Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3) (3 page)

BOOK: Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3)
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The animosity
against denarae, particularly by humans, had largely stopped in the area around
the city of Nocka,
[4]
due almost solely to the role of Shadow Company in the recent war against the
demonic forces of Hell. The soldiers of Nocka – human, elven, gnomish, and
dwarven – had all witnessed the tremendous bravery and fortitude of the denarae
company, and by the end of the war, the gray-skinned humanoids were actually
accepted by the majority of the city. Even those who hadn’t witnessed Shadow
Company’s performance first-hand heard about it from those who had, and the
reputation of the elite unit grew to nearly legendary proportions almost
overnight.

Not for the
first time, Garnet was thankful for the denarae ability to read the thoughts of
humans and other denarae. This ability – “kything” as they called it – was the
secret to Shadow Company’s success, that and the brilliant training and
leadership of Gerard Morningham, the Red paladin originally placed in charge of
the denarae company. Gerard had taken in the group of three hundred denarae and
trained them as no other unit, combining combat, stealth, subterfuge, and the
denarae mind-reading ability to create one of the most lethally efficient
fighting forces the world had ever seen.

Their ranks had
been thinned considerably by the war; fully half of the denarae in Shadow
Company had given their lives in defense of Nocka, including Garnet’s close
friend, Trebor Dok. Gerard himself had died outside the walls of the Barrier,
and command of the unit had passed on to Garnet.

For a split
second, when he’s heard the wild, male dakkan’s cries, Garnet had wondered if
Sabor had returned. The vicious-looking red dakkan hadn’t been seen since the
death of his rider, and Garnet feared the dakkan had gone feral since Gerard’s
demise. Garnet had briefly fantasized about Sabor coming to him, inheriting the
dakkan as he had Shadow Company, like a sign of approval or sign of leadership
he sometimes questioned whether or not he possessed.

Since the war’s
end nearly two months past, Shadow Company had focused on rebuilding its
numbers from fresh recruits of denarae, and now they were back to their
original, full strength of three hundred fighting men. In addition, Garnet had
acquired a full supply and support team, whether he wanted it or not; many of
the denarae had brought their families with them. Now a whole platoon of wives,
sisters, and daughters prepared meals for the men of Shadow Company, while
another group of younger men and women kept the cooks supplied with fresh meat
and other foodstuffs. The younger denarae honed their hunting skills to provide
meat for Shadow Company and trained as warriors in the hope that they, too,
might be called on to join the elite unit.

Garnet had done
his best to train and craft his unit in the same spirit of lethal excellence
Gerard Morningham had originally instilled in them all, and he hoped he was
doing a passing job of living up to his mentor’s example. Somewhere, he dared
to imagine Gerard was looking down from Heaven and smiling in approval. With
the majority of their training complete, Garnet had volunteered the services of
Shadow Company in assisting the Prismatic Order in hunting down pockets of
demons trapped in the mortal world. For whatever reason, not all the demons had
disappeared at the end of the war, especially in the more remote areas of the
world. Garnet viewed it as the perfect training opportunity for a time he knew
would come soon.

“We’re in
position now, sir,”
Brican kythed, interrupting Garnet’s thoughts. Brican
had dropped the bantering tone he sometimes took with Garnet and the other
paladins in Shadow Company, a sure sign he was getting down to business.
Gradually, Brican had revealed himself to be just as much of a rogue as his
cousin Trebor had ever been, but he still suffered from what Marc called
“reverse racism” against most humans, a trait Trebor had never exhibited.

“Trebor and I
didn’t exactly have the same life growing up,”
Brican kythed shortly,
having read Garnet’s train of thought.
“No disrespect intended, of course,
sir.”

Garnet sighed.

“Leave it
alone, Brican,”
he thought.
“Sometime you’ll have to explain to me just
what was so terrible about your past, but for now, let’s get to work.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Take me
through the rainbow, standard order.”

Garnet closed
his eyes, and suddenly he was looking out through the eyes of Guilian, the
denarae platoon leader of Red Platoon. Brican read the thoughts and vision of
the denarae officer and relayed the images directly to Garnet, allowing him to
see what his men saw. It was a handy tool when there was time to properly
position and orient the viewers, but its use was limited by the strain on the
denarae relaying the image and the disorientation it caused in the viewer.

He was used to
the effects by now, so the side-effects to Garnet were minimal, but he knew by
the end of just a few moments of using the technique he would have a strong
headache. Several minutes of use would leave him dizzy and unable to properly
control his body. The effects of long-term use were speculative at best, but
the possibilities Marc had suggested had proven graphic enough to deter
experimentation.

Through
Guilian’s eyes, Garnet saw the layout of the enemy camp. Demons did not need to
truly sleep, nor did they need to cook their food, so the term “camp” was
really only loosely applicable, to Garnet’s mind. They
did
post sentries
and congregate around what passed for leadership among their ranks. Any mortals
– be they human or demi-human
[5]
– unfortunate enough to be caught by a group of demons were inevitably brought
back to the most powerful demons as sacrificial offerings, so the lesser demons
crowded around them begging for scraps. Garnet had seen the clothing remains of
at least a dozen men scattered about the place where the demons had stayed the
previous night. Getting an exact number of victims had been impossible; there
just weren’t enough bones left intact to know for sure.

Shadow Company
had been stalking through the mountains for nearly a week, trying to catch
sight of this pack of demons. A double
jintaal
[6]
of
paladins, a dozen holy warriors in all, had been sent with them to augment the
five paladins permanently assigned to Shadow Company. Flasch’s platoon had
found the site of the slaughter yesterday, and they’d tracked the demons to
their current position.

A dull aching in
Garnet’s head warned him to hurry with his survey of the platoons.

“Next.”

Brican switched
Garnet’s borrowed vision so he was looking through Marc’s eyes.

“Tell Marc to
pan left.”

The mental
picture moved accordingly, and Garnet saw the demon camp from another angle.

“Next.”

In quick
succession, Garnet scanned through the eyesight of his platoon leaders, moving
on to Michael, then Brican himself (Garnet only paused briefly here to check on
the paladins being escorted by Green Platoon), and then Danner, and finally
Flasch. Violet Platoon was the furthest away from any potential action, because
they were the most mobile and adaptable of the denarae warriors and could be
anywhere at a moment’s notice.

“Cut it off,”
Garnet said wearily as he fought against the pounding in his head. He’d held on
to the shared vision longer than he should have, but he should be fully
recovered in only a moment.

“Alright, I
want Blue Platoon to split and move in, infiltration pattern alpha,”
Garnet
ordered.
“As soon as Danner calls it clear, notify me, then relay red and
yellow to move in, following blue’s lead. Hold green until we’re engaged, then
assault from the south on my order only. I want orange to hold north and look
for stragglers. Violet is on standby. Relay to Flasch, he’s on his own unless
specifically ordered by me. End.”

Even as Garnet
was sending his mental orders to Brican, the denarae officer was passing them
on to their intended recipients.

“Oh, and
relay to Danner, he is NOT to go angel unless absolutely necessary,”
Garnet
thought sternly. Danner had shown a strong tendency toward unpredictability
where demons were concerned, and Garnet didn’t want things to suddenly get out
of hand.

“All orders
received,”
Brican reported, then he added,
“and Danner’s thinking some
rather unflattering thoughts about you right now.”

“Fine, just
so long as he follows orders.”

Garnet paused a
moment to review the layout of the battle in his head, looking for any
potential hazards that could cost his company. At the point where he started
trying to second-guess his own doubts, he clamped down on his thoughts and
brushed aside everything but what was to come.

“Execute,”
he barked mentally.

- 2 -

While Danner
took Blue Platoon forward, Garnet moved carefully down from the rocks he’d been
standing on and wound his way toward Green Platoon. He nodded briefly to
Brican, but made no other greeting. The denarae was typical of his race, if
larger and more heavily muscled than average. His skin was the color of dark
slate, his hair and eyes were dark, and he kept his hair cut short in a style
reminiscent of the Merishank army. Brican’s face showed evidence of the rogue
that lay inside, covered by layers of pain and mistrust toward a world
dominated by a people who hated him. There was some familial resemblance
between Brican and his cousin Trebor, but it was hard to see behind Brican’s
racial animus.

Garnet left
Brican behind him, trusting the denarae to keep hold of his feelings and do his
job.

The Red paladin
had learned a valuable, if unintentional, lesson from Gerard: he never planned
out or ordered company formations from within any of the platoons if he could
help it. Standing with one platoon, it was too easy to view the battle from
just their perspective, rather than examining it from every possible angle and
strategic viewpoint. Separating himself allowed Garnet to keep his attention –
his
self
of perspective – unencumbered by a single point of view. It was
something Gerard had done instinctively and hadn’t thought to tell Garnet, and
had Garnet not been using the denarae ability to kythe him their sight from the
first days of his command, he might not have truly appreciated the instinctive
genius of his mentor.

As a bonus, the
silent ability of command lent an aura of mystique to Shadow Company that kept
many in awe of them. They occasionally had someone pretend to relay orders by
voice alone, just to keep up the pretense and hide the denarae ability to read
and send their thoughts. Historically, this ability had turned humans against
them with such vehemence that the denarae had spent centuries regarded as the
most despised of all races. Even after the rest of the world had forgotten the
reason, still they hated with mindless adherence to institutionalized bigotry.
Garnet and the other humans who associated with Shadow Company were all pledged
to help protect that secret. Thanks to Shadow Company, the first steps had been
taken to reverse the discrimination against denarae, but the sudden revelation
of their mental abilities could have catastrophic effects, even against this
celebrated unit.

“What’s the
word, son?”

Garnet turned
and grinned at his father. Garnet was the spitting image of his father, Garet
jo’Meerkit, and when the two embraced, most people swore they heard mountains
shift and trees topple. The two sandy-haired Red paladins were easily the
largest men in the group, towering head and shoulders above most of the others
and outweighing them by at least fifty pounds of pure muscle.

“Everything’s in
position, dad,” he replied. “Standard ‘Y-formation’ of attack, and we’re the
base. As soon I get the signal the arms have engaged, we’ll move in and crush
them.”

“Good,” Garet
said with a grin that mirrored his son’s. “I’ve been itching for another fight
after that Scraton River fiasco two weeks ago.”

Garnet winced.
“Yeah, I heard about that. Two men dead, and a whole group of demons got away.”

“Fled in terror
is more like it,” Garet snorted. “One minute they’re fighting like cornered
curs, the next they’ve turned tail and disappeared like rats. We only had the
standard six in the
jintaal
, so we didn’t have the strength left to track
them down. I hear the Council is sending a double up there next week to try and
track them down to finish the job.”

“Hence the extra
strength here,” Garnet said, nodding his head. “I wondered why we were being
bolstered for a standard track and exterminate.”

Father and son
regarded each other in silence for a moment. Garnet could see the beginning
signs of age in his father’s body, but the older paladin was still strong and
counted as one of the best warriors in the Prism. Garnet had a hard time
imagining his father as old and infirmed. Growing up in the household of a
paladin warrior, Garnet had lived with the constant threat that his father
might not come home. By the time Garnet began to mature, it was all but
accepted as fact that his father would die one day on the field of battle
faithfully serving the Prismatic Order.

Equally accepted
by that time was that Garnet himself would follow in his father’s footsteps and
join the Prism. Garet began to train his eldest son at an early age, teaching
him swordsmanship and various other forms of combat during the intermittent
months of respite he had between missions for the Prism. By the time Garnet had
entered his training, he was already a better swordsman than most Red paladins,
and only Gerard Morningham had proved consistently better. Gerard had then
taken Garnet under his wing for more advanced training, and eventually Garnet
had outstripped even his now-departed mentor.

BOOK: Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3)
3.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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