“Faerie battalion Oberon 3 coming in off the lines.”
“Bleeding hell, someone clear the werewolves out of the iron-free tents and get the minotaurs up on the lines!”
“Thesius 6 is still engaged in the second quadrant.”
“Get Everest 5, then!”
“The yetis aren’t back yet, sir.”
“Who do we have left?”
“Dracula 3 can’t move for another two hours, but if Titania 4 can steer the swarm towards the sea, the mermaids can engage.”
“Signal Poseidon 1; they’re a go.”
Shanna clipped the radio back to her belt as she ran, pulling on gloves as a matter of course. She’d overheard enough to know where she was needed. The faeries were definitely more of the ancient legend variety than the beloved Tinkerbells of kids’ movies – they fought like rabid badgers. Rabid, beautiful badgers. Which meant a lot of mess. Shanna paused to grab a smock and face shield as she entered the tent. The musky scent of werewolf was fading as the flowers-and-ozone of the fey, mixed with zombie gore, took over.
Achingly beautiful fey were being carted by their fellows, silken skin lacerated, butterfly wings torn and bloody from bony claws and gnashing teeth. The wounds looked hideous, crippling, but they’d heal, and heal clean, once they’d had a bit of help. Shanna found pitchers of clean water to wash off the closest fey, wincing when she saw the deep bite on her arm.
“Malignant wretch couldn’t stomach me,” the warrior said proudly. She patted her silvery sword, a delicate, ornamental-looking thing that had probably taken a thousand heads. Pale, silver-pink blood flowed from the wound, and Shanna pressed an elflock and lily poultice to the wound and bound it up. Her skill with ancient pharmaceutical techniques, a legacy of an interest in alternative medicine, had turned her into one of the premier medics of the Otherworld Army.
“Mother of Moons, that smarts,”
“If you were human, I’d say that means it’s working,” Shanna said.
“We have a similar saying,” the warrior said, testing her arm and seeming pleased at the binding.
“How many today?”
“Another shelf cleared out; the case is nearly clean again.”
They fey needed their belief – without humans, who would they trick and torment. Who would look upon them in awe? Who would sustain them? Humans were books in a library, and the zombies were shelves of books that wanted for pruning so humans could spread again. Shanna figured that made her a librarian, of sorts.
She couldn’t have been anything else even if she wanted to; the Otherworld folk could be dipped in zombie gore and come out fighting, still as themselves. Humans had fallen in waves, droves, whole cities, countries turning into surging seas of the walking dead before any of the old believers had called for aid from those who had been here so much longer than humanity.
It turned out they had just been waiting for an invitation.
From Underhill and Underwave, out of the grave and off the mountain, out of the air and out of the ether, the creatures of storybooks and horror tales had come, forming up into an army of magic swords and fierce claws, ancient weapons that had succeeded where even the worst of modern weaponry had failed. They only needed two things in return:
Be kept fighting. And for the humans to believe in them.
Shanna smiled at the memory of a hard-faced army general bowing to the King of Faeries without a hint of skepticism or reluctance. The initial gift of five hundred zombie heads had probably helped a great deal.
“Good to hear. I could use some new books in the old style,” Shanna said, bowing. The warrior smiled, and raised her sword, gesturing for another wounded fey to take her place as she left the tent. Shanna grabbed more water as a new fey slid into place, prepared to keep they all fighting until the stars fell.
Hot, snorting breaths warned her of the impending arrival of Thesius 6. The remaining fey cleared out automatically as the heavy iron axes, almost unrecognizable under loads of gore, thudded to the ground. Shanna looked up and up, across the broad chests of muscle to the minotaurs’ faces, and sighed with relief that she couldn’t see any “major” wounds on them. They were the most stoic of the Otherworld forces, next to the Yetis, and she was always nervous about trying to fix a large injury on an uncooperative, eight foot tall bull-man. She’d had one walk in here one day with a hole clean through him so large she could see daylight on the other side, and he hadn’t said a word.
They were spattered in rotten black blood and gobbets of flesh, and she just gave into the inevitable and gestured them all outside. They left, hauling their axes along like toys. Once there, she grabbed a hose and just turned it on them, washing them down and letting the slurry of infectious blood trickle into the cleansing earth. The minotaurs snorted and grunted almost happily under the spray, and Shanna turned her face to the battle line as she worked, looking over the surging lines of fantasy creatures battling back the zombie hordes.
She remembered the early days, back when they’d still had TV, watching soldiers and police clash with the initial wave of zombies, and then suddenly joining them once the spatter from headshots had infected them. Before they’d known how bad things could get, before they’d taken the proper precautions. Before they’d realized this wasn’t like a movie where the power of humanity would prevail in the end.
And it hadn’t.
In the light of the setting sun, the fey of unit Titania 4 was ablaze with golden light reflecting off of their wings. Their swords and arrows glinted like precious metals as they rose and fell with swift and deadly accuracy, driving the surging, ant-like whirlpool of the walking dead towards the beaten copper sea. Shanna bared her teeth in a grim smile at the waves suddenly churned, tridents flying as the mermaids of Poseidon 1 entered the fray to lay waste to every mobile corpse that touched the water. As the last of the sun dipped below the horizon, there was an unearthly howl from farther back in the lines as Dracula 3 rose up from their protected coffins to replace the beleaguered fey.
Shanna watched in the dimming light as the vampires and mermaids pounded the zombies between them, cleaning off another shelf for humanity. Above her, one of the minotaurs snorted in something that sounded like satisfaction, and she turned back to him, picking up comfrey and dock leaves to help close the gouges in his side.
“You’ll be all right,” she said, binding the poultice to a creature of legend. He grunted and swung his axe up, marching off down the hill. He never thanked her. They never did.
She’d probably write that in a book someday, once this is all over.
The screams of the vampires took on a note of triumph, and Shanna picked up her radio to call over to Thomas over at the slaughterhouse. “Get the pigs ready. They’ll be coming in soon.”
“They’re already done?”
Shanna grins unseen as the last of the zombies fall into the churning sea or are ripped apart in midair on bat’s wings. “Yeah, we’re winning.”