So many things are happening this day it almost seems wrong to post the new chapter. 9/11 was the first day I brought my daughter home from the hospital. Such a strange day. I was asleep on my living room floor- beside her and her mother- and woke up in time to see the 2nd plane hit. I remember Katie Couric saying how it was a terrible coincidence and remember thinking she was an idiot. I looked at my ex-wife and said, “we’re going to war.” Sure enough, 10 minutes later I got the phone call. Report to your unit with full equipment. Weapon draw is at….. We each have stories and memories. I’d like to hear some of yours. After you get to the bottom of CH 22 though.
Mnemlath licked the hot blood from the back of his hand and smiled upon the destruction they’d created in such a short period of time. The last of the pathetic resistance was being dismembered now. A few of his Berserkers sustained minor wounds, mostly ion scoring from ricocheting rounds. The pain was mild but served to fuel their rage. He looked down the hall and was pleased to see no one approaching yet. Mnemlath snorted his amusement at the thought of the youth running away. The Berserker knew he’d be back with more guards. This was no longer a safe place.
“We are done here,” Spills Blood announced. “We need to return to the Hive. The risk is too great.”
“No,” Mnemlath said. “Continue the hunt. The others will wait for us out in the dune sea.”
Spills Blood snarled. “Fool. You endanger us all. Kargosh will hear of this.”
“Time makes you soft. The Creator demands actions. Your Kargosh has led us to decay for far too long. Here, I am in command.”
“The Creator was of flesh and blood as well,” the wraith snarled. “Let us return to the Hive.”
Evil dancing in his glare, Mnemlath snapped back, “Speak again, and I will tear your soul out. Kargosh is not here.”
“Know this: you shall die before I will,” the wraith replied in an icy voice.
The Berserker warrior barred his teeth, fists clenching, but said naught. There would be another time for this, he promised himself.
“Gather the others. We move before more of the fleshlings arrive.’
The Berserkers surged forward through the darkened hallways of Minion in a mass of wickedness. It must have been a service corridor they traveled in, for there wasn’t any sign of life moving. They ran for twenty minutes before making contact. A young man and his consort were returning from dinner on the surface part of Minion and about to enter their home when the Berserkers caught them by surprise. It took the monsters but a few seconds to react, and by then there was barely time to scream.
The scream sounded like a world being torn apart, shocking the halls and ruining the supposedly peaceful night. More than a few overcurious residents poked their heads out their doors to see the source of the scream, while dozens more cringed within their homes. Like most things, the noise died away, and Minion went back to its usual self.
Kane dropped to a knee with his rifle aimed the moment the sound reached him. The twelve men behind him mimicked the gesture. He prayed none of them grew trigger happy, because he was the only they were going to shoot if anything came at them. This was a tricky situation. If he moved too far ahead of the guards, the Berserkers would be able to ambush him alone. On the other hand, if he stayed put and the Berserkers came, they’d all be caught in a funnel, with only one or two guards in a position to return fire. Deciding to trust Fate, Kane motioned them to stay put as he crept forward.
Kane stalked his way down the hall, clinging to the wall in the event of an attack. Showering sparks and the flickering lights made it difficult to see more than a few meters ahead, but his senses were telling him there was nothing here. The Berserkers were moving away from them.
“What’s wrong?” the Captain asked as the pale-faced Slayer returned.
“We must hurry. They are already entering the inner city.”
A murmur arose among the guardsmen. There were over five thousand people down there. If the Berserkers managed to make it past all of the defenses, there was no telling how much destruction they might cause. Leaving them to their whispered concerns, Kane took off at a sprint. Anrack was close on his heels, the youth brandishing a blaster and a rifle. They gained the next stairwell and abruptly stopped. A body lay twisted and broken at the foot of the steps. Right next to a Berserker.
It was a trap!
Mnemlath snapped his head around towards the intruders. A wicked smile crossed his face when he recognized the lean form of the Slayer and the coward boy in the background. The Berserker barked once, and his minions split into two groups and took off down the passages.
Anrack was stepping forward to meet the lone monster in combat when Kane’s arm blocked him away. The Slayer shook his head and said, “No. This is my fight.”
“Ah, Slayer. Again you cross my path,” the Berserker crooned. “I grow weary of this. Let us end this now.”
Kane swallowed any fear he may have and replied, “So be it.”
A nightmare laugh poured from his lungs. “A challenge met! Slayer, I shall enjoy killing you. Almost as much as I did when we murdered your family.” He smiled at the shock in Kane’s eyes. “I have seen your face before. We thought you dead, but you continue to haunt my sleep.”
Kane’s heart dropped, and his hopes seemed mere false images now. A blinding rage tore through his veins. He felt himself snapping and did all he could to stay steady. This inner turmoil was what the Berserker was hoping for.
“Did I upset you?” the monster taunted. “Come, avenge them if you can.”
Ion fire made both of them duck. Anrack had heard enough and decided to open fire. None of the rounds hit their intended mark, instead splaying into the walls and ceiling. Dust and haze billowed, choking the area. Mnemlath dropped and rolled away as the vicious noise deafened him.
“You continually impress me, Slayer,” cried the monster from his sanctuary. “I will end this and move on to greater schemes. Your little boy servant isn’t very good with that weapon, is he?”
Anrack kept his smile to himself. Catching his breath under the cover of wooden crates, Kane sighed in relief. He’d almost lost it, making himself no better than the Berserkers. Focusing on the moment, he ducked low to see what he could see. It was difficult at first, but he was able to make out the legs of another Berserker. With things growing perilous, he resigned himself to the hard fight. Another burst of ion fire, coming from across the hall, interrupted his thoughts.
“Come on out, you bastards!” cried an angry voice. The Berserkers were caught in a crossfire!
The Viper and his squad arrived in the nick of time, inspiring higher levels of confidence among both groups. Both Kane and Anrack moved out from their cover and took the head of the advance. As poor shots as the majority of guards were, he hoped they might still be able kill these two before they got away. The only problem after that was that the rest of the Berserkers were still moving deeper into the city. Unable to worry about what they couldn’t control, Kane brought his rifle up and began firing.
Mnemlath frantically searched for a way out as the second group of guards stormed in. There was another stairwell leading down no more than ten meters from him, and it would be no great feat to gain it. His experience told him the guards weren’t taking the time to aim. This made things very dangerous and opened opportunities for him at the same time. The major obstacle facing them now was the man with the red eyes and his Slayer friend.
Each round spent made it harder to see. The air was turned thick with smog and humidity. The blue residue marking where the rounds struck and the haze turned the Berserker images into ghosts. Superstitions were emerging, and the guards paused from tremors of confusion. A mighty roar broke the silence, so deep it buckled the very walls. Afraid of what might happen next, the guards held their fire. This was all the Berserkers needed to escape.
The Viper was the first to understand what was going on, recklessly dashing forward to cut them off. His let out a long burst towards the fleeing shapes, managing to hit the place where they’d just been. The closest guards moved forward to secure the stair and were cut down by their comrades from across the area. Anrack cried out, but his screams came too late. They’d been mistaken for Berserkers and forced to pay for it through the ignorance of their friends. The Viper met Kane’s sour glare and nodded. Things were not going well at all.
Grabbing Anrack by his collar, Kane shouted, “Where do these stairs lead?”
“To the columbarium,” the boy answered after quickly recalling.
It was an ill omen. The Berserkers were taking refuge in the halls of the dead, and Kane knew he was going to be hard pressed to keep up the courage of the guards.
“We have them trapped,” smiled the assassin. “Down the stairs and form up in two ranks. Let’s finish them before it gets too late. I need a drink.”
“That is hallowed ground,” mumbled a guard.
“If we go down there, it will bring the anger of the Gods upon us,” said another.
The Viper spit at them all. “So you’d rather let your families and friends all be slaughtered than try and save them? Gods. Pah! Show me one, and I might be inclined to believe you. Otherwise, we fight.”
Matching each other stride for stride, Kane and the Viper didn’t bother waiting for an answer. The sudden enthusiasm spreading behind them told enough. They formed the guards up at the base of the stairs in two ranks evenly distanced with the front rank uncovered to allow both a clear field of fire. A strange and mythical sensation eased into them, for the place they watched held the souls of their kinfolk. The ghosts of past generations rose to haunt them. A chill wind blew in lazy circles, driven by the city ventilation system in the ceiling.
Kane touched the panel on the ornate door, and it hissed open. Rolling mist boiled out around their ankles. Here, the wind became a slight howl. The columbarium was a tricky place, for there were hundreds of statues dedicated to long forgotten heroes of days past. Shadows added an eerie effect, shimmering from the multitude of different colored lights marking certain tombs. The Berserkers might be anywhere in here. The steady hum of ion rifles soon drowned out the winds.
The guards were ushered inside and reformed with their backs towards the thin titanium walls. They started maneuvering as soon as the last man was in place, each rank making a swinging motion designed to circle the entire crypt. Each footstep was a harbinger of invasion. The jaws of the trap were slowly snapping shut. Another few moments, and they were not going to have a choice of whether they wished to be engaged.
One guard carelessly brushed against a crusted statue, intent on the swirling mists forming in front of him. He took another step and lost his head to the flash of madness lying in wait. The Berserker howled before dashing back into the illusions. Another two men died under the crushing blows of hidden monsters, and the Berserkers erupted into open battle.
The Captain looked up in time to see a pair of evil wings bearing down on him. Stray rounds splayed the ceiling, with a few hitting the winged monster. He jerked under a heavy blow, his rifle falling away, and sank to his knees. A dazed look bewitched him. Dark blood was flowing from the enormous wound in his chest, and his began to roll back into his head. He was dead before he hit the ground.
The surviving guards watched this and let themselves be stricken with panic. Kane felt the shifting tide but was near helpless to quell it. A Berserker sprang at him from atop a nearby crypt, narrowly missing Kane’s head with his claws. Kane dropped low, swinging a kick out and up into the stomach of the off-balance creature. Ion fire blew the crypt apart. The Berserker bounced back up and buckled as rounds ripped into his knee.
Kane swung around to see Anrack hammering down on the monster. His actions were successful in rallying the men, and the guards began pressing the monsters back. The Viper smiled, adding his own fire into the chest of the dying Berserker. Neither man stopped firing until his chest blew apart in a bloody mess.
A low growl escaped Mnemlath’s lips as he began plotting the way out. The danger here was much too great for them to stay, and he knew the preening traitor, Spills Blood, was going to report everything back to Kargosh. Another troop of guards had just arrived, making the situation much worse. He noticed another set of stairs in the distance and made up his mind.
The Berserker growled his commands in a series of guttural sounds, and the rest of them started to move. Bits of shrapnel scored his cheeks, but he kept running, bounding over the crouching guards. The sting of an open wound and the flow of his own blood were exhilarating. More guards fell in the retreat, and their total was now less than ten. Mnemlath offered Kane a final backwards glance and disappeared up the stairs.
Running as fast as he could, with what little energy he had left, Kane reached the bottom step to the sizzle of ion fire. The battle was short lived, with the Berserkers fleeing through the empty corridors. A few moans were the only sounds drifting down to him, making it hard for Kane to separate the battles. Anrack and a few of the guards charged past the weakened Slayer and up the stairs.
“Don’t go up there yet!” the Viper shouted, knowing it was too late.
Blinded with blood lust, they ignored the assassin and continued the advance. A terrible bellow dropped some to their knees. No more than a dark shadow come to life, Mnemlath sprung from the darkness, attacking in a whirlwind of motion. His cudgel came crashing down on the tender, exposed skull of Anrack with a bloody sound.
Bone and brain matter splattered to the walls, as Anrack buckled under the weight thrown into the blow. A blood-riddled groan frothed from his mouth as the weapon tore through his stomach. Jerking it free, Mnemlath howled again, the thrill of this minor victory reenergizing him. He laughed as the youth’s mates cowered and broke from his glare alone. In one smooth motion, he tore Anrack’s head from his body and heaved it into the retreating guards.
The rage building, Kane and the Viper squeezed off a few rounds, but the Berserker was already gone. They raced up the stairs, quickly finding a trail of blue-black blood and stalking after it. The trail soon began to thin until they lost it altogether. Kane slumped down against the nearest wall, struggling for breath. They both knew the Berserkers were gone, climbed back over the wall and lost in the harsh desert night.
“What now?” the Viper asked.
Confusion played into his already disturbed emotions, and Kane wondered if anyone had an answer.