Short story I wrote set in the same world as one of the Dreamer’s short stories, but this one is all mine. I have the weirdest feeling that I posted it already, but I can’t find it, so I’m posting it. So there.
The writhing darkness of the Shroud filled the horizon. As far as the eye could see, stretching out into the distance, the black cloud that marked the presence of the demon army spread, cloaking its unholy creators. On the fringes, the front lines of the demon forces could be seen. They were grunts, for the most part: low-ranking demons, still stronger and faster than any human, but lacking intelligence, driven by sheer ferocity.
Here and there among the milling beasts stood higher-ranking demons, classified as Beast-masters. Beast-masters existed to direct the savage grunts, to keep them from retreating and throw them in powerful waves where the demon offensive needed them most.
Just over a mile off, atop a broad, flat hill, there stood a sprawling, though ragged, camp. Tents of every shape and size had been organized into rows and columns, those these had since fallen into disarray; when your army is outnumbered fifty to one, and one of the enemy can kill five of your men, you don’t worry much about making sure your tents are in a line.
Even the tents themselves showed evidence of the worn condition of the army. Once a uniform white, they now ranged in shade from an off-white color to almost totally black, stained by the constant dust storm that blew, whipping up the scorched earth in the faces of the soldiers and against the sides of their tents.
This setting, then, is what the wanderer beheld when he topped the hill. The last of humanity, gathered on this hill, just as barren and hopeless as any other, against an enemy they could not possibly defeat. Sure, they had won seemingly hopeless battles before, but not like this.
The wanderer walked into the camp, unchallenged. No sentries demanded identification, or even noticed him. He slowly made his way to the command tent, noting the emptiness of the sprawling camp. Tents that were designed to hold eight or twelve soldiers housed only two or three; where there should have been a campfire between every three or four tents, the wanderer saw only half a dozen fires among the fifty tents he walked past.
He pushed into the command tent, marveling at the lack of guards. Only when he approached the planning table itself did anyone notice him, and even then only the commander raised his head.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my command tent?”
“I’m just a wanderer. You boys looked like you could use some help.” He looked at the war plans on the table. “A lot of help.”
“Look, no one asked you.” The commander’s hand rested on the butt of his pistol. “Now I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
The wanderer ignored the threat, walking slowly around the table. “You’re outmatched. One demon can handle an entire squad, as wearied as your army is, and you’re outnumbered fifty-three to one.”
“How do you know it’s fifty-three?”
“I know exactly how many demons there are. And I know that, the way you lead these men, you lead them into death.”
The commander stared at the newcomer. “The way I lead them?”
“Praying for strength. No amount of strength can give you victory here.”
“And I suppose you have a better plan?”
“Yes.” The wanderer walked out of the tent, striding across the barren plain towards the demon horde, and the dark Shroud that covered them.
After opening and closing his mouth a few times, the commander rushed up to the observation tower, snatching the scout’s binoculars and watching the odd man in white armor.
He approached the darkness without slowing, quoting Scripture in a loud voice. The demons recoiled from him, giving him a clean path through their ranks. Even the Shroud grew weaker as he passed through it, revealing more and more of the demon horde.
The commander let out a low whistle. On a good day, a demon army would be about fifty percent grunts. This army had next to none, aside from the cannon fodder in the front. It had demons he had never even seen before, only heard about; even they recoiled, drawing back from the stranger in white as he continued steadily walking deeper into the demon army, reciting Scripture.
A massive wheeled throne gradually came into view as the Shroud faded, and the huge demon on it glared down at the wanderer. “You… I know you…”
“And I know you, dark one. You are no longer permitted on this world.”
The demon’s laugh could be heard by the commander, a mile away. “You cannot command me.”
“I don’t have to.” The wanderer raised his hands, crying out, “God Almighty, Creator of all that has been or will be, let thy will be done!”
A blinding beam of light roared down from the heavens, driving the wanderer to his knees, arms still outstretched. Light washed outwards in waves, completely dispelling the Shroud, exposing the demon horde.
The horde cowered, roaring in agony as the Light seared them, their flesh boiling. Their master staggered to his feet, trying to crush the wanderer and blot out the Light. “Damn you!”
“Begone, dark one!” He threw his hands outward, and the Light exploded into a single, all-consuming shockwave. Demons fled in all directions, but the Light overtook them, shattering them. As it washed over the barren earth, which had not held a single growing thing for years, burst into life.
Grass sprouted, lush and alive; the clouds, which had shrouded the planet since the beginning of the invasion, opened up, pouring life-giving water into the earth, and parted, allowing natural, undimmed sunlight to fall on the faces of the soldiers who stared in awe at the white-garbed man who still knelt in the center of the regenerative wave.
He lifted his eyes toward heaven, a smile on his lips.