Preorder Tomorrow’s Demise Today

Wait what? Tomorrow today? It’s early and I swear I haven’ had a drop to drink in a few days. Tomorrow’s Demise: The Extinction Campaign is ready to be released to the wolves. You’ve all read the story now is the time to get the book. Spread the word and share with friends. I may have been a soldier but I need an army to make it work. (That’s you!)

Tomorrow’s Demise: The Extinction Campaign

Some men are destined for greatness. Most grind through life and are forgotten by the pages of history. But some men, they become the stuff of legend. Even legends go through Hell to discover their true selves.  Aradias Kane was a child when he watched Berserkers kill his family. Vowing revenge, Kane became a Slayer: a nomadic order of men and women dedicated to removing the Berserker threat. Kane’s adventures take him across the desert, gathering others to his cause. His actions become hurried upon learning the galactic Imperium has dispatched an assault division to Helscape. Instead of helping eradicate the Berserkers, the Imperium intends to capture them and use them in their war.

Nathan Bourne watches his future dwindle with each passing day. His wife left him and took his child and he has a dead end job in the local police force. He needs change but doesn’t know where to turn. The choice is stolen from him the night his partner is murdered by a pack of Berserkers who have discovered a portal between worlds. Nathan chases them back to Helscape and becomes trapped between the Berserkers and soldiers of the Imperium. Only by teaming with Kane does he stand a chance of getting back to Earth.

Advertisements

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 23

Sorry for the hiatus but grad school and a hurricane have derailed me slightly. All’s well that ends well, right? Let’s get back to it. (And before you judge- we all have a little crazy in us!)

TWENTY-THREE

A Final Night

Nathan awoke with a start. At first, he thought the pounding was only in his head. Then he realized it was not only in his head but at the door as well. With a scowl, he eased out of bed and staggered to the door.

“This had better be good,” he mumbled to himself. The ship was leaving at dawn, and they’d spent most of the night drinking with Thalon. Right now, he just wanted sleep.

He opened the door and found Emerald staring back at him.

“I need to talk to you,” she said.

Nathan, a little confused, said, “Yeah, sure.”

“I have a bad feeling about this, Nathan,” she said. “Kane and his damned fool quest! This is not going to go well.”

“Who’s the bigger fool? The one with the idea or the people that follow him?”

A sob escaped her. “Is there a hope to live through it? I’ve found myself asking the same question a hundred times since the battle with the raiders. I do not like the feel of the air anymore, Nathan.”

“They say heroes come from the most unlikely people,” he replied. His words made him pause and told him he’d had too much to drink. Sentimentality wasn’t Nathan’s go-to move. “You and Kane are still having trouble?”

“No. He’s finally given in, but I’m not too sure. There is something odd going on here.” Emerald looked around the room.

Nathan reached out and gently held her by the shoulders. “This is a strange world for me. I know I’ve only been here a couple of months, and known you less than that, but I can see how deeply he cares for you. Trust your heart, my mother used to say.”

“I come to you for help, and you take his side?” Emerald asked in disbelief.

“I’m not taking anyone’s side. A year ago, I couldn’t have cared less. But if doing this one good thing earns me the right to go home, then I guess that’s what I have to do.”

He wanted to tell her how he really felt but knew it would only create friction in an already touchy area. He tried ignoring his feelings. Her laugh, her smiles. Emerald was everything he was looking for in a woman, and there was no way for him to say that he was falling in love with her. He was going home, provided they survived, and where would that leave them? She would be left to the cruel deserts, and he would be back home with nothing but the memory.

She was trembling and weak from her exhausted emotions. Nathan could see the tears welling up. Emotionally naked, he could see into her soul. She was letting him in, wondering if he had the same feelings, and more importantly, she was wondering if Kane was right.

“We’re all weak from time to time. I think it’s our lot in life, but you’re one of the strongest people I know. I couldn’t have lived the way you have. But for the last bit, you’ve seemed happy to me, and it warms my heart to see you smile. Be proud of yourself, Emerald. You have a good life with much to look forward to.”

His voice was calm and soothing.

“I wish I could believe that. My whole life has been spent searching. I have no idea what I’m looking for or even what to do when I find it. What is peace? Happiness? I have never known these things. Never known love. My life has been torn apart by the Ense and Berserkers and every other murderer who thinks he’s the big time. I don’t know which way is up anymore. The purpose has left me.”

His heart was crying out to her, but he couldn’t. She deserved better.

“You do have a reason for being here, Emerald,” he confided. “You just need to find it again.”

“That might take an eternity,” she sobbed. “You spoke of your mother a moment ago. I…I haven’t had parents for a very long time.”

“What happened?” he asked before he could stop himself.

“My father disappeared after a raid in the Northlands,” she said. “My mother…”

He understood. Bad things had the tendency of happening to good people. Himself the victim of more shit than he cared to remember, Nathan rubbed her shoulder. “It’s all right. You don’t have to say it.”

She caught him off guard when she placed her head upon his shoulder. It felt natural to them both yet strangely taboo. Nathan’s mind brought him visions of them living together here on Helscape. Of taking her across the river to the green valleys of Draken to start a new life and give her those precious moments she was lacking. Temptations were seducing him, and his will weakened.

“Nathan?” she asked with an uncharacteristically timid voice.

He moved so he could see her face and found himself staring down into eyes of the deepest green. The words she wanted to say didn’t come out. Untamed emotions swept through them as Nathan bent down to kiss her soft lips.

 

Night was drawing on, bring a close to another story in the life of the world. The Mad Hosking was on the rooftop watching the vague transformations. Another lifetime ago, he had known the simple pleasures of nature. That was long ago down roads darkened by black memories. A twinkling star shined light upon him, casting him in a heavenly gaze. Hosking was suddenly taken back to the fondness of childhood where life was simple and kind. There were no wars back then, just sweet simplicity. The Mad Hosking suddenly found himself longing for brighter days.

We have no time for emotions. The mission must come first.

“But I was like that once,” he told the voice of desire.

Once, but long ago. Those days are behind us now. You must focus on the task.

“I didn’t ask for this life.”

Yet have it you do. Accept us, and the fame and wealth of the greatest warriors shall be heaped upon your name.

“What shall I do with them? I have no need of wealth or fame.”

Tell us what you desire.

“To be alive again.”

A stifling breeze brushed through his hair.

This is the most alive you will ever be. Feel the energy, the pure power of what you have become. It’s like a drug, isn’t it? The killing. All of it. Think what you could do if you were a king. And lo! Why stop there? You can become a god!”

“And resign myself to eternal damnation?”

Not so long as we breathe life.

“Why do you care so much? Who are you, and how did you come to torment me so?”

I am you. Born from the fires of battle and forged by the blood of your foes. There can be only one of us. One will survive. Are you strong enough in mortal form to be the One? The enemy still lives. Thriving behind every shadow. We must destroy them. You and I. Join me.

“Yes,” Hosking finally agreed. “We must destroy the demons of the night. Together.”

It is the only way.

“Of course. I see that now.”

Hosking threw his arms to the heavens and laughed. Thunder and lightning roared across the face of the world.

“It is the only way!” he bellowed at the Old Gods asleep in their realm.

Shifting mists and confusion wrapped around him thinned before washing away altogether. The rejuvenation of his soul strengthened with resolve. He was whole again. Born from his own insanity and fortified with the knowledge of the coming doom, Hosking was become unstoppable. The storms picked up their pace, raging both inside his mind and through the ash-laden heavens. Sleep beckoned him, causing him to finally give in to their desire and urge. The Mad Hosking crept back to his room to reflect on his future.

 

“What holds you so deep in thought?” the pirate Argoslan asked, tipping his mug to catch the last precious drops ale.

Thalon snapped to. “The woman.”

“What about her?”

He shook his head and offered his feline companion a light for his pipe. “I don’t know. Didn’t she seem familiar to you?”

“I wish,” he laughed. “A woman like that could satisfy my urges for a goodly time.”

“You’ve been on that boat too long, my friend,” Thalon warned. “I’m serious. There was something familiar about her. What did she say her name was?”

“Emerald something or other.”

Emerald. He couldn’t place where he’d heard the name before. It was haunting him, tearing through his past. He knew her. And then a thought occurred.

“When was the last time you went to the Northlands?”

Argoslan replied, “I was but a lad then. Didn’t know any better, I suppose, and I’ll be damned if I ever go back. Dangerous place with the Ense and the men of the Northlands.”

Thalon closed his eyes and remembered. “I spent several years there, most of them during the wars. A lot of good men lost their lives to the snow and bitter cold. The Ense were often the least of our concerns.”

“It is an evil land, but why speak of it now? There are better things to discuss over a stout of good ale.”

“We went there once with the captain and his daughter. I remember getting attacked by Ense late one night. That’s where I lost my leg,” he added with a gentle pat. “They killed most of us, but some of us managed to escape for revenge. There was a little girl hidden on the shoring boat the second time we went back. It sounds crazy, but I think Emerald was that little girl, the captain’s daughter.”

Argoslan looked at his friend with concern. “I think you’ve had a bit much to drink. Let’s call it a night and head back to the ship. If this wizard wants them so badly, I don’t think I can afford having a curse upon my head for dallying.”

All the way back to the Misfortune, Thalon couldn’t help but think of Emerald.

Tomorrow's Demise I

Available for preorder now! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07H8QVRTB?

Cover of the Month Contest

Good Monday morning friends! Hurricane Florence has finally almost passed- good Lord am I tired of continual rainfall….ugh. But the power stayed on and we escaped the worst of it. The good news is my cover for The Children Of Never (WHY HAVEN’T YOU READ THIS YET?) has been nominated for the cover of the month contest through All Author. We have made it by the skin of our teeth all the way to the 3rd round but will need so much more to get to the top. That being said, we jumped from 48 to 9- NINE if you can believe that!

Please vote. Every vote counts and I can’t do it without you. Click the link and hit vote. Easy peasy. Here’s to good reading.

https://allauthor.com/cover-of-the-month/2370/

Children of Never E book

Tomorrow’s Demise CH 22

TWENTY-TWO

Redemption

“My friends, I present you the town of Redemption,” the Viper said with a grand sweeping gesture. “Don’t let it fool you. The only hope therein comes from not being killed in the night.”

Their gaze held on the swarthy city ringed by foothills and broken mountains. Buildings were made of a strange metal alloy none were familiar with. Streets were paved and even had rows of lights lining them. It was an alien world to look upon from the people down to the strangeness of the beasts moving about.

“I advise you to watch your words here. You most of all, law man,” the Viper said. “These are the folk who’ll slice your throat for looking the wrong way. There is a place we can stash the wagon and supplies, but it’ll cost. They don’t take kindly to outsiders, and nothing is cheap around here.”

“We need to find Thalon quickly,” Kane told him. “I don’t want to waste any more time here than necessary.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem as long as he’s there. Pirates don’t tend to stay in port very long. Some fool superstition about being on dry land.”

Emerald leaned over to Nathan and said, “Watch your back.”

The old wagon creaked down the well-traveled road to Redemption and whatever else the Fates held in store.

 

Redemption was the southernmost city on Furnace Island and the determining factor for travelers wanting to go north. The island was recognized by the regional government in Draken as independent and autonomous. Their technology rivaled that of the planetary government in some ways, for many bright men and women had fled the south during the great wars.

One small town of refugees and thieves had grown into a sprawling community. A dozen towns had popped up across the island, from Doom Town due west to the northern most port of Une, which guarded the Fangs of Tal-Agnon from Northlander raiding parties. The southeastern waterways were guarded by the aged fortress Malad Durn, locked on a tiny isle in the middle of the eastern branch of the Angril River.

Everyone wore a weapon of sorts here, if only for self-defense. Thieves, murderers, pirates and assassins stood on every corner — not to mention the countless creatures roaming the volcanic landscape. Giant lizards stalked here and there in search of a good meal of flesh and blood. The band of seven adventurers saw many of these on their ride from the riverbanks.

Now, they stood upon the crest of the last rise before town. The Viper cautioned them against drawing their weapons prematurely. Doing so would only attract unwanted attention and could quite possibly get them killed. They grumbled and complained, but none were in a hurry to die. Natives spotted the wagon ambling down the road, and whispers started spreading. Some said they were captains of grand vessels ready to sail to the Northlands and end the fear of invasion for good. Others warned of bounty hunters come to claim more heads for the lords and regents away south. They nodded and passed the newcomers, always a hand on the hilt of a sword or the grip of a blaster beneath their drab cloaks.

Many of them recognized the man in black with the gleaming bird upon his shoulder. His name was synonymous with death and cause enough to give them wide berth down the streets. It was easier to avoid the threat concealed behind his demon red eyes than to face it. Nathan found it odd that the assassin was the most comfortable here. He figured the Viper’s reputation would put him on edge rather than in the thralls of respect from the people moving around them.

None of them noticed the balding man step from the shadows across the street to mark their progress. His narrow eyes took in their armaments and movements. They carried enough to start a fair battle yet walked like ordinary travelers seeking shelter. He was most impressed with the woman in their midst. This was uncommon. The band rode on until all he saw was their backs. The balding man drew his hood about him and slipped back into the shadows to make his report.

“The stables are at the end of the road,” the Viper told them, “but whether we’ve already been seen, I do not know. I have doubts that anyone will voluntarily ward our wagon and horses. This place has a bad feeling to it of a sudden. We’re taking a terrible chance in coming here.”

“Chance is often the basis for victory,” Kane said and rode on.

Redemption had an oddly calming effect on Nathan the further he rode through it. His mind told him he was surrounded by thieves and criminals, yet here he found peace. The respirators he wore lent them an air of anonymity despite their alien nature. A sick part of him was enjoying the grime and ash of the city. The city looked foul. Indeed, the entire island was locked in struggle between day and night, lost somewhere in the middle. The combination of Helscape’s twin suns and a hundred active volcanoes gave Furnace Island a dark red tinge staining everything in sight. It wasn’t far off from his visions of Hell.

They gained the stables without any altercations, though they passed by a number of fistfights and drunken brawls. The Viper told them it was an hourly occurrence and bade them ignore it unless it happened to them. Finding someone to watch over the wagon and horses proved easier than they’d anticipated. The stable master was a swarthy man with shifty eyes promising to keep their possessions as safe as they were his own. Kane didn’t trust him, but there was little choice.

“Shouldn’t we leave a guard?” Snake Eyes asked.

He didn’t care that there were five hundred other beasts and wagons already stabled. None of them were important to him, as he was guessing they weren’t to the stable master or his men.

“No. Not here,” the Viper said. “What good would it serve? He’d have no way to contact us should anything happen. Do try to relax. It’ll make things flow much smoother that way.”

The Viper led them down the stench-filled streets to where the pirate Thalon was going to meet them. Their nerves were on end regardless of how much they tried to relax. Every so often, Xill would spin around to protect their rear, giving the locals a look at the ion rifle hidden under his jacket. Thirty minutes later, they stood upon the steps of the Kaliya.

“This is it,” the Viper said.

Their relief was cut short by a battered man crashing through the double doors and landing out on the hard street. He hadn’t the time to groan before his attacker came storming after him. The ogre was almost four hundred pounds with little fat or brain capacity. His face was contorted with anger.

“Ya wormin’ thief!” the ogre bellowed. “I’ll learn ya to pick my pockets!”

The man on the ground tried his best to roll away and give himself a small chance of escaping. “To the Hells with you,” he spat at his aggressor. “You’re no better than the rest of us. When I tell them in Doom Town, there’ll be war on your head.”

Ogre kicked him square in the jaw, crushing bones and cartilage. Tears streamed down the little man’s face to mix with the drooling blood and saliva.

“You bastard,” he whispered through shattered teeth. His hand snaked down towards his blaster.

“I don’t think so, Grime,” said Ogre. “There will be no war seeing as how you’re not going to make it to Doom Town.”

The cold steel of Ogre’s pistol leveled on Grime’s head. He let out a low sigh and squeezed the trigger. The tiny crowd that had formed began to break up and go about their business. The show was over. Ogre wiped the blood and brain matter from his boots and went back inside.

“Lovely place,” Snake Eyes said and followed the others inside.

The Kaliya was unlike anything Nathan had ever been in. Lighting was intentionally limited, and luxurious tapestries ran to the ceiling. It must have been popular among the locals, because every couch and lounge bed was filled with pirates, outlaws and scantily clad women. Snake Eyes particularly enjoyed how the women walked about topless. This was definitely his type of place.

A man with skin the colors of fire stepped in front of them, his muscular arms crossed over his chest. He had a long mane and watched them with feline eyes. Leather gloves carefully concealed his razor sharp claws and quite possibly the levels of his own bitterness as well. His voice came out as a low growl.

“You are late. Mr. Zimbele has been expecting you. Come with me.”

His immense form pushed the pockmarked door to where the private rooms were kept. He parted the velvet curtains and gestured them in. Trap or no, they were left with no choice. Thalon was inside, along with a half-naked female friend of exquisite beauty. She was deeply tanned and had long, flowing hair down to her middle back. There was no fat on her shapely form. She was topless, her breasts firm with small, dark nipples. Ornate bracelets climbed the length of her forearms and ankles, and her transparent skirt was slit up to the joint of her thigh. She watched them with disdain as she slipped back into her top and walked away. Nathan felt drowned in the thick fragrance of perfume when she passed.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t going to come,” Thalon said with his best diplomatic tone. “Please make yourselves comfortable.”

A flicker of recognition passed his eyes when he saw Emerald, as if to say not yet. It was still too early and not his place.

“Have the Mistress bring in a few bottles for my distinguished guests,” he said to the feline warding the room.

The old pirate settled his gaze on Kane and asked, “Was there trouble along the way?”

“Nothing to concern yourself over. We handled what was given to us, and here we are. That is what’s important.”

“What’s the plan now?” the Viper asked, impatient with the feeling out process.

Thalon smiled. “Straight to the point. I like that. My captain has been hired to take you north to Kratchen and the wizard’s home. Certain matters have pushed our timetable forward, making it necessary to leave as soon as possible.”

“Why rush? We just got here,” Snake Eyes said. He was more than ready for a good drink and a warm woman to whisper his troubles away with.

“One does not trifle with a wizard’s patience, my friend. My job is to get you there safely and expediently.”

A slender blond wisped through the thin curtain to deliver five bottles of the house’s best stock. The Viper was the first to make himself comfortable, propping his feet up on the couch and lighting his long stem pipe. He soon lost himself in the sweet flavors of the pipe tobacco and Redemption’s best ale.

“This is quite the place,” Nathan observed with a grimace when the ale burned down his throat. It was quite possibly worse than the stuff back in the Wastes.

“We like to think so. Much cozier than other places. Everything you see is either contraband or black market under the regional governments. Seeing as how we don’t fall under their jurisdiction, Redemption is a grand place to discover your desires,” Thalon said. “There are no threats of outside intervention, which gives us the opportunity to live as we choose. Of course, there are unwritten codes here and those who will break them. I believe you witnessed such on your way in?”

“What about the boat?” Kane asked, already tired of pointless conversation.

“It’s one of the better ones, if that’s what you mean. Definitely one of the largest.”

“How long will the voyage last?” Nathan asked.

“It’s a full five-day trip, but she can make it under four. She’s the fastest ship on the Lava Sea. We seldom worry about attack. In fact, it’s been seven years since the last time we were boarded by a rival boat. That ended with their doom, I’m proud to say. The captain’s a well-respected man. Most ships give us a wide berth and hoist their colors to honor the peace.”

Talk went on long into the night, for it was the pirate way to tell tales and stories in celebration of momentous events. They completed their arrangements for the following day and talked no more of business. Thalon spoke of great crusades on the Northlands of the monsters in the frozen waters of the Northern Ocean. The soldiers countered with wars on distant planets and visions of despair. The ale kept coming faster the more the night marched on.

Kane excused himself somewhere after the midnight hour. He’d passed on drinking, deciding it was time for a clear head instead. It did him good to see the way the others were bonding and enjoying the times. He doubted there would be any more after they returned to the Wastelands.

“Aradias?”

It took all he had to ignore Emerald’s soft voice. He wanted to be alone. Their earlier conversation in the desert opened his heart and mind to accepting her but committing to such proved more difficult than he had hoped for.

“Damn it, Kane, look at me,” she demanded. Her tolerance for his childish behavior was gone. “I don’t know what I’ve done, but it ends now.”

“My heart dropped the day you discovered what we were about,” Kane slowly turned and said. “I don’t want you here anymore than the others. This whole endeavor is no more than suicide, Emerald.”

“You know I respect you more than any man alive, but we are responsible for our own choices in life, be they good or bad. This was mine,” Emerald said. “I thought we were beyond this. It seems I was wrong.”

A tear came to his eye. He knew she was right and was in no position to debate her wishes. His own selfishness prevented him from seeing the assets placed in front of him. Should it come to death, there was no finer company he could ask for. Finally, he nodded and thus accepted Emerald as one of the band.

She leaned forward and gave him a tender kiss on the cheek. “You’re never going to have to worry about being alone again, Aradias.”

Tomorrow's Demise I

Free Thru Friday

I know, I spelled through wrong, but everything has to be catchy right? I’ve had this idea stewing in the back of my head for a while. A love of film noir and science fiction had to collide at some point, thus the Lazarus Men were born. This is the heartwarming tale of…no, scratch that. This book is a cross between the Maltese Falcon and Total Recall set in a futuristic environment where Earth is about to go to war with the Outer Worlds. And for you, it is free to download for this week only. Read on, my friends. Read on.

The Lazarus Men

It is the 23rd century. Humankind has reached the stars, building a tentative empire across a score of worlds. Earth’s central government rules weakly as several worlds continue their efforts toward independence. Shadow organizations hide in the midst of the political infighting. Their manifestations of power and influence are beholden only to the highest bidder. The most powerful/insidious/secret of these, The Lazarus Men, has existed for decades, always working outside of morality’s constraints. Led by the enigmatic Mr. Shine, their agents are hand selected from the worst humanity has to offer and available for the right price.
Gerald LaPlant lives an ordinary life on Old Earth. That life is thrown into turmoil on the night he stumbles upon the murder of what appears to be a street thief. Fleeing into the night, Gerald finds himself hunted by agents of Roland McMasters, an extremely powerful man dissatisfied with the current regime and with designs on ruling his own empire. In order to do so, McMasters needs the fabled Eye of Karakzaheim, a map leading to immeasurable wealth. Unknown to either man, Mr. Shine has deployed agents in search of the same artifact and will stop at nothing to obtain it.
Running for his life, Gerald quickly becomes embroiled in a conspiracy reaching deep into levels of government that he never imagined existed. His every move is hounded by McMasters’ agents and the Lazarus Men. His adventures take him away from the relative safety of Old Earth across the stars and into the heart of McMasters’ fledgling empire. The future of the Earth Alliance at stake. If Gerald has any hope of surviving and helping saving the alliance he must rely on his wits and awakened instincts while foregoing the one thing that could get him killed more quickly than the rest: trust.

Lazarus Men_72dpi

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH21

It’s Monday and you know what that means: Once more into the breach, dear friends. Let’s not waste anymore time. I have the perfect story for Halloween I want to get to and the season fast approaches.

TWENTY-ONE

Crossing

The Angril River sat bubbling and spitting harsh gases from the bottom of the last gentle slope in the road. It was a far cry from the timid conditions the Imperium crossed south of here. The opposite shore was lost in the haze and ash. Nathan had never seen a river boil before, and it left an ill feeling in his heart.

“The boatman will expect payment for his services,” the assassin told them while they busied with a quick meal.

“Don’t you people make bridges around here?” Nathan asked. He couldn’t see the point in having to pay for a thing so simple.

Laughter rolled off the Viper’s tongue. “It is a league across! Can you swim so far, law man?”

A shudder passed through Emerald when vile memories of the boatman came back to her. It was as if an old horror resurfaced in the darkness of her mind. She hadn’t been here in a long time and clearly didn’t want to go back the closer she got. Furnace Island was not a place she chose to visit without dire need.

Heated waters lapped against the already despoiled shore, melting the sand away to make room for the expanding waters. Vapors managed to break through the seals of their respirators in small amounts. Sweat covered their bodies, and the gases made their stomachs sick. Undaunted, they came the last few meters to the riverbanks and the docks of the boatman. The barge was on the other side of the river finishing a run and wouldn’t be back for an hour.

All they could do was sit and wait.

“Stand guard,” the Viper warned. “This is still a harsh place. Thieves tend to visit while he is away.”

“Where are you going?” Snake Eyes asked when the assassin remounted and turned to ride off.

“To the hilltop to wait and see how long of a wait we have.”

They watched with mistrust as the assassin rode back to the hilltop, not knowing if he intended on staying long enough to find out. Kane bade them rest while they could, for there would little time for such in coming days. Though the rest did them good, it was an uneasy time. Even the slightest noise was a demon, and the shadows beheld a measure of evil. They sat and stared at each other, some drifting off to sleep for a short while. The Viper did return, and he roused them to their feet. The ferry was returning.

Made of mixed metals and aged wood, the ferry broke the waves and stormed ashore. The anchor dropped in an agonizing groan. Not to be outdone, the ramp trembled the ground. The ferry appeared unfit to sail, much less stay afloat, but it was the only crossing for leagues in either direction. A proud standard blew from the pole next to the helm. The background was crimson, and it had a brilliant golden shield in the center with the watching eye and a hammer encased. Emerald shuddered from terrible memories.

Twelve camel-mounted merchants appeared garbed in extravagant silks billowing in the tender breeze. Ornate jewels decorated them in various places, sparkling through the nauseating light. Not so much as a sidelong glance was given to the haggard band of warriors as they passed. The merchants’ guards flanked both sides, and they were watchful. Their dark eyes fell on the group until they had passed, and even then, the last ones turned to make sure Kane and his fellows were getting aboard.

“Great, more wooden benches,” Nathan remarked after stepping aboard.

A massive shadow fell across the leaders, causing them to take a defensive step back — all but the Viper. He stepped forward to meet the boatman without fear. The boatman was a giant of a man, standing eight feet tall with skin the color of chalk. His muscles were huge and bulging under the tunic he wore, and the winds blew through his sparse gray hair. His tail was twitching. He carried a heavy metal staff crowned by a dragon’s head in his right hand, and his empty black eyes stared down on them.

“I am Gaalk, ferryman of the river Angril. You have no need of weapons on my vessel nor reason for fear. No harm comes to those seeking passage. Now please, bring what you have. And we may get underway.”

Gaalk stalked back to the helm under the constant ringing of his staff striking the decks.

“Bring the wagon,” Kane said, and then he and the Viper followed Gaalk.

The pale man wheeled with an outstretched palm. “No one may board without payment, Slayer.”

Kane balked at his words. How did he know?

The blind giant smiled. “You ask yourself how I can see when my eyes have been dead for so long. The winds have whispered your name to me, Aradias Kane. They foretold your coming, and I am but a humble passenger on the journey of your life.”

“We are but five,” the Viper said.

Gaalk laughed, loud and thunderous. “Ah, Viper! I thought I smelled you. It is good to be among friends these days. Five of you there may be, but you shall pay for all seven. Keep hope, for your trickery may not fool me this day, but one day, perhaps.” Coins dropped in his palm. “Welcome aboard.”

The ramp groaned shut, and the boat launched back into the boiling waters. Emerald chose to stay with the horses while everyone else made their way to more comfortable accommodations on the upper deck. Leaving them all to visit with Gaalk went the Viper, for he had more in common with the blind man than he cared to with the rest.

Snake Eyes bumped Nathan with a sharp elbow and asked, “What’s wrong with her?” He hadn’t realized he was staring at her until Snake interrupted him. “Beats me. She has been getting quieter the closer we got to the ferry.”

“Have you tried talking to her?”

A thousand times, he silently said.

Leaning back and casually lighting a cigarette, Snake Eyes said, “There you have it.”

“Have what?”

Snake Eyes exhaled a cloud of smoke. “People tend to get a little crazy the closer to death they get.”

Too many emotions were running for Nathan to sort out. He knew he was falling in love with her and hoped she was doing the same. He saw the old visions of a family left behind when they talked, but she made him feel more alive than he’d ever been. He was forty-three this year and finding himself thrown into the tumultuous position of a teenager. Snake’s subtle urging was enough to make him get up and go down to her, much to the other’s delight.

He found her sitting on the wagon’s back step, softly humming to herself. Nathan had to stop and smile. There weren’t many things able to make him do that. Nathan stopped and stared. Her beauty warmed his heart. The simple thought of her made him feel things he hadn’t remembered. Content, Nathan smiled. He found himself studying the way her hair tumbled down over her shoulders, tickled in the winds. Her eyes were bright beyond measure and held a special life in them, especially when they looked upon each other. It seemed almost a shame to disturb her.

“I almost thought there was a song bird down here,” he said, taking a seat next to her.

The sound of his voice made her jump. “You startled me. I wasn’t expecting company, Nathan.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I can go, if you like.”

Her arm wrapped around his. “Who said anything about that?”

They smiled together.

“I do have to ask you,” Nathan said, “what’s the deal with you and this boatman?”

Another shudder passed at the mention of his name. “He scares me,” she whispered.

“That’s not like you.”

A shadow passed behind her eyes.

“He is an Ense. They come from the Northlands, a bitter land of ice and snow. They are demons, every one of them.”

“This one doesn’t seem so bad,” he said in a vain attempt at soothing her pains. He could tell she wasn’t in the mood to tell the whole tale, and that was fine. Judging from her demeanor, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.

“Damn it, I’m serious! Theirs is an evil falling short only to the Berserkers.” It took all she had to keep from crying. “Nathan, they killed my father.”

He felt his heart drop at her sorrow. He cried for her, slipping his nervous arm around her slender waist.

“No one’s going to hurt you if I have anything to do with it,” he whispered in her hair.

Her smile was thin, but she said no more.

 

“You return much sooner than usual,” Gaalk told the Viper. “I’ve got a good job lined up.”

Kane didn’t like how the conversation was going. It was bad enough half of Black Tide and a few raiders knew of their journey, but Gaalk was in a position to talk to too many people.

“How long have you been captain of this ship?” he asked, trying to redirect the topic.

The giant smiled again. “That is an old question. I came to this land ninety years ago, already worn from many decades of war and conquest. The pirates of Furnace Island were having trouble keeping the way open against the Berserkers, so I joined a host of friends seeking glory. And such did we reap! Those were grander days, I’m afraid. I was the youngest of the bunch, and little good it did me. Now I am all that remains.”

He mused to himself for a bit and then continued, “They died over the years; the last must have been fifteen years ago. I’ve been alone ever since.”

Gaalk kept the remainder of the voyage in silence.

“Expect our return by the next full moon,” the Viper told him from atop his horse.

“Until then, may fortune favor you.”

Gaalk left them to their winding road and raised the ramp. He’d been troubled for the last part of their trip and couldn’t figure out why until they off-loaded. There was a smell on the woman he remembered from long ago. Old memories came back to him and turned to nightmares of deeds he was ashamed of. The boat moved in a new direction, but her pilot stayed in the past.

Tomorrow's Demise I

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 20

Can you believe we’ve come this far? Already half way through book 2. It’s been a long ride and there’s plenty left to travel. One thing for sure is I am glad I’m not any of the main characters.

TWENTY

Hunted

Snake Eyes groaned at being shaken awake and tried to turn over. A cold wind was blowing across the lands, pushing an invisible wall of sand to its whim. The smell of a fire scattered across the terrain, for Kane felt there was no immediate danger that night. Dawn was fast approaching, and most of the camp was already up and tearing it down to move. He hated mornings, even when he hadn’t been out all night drinking.

“Sergeant Kimel?” Kane asked.

This had to be a bad dream, the soldier thought. He rubbed his eyes to wipe the sand away and saw that it wasn’t. Kane was standing over him.

“It’s your turn to join me on the perimeter sweep.”

Snake didn’t like the way the words came out. “Is there trouble?” he asked. He’d slept with his rifle and reached down to charge it.

“I’m not sure. Certainly nothing to worry the others about yet.”

He could tell Kane was holding something back. The Slayer answered his questioning look before he could say anything.

“I noticed a few things a while back, and I want to make sure it won’t come back to haunt us when we’re not expecting it.”

Dressed and ready to fight, Snake and the Slayer stalked off. Xill nodded and made his way atop the wagon where the machine gun was.

Satisfied that they were far enough away from the camp, Kane reined in his horse and said, “I believe we are about to be attacked.”

“How can you be sure?” Snake Eyes asked him, nervously looking around the area.

“The road. There are too many fresh tracks. We have been discovered by raiders. How many, I cannot say exactly, but I’d guess between thirty and forty,” Kane answered. “They don’t usually travel in large groups. We’ve already passed a dozen campsites along the route, and I’ve noticed many trails leading off into the desert.”

“Maybe they’re just changing the way they operate,” Snake guessed. “The Berserkers have a lot of people spooked nowadays.”

“No,” Kane said. “We have been seen, and they are in front of us now.”

“How much time do we have?”

“Half a day, maybe less. It’s hard to say, but I think they will attack at dusk.” He looked to the brightening skies. “They’ve already lost the advantage of the night. We need to return and make ready.”

They finished their patrol in silence, ever fearful of events to come.

 

“Very good, Slayer. Very good, indeed,” the lone rider applauded from behind his thermal binoculars.

He was impressed with the prowess with which these six fools went about their business. They had an almost casual demeanor towards the impending battles. Finished with watching them for the time being, he made quick work of a light breakfast of cheese, bread and dried fruit. He could smell the impending battle riding the winds, lending him a long smile with the knowledge that he would finally be put to test. It’d been so long since the last time he’d fought for good’s sake, he couldn’t remember. At last, he was going to do something worthwhile. The rider went to loading and charging his vast array of weapons.

A glance at his watch told him it was almost time. “Well, Aradias Kane, let’s see what you do next.” He spurred his horse forward to get a better view.

 

Snake Eyes was in his element. The threat of impending combat had been building in him all day, and he couldn’t wait to make camp for the night. He was doing what he’d been trained for — indeed, doing what came second nature. Of course, most of the time, he was blessed with close air support and artillery waiting on his call as well as a platoon of battle-hardened soldiers. Times were changing, but the fight was the same. A good soldier was able to improvise along the way. Chuckling, Snake Eyes went about his rounds.

“I hope to God this works,” Nathan said as he and Xill were finished checking the head space and timing for the heavy machine gun.

“As do we all,” the Crendaphidian said. “Come on, we should help with the trip wire before it gets too dark.”

Kane was sitting atop his horse, watching twilight crawl across the desert. They’d gone another day without being caught, but the trap was set. He was fairly certain they were surrounded now, and the raiders were merely letting them sweat it out. The more worried their prey became, the easier it was for them to attack.

It took an hour for them to put all in place. The camp returned to normal, even with a fire so as not to rouse suspicions. Xill cooked a meager meal, a motley stew filled with chopped vegetables and a type of meat Nathan didn’t want to guess at. Fighting to swallow the first spoonful, Nathan smiled and silently vowed never to eat the Crendaphidian’s cooking again. Night slowly dragged closer.

The temperature was cooling, and the first shivers set in. Minutes ticked away the first hour, and still nothing. The waiting was in its tedious stage where boredom was a threat. Boredom was the true threat. Each sound might be the enemy. Each hint of movement a potential disaster waiting to happen. Boredom led to complacency. Complacency killed.

They sat in silence, facing each other around the fire but watching the desert. Nathan was the first to catch the soft rustling of something human in the unseen distance.

“What was that?” he whispered.

“They’re here.”

Kissing winds echoed across the dunes, quieting the noises of the night. They sat forward on edge, waiting for the inevitable to happen. It wouldn’t be long now. Their rifle’s humming added a calming effect to an otherwise eerie scene. It was the peacefulness of the moment Snake enjoyed — the quiet right before the first round was fired. The ensuing shrill whistle ripped him from his sanctuary.

“Incoming!” Xill bellowed.

They dove for cover an instant before the missile screamed past the wagon and into the fire. Sand and debris from the explosion covered them. Most of them lost their night vision when the missile blew up. Snake Eyes wasn’t one of them. He’d been expecting a trick like that and was rewarded by shielding his eyes during the blast. The missile was commonly called the party rocket, for it was designed to blind and not injure Snake was the first one up and taking cover.

A chorus of battle cries erupted in a circle around them. The raider force of fifty men sprang up from the night with bloodlust in their eyes. Ion rounds stretched out in front of them as if marking the advance. No one was to return fire until Snake Eyes gave the signal. He wanted to wait until as many of the foe as possible were in the kill zone. The raiders quickly closed the gap. Rounds slammed into the wagon and kicked up sand close to where they lay. Each wondered who was going to get hit first, but still, they waited.

Another explosion shook the ground, louder than the first. Snake Eyes smiled. The raiders had tripped the first mine in the perimeter. Set on a two-second delay, the entire daisy chain of mines began going off. Screams went out, and body parts flew in a rain of blood. The air became thick with the smells of charred flesh and corpses. The raiders were caught completely unawares and were reduced to half their fighting strength.

It was the defenders turn to burn the night with ion fire. Streams of ice blue raced off to find their targets more often than not. The wagon rocked from the assault of the heavy machine gun, and the haze made choking clouds. Outmatched and demoralized, the raiders retreated. Moans and cries from the dying ringed the camp.

They knew it was a matter of time before the raiders regrouped and made another assault, and Snake Eyes didn’t plan on wasting it. He dropped to a knee and fired off a red flare. It exploded over the center of camp, showering sparks down. What they saw was sickening.

Two dozen bodies littered the area, and there was no telling how many more were on the other side of the dunes. They watched a man claw his way out of the kill zone, entrails dragging behind him. Three quick thumps impacted within the perimeter. Snake’s eyes flew wide, and he jumped aside.

“Everybody down!” he bellowed.

The grenades detonated with unique cruelty, sending splinters of sharp steel through the wagon and off into the night. Shockwaves rolled through their eardrums. Snake Eyes smiled. This was just like old times. He released the launcher, letting the familiar weight fall down to his side on the extended sling and raised his rifle.

The surviving raiders broke from cover to attack. Half of them rode in on screaming horses, opening safety lanes for the dismounted assault. They were concentrated and pushing for the wagon. Nathan pulled himself up and found he was caught in the open. Ion rounds stung around him, striking the wagon in a hundred points before finally catching him in the right arm. His cries went unheard as he fell to the ground.

Then the raider attack seemed to waiver. Aradias Kane was standing in the center of the camp, proud and stern. He was a prime target, but the rashness of his actions made the raiders nervous of a trap. A sharp metallic sound told them he’d drawn his saber and stood waiting. They smiled and leered, for one man with a sword was no match for tens on horseback.

They obliged him by holstering their weapons and drew their own cruel blades in turn. The lead horses spurred forth to run him down. Kane ducked under the first’s swing, the whistling blade narrowly missing his black hair. His own blade swung around and caught the rider across the kidney. Hot blood sprayed the Slayer’s face, and the rider dropped to the ground.

Hosking leapt from the darkness to climb aboard the horse. Another rider overrode Kane and was dealt a deadly blow down his spine. The heavy machine gun atop the wagon opened fire into the dismounted raiders. Three fell before they had closed with the defenders. His weapon useless, Xill slid from the wagon to fight the enemy hand to hand. Ever so slowly, the defenders were losing ground.

A blow from a heavy battle staff caught Snake Eyes in the shoulder and dropped him to his knees. Sparks of light flashed in his eyes, but he managed to see two riders heading towards him with a net between them. Snake had other plans. Drawing both blasters and firing wildly, Snake Eyes hit the rider on the left in the neck. The net dropped on him, jerking him arm aside. His rounds slammed into the horse’s belly, and it buckled, throwing the rider to the ground where the fall broke his neck.

No one, not raider nor defender, saw the lone man storming out of the night into the encampment. Four raiders lay dead before they noticed he was not one of their own. His silent actions inspired a vicious counterattack, felling seven more. The raiders recognized this new threat and retreated to lick their wounds. The battle was over. Coming to a halt in front of the weary Slayer, the rider dismounted and stood with a smile.

“I thought you were out here,” Kane said.

The Viper laughed. “Don’t kid yourself, Aradias. I’m only here for the treasure, not this damned fool crusade. Your cause is none of my concern, so let’s keep it that way.”

A semi-circle was formed around him. They were filled with amazement and wonder.

“As you wish, assassin,” Kane bowed. “But know this: we will be standing side by side in the end. War is a terrible thing.”

“Yes, it is, but it’s going to make me a very rich man.”

Kane turned his focus to his friends. “We can’t stay here. They will be back and in greater numbers. Can he ride?”

Nathan waved off his concern. “I’m fine. It’s just a flesh wound.”

“Good. Check the dead for ammunition, and pack anything left out. We need to leave at once. Time is not an ally.”

There was a new air about them, a far different feel than before. Kane led them back on the road towards Redemption.

Tomorrow's Demise I