Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 16

Armageddon

Unfortunately the main body of the trolls arrived before the Commonwealth's field army did. The enemy numbered in the tens of thousands. Once they had fully deployed on the plateau Dylan counted the battle standards of no less than thirty regiments or sixty-thousand trolls.

"Too many for the locals to handle with the tactics we have used up till now " Lord Sexton declared. "Chief Borden it is time to commit the fire power of your small force to the defense of that town closest to the enemy which the map tells me is named Mountain View. You will fly there as soon as you can."

"All right, but we would be more effective if we could pick off their officers. Can anyone described their insignia?"

"I can." Axel told him. "I worked as a sniper in the campaign in Amazonia."

"Finn, it is time for you and your boys to throw down on the enemy with everything you've got. Dahl and Drew, I want you to counter their arrow storms. Drew have at them with your steel spheres and edged disk. Karel, too bad the sky is overcast. That means you cannot direct a sun mirror against them which is our single most powerful weapon. Dahl might clear the sky with weather magic, but I want to husband his magic for a supreme effort at a critical moment. The same thing is true for Artor's white fire."

"All right. Maybe I cannot use a sun mirror today, but my air blades are also powerful whether in offense or in defense. One time when we were hunting reptilian raptors I surrounded our hunting party with a chest high rampart made with an air blade angled outwards. When the creatures charged us the blade turned their momentum against them as the animals cut themselves in two. I can do the same thing in this fight on a larger scale. Also don't forget that my shields of hardened air can fend off an arrow storm even more easily than a fetcher's missile shield can."

"Good points. Finn and Corwin, do your best with your lightnings. If they get close, the earth wizards will fix their front ranks in place as before to make it easy for you Finn to wade in and bash away with Mjolnir. Eborn, shoot flame and throw clinging balls of fire but save your white fire for contingencies. We likely will need it at the critical moment upon which many battles turn."

Just then a light tenor voice piped up from the doorway.

"That sound like as good a plan as any, but I can offer something better."

"Eike!" The twins exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"I have come to save the day." Eike declaimed dramatically, playfully striking a heroic pose, then added: "Pardon the theatrics, but this my chance to finally play the hero. It's always you guys who have exciting adventures which I can only hear about second hand."

"Just how are you going to save the day, Eike" Lord Sexton asked. "Have you come up with another wonder weapon?"

"I have indeed. Just recently I figured out a way to destroy a whole army in one fell swoop, that is if the weather conditions are right. It has been field tested at the proving grounds, but this would be its first application in actual combat. I could explain, but that would spoil the surprise. General Sexton, please don't engage the enemy for the rest of the morning while we make our preparations."

"We?"

"I meant me and a small air force which has been put at my disposition plus the war wizard Sir Willet Hanford. With Dahl acting as an anchor to this location which Sir Willet himself had never been to before they jointly opened a space portal for a squadron of cargo autogyros from the Army Air Corps whose aerocraft will drop my wonder weapon on the enemy and destroy them utterly."

"This I have to see."

Karl-Eike Thyssen was no one's idea of a soldier. Short, slightly built, slender, and smooth muscled he looked to be no more than sixteen and would stay that way for centuries thanks to druidical healing magic. Far prettier than any boy rightly ought to be, Eike had a flawless complexion and fine boned features including a broad brow that hinted at his intellect, high cheekbones, a straight nose, plus subtly pointed ears and chin which gave him an elfin appearance, His large green eyes were set wide apart under finely arched brows, their lashes too long to have ever have been meant for a male.

Eike was a civilian, a naval architect in fact, but he was also the most prolific inventor in the Commonwealth. It was he who had invented the autogyros and air guns and magnetic cannon, and even the bicycles to transport the Army's dragoons which had contributed so much to victory in the war against the trolls and provided personal transportation to millions. Now he had come up with something new.

"You all shall see and very soon, I promise. Again pardon my theatrics, but this will be so spectacular that you will be gratified afterwards it came as a surprise."

Sexton nodded. "I may be the general around here but you are a master of warfare in your own way. We will give your wonder weapon a chance."

Within two hours all the principals and Eike and his bombers, as he called his aerocraft, were stationed just outside Mountain View watching the approaching enemy. The troll army which was made up almost entirely made up of infantry marched in three columns, the center one on the wide graveled road leading to the town the others flanking it through the brush.

Councilor Burk asked:

"Why do they march as though on parade, drummers beating a cadence, everyone marching in step, and in geometrically precise ranks and files?"

"Don't think that is only for show or merely to intimidate you. An army marches in step for sound tactical reasons." Sexton told him.

"A marching formation is more compact with minimal distance between soldiers left and right and front to back. With regular, ordered and synchronized walking it takes less time for a thousand soldiers to pass any given point than if they were strung out in route step order as we call it. Marching in formation facilitates maneuvers like deployment from column of march to line of battle as the head of each column splits and pivots left and right to link up with the columns on either side."

"Properly drilled troops can change direction in the blink of an eye. For instance, with the command 'Right flank...MARCH' every soldier in a column pivots to the right instantly transforming the files into ranks and the ranks into files which allows the column to advance in line of battle at right angles to the former line of march. Same thing for the command 'To the rear...MARCH' which instantly reverses the direction of march. Marching in formation lets bodies of trained soldiers run rings around ill-trained levies."

"Make no mistake. This is no disorganized barbarian horde which you confront. You are facing an army of well-trained soldiers."

The trolls demonstrated just how well-trained they were as they flawlessly deployed from march order into an attack formation with companies of soldiers staggered checkerboard fashion rather than as a solid line or mass. Companies marched in rectangles a dozen files wide and as many deep, pressed shoulder to shoulder. Those on the outside of the formation locked shields held vertically while those in the middle raised them over their heads and the whole company advanced in step as if on parade, looking like a cross between an armored tortoise and a centipede if such a thing could be imagined.

The idea was the shields would protect the trolls from missiles long enough to close with the dwarves and hack at them with their axes. Lead bullets slung by defending slingers would bounce harmlessly off the interlocked shields. Even horseshoes propelled telekinetically or magnetically might skitter off at an angle. Then after the trolls reached the enemy and their foes occupied the empty squares, they would come under attack from both flanks as well as the front.

The troll commander and his staff had stationed themselves in an empty square just behind the front lines. They were all mounted the better to see and control their army.

In full druidical robes the elf-lord Dahlderon stepped forward then levitated via gravitational repulsion to a height of a hundred feet.

<I am the druid lord Dahlderon.> He broadcast via Mind Speech. <This is a war you cannot win. You must know that we slew your vanguard to the last troll. Not one escaped our righteous vengeance. The same will happen to your main force. Your only hope of survival is to withdraw from this continent.>

The troll commander answered with a mental shout. <Get your filthy mind magic out of my head. We did not come to parley but to wage war on the infidel.>

<If you persist with war this will be a battle of annihilation, and it will be your army which will be obliterated. You face not just the militia of the Sun Dwarves but also magic mightier than any you can conceive of including that of my own Druidical Order. And very shortly now you will face the armed might of the Commonwealth of the Long River, an entire field army equipped with mighty weapons of war like autogyros, airguns, and magnetic cannon supported by a corps of war wizards and war mages. Against them you don't stand a chance.>

<Do you really expect an army of trolls to fear inferiors like dwarves or phantom armies armed with mythical weapons? Yet you expect us to surrender.>

<I do not demand surrender but only withdrawal from this continent. We have exacted our revenge for the villages your vanguard destroyed. We are willing to let you go, not for your sake, but for ours. In a pitched battle even a victory can be costly. Go and never return.>

<Go? Even if we were so inclined, which we are not, how would we go? We burned our ships on the shore of the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. Anyway the Southern Ocean lies several hundred miles to the South.>

<That is not a problem. With magic I can open a portal to your oceanic archipelago through which your entire army can pass in safety to your homeland. Take your army and your settlers and leave. Never come back.>

<Ha! We trolls have never been defeated in war. Why would we accept such cowardly terms?>

<Oh, but you have been defeated and in the worst possible way. I do not refer to your vanguard which we wiped out but to a far more egregious loss. You would not have heard the news, but the Commonwealth and its allies have extirpated the troll infestation on Valentia. All three million invaders of Amazonia are now dead, including many by their own hand in despair at the very end, save a handful of survivors whom we exiled via a portal to carry the tale home. If you wish to survive you and yours will pass through a portal yourselves.>

<Do your worst, druid. This field of battle will be your graveyard.>

<So be it. You condemn your entire host to death. For that you shall be the very first to die.>

The druid pointed at the commander who slumped in the saddle as, within his skin, his bones crumbled to powder. The troll commander hardly had time to realize that death had claimed him as his flaccid body fell off his horse and onto the ground. What was left was an unrecognizable bag of flesh and organs and leaking bodily fluids intermixed with clothing and weapons and armor. Even battle hardened as they were the trolls blanched and recoiled in horror.

As for the druid, Dahl was heartily sick of witnessing death and destruction of sapients first at the hands of the eastern barbarians, then the centaurs, and worst of all the trolls. The barbarians had been greedy and callous but still recognizably human. The centaurs were utterly inhuman. Indeed they regarded all the races descended from Old Urth as so much livestock. The trolls were the worst of the lot, religious fanatics intent on exterminating the other races root and branch, all the while feeling self-righteous and telling themselves that this was what their gods demanded of them.

Turning to his friends, Dahl told them. "We have no choice now but to kill every one of them, though I am afraid that without our field army, it won't be easy. Still I am confident that even this huge host is no match for our concerted powers."

"Huge host or no, they will soon be an army of dead soldiers, if I have anything to say about it." Eike said with quiet determination. "The weather is perfect for my wonder weapon. No wind; the air is practically still. That will aid our attack. Now watch."

When the center of the enemy formation was less than two miles away, Eike's air force took off and made its attack run, repeatedly flying over the enemy formation while dropping a white power on the trolls. The powder did not disperse horizontally, contained as it was within invisible walls and later a ceiling of slightly hardened air, the handiwork of an air wizard aboard one of the aerocraft. Soon the enemy was engulfed in a cloud of suspended particles though to no effect visible to the defenders in Mountain View who were watching through far-viewers.

"That white powder of yours is not working, Eike. As far as I can tell it has had absolutely no effect on the trolls." Sexton pointed out.

"That powder is not a poison, if that is what you were thinking, Sir. It is flour, ordinary flour such as you might find in any kitchen or bakery. Now watch what happens next. The trailing aircraft have reached a safe distance and will now launch three small missiles into the cloud. They have streamers attached so we can spot them from here."

Propelled telekinetically by the pilots of the trailing bombers the streamers disappeared into the cloud easily penetrating the flimsy wall of slightly hardened air. The containment box dissipated an instant before the incendiary devices went off and unleashed a conflagration the likes of which no one had ever witnessed before. Once the particles of flour were ignited the flames propagated through the cloud so fast as to create a hugely destructive blast and firestorm.

Even from a distance of nearly two miles the flash was bright enough to hurt the eyes. The report of the explosion arrived within seconds. It was easily the loudest sound anyone had ever heard short of a landslide or a volcanic eruption. Good thing Eike had warned everyone to put hands over their ears.

The smoke and dust and ash cleared to reveal a scene of utter devastation. The enemy host lay dead, their bodies torn, mangled, crushed, and incinerated, transformed into what soldier slang chillingly called crispy critters.

"I stand in awe of you, Eike. And that is not something I ever said to anyone in more than three centuries."

[What Eike had invented was a fuel-air explosive, an intentionally ignited dust explosion such as can occur by accident in grain elevators, flour mills, corn mills, and coal mines. Modern thermobaric bombs use droplets of fuel instead of dust, but it is the same phenomenon.]

[Since the weapons are almost one-hundred percent fuel, they are significantly more energetic than conventional explosives of the same weight. They generate an intense, high-temperature explosion with a blast wave which lasts longer than that produced by conventional military explosives. Against field fortifications such as foxholes, tunnels, bunkers, and caves they are particularly destructive partly due to the sustained blast wave, and partly because they consume the available oxygen and asphyxiate any troops inside the fortifications who survive the blast.]

Eike needed no encouragement as he animatedly explained how his fuel-air bomb worked. There was a lot more to it than what they had seen. For instance, the aerocraft took in a stream of air through a scoop in the belly into a chamber where whiling blades mixed it thoroughly with the flour then blew it down and away. Also the density of the cloud was of critical importance -- something which the air wizard could control by expanding or contracting the box. It took a lot of training and practice for an air wizard to sense when conditions were exactly right.

Ifans told Eike that he would personally recommended him for a top military decoration. His bomb had avoided a set piece battle the dwarves could not have won by themselves and perhaps not even with the magic of the heavy hitters from the Corps of Discovery. Had the trolls won, their army would have had several days to rampage over that sector of the plateau before the arrival of the Commonwealth field army. The dwarves were ecstatic that Eike had saved them and removed the threat to their way of life. That afternoon they made him a dwarf-friend.

The Commonwealth field army arrived four days later and established a base from which to launch their offensive to root out the remaining trolls from the mountains. That was a job for the professional military, not the Corps of Discovery. Finn realized that anything that the Corps of Discover might still accomplish would be anticlimactic and declared its job to be done, the mission over. Except for Dahlderon they would all return home to the Capital. The young druid himself would return to Elysion and the New Forest and to his lovers Owain and Merry.

"That's fine with us journalists," Corwin told him. "Drew and I need to write our final articles for the Capital Intelligencer describing the campaign and then get started on a book about our many discoveries and adventures over the last months. As co-authors we will both be eligible to win next year's Writers' Prize."

Finn and General Ifans agreed that Ifans and the scouts and their transport aerocraft would remain on the Plateau for a time to organize and train the dwarven militia. Their victories over the enemy vanguard had instilled confidence and pride in them and a resolve to never again leave themselves defenseless no matter how secure they felt themselves to be in their isolation. In the immediate future all they might have to deal with would be troll stragglers, but decades down the line who knew what threats might present themselves.

The scouts were pleased at the prospect of easy duty in garrison. For a change they would have snug quarters out of the weather, hot meals, and maybe even cold beer if the dwarf artisans could build chill boxes soon enough. The elfin scout Evan and his boyfriend, the human Hugh Loring would continue their romance, perhaps indefinitely. General Ifans and Chief Borden had endorsed their applications to transfer to the same unit upon their eventual return to the Commonwealth.

Ifans acknowledged that for now the dwarves would not need modern air guns for defense. Instead they would be armed with war axes and shields, both those they had themselves taken from their foes and those the Commonwealth would supply from its stores of captured weapons.

Lord Madden Sexton was relieved to be able to give up his command of the dwarven forces and return to his day job as a forest ranger though not before the grateful dwarves made him too a dwarf-friend. Dylan however would stay on, serving with the Army. His powers as a beast master would prove invaluable in finding and tracking down the trolls still lurking in the mountains and in detecting enemy ambushes.

Also staying on for a spell were Sir Willet, now reunited with his aide Axel Wilde, plus Eike and his little air force. Eike explained why.

"I have another wonder weapon to try out under battle conditions."

Reaching into a pocket he drew out a metallic object a bit less than two inches long and half an inch thick. It was shaped like a pointy tear drop with tiny fins crimped onto the back end.

"I call this weapon Steel Rain since we drop these things in great numbers from high above. The fins stabilize their fall as gravity accelerates them to a speed of three hundred miles per hour. You can image how much momentum such speed imparts. It's enough to produce a sure kill as its impetus drives it deep into and sometimes straight through the body."

"Steel Rain is an area weapon which is effective not only against troops in the open but against enemy formations under the forest canopy whose presence our military delvers could sense. This is what we would have used against the trolls the other day if it had been windy. I have great expectations for this new weapon."

"Like my flour bomb Steel Rain is dirt cheap. It is be dropped by bombers from simpler bins than those used to drop flour. And no air wizard is needed. Also aviators in the Army Air Corps providing troops with close ground support now have something else to drop from those flying yokes of theirs besides incendiaries and caltrops. Even fetchers with the ground forces can deliver Steel Rain by the bucketful."

"Incidentally, I got the idea for Steel Rain from those double pointed dowel nails which Sir Willet employs in an anti-personnel role. It occurred to me one day that gravity could accelerate steel just as effectively as telekinesis or magnetism. As his aide you keep

Sir Willet supplied with dowel nails, don't you Axel?"

"Indeed I do. Two full boxes are part of the kit I carry for him plus my own gear which includes the same stuff as any wizard's aide plus my combat medic pack and an airgun with a telescope sight and both supersonic and subsonic ammo for when I am operating as a sniper not to mention the fist knives with poisoned blades which I use for when I am operating as an assassin."

Looking over pointedly at his boss and mentor, Axel went on to say. "I hope you haven't put the notion in Sir Willet's head that he should add the burden of a couple of hundred of those things to my kit. Remember I am just a little guy."

"A little guy with twice normal strength and stamina thanks to druidical healing magic." Sir Willet pointed out with a warm smile for the boy who had become like the son he never had.

"No need for you to carry them with you, Axel. We'll store buckets of them at the institute. If the tactical situation calls for dropping Steel Rain you can teleport to our storehouse then return to the battlefield and deliver your load from a thousand feet up in the air."

War mage though Axel was in his own right, that was his second job. Axel Wilde's first job was as Sir Willet's aide. At least the Army was fair about paying him two salaries -- not that he really needed the money, independently wealthy as he now was. It was the principle of the thing.

"Once we have demonstrated the worth of Steel Rain," Eike began, "I will rejoin you guys in the capital. It's been lonely with all my boyfriends away on missions to the Western Dividing Range or the Southern Ocean. Besides I miss my old haunts and my creature comforts."

"As I have said before, I am no adventurer. I was relieved that the enemy never got to close quarters the other day. I fight battles with my smarts rather than physically, and I would like to apply those smarts to projects which I had to put on hold after I got the brainstorm which produced the fuel air bomb and Steel Rain."

Madden Sexton clamped the young inventor on the shoulder.

"Karl-Eike Thyssen, with all your inventions both civilian and military, you have got to be the single most valuable citizen of the Commonwealth of the Long River."

"Hear, hear," the others chorused.

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