Dustin and the soldiers gathered outside of the tents they set up after being forced out of the garrison. They received orders to keep watch on the undead kingdom and wait for the reinforcements to arrive to assess the situation. Two lines of soldiers could be seen coming from different directions, the northwest and the northeast. One line consisted of demons wearing plate armor and wielding spears. The other consisted of humans wearing chain mail with swords and shields.
Dustin stood at the front of his men who were arranged in a rectangular formation. Behind him, to the south, the undead capital’s buildings could be seen with tiny figures moving on the walls.
“Where’s Gale?” a knight asked as he lifted his visor and stepped to the front of the human line.
Dustin shook his head. “He volunteered to investigate the actions of the undead,” Dustin said as he sighed. “He’s a brave man. I pray he comes back unharmed.” The human soldiers behind Dustin turned and glanced at each other, but didn’t say anything. A few nodded.
The knight frowned. “Those damned undead,” he said. “That’s their city over there?”
Dustin nodded and the line of demon soldiers arrived. “What’s the situation like, Dustin?” the demon at the front asked.
“Hound, it’s good to see you again,” Dustin said with a smile. He sighed and shook his head. “The undead are shameless. Absolutely shameless, but they don’t seem to have any bloodthirst. They’ve been gathering the nearby villagers, humans and demons alike, for the past week or so.”
“And you didn’t do anything to stop them?” the human leader said as he spat on the floor. “You worthless demons.”
Dustin stared at the man. “We confronted them, but the villagers stopped us,” Dustin said. “They’re voluntarily going with them. Every single one of them are enamored with the undead.”
“Could it be a curse?” asked Hound.
Dustin nodded. “It could be, but the undead escorting them are just normal skeletons,” he said. “None of them can cast magic. Look, there’s a group passing through here now.” Dustin pointed at a group of figures in the distance, three skeletons followed by a family of three demon children and their parents.
The human leader unsheathed his sword and equipped his shield. He marched towards the group and pulled his visor down.
“Halt!” he shouted towards the skeletons.
The skeletons looked at each other and stepped in front of the demon family while unsheathing their axes. The man dashed forward while raising his sword into the air. One skeleton stepped forward and raised his axe horizontally to block the blow. The man snorted and bashed the axe away with his shield and cut the skeleton’s head off with his sword. He turned and swung his sword at the skeleton to his right.
“Stop!” the demon father shouted. The skeleton parried the man’s blow and stepped back. The knight pursued and swung his sword again.
“Fire!” the demon father said and threw a fireball at the knight.
The knight blocked it with his shield. “So you want to die too?” the knight said as he kicked the skeleton’s sternum and knocked it away. He pointed his sword at the demon.
A spearhead appeared next to his throat. “I can’t let you do that,” Hound said. He held his spear with both hands, ready to stab through.
The knight snorted and sheathed his sword. He knocked away the spear with his hand and glared at Hound through his visor.
Hound retracted his spear and turned to the demon family. The skeleton that had its head cut off was sitting and holding its head over its neck while tying it back on with a rag. “That was rude,” the skeleton said as its head drooped forward and fell off again.
Hound ignored the skeleton. “Why are you going with them?” he asked the demons.
The father glanced at the skeletons and stepped in front of the sitting skeleton. “They’re offering us a better life,” he said.
“And you trust them?” Hound asked as he removed his helmet.
The man nodded.
“They have no reason to lie. They could’ve killed us a long time ago if they wanted to,” the man said. “They’re promising us food and shelter. In return we give them mana.”
“How’s that a better life?” Hound asked. “You have a home and shelter here. The nobles protect you in return for taxes.”
The demon stared at Hound. “Are you a noble?” he asked.
Hound shook his head. “I’m just an ex-adventurer, turned royal knight,” he said.
“Then you wouldn’t understand. You have power,” the demon said. “What about the common farmers who can’t make a living as an adventurer? What do we have? The nobles barely leave us with enough food to live as we work on their farms. They say they’ll protect us, but they run away when the dragons and undead come.”
Dustin frowned. “You really believe everything they tell you?” he asked.
The man nodded. “I have to,” he said, “for the sake of my family.”
Dustin looked at the three children hiding behind their mother. The two uninjured skeletons stood in front of her, staring at the soldiers with their axes in front of them.
“Let them through,” Dustin said.
“You can come with us and become a citizen,” the skeleton with the rag around its neck said as it stood up. “We have cookies and songs.”
Dustin shook his head. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ve heard enough singing for a lifetime.”
“How’s the city looking?” Lindyss asked the undead leader while yawning. Her hair was disheveled and she was wearing pajamas.
“Good evening,” the leader said and nodded. “It’s coming along quite well. We’ve received a lot more incoming citizens than expected, so we reallocated the wall builders to shelter building instead.”
“That many?” Lindyss asked.
The leader nodded. “We’re very persuasive,” he said and grinned, “although there seems to be a gathering of soldiers near our borders. They’re composed of the people we scared away along with reinforcements.”
Lindyss frowned. “Make them leave,” she said. “Don’t kill any of them. We don’t want to start a war just yet. Make sure they’re far enough away to not interfere with our recruitment.”
The undead leader cackled. “We can do that.”
Lindyss nodded. “What’s the food situation?” she asked.
“The farms are all tilled and crops have been planted. We’ve been feeding the newcomers fruit and meat found in the forests. But we ran out of grain so we can’t make any more cookies,” the leader said and sighed. “The newcomers also gave us all their gold which we can use to trade for some foodstuffs. We sent word to the dryads and requested their help to speed our crop growth, but there’s been no reply so far.”
Lindyss smiled. “I know a dryad that I can convince to help us with a little persuasion from Grimmoldesser and the matriarch,” she said. “Keep up the good work.”
The undead leader saluted.
“Do you think the undead will come tonight?” a knight asked his partner sitting next to him. The two were sitting outside of the tents, facing towards the south.
“I doubt it. They haven’t bothered us for over a week,” his partner said. “Man, I wish I didn’t have guard duty today. I still feel as if I haven’t sleep enough ever since that dreadful singing.” He shivered.
“Was it that bad? I’ve heard a few things about it, but I wasn’t here for it,” the knight said.
His partner shook his head. “You don’t understand,” he said and sighed while tilting his head towards the sky.
A twig snapped and a bush rustled. The two knights turned their heads towards the sound and drew their swords while holding their breaths. A few moments of silence passed.
“It’s probably just a fox,” the knight said and sheathed his sword. He turned to look at his partner and came face to face with a grinning skeleton. He opened his mouth and the skeleton stuffed a sock in it before he could make a sound. The knight saw his partner on the ground with four skeletons on top of him, stripping him of his armor. His hands groped for his sword, but he grabbed air. Hands appeared behind him and knocked him over. He struggled as cold bony hands stripped him of his armor and tied him up, but he couldn’t do anything to stop the skeletons.
Dustin opened his eyes and looked at the stars and moon shining above him. That’s odd, he thought, the moon seems a lot brighter than usual. He rolled over and closed his eyes.
Ten seconds passed. His eyes shot open. He sat up and looked around. He saw the soldiers all sleeping on their blankets in the field.
“Where’d the tents go!?” he shouted.
Groans and curses rang throughout the field as demons and humans stirred.
“My armors missing!”
“Where’s my pillow?”
“Why am I naked?!”
“It smells like horse manure.”
Dustin looked down and saw brown smiley faces drawn on his blanket. He lifted his blanket to his nose and sniffed.
He threw up. The person closest to him also threw up. A few men started crying.
“I’ll kill them!” the human leader shouted. “I’ll kill every last one of those damned skeletons!”
After a chain of vomiting, sobbing, and squirming, the soldiers gathered in the field north of their ransacked campsite. Many of them were naked and none of them had weapons. A wind blew past them, carrying the grating voices of the skeletons.
The skeletons cackled in the distance and the ground shook from the sound.
“Thanks for the donations,” the undead leader shouted. “We’ll be back tomorrow!”
Tears appeared in Dustin’s eyes and he buried his face in his hands.