1000 Soldiers

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Zachary Nassen loved to count. When he a little over a single year old, he had mastered the countdown; the 'three, two, one' that Daddy said whenever he went down a slide, or was twirled in the air before crashing in a heap of giggles onto the big red armchair with the fluffy cushion.

At two, he had one-to-ten down pat and was going for the teens. Sometimes fourteen was missed, sometimes seventeen, but there was a flow to eighteen, nineteen, twenty that meant he never made a mistake with them.

By his third birthday, he loved to count to one hundred. He knew he could go further; after all it was just starting the whole sequence again, but one hundred was enough. One day, Mummy had bought him a big bowl of colourful M&Ms as a present for doing something well, and he had sifted through them to find exactly 100 in five precise groups of 20. Twenty red ones, twenty brown, twenty yellow and twenty green. Finally twenty blue ones; Daddy said blue M&Ms were magic, like the beans in Jack and the Beanstalk: plant them and you grew an M&M tree. Zack wished they had a garden.

Seven months and eleven days after his sixth birthday, Zack had made his army. He hadn't enough Lego men to purely use those, although that had been his intention. The little grey board was now home to line after line of perfectly posed figures. Each with hair or a hat; each with some sort of weapon, as long as you considered a broom or a tennis racket a weapon. There were three hundred and seventy-one Lego people. Not men, he remembered. Daddy called them Lego men and Mummy always said "Lego people," immediately afterwards.

Three hundred and seventy-one Lego people.

There were sixteen squishy Mashems. Mostly My Little Ponies, though one was Chase from Paw Patrol and another was a wizard he didn't know from Harry Potter. Pinkie Pie, Rarity and Applejack were replicated exactly, but he didn't mind.

Daddy had provided him with a box of little plastic Doctor Who baddies to help. It was a huge boost to the army, with 56 Cybermen (all silver), 48 Daleks (in various colours), 33 Ood (whatever that was) and 14 Angels (grey, rather than silver). One hundred and fifty one little characters, each with a tiny piece of blu-tack sticking them to an old oven tray to stand behind the Lego people. Zack placed the Mashems around the smaller monsters like generals with their army. 

Blaze and his friends (Darington, Zeg, Stripes, Crusher and Pickle) made a small unit of six beefy trucks to back up the smaller contingent. They didn't need any sort of board to stop them from moving around.

Sixty four cars from an assortment of Hot Wheels, Matchbox and supermarket own brands made up the company that was ruled by the Monster Machines group. Some had broken wheels or scratched paintwork, but Zack needed the numbers so decided that even the injured had a part to play.

He had been given an assortment of Playmobil Knights and other figures by his cousin Toby. Toby was all far too grown up now to care about toys and teased Zack by saying that one day he'd be more interested in girls than Dragons. Zack privately thought that Toby was a bit of an idiot, but he'd never say it because he liked Toby and the exciting times they spent together. Toby's collection had taken hours to properly sort and stand up. Mummy had suggested using the bookshelf because the floor was becoming "hazardous" (whatever that meant). The playmobil people consequently stood in tall rows looking down at the foot-soldiers. Zachary imagined them as leaders and veterans of previous battles, sharing their experience. He had counted a total of 91, if he allowed the little dogs and the funny pig to also be part of the army (and why wouldn't he?).

In ten neat lines of thirty, he had arranged his collection of coins. Daddy was always leaving money floating about; it fell out of his pockets into the sofa, or collected on the side like a little mountain of gleaming silver and bronze. Zack always asked if he could keep them and Daddy never minded as long as he was allowed to take the fat gold and silver ones away. They were flat so didn't need any blu-tack, and Zack had turned them all so the old lady's face was looking up. Two of them were the big silver ones with straight sides - they formed the back corners of the legion.

Nine hundred and ninety-nine. It had taken him sixteen days to collect up and do before he went to Mummy and demanded she take a photograph.

"How many?" she had asked.

"Nine hundred and ninety-nine." Zack had a beaming smile.

"Oh, I thought you were going for a full thousand!"

"I did!"

"Missing one?"

Zack pointed to himself. "I'm the leader. Number one thousand is me!"

"Very good," Mummy had said. "Very good."

* * *

I have an army, Zack's brain had blasted into Huu's mind as he fought to stand. You want to fight him - the black ghost. I have an army for you.

The figures swarmed around him, their size unstable as they moved from tiny toys to full-sized soldiers.

"What is it?" asked Huu.

Ursula moved out of the way as the front of an enormous red monster truck with eyes for headlights and a beaming smile where the bumper should be seemed to crash through the wall.

Are they real?  she asked, reaching out to touch the shining metal of the bonnet.

My army! Cried Zack from his jar. My soldiers to fight the black ghost.

Hubert fell, a two-pence piece the size of a dinner plate and growing forcing him onto the floor. "Zack, stop!" he called out, "You're going to kill us!"

The wall, crumbling where Blaze had replaced it, fell away with a deafening crash. Behind, a group of Lego people each two-feet high started to move the bricks out of the way as if nothing strange was going on.

One thousand soldiers, called out the brain-in-a-jar. The room shuddered as one last person arrived. Zack, now considerably taller than the necromancer, smiled at the chaotic sight of his creation. 

"Exactly one thousand," he said.

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