The Mother of Shadows: An Alternative History

The Invasion

The first wave would come at dawn, unknown to the soldiers at the Dover Garrison. Lance-Corporal Robert Shepard was awakened by his commanding officer ringing the alarm bell. He stumbled out of his cot, and heard several soldiers shouting outside his window. His CO, Lieutenant Yuji Date, was already dressed in his red coat, holding his bonespitter carbine. "Look lively, men!" he shouted. "We're needed on the beach!"

Grumbling, Shepard dressed himself with the contents of the chest at the end of the bed. He put on his redcoat, black hat, and gray pants. He picked up his bonespitter carbine, and fondled it lovingly. The weapon purred like a cat, having just been fed the night before. Due to a materials shortage during the war, these weapons had been grown instead of normal firearms. He coaxed the weapon into growing a bayonet spine, and followed the rest of his squad out of the barracks.

Off in the distance, the town of Dover was clearly visible in the morning light. The town looked deceptively peaceful and calm, despite the fact a significant military base was next to it. To the south, he could see the beaches and their observation posts. A new Urizen-class battleship was stationed just offshore, in case the French were foolish enough to try a naval assault. The name had been covered up to prevent the French from knowing which specific vessel was offshore. Sadly, they did not have air support.

"Company, advance to defensive positions!" Date pointed his Allied officer-issue katana to the guard houses, each recently grown out of ley-wood. "We need to hold position until reinforcements arrive!"

Shepard looked around as he marched forward, catching a glimpse of several other units in the base. Several Welsh thaumaturges were climbing into their 'burning-man' type leystriders. A group of Japanese sohei were doing their morning exercises, despite the alarm bells and shouting across the base. Several Scottish highlanders were equipping themselves with large bonespitter muskets. Off in a corner of the base, a group of Nepalese mercenaries were sharpening their oddly-shaped knives. All had come from different Allied territories, and had a purpose defending the base here.

The squad marched toward the front of the base. Corporal Shepard felt the reassuring cooing of the weapon as he gripped it firmly. The squad began to divide into smaller groups, and each group of three soldiers climbed into the watchtowers. Two soldiers formed a line in front of Shepard, and climbed up the wooden ladder to the top of the structure. Once it was his turn, Lt. Date climbed up behind him.

Not another sentry shift with my damn CO, he thought to himself.

Shepard climbed into the tower, expecting to hear Date ramble about politics again. Date looked out over the English Channel through his spyglass, noting some dots on the horizon.

"Everyone, hold fast!" Date said with a serious tone in his voice. "Shoot whatever comes in range! Nothing must pass this beach!"

Was he serious? Were the French actually crossing the Channel? Shepard looked out over the beach. He could see what looked like the wooden prowl of a ship protruding from the water. He aimed his carbine, leveling it towards the surf. The Corporal thought he could see some figures under the waves. The stench of carrion and fish washed towards them from the ocean. In the distance, a line of human like figures appeared in the surf. Another rank appeared behind them, and then another. Date pulled out his own carbine, and leveled it at the water. The Urizen-class warship was slowly coming towards shore.

"Men, you're not going to like what your about to see," Date said as he looked down the sights. "We're not going to have another Carregwastad Point."

Behind them, Shepard turned to see some of the other units moving into position. The burning men, with Highlanders and Gurkhas behind them, were ready with their own weapons. Shepard sighted one of the figures in the surf, and trained his rifle on the distant enemy. As the first rank of them emerged from the surf, Shepard could clearly see who they were.

Or rather, what they were. A horde of undead, covered in kelp and silt, was coming out of the waves at them. Behind them, an undead behemoth with a shipwreck as its shell lumbered towards the beach. The massive creature was made of rotten flesh, the bones of countless animals, and bits of wreckage. Even the hordes of waterlogged zombies were not as fearsome as the one scav-crab. Shepard stared at the monstrosity for what seemed like an eternity before he heard his commander shout.

"Fire!" Yuji shouted.

Reflexively, Shepard pulled his trigger. The weapon belched forth a spine of bone, dropping one of the first zombies. The other squadmates fired at the same time, dropping the first line of zombies. He found a new target, and pulled the trigger again. Another zombie fell dead, and then another. Looking up for a moment, he saw the scav-crab was closer. Despite the innumerable horde of undead between it and the beach, there was no denying what would happen once it reached the shore.

For a moment, Shepard looked down at the other units. The burning men unleashed their alchemical flamethrowers on the horde of undead, while wedge-like formations of highlanders cut through the gray tide with their massive blades as their guns ran out of ammunition. The sohei and druids behind them erected invisible walls of force, telekinetically pushing the horde back. Mercifully, the entire horde of undead seemed to contain no abdead or soulshells handling it. Napoleon might have pre-programmed the horde to march itself to attack English soil. However, such an attack would be easy to fight, once the numbers advantage had been negated.

Unless there was a decoy elsewhere, Shepard reasoned, readjusting his aim on the undead horde. The last thing he needed to do was become distracted when he was needed to stop this.

Just then, the ground shook violently. The cacophony of bonespitter belching was heard off in the distance, barely audible in the chaos of the battle. It happened again, and again, until Shepard could no longer focus. The Urizen-class warship, which he had half forgotten about, was moving towards shore. Or rather, it had climbed up on shore, using the six collapsible legs under it. He had seen the fearsome vessels climb up on land before, but never this close. The vessel was so close he could probably shout towards to some of the sailors on the deck if the battle was not going on.

Just then, three beams of light erupted from the deck of the Urizen-class warship. They streaked towards the massive scav-crab, each breaking into smaller beams of light as it grew closer. The creature stopped for a moment, and shuddered violently before the projectiles made contact. There was a flash of light as the beams made contact, and Shepard shielded his eyes.

When he looked again, the scav-crab had been reduced to an inanimate pile of wreckage and twitching flesh. Some strange fluids poured out of the blasted openings in the creature's hide. The Urizen's thaumaturgical Paradox missiles had finished the beast in one salvo. The end of the undead horde could not be seen. The zombies would not be alone to break through.

Just then, the Urizen class vessel turned its prowl to face the shore. Underneath the prowl, on the figurehead, was a strange metal box. Two beams began to emerge from the box, vaporizing the hordes of undead still in the ocean. As the soldiers in the guard towers and on the beach finished off the remnants, a strange sound filled the air.

Yuji stopped firing, and looked towards the others. "Oh, shit," he muttered. "That's why he sent the undead. A bloody distraction!"

It was then a massive object descended from the sky. It was a near-perfect sphere, black in color, and coming towards the ground fast. Before Robert Shepard could react, it made contact with the ground, and everything went black. Dover had been the second Allied town hit by Napoleon's Grand Cannons, and would not be the last.