The Spirit of the West: the Devil on the March
Chapter 1

"Well, Baal, what is the excuse for this month? I had expected some more positive results from your work with the American Civil War. Granted, a lot of good men were killed, but so were a lot of My adherents. And, since the war, I expected more from the persecution of the ex-slaves, and the puny efforts of the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags are simply pathetic. Your talk of your efforts being blocked by a pair of "superheroes" sounds very lame to Me. What have you done to advance My schemes?"

"Forgive me, Dread Lord Satan, but my efforts have been more productive in another area. I have instigated a march north from the Isthmus of Panama. My plan is to lay waste to the area and draw the two troublemakers into a trap I am setting up. Meanwhile, while their attention is diverted farther south, I can follow through on Your plans for the western United States. Even if I cannot kill them, I expect to be able to keep them occupied long enough for Your plans to succeed."

"That sounds like a satisfactory plan. Just remember that you don't want to kill any more of the humans than necessary. They are more valuable to us alive and suffering than they are dead. Which of My minions are you using in this march?"

"I am using the Ghosts from deeper levels of Hell, Dread Lord. They are stupid, but follow orders well, so that all I have to do is give them an order, and they carry it out without my close attention. Mop up is being done by the demons from Level 1; they are more intelligent and can improvise as necessary."

"You fool, neither one of those creatures has the ability to withstand a physical attack. Why didn't you select a hardier group?"

"Dread Lord, there are so many of these creatures that the loss of a few makes no difference in the plan. If they are 'killed, ' they just rematerialize back at their normal location in Hell, and no harm is done. There are so many of them that no human army can stand against them."

"Oh, all right, maybe you are correct. But, remember this, Baal, I expect hard, positive results this time or you will be replaced!"

"Yes, Dread Lord Satan, I will always remember that!

Fire Bringer had TPed to Panama to investigate the newspaper reports of a "ghost" army playing Hell with the people of the area. What he found was far beyond his expectations. There was a distinct line of demarcation between the conquered land and the free. Behind this line, the people were living a bare hand-to-mouth existence; there was little food, certainly not enough for the people to survive on. Rape, pillage, and murder were the rule instead of the exception, and all of this was human on human. There was no sign of the invading army beyond only a mile or so behind the line.

The unconquered land was fairly free of strife and turmoil. The people had to work to survive, just as any free people had to do, but there was abundant food and little crime. It was not Heaven and Hell on Earth, but it sure was close to it. The rulers, both local and national, were smart enough to know that a completely downtrodden people could not support their rulers in luxury, so there was some effort to help the peasants live better, if only to help the rulers live better.

The attacking army rarely killed anybody, instead, they simply killed only those who directly opposed them. Mainly, the attacking army focused on destroying food stuffs and the means of producing or acquiring it. This seemed a calculated plan to cause as much havoc and suffering as possible among the inhabitants without wiping them out at once. The vast majority of deaths came from starvation or from murders resulting when desperate people tried to take what food there was still available. Cannibalism did not seem to be far away.

Fire Bringer knew that he had to act at once, but what should he do? Should he attack the army to keep them from advancing, or should he concentrate on feeding the conquered people who were still alive? It was obvious to him that he could not do both if he had to act alone. Therefore, he sent out a panicked call for Shadow to join him—he needed all of the help that he could get!

When Shadow arrived, she, too, was appalled at the suffering she saw. Fire Bringer had kept her up to date on what he discovered, but there was nothing like seeing for herself. Shadow immediately took on the humanitarian side of the problem. She quickly scanned the world for sources of food in bulk that was waiting for a buyer. This was TPed to the war-torn area and gold was left behind to pay for it—there was no time to be coy and hide her existence. As fast as she could, she set up food kitchens to feed as many people as possible.

This attracted the attention of the demons who made up the rear echelon of the Devil's Army, and she was suddenly busy fighting them off to the right and left. She was overwhelmed by the numbers and had to back off to reassess her situation.

Meanwhile, Fire Bringer devoted himself to stopping the northward march of the army of ghosts. He quickly discovered that these were not really ghosts in the popular sense. Their bodies were translucent, so that they appeared to be vaporous or ethereal, but they were, in fact, quite solid and substantial. He was able to block their advance with a wall of frozen air for a short time, but this didn't last long. The ghosts did not pass through the wall, but simply vanished for a moment and reappeared on the other side of the wall, as if they had been TPed past the barricade. This was the final proof that the ghosts were not "natural" creatures.

The ghosts carried clubs for weapons, they needed nothing else. There were so many of them that they simply overwhelmed a defender by sheer numbers and beat him to death or, rarely, into submission. Most of the defenders used muskets to battle the ghosts, and these muskets were effective in stopping an individual ghost, but the long reload time made it impossible for the defenders to mount a successful defense. Fire Bringer tried to help by using his exploding limestone rocks, and he could stop a charge of the ghosts by this means, but he, too, was swamped by numbers. He had to find a better way, but he could not think of one at the moment.

Back in the USA, Silas Prim was leading his pack train across the Staked Plains toward a rendezvous with a delegation of Navajoes. He was transporting a shipment of mint quality Spencer repeating rifles with an ample supply of ammunition. He had three teamsters helping him and they had all they could do keeping their animals alive in the desolate country. The workers had been promised a bonus if all of the animals arrived in good condition.

The Indians were waiting at the appointed site and received Silas Prim as a welcome friend. They were satisfied with the quality of the rifles and the quantity of ammunition, so they paid him the agreed upon price in gold coins that they had stolen from various places. As a bonus, they received Prim's workers to play with after he had left with his money. Of course, none of these workers survived "play time." Silas Prim was well on his way back for another shipment of rifles by the time the Indians were ready to return to their camp.

These Navajoes were planning a major war to exterminate the Hopi, their ageold enemy, and the rifles were just what they needed to finish up the job. Silas Prim was in a hurry to pick up his next shipment, since he had an appointment with a Hopi delegation in a few weeks. Prim's contacts in Washington, DC, were doing a good job of supplying him with the surplus guns that the US Army no longer wanted as they continued to slim down after the great war. The greed and stupidity in Washington, DC, was what kept people like Prim in business. Prim was in a hurry for another reason, he had received word that the Cheyenne were in the market for Henry rifles. Damn! Life was good for men like Prim!

Fire Bringer wondered if he would gain anything by supplying the local soldiers with repeating rifles. He was concerned by the amount of training that they would need to make the transition from musket to repeating rifle. For one thing, the musket was never aimed, it was just pointed in the right direction and the trigger was pulled. On the other hand, the rifle was aimed and the trigger was squeezed. Both actions could be hard to learn after months or years of being exposed to the musket. The only way to know was to try.

Fire Bringer contacted one of the beleaguered local officers with an offer to supply his troops with Henry rifles if they could learn to use them effectively. The officer was grateful for the offer and agreed to try to convert his men to the updated weapon. He pulled his men back to a safe area, and Fire Bringer supplied them with the required rifles and ammunition. Everybody was pleasantly surprised when the men were able to become effective with the new rifles within a week of intensive training. None of them were really good shots with the rifles, but they had the idea of the rifle's proper use, and could usually hit what they were shooting at. The human soldiers were very fortunate in that the ghosts were sensitive to being hit by a bullet anywhere on the body; any such hit caused the ghost to be transported back to Hell. A hit needed to kill a human wasn't really necessary, a wound anywhere would eliminate the ghost from the earthly plane and return him to Hell.

The first time the newly trained men went up against a ghost attack, the humans did an exemplary job of fighting off the ghosts until they simply collapsed from exhaustion or ran out of ammunition. Interestingly, once a man lay down and stopped moving, he was ignored by the ghosts. Furthermore, the ghosts did not try to collect the rifles, so the men were left with their weapons and could return to fighting as soon as they recovered their strength and were supplied with more ammunition.

The humans learned quite a bit from this particular engagement. For one thing, the humans needed to hold troops in reserve to relieve the tired fighters. For another thing, the humans needed vast quantities of ammunition, since there were vast quantities of ghosts. More ghosts continued to pop up as fast as a ghost was eliminated; there was no way for the humans to tell if it was the same ghost reappearing or if a new ghost was showing up. Not that the distinction made any real difference, but the supply of ghosts seemed to be unlimited.

So far, the ghosts had limited themselves to a simple frontal attack in waves. As long as they stuck to this sort of attack, the humans had a chance of fighting them off. Fire Bringer hoped that they never thought to make their first appearance among the human fighters, since that would result in sheer panic. Also, as long as the ghosts kept an adequate distance between themselves and the humans, Fire Bringer could use his exploding stones to kill a lot of the enemy.

The supply of repeating rifles was somewhat limited, so Fire Bringer looked for an alternate weapon. After watching the ghosts for a while, he though to try something completely different, namely a sword and shield. He wondered if a short stabbing sword similar to the Roman gladius would work against the ghosts. This was something he could try for himself without waiting for troops to be trained. He thought that he was the ideal test subject, since he could not be injured by the ghosts' clubs, and he could TP away if the pressure got to be too much.

He formed himself a shield from water frozen the same way that he froze the air. The purpose here was to give him a translucent shield that he could see through while also seeing the shield; if the shield had been made of air, it would have been completely invisible. Likewise, he made a sword with a long point, but also a cutting edge on top and bottom. The sword was 27 inches long and had a monomolecular cutting edge. This sword should cut through anything the ghosts had, so he figured that he was appropriately armed.

He knew nothing about fighting with a sword, other than what he had read in a few books. He did know that this sword was designed by the Romans for stabbing the opponent in the gut and ripping up, so that was what he would try. He didn't expect to get much use from his shield, except to try to use it to block blows from the ghost's club.

He found a fight away from his repeating rifle-equipped men and waded in on the rear of the line of ghosts. The sword worked perfectly in dispatching ghosts as long as he remembered to stab. He was constantly fighting the temptation to chop with the sword, but this would have left him more vulnerable to being hit by the opposing club.

The shield was completely effective against the club, except when he forgot to use it! His automatic reaction was to try to duck or jump out of the way of the club swing, rather than force the blow to land on his shield. The proper use of the shield was certainly going to take practice, but he thought that the men could learn quickly enough. The shield had the advantage of being very light weight, yet it seemed to have enough mass to be effective against the club; he was not sure why, but he was not going to argue with success!

Fire Bringer was sure that a man could learn fast enough to be effective with the shield and gladius as long as he was facing club wielders and not enemy using edged weapons. The sword and shield were certainly effective weapons against an enemy not equipped with missile weapons, so he was ready to try out this new form of defense.

He TPed over to an officer who had been watching him dispatch ghosts even faster than could the men with muskets and said, "You have seen how effective my sword and shield are against the ghosts with their clubs. Are you interested in having your men equipped the same way as I am?"

"Yes, I am impressed with the way you were able to fight, but my men have no training in the use of the sword and shield. It would take too long to train them to be as skilled as you obviously are."

"Thank you for the compliment, but I must tell you that this was my first time to use a sword and shield. I am in good physical condition, but so are most of your men, so they should be able to learn to do what I just did without too much training."

"Well, under those circumstances, I would be most grateful for your help. If you can train the men to fight the way you did, I am sure that we would have a much better chance to stop these invaders than we can with those damned antique muskets."

"Let's start off with 20 men. I will train them and then they can each train 20 men. That should give you a formidable force in a very short time. Please have your sergeants select the first 20 men and you select a couple of sergeants to be trained. The swords and shields will be ready by the time the men are."

The officer nodded and immediately summoned two sergeants to whom he explained what he wanted. Twenty men were selected and marched to the rear where there was room to train. The sergeants had them stack their muskets and line up in front of Fire Bringer.

"I am here to teach you how to use these special weapons to fight the ghosts. You all know how ineffectual your muskets are, and you all saw me kill ghosts with ease with my sword. You also saw how easily I was able to block their clubs with my shield. What you don't know is that this was the first day I ever used either sword or shield. You can be just as effective as me if you follow my directions.

"First, let me show you how sharp this sword is." He walked to a nearby tree and easily severed several limbs with a single blow. "You are probably saying to yourself that those thin branches don't prove anything. I agree, but let me show you what this sword can really do." With that statement, Fire Bringer struck the tree trunk a smart blow with the sword. The blade passed completely through the trunk at a sharp angle without apparent slowing down. A moment later, the trunk began to slide down the slice, and the top of the tree fell to the ground. This produced a gasp of astonishment among the gathered troops.

"Now, let me show you something else." Fire bringer propped a shield against the stump of the tree he had just cut and said, "Watch closely. You know how sharp this sword is." He appeared to swing his sword as hard as he could at the shield leaning against the tree stump. Upon contact, the sword bounced off and Fire Bringer had to jump back to keep from being hit on the rebound.

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Fiction / Historical / Humor / Superhero / Violent /