircraft would have an air-to-air radar that could have found the beast in the dust laden air but the F-105 was old and obsolete. Still, she’d done her best at an age when any aircraft should have expected genteel retirement. The hydra had got away but the troops on the ground hadn’t. Nor had three wyverns.

Sixth Circle of Hell.

Xisorixus pulled himself out of the ditch that he had managed to find when the human sky chariots had found him. It had been so sudden he hadn’t had time to think about what to do, the chariots had screamed out of the sky and dropped their mage-bolts all over his column. Then they’d come back and repeated the performance, spraying fireflies into his foot soldiers. A few seconds that was all it had taken. They’d gone and left this shambles behind them.

The road was torn up, the stones shattered and cast around by the mage bolts that had left craters where they had landed. Around them were torn fragments of black flesh that was all anybody would ever find of those unlucky enough to be hit. Further out from the mage-bolt craters the wounded were sprawled on the ground, wailing with pain from the injuries inflicted by the iron splinters in their bodies.

“Get up, get moving. His Infernal Majesty did you the honor of inspecting you in person. Now show yourselves worthy of that privilege.” Then Xisorixus looked up at the city of Dis towering overhead and saw the great cloud of dust that masked where Satan’s palace had once stood. Others were looking at it as well.

“He might do the inspecting but he’s not around to do the fighting is he?” The voice from his troops was unidentifiable but the murmur of agreement that swept through the ranks showed that the speaker had a lot of agreement. Xisorixus was about to challenge the speaker, whoever he was, but then he decided to let it slide.

“How many have we lost?” Instead it was time to take stock of his losses.

“About eight hundred.” The reply was from the senior ‘Baron’ who Xisorixus had appointed to lead his first Legion. A ‘Baron’ who had led nothing larger than an octurbinium before and whose aristocratic rank was unrecognized by anybody outside Xisorixus’s hastily-assembled Army.

Eight hundred out of thirty thousand. A sharp loss for an attack that had been over in seconds but one that his army could swallow. The whispered words about the fighting on Earth and now along the Phlegethon were that a human attack usually created far more havoc than this.

“Resume our march. We will overrun the rebelling humans and gain great glory. And much favor in the eyes of His Majesty. We will have succeeded where Abigor and Beelzebub have failed!”

A ragged cheer went up and Xisorixus’s Army started to move again, leaving its dead beside the road. As they did, not a few were wondering when the Sky-Chariots would return and what form of death they would bring next time.

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There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:31 pm 
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RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.
Wing Commander Martin Winters eased Vulcan B.2 XH558 down onto the air station’s long runway after taking her up for an air test. RAF Akrotiri was being used by the RAF as a staging post for aircraft bound for Iraq and onwards for operations in Hell.

The station was crowded with military aircraft and was busier than it had been at any point in its history, since the old days of the Near East Air Force anyway. In fact apart from more modern aircraft like Typhoons and Tornados it even looked like something out of the old NEAF days. Other than XH558 there were three other operational Vulcans and two Victor K.2s, a line-up of twelve Buccaneer S.2s, some of which had come all the way from South Africa, now wearing the markings of a reformed 208 Squadron, while four Phantom FGR.2s sat at the end of the row of Buccaneers, their paintwork looking a little faded, but were every bit operational. On the opposite side of the runway parked among ultra-modern Typhoons were a pair of Canberra PR.9s and a T.4. Winters expected to see the Battle of Britain flight with its Spitfires, Hurricane and other Word War Two veterans turning up an any moment. Then he reminded himself that those aircraft had been assigned to the Home Guard and were patrolling over cities in case of any more lava attacks. Of course, there was always the Shuttleworth Trust……

Ground Traffic Control was bleating as usual, they just weren’t used to having this many aircraft on the ground at once nor were they accustomed to the big bombers being around. Wing Commander Winters taxied the big bomber to the end of the row where the rest of the V-Bomber Flight was parked and shut down the four Rolls Royce Olympus 201 engines. Within seconds with the air conditioning turned off the cockpit began to get unbearably hot.

“Come on, lads, let’s get out of here before we all fry.” Winters said jocularly to his crew.

Like many of the aircrew in the flight Winters was a recalled pilot who had last flown the Vulcan in the early 1980s. The flight had the highest average age of aircrew of any unit in the Royal Air Force, and the highest average seniority, there were far more Wing Commanders and Squadron Leaders in such a relatively small unit than there normally would be. The air force was now attempting to rectify this situation by transferring some aircrew from the Nimrod and Tornado force to the V bombers. Since the RAF was hoping to buy some of the B-1Cs that the Americans were planning to put back in production the experience of flying large bomber aircraft would be valuable. Just as was happening all over the world, the museum-pieces were filling the gap until new production could replace them and allow them to return to retirement.

Winters climbed down the crew ladder, making sure he remained in the shadow of the big bat-winged bomber while he waited for the four other men to climb down. While he was doing so he heard the sound of another pair of aircraft making their approach. He did not recognise the engine sound and decided to go take a look, perhaps it was a visiting aircraft from another NATO unit.

“Bloody hell!” He remarked in astonishment as he saw the first of the pair of new aircraft flare out and release its braking parachute.

The large white aircraft’s nose wheel touched down and it began to decelerate, demonstrating the short-field capability that had been designed in from the start. As it passed XH558 Winters took in its pale, bleached national roundels and its serial number – XR220.

The Vulcan’s co-pilot, Squadron Leader David Maxwell, noticed that Winters was standing as if he was in a daze. He had not yet noticed either of the two arrivals.

“What is it, Boss…?” He said just in time to see the second aircraft, XR222, taxi past. “No…that couldn’t be! Tell me the Sun has finally gotten to me and that was a Tornado, not what I just thought it was.”

“I’m afraid that’s what you thought it was, it’s the second one in fact.” Winters replied.

“Well they kept that pretty quiet, Boss. I never heard so much as a peep that anybody was working on them.”

“Considering that they’ve got no hours on the airframe and have been cosseted for the last forty odd years it must have been fairly easy to get them flying again. Depends how extensive the internal damage was I guess, I’d heard Healey had ordered them cut up inside. Either the staff fixed them up while they were on show or the orders sort of got lost. I suppose they looted the Concorde program for engines and spares. I always heard Maggie Thatcher wanted the aircraft put back in production so some work must have been done back then as well.”

“Way I heard it, it was just the electrical wiring that was hacked up, they even cut the cabling rather than disconnecting it. But they’ve been in temperature-controlled and air-conditioned environments so the wiring may have been the only thing that needed replacing. Winters turned to the great bomber above and behind him. “Sorry, Old Girl, I’m afraid you’re no longer the star of the show.”

Winters could swear that he heard the bomber ‘harrumph’, evidently she disapproved of such show-offs as the ‘White Ghost’. On the other hand it could just be the airframe expanding and contracting as some bits of it heated up in the Sun and others cooled down.

The two new arrivals taxied to the end of the line of Buccaneers, shut down their Olympus 22R engines and opened their cockpit canopies. Winters and Maxwell recognized their aircrew as belonging to the Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit, which until recently had the number plate of 41 Squadron, though that unit had reformed as a Jaguar GR.3A squadron. Since nobody had flown an aircraft like these since Roland Beamont had test flown the first prototype it was probably quite sensible to have the most experienced pilots in the service fly them.

Behind him, Maxwell shook his head. If this looting of museums went on, there wouldn’t be an aviation collection left intact. Idly, he wondered what the Russians were recovering from Monino and whether the Chinese would let the Americans have their U-2 back. Then it struck him that this showed just how seriously humans were taking this war. They were prepared to destroy their past, their history, their background, everything that they normally held dear if by doing so they could get one more combat aircraft, one more ship, one more tank into the battle zone. They were fighting this war regardless of cost, regardless of effort. All that mattered to them was winning. Suddenly he felt quite sorry for Yahweh and Satan whose posturing had unleashed this fury upon them.

Mission Control, Detroit

“Now, this is going to present an interesting problem.”

“I thought this test shot was pretty well worked out. There’s nothing that problematical about a radio-controlled aircraft surely?”

“Not that. The test will work or it won’t. We’ll just have to wait and see.” The Targeteer gestured at the newspaper that was folded up and discarded on the desk. “That will.”

Doctor Kuroneko looked confused. “The election.”

“That? It won’t really make that much difference who wins. The Republic is stronger than a retired warhorse and a jackass combined. No, I meant the court ruling from Texas. They’ve just sentenced a sex offender called James Kevin Pope to 40 life prison terms — one for each sex assault conviction — and 20 years for each of the three sexual performance of a child convictions. They’ve made the sentences consecutive so he’s got 4,060 years. He will be eligible for parole in the year 3209.”

Doctor Kuroneko still looked confused. The problem with the targeteers was that their disinterested, inflexionless voices gave no hint as to whether they were joking or not. “I’m sorry, I still don’t follow.”

“Well, in the past, all such jail sentences were a bit absurd, after all, what were they going to do? Hold parole hearings around a two millennia old grave? But what happens now? Pope goes to jail, dies in his cell sooner or later, probably sooner, ordinary decent criminals don’t like child molesters, and goes up to the next level. Does he serve out the rest of his sentence there? Or does he get a pass since he’s dead? And if you think we had trouble over capital punishment in the past, wait until everybody starts arguing the issue now.”

“Excuse me Sir, the transport aircraft is approaching the portal now.”

“Thank you Captain. Any problems?”

“No Sir, the C-119 is behaving like a charm. A very well-behaved old lady. The museum we got it from looked after her well. It’s a pity to blow her up really.”

“Not really, the other option is to waste a modern transport and we need all the ones we can get.”

In the distance, the great waterfall of molten rock was still pouring down over the city of Detroit. Most of the city itself was hidden behind the clouds of smoke and steam that were rising from the blocked river and the burning city center. Detroit had been a horrifying experience for everybody involved, much worse than the disaster that had engulfed Sheffield. The river had been the real factor that had made everything so grim, after the lava flow had blocked it, the city had been flooded, drowning many of the trapped people before they could be rescued. New Orleans had been bad enough, Katrina had left the city so badly damaged it was doubtful if it would ever fully recover but Detroit was worse. Even with FEMA actually doing their job this time, Detroit was still far worse.

The electro-optical display showed the view from the cockpit of the remote-controlled C-119. The torrent of lava was filling the screen and the temperature readout was reaching critical levels.

“It’s time, touch her off.”

“Sorry old girl.” The Captain at the remote flight controls whispered, turned a key on the control board, then lifted a switch cover and pressed the button it concealed. Just below the sky-volcano, a brilliant flash momentarily eclipsed the orange-crimson stream.

The watchers held their breath while the blast was absorbed by the portal. The lava stream seemed to falter, spluttering as the black ellipse of the portal fluctuated in size. There was a breath pause, the darkness seeming intense without the great luminous stream.

“Do you think it…” Doctor Kuroneko could hardly bring himself to say the word ‘worked’.

“No.” The targeteer stared at the ellipse, it was reopening and a surge of lava poured through, a much greater torrent than there had been before the blast. It faded away again as the pent-up mass dropped through but only to return to its previous volume.

“I was afraid of that.” Kuroneko sounded distressed. “I think we’ll have to explode the bomb from the other side to close the portal.”

“No problem. We’ve got a for that plan in place. Several in fact.”

Site of Satan’s Palace. City of Dis, Hell

“Work faster you lazy fools. Our master may be waiting for you.” Belial screamed out the challenge. He had assumed responsibility for the rescue effort, sending out his demons to bring in every orc they could find. Now the crater was full of them, digging out the shattered stone. Some had already been killed when the stones had shifted and they had fallen into a void, only to be crushed when the stones moved again.

Belial looked down in growing frustration, there had been no survivors found yet and his hopes were fading fast. All his efforts to win his way back into Satan’s favor couldn’t be wasted, could they? Then, he was aware of a darkening, a shadow over him. He turned and looked up, afraid this may be yet another devilish human trick. But it wasn’t, with a surge of relief he recognized the great wings and the seven heads that looked down on him. Euryale had bred this creature herself, using all the skills and magics she could bring. A cross-breed of a Greater Harpy and a Hydra, a mount that had no equal anywhere else in Hell. It had been a gift for Satan, a great mount that was unique, that Satan could use to overawe any who saw him. The seven great heads stared at him and he wondered if they knew it was to his house that they owed their existence. Or if they cared. The implication of the sight dawned on him and relief surged through his body.

“Your Infernal Majesty. You live!”

Satan looked down on the figure below him. “Belial, you brought the humans here! You betrayed me to them.”

“No Sire, I was on my way here myself when the human aircraft struck. They dropped their bombs but I was just far enough away to live.”

Satan stared at him still, weighing up the scene before him. “And you started the rescue effort. How many other Lords of Hell aided you?”

“None, Your Majesty.” Because they are all dead he thought but no need to say that. “But the lesser demons you see here rallied around to aid. All they needed was direction. We gathered the orcs and started digging. We will not stop until we have an accounting.”

Satan nodded slowly and focussed his vision on Belial’s face, seeing the traces of his tears from frustration and rage. “And you wept for me Belial.” Satan’s voice was dumbfounded, disbelieving. “You wept for me and fought for my life while others scurried away to save themselves. Such bravery and loyalty deserve recognition. The realms of Asmodeus remain unawarded. From now on they shall be the realms of Belial. I give them to you, holding them of course is up to you.”

Belial looked around, he was heir to Asmodeus and faced wealth unparalleled. Then he frowned slightly, Euryale hadn’t just created the giant flying hydra, she had bred the golden wyverns, greater by far than the normal breed, as its bodyguard. She had created twelve of them but there were only nine surrounding the crater.

Satan saw him look and designed to give an explanation to his now-favored vassal. “I was meeting with my Greater Heralds for information on the battle for they can be trusted when the reports of others cannot. I was there with them when this happened. On the way back, a group of human sky-chariots, you called them aircraft? attacked us. Three of my wyverns were killed. They attacked me!” Satan’s voice went into a pitched, intense scream. “I must have revenge. How did the attacks you promised succeed.”

“Beyond our best hopes Your Majesty. Sheffield and Dee-troyt have been destroyed, one of my agents on Earth reports that the human herald Cee-En-En says that many factories have been destroyed. My promise is fulfilled Your Majesty, I await your further orders.”

“Destroy more cities. And your nest target will be?”

“Turin Your Majesty. One prisoner identified it as a great arsenal city also. And there is something strangely satisfying about the idea of pouring white-hot lava over Turin. But Sire, we will need more Naga, to open more portals.”

“Then take what you need from the other Lords.” Satan looked down at the pit where the orcs were laboring to excavate the ruins. “And when those orcs have finished digging down there, kill them all. I do not want their stories being told.”

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There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.


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Recreational Hall, Camp Hell-Alpha, Hell
“Aces and Eights with a Queen on the side. Read’em and weep.” Sergeant (deceased) Tucker McElroy reached out and scooped the pool off the table with a flourish.

Corporal Gerry Links looked miserably at the empty table and his depleted stake. “I guess you had to come up with the Dead Man’s Hand didn’t you? That a common deal down here?”

“Depends on the dealer.” McElroy leaned back and tried to make his mind up what to do with his winnings. That was the trouble with Hell, there just wasn’t that much to spend money on. No economy as yet, not for humans anyway. His reverie was interrupted by a whack on his back.

“Hey Tucker dude, Good to see you. I heard you got killed up at Hit.” Elmer Carleton was an old acquaintance of McElroy’s, now part of 1st Brigade.

“I was.” McElroy eyed him to see the effect. Living humans hadn’t quite got used to the idea of speaking with the dead yet. Not in social circumstances anyway. Carleton didn’t disappoint him, the corporal’s eyes started to bulge.

“So you’re dead, dude.” The words were interspaced with disbelief and confusion.

“Sure am. You sitting in on the game? Got a stake?”

“No, unless you want to stake me.”

“You know the rules down here Elmer. I give you a stake, you got to sign your soul over to me as security. Now, if you’ll just sign here, in blood of course….” McElroy looked at the retreating back of the Corporal with great satisfaction, then turned to Links. “Never fails. Too many Hollywood movies. Looks like the game’s over Gerry, want to go for a burger?”

“I didn’t think you dead ones ate?”

“We don’t have to but we still like food. Don’t have to sleep either but its still good to. Demons eat, don’t ask me why we don’t and they do. Leave them questions to the egg-heads. Let’s go get that burger.”

Field Trials Unit, Left Flank, Phlegethon River Front, Hell

It didn’t quite look like any vehicle Edovin had seen before. A bit like an American Bradley but it had eight roadwheels and a lower, sleeker superstructure topped with a bulky turret. For all the vehicle’s size, the gun mounted in that turret seemed remarkably small. At the back of the gun mount was a drum-like radar.

“Lieutenant Edovin, Georgii Aleksandrovich reporting for duty Tovarish Lieutenant.”

The American officer turned around and looked quickly at the Russian. “Ah, you’re our liaison officer. I’m Mickey Marston. Good to have you on board. The ole’ bus will be a bit cramped until we’ve shot off some of the ammunition but it’ll be OK afterwards. Make yourself at home. Got any kit with you? That’ll have to go inside, new rules, nothing flammable outside the armor. Too many vehicles lost to harpy-fire already.”

“Yes bratischka, my Shilka was one of them. What is this vehicle.”

The American laughed. “A bit of everything. It’s basically an M-2 Bradley, believe it or not. We had a thing called the Future Combat System, a crackpot scheme to have a new standard vehicle for the Army that would do anything. Well, the contractor had to produce something to show where the money went so they built this stretched Bradley. Fooled the Congresscritters into thinking something was happening. Then, The Message came and the war started. FCS was cancelled and the production of Abrams and Bradleys got restarted. This was shoved into a shed somewhere until we realized how dangerous the harpies were and it got dug out. Now, the Navy had just adopted a Swedish 57mm gun for a couple of its programs, they’ve been cancelled as well of course, so GD Land Systems stuck the gun in a new turret, fitted a radar stripped out of old F-18s for fire control and kludged the whole thing together. So here we are, four prototype vehicles each with a radar-controlled 57mm gun and 1,200 rounds of ammunition.

“Rate of fire?” Edovin looked at the vehicle, for a hastily-thrown together improvision it looked remarkably capable if ungainly.

“240 rounds per minute. Three round burst-limiter on the gun. Throws a six pound shell.”

“Sir, we got the mount up order.” One of the vehicle crew, presumably who had been on radio watch, yelled out the message.

“Right, Georgy, mount up, we got to go shooting.”

The American Lieutenant had been right, the vehicle was cramped inside despite its size. Ammunition everywhere, some in ready-to-use racks, the rest stowed around wherever space could be found. That was something humans were learning fast, combat vehicles needed ammunition stowage above pretty much everything else. There were information screens as well, but they were mostly turned off, the Russian Army just didn’t have the combat information systems the Americans had, but then few did. Once screen was lighted and it showed the dots that represented the airborne harpies over the remains of the attacking baldrick formation. The baldricks were perilously close to breaking through. Marston flipped some more switches and additional screens lit up. The were fuzzy for a second and then cleared, showing the array of tanks that were waiting. Over a thousand after the latest reinforcements had arrived, mostly Russian by a division of Germans, a brigade of Indian T-72s, even some Turkish M48s. The old M48s were more useful than might be suspected, their 90mm guns could kill a baldrick just as well as a 125 but the M48s had twice as much ammunition as the more modern vehicles.

“Roll.” Marston’s voice snapped out the order and the anti-harpy vehicle started forward, it’s three companions keeping alongside it, spaced out to cover the maximum amount of front. Edovin looked at one of the displays, it showed the long barrel of the 57mm gun, it was probably the electro-optical sight. Without warning he was thrown off his feet as the turret swung fast to a new bearing and the gun cracked out three rounds, so fast the bursts seemed to blend into each other. On the electro-optical screen, a harpy exploded as the rounds tore into it. Edovin had barely time to register the score when the turret lurched again and another burst cracked out.

“Sorry about the turret.” Marston yelled over the noise of the diesel and the sound of the 57mm ammunition sliding around. “Navy thing, swinging it so fast.”

That made sense for a point-defense gun. Edovin thought and wondered if somewhere surplus Russian Navy point defense guns were being mounted in a chassis for this role. If not, it would be a good idea to report the idea. He bounced off the side of the turret again, the swings of the gun and the rapid cracks of its shots were almost continuous as the experimental gun started carving the surviving harpies out of the sky. Beside them, the waves of tanks accelerated towards the baldricks ahead,

140th Guards Tank Regiment, 5th Guards Tank Division “Don” Southern Flank, Phlegethon River

This was it, the great scything blow that would send the baldricks staggering back across the river in defeat. Just as Zhukov’s tanks had once advanced through the mud to send the fascists back across the Dneiper and the Dneister rivers. Major Evgenii Yakovlevich Galkin knew his history well, one German Army had been destroyed at Stalingrad but six had been wiped out in the great Mud Campaign in those first months of 1944, and three Panzer armies had been wrecked so badly they were never worth much afterwards. Today, it would be the start of an equal destruction, one that would be known to the world in a way the great Mud Campaign had never been.

The baldricks had forced their way through the Russian defenses at last, it had taken them time and they’d been bloodied terribly in doing so but they had made it through. Now, just when they thought they could see the clear ground beyond the killing fields, this mighty wave of tanks would sweep them away. Glakin looked quickly through the remote control on his turret top machine gun, the briefing had been very clear. The flying harpies were the main threat, they could hurt armor with their fire. Kill them first. The baldricks foot soldiers were less of a threat, they could be shot and crushed just as tanks had always crushed the infantry that had dared to oppose them. The briefing was being obeyed, the sky over the baldricks was black with anti-harpy fire. Every gun that could be found was here, there were even ancient ZSU-57s, twin 57mm guns in an open turret on an old T-54 tank chassis. Their crews had courage for their turret gave them no protection if the harpies got close.

Off to the right were the Americans with their experimental anti-harpy tank. They were struggling to keep up with the fast Russian tanks and their gun was swinging wildly, with short bursts at odd intervals. At first Galkin thought the American crew were panicking but then he realized those short bursts were tearing the closest harpies out of the sky. It was speed of reaction, not panic and Galkin was suddenly impressed. Around the tanks and anti-harpy vehicles were armoured personnel carriers. This time they were not carrying infantry to screen the tanks, they were the refuge for any crew that lost their vehicle. If a crew had to bail out, the nearest APC would hasten over to pick them up before the harpies could kill them.

Speaking of harpies, Galkin saw one staggering close to his tank. His machine gun spat out a burst and the creature flopped from the sky. It had probably been dying anyway but it never hurt to make sure. Then the tank lurched slightly as it ran over the body. Never hurt to make very sure. Galkin looked at the sky again, the anti-harpy fire was slackening off to a faint shadow of its previous self, the gunners running out of targets at last. As if to confirm his thoughts, the radio crackled briefly, orders for all guns to cease firing on airborne targets and concentrate on the ground. Then the message was suddenly reinforced, friendly aircraft were coming in. Galking grinned to himself, the baldricks were about to learn the joys of being on the receiving end of close air support.

He looked again, this time at the baldricks up ahead. Mostly just a battered, exhausted mass of foot soldiers but he could see one of the great rhinolobsters with a coiled naga on its back. The lightning was flickering out from the creature as it attacked one of the vehicles racing across the plain. Then, Galkin saw the aircraft coming in. he ran through the shape in his head, straight wings, twin tail, two engines, between the wings and the tail, an American A-10. This, he thought, should be good.

It was, the A-10s nose erupted into flame and the Rhinolobster and its burden vanished under a cloud of dirt and dust thrown up by the torrents of shells. When it faded, the creatures were lying on the ground, smashed and eviscerated. The A-10 turned slightly, climbed a little then changed course to unleash a hail of rockets on to another group of baldricks off to the left. The aircraft knew exactly where to go, Galkin guessed that they were being steered in by the Americans somehow, by an airborne command aircraft perhaps? Or even those new anti-harpy vehicles?

The lines of baldricks were approaching fast and it was time for the Don Division to strike its own blows. The foot soldiers had lined up, forming ranks as the tanks had appeared, now those ranks vanished as the 125mm shells tore into them. Galking could almost sense the weariness and despair in their minds as they saw their lightning bolts bouncing off the tanks, realized that the tanks were not going to stop. The turret of his tank was filling with smoke as his gun swung from one group of baldricks to the next, firing their shots into the mass of infantry. They were close enough now so he could see individual features of the baldricks as they crumpled and died under the onslaught. He had his own commander’s gun firing, sweeping the tracer bullets across the enemy ranks, watching the baldricks fold as they were mown down. The tank’s main gun was silent, the last few rounds were being kept for emergencies and the gunner was using his co-axial machine gun in its place.

Still closer, the baldricks still there – and then they broke, broke and ran from the tanks that were already far too close for any retreat to bring safety. Galkin’s tank tore into the mass, its machine guns still firing, the driver spinning the T-80U on its tracks, grinding the baldricks underneath the vehicle as it plowed through their ranks. They were running, all around the tanks they were running, the machine gunners spraying them with fire, chasing them down and crushing them. Galking could hear the rattle as bullets bounced off his armor, the tanks were hitting each other in the wild frenzy of the slaughter but it didn’t matter. Machine gun bullets couldn’t hurt the tanks. Nor could the baldricks although they tried, breaking their tridents on the armor, trying to tear at the tanks with their hands. They fought, hopelessly, bravely, uselessly.

Off to his left, Galkin saw baldricks, a dozen or more of them in a ditch, behind a mound. Were they hiding? Or wounded and looking for a place to die? It didn’t matter, he gave his orders and the tank swung around, parallel with the ditch. Then he felt one side drop as the treads went into the ditch and he drove along it, crushing the baldricks sheltering within. Glakin heard screams, perhaps the baldricks, perhaps just the metal tracks as they ran over the suspension rollers. Then his tank levelled again and he made another turn back to his original route. The Phelgethon River lay ahead, the gains the baldrick army had fought for two days to secure and for which they had sacrificed so much had been wiped out by the tanks in less that twenty minutes.

South of the City of Dis
This time Belial had taken his wyvern low, down beneath the dusty brown overcast that was nearly ubiquitous in hell. With the human 'aircraft' still very evident, screaming and roaring somewhere over the Phlegethon river, Belial thought it best to stay inconspicuous. What he saw beneath him steadily drained away the elation from his sudden elevation. Countless demon warriors, streaming towards Dis, some still as ordered legions but many as individual squads or even disorganised crowds. The horrible wounds that marked many of the demons, the battered or missing equipment, the cries and wails both audible and telepathic, all made it clear that this was an army retreating in defeat. Belial had cast his mind out, trying to make contact with a commander to learn what manner of catastrophe had inflicted such ruin on the grand armies of hell. It was no use though, despite being leagues from the front lines his mind still rang from the impossibly powerful psychic emanations from the massed human mages. The din made it impossible to hold a coherent conversation from a thousand feet up and Belial couldn't risk stopping. 'But where are all the harpies?' he thought.

Belial soon reached the far edge of the ragged demon column and had resigned himself to remaining ignorant of the details until he next returned to Dis. As he looked up from the ground a flicker of movement caught his eye. Sure enough, at the far end of a low valley he could make out a group of tiny flapping shapes. He spurred his mount to greater effort and it surged ahead, making up the distance to the other flyers which quickly resolved themselves into six of his own wyvern riders. The beast were flying slowly; two had flanks marked with horrible gashes and burns and another had wing membranes so shredded that Belial was surprised it was still airborne. The riders didn't look much better.

Count Belial! Aaesurnarthuse's tone betrayed a strange mix of surprise, relief, fear and exhaustion. The humans... it was a slaughter. Great flocks of harpies, torn from the sky or poisoned on the ground. Fire lances and iron pellets everywhere. Ikaarithanjuur went down on our third strike, they hit him with two huge fire lances... Beelzebub's forces started to retreat... I took command and ordered a withdrawal. It sounded better than 'I ran away', but not much.

It is Grand Duke Belial now. Are there any more of you? Did any others escape? These are all that are left? Belial couldn’t keep the shock out of his mind-voice. A niggling voice told him that Euryale would be furious when she found that her prized war-wyverns had been slaughtered. Furious and heartbroken, Belial thought and was surprised to realize that the thought of her grief saddened him

Belial's wyvern reached the formation and they automatically fell into a V behind him, the wounded beasts struggling to keep up. Mere hours ago he would have had the flight leader executed for cowardice, but after the events at Satan's palace he was beginning to understand what fighting the humans must be like. This wasn't war as demons understood it. It wasn't even the war he'd imagined, a decades-long conflict between dug-in formations that could be won by disrupting the human's supply of magic weapons. This was annihilation, this was vengeance come swift and terrible to smash their strongest holdings and humble their greatest generals, this was... with rising horror Belial realized that this was exactly what the demons had done to hundreds of lower plane worlds, but with speed and efficiency the legions of hell could only dream of. If the humans could not be stopped, and after what he'd seen today that seemed like a very real danger, then the entire demon realm and every demon in it would be slaughtered.

I can't say my lord. I saw others flying away from the battle, but the sky chariots were on their tails. I fear only a handful made it.

Your two uninjured riders will fly a search pattern and round up any survivors. They are to return to Tartarus after four days at the latest. Your injured riders are to stay together and return at the best speed they can manage. Avoid the humans at all costs.
With most of his prized war wyverns destroyed, the count was in no position to write off injured troops. You will escort me and tell me everything you can of the battle. These humans must have weaknesses, and we must identify them. He nearly added 'before it's too late', but there was no point further demoralizing his troops. Quite the opposite, if this continued the demon armies would need hope that the humans could be defeated at all, and he was the only one who could give them that. The secret of Palelabor could be kept no longer.

_________________
There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.


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