Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 14

Holy cow! Last week’s holiday messed my days up and I am still trying to figure it all out. My apologies for almost missing this momentous day! Ready? Here we go….

FOURTEEN

Strangers

Snake Eyes dropped his helmet and rubbed the sweat from his hair. The day was just beginning, and it already had more twists than he cared for. He and his men had gone in with the understanding that there was going to be a firefight, but none of them could have guessed the outcome. He had a bad feeling about where all of this was leading. Calmly lighting a native cigarette, Snake Eyes watched the lieutenant make his way over to the Slayer. He had to laugh. The man was as green as an Idorian, and he was hoping to take on one of Helscape’s self-designated defenders. “Good luck to him,” Snake Eyes muttered through a stream of smoke coming out of his nostrils.

“We have a few questions for you, sir,” the lieutenant announced.

He was standing solidly over the Slayer, hands on his hips in a gesture of authority. Kane looked up, forced to squint through the glare of the twin suns, at a man less than half his age. He wondered why it was that such young men often felt it necessary to try and impose their authority over others when they showed no clear signs of understanding their surroundings.

Kane rose to his full height and stared the man down. The rest of the patrol moved around them, intent on the grim business of cleaning up the bodies.

“I don’t think so,” Kane said and turned his back on the soldier.

Snake Eyes fought back a smirk despite himself. He didn’t really care for his officer, but seven of his men were dead, along with another he wasn’t expecting. Hells, command wasn’t even aware that Scoops had come along. If the old man ever found out about this one…. Relinquishing his rocky seat, Snake Eyes made his way over to kneel down next to the Slayer. Together, they watched the rise and fall of the stranger’s chest, each hoping that the stranger wasn’t the next casualty in a meaningless war.

“Where do you think he came from?” Snake Eyes asked. “People just don’t appear like that.”

Kane could only shake his head. “Tis an evil form of magic, I deem. These are desperate times grown fell by these new deeds.”

“So the Berserkers have expanded their sphere of influence to another world? How are we supposed to combat that? It’s hard enough trying to fight them like this.” Snake Eyes lowered his head. He wanted to go home and forget about this war. It was a moot point, though. No matter how hard he tried to push them out, he knew the nightmares would never leave. “Does he need any medical attention?”

“I don’t know,” confessed the Slayer.

“Lal-owk, bring that aid bag over here.”

 

First came the swirling dissolution of darkness, followed closely by a pain so thick it was maddening.

“…do you think he came from?”

“Don’t know…seen someone dressed like this…”

Nathan Bourne finally groaned awake and wished he hadn’t. His head was pounding as if his brain were trying to break out. His stomach felt like it was trying to rip itself free, and God only knew if he had the strength to stand. Whatever that green light had been, it sure left a hell of a hangover.

Reaching his weary hand up to soothe his temples, Nathan tried to flush the memories away. He saw his wife and two kids walk out the door for the last time, saw his partner slain at the hands of that monster, and was left wondering what purpose Steve’s death served. He saw himself struggling with the monster again. And then unconsciousness overwhelmed him again.

He had no way to know how much time had passed since he’d last seen the light of day but he vaguely remembered seeing the two suns. Now, he was awake again and feeling dehydrated and hungry. The difference in temperature was noticeable, lending him cause to guess the suns were setting. Now that the grogginess was wearing off, he could feel the stares of a dozen or more strangers locked on him in the twilight. Moving as best he could, Nathan forced himself through the struggle of sitting up so he could face this new challenge.

He did his best to control his shock, but it soon proved almost unbearable. The gray-skinned man sat directly before him with three blinking red eyes. A double-barreled rifle resting comfortably in his lap had the look of much use. The silver armor he wore was now scored from battle. Beside him sat a furry, primate-looking man with a medic bag slung over his shoulder and a smile on his face.

Most of the rest were human in guise, though he did notice the huge male in the back with yellow fur and spotted like a leopard. Most of them paid him little mind. They had their own problems to worry about. He was just another survivor in the war. The faint odor of death drifted his way, making him turn towards the line of body bags off to side. At first, he thought this was nothing more than a bad dream, but the realization that this was as real as his own experiences in combat brought his world crashing down.

“You okay?” asked a man in uniform.

He turned back around to confront the two men before him. They were as different from each other as night and day. One was young and dressed in a battle-worn uniform, and the other looked like a vagrant gunslinger whose story was readable from his style of dress and the attitude with which he carried himself. He knew from personal experience that each was lethal in his own regard. Nathan could remember seeing men like this before, during his time in the Gulf. He’d been a liaison to the French Foreign Legion and saw firsthand how effective they were when the ground war started. There was no doubt that these two were just as effective.

Nathan nodded. “Feels like I’ve been run over by a tank, though. Where am I?”

The dialects were strained and hard to understand at times, but Nathan picked up the foundations of basic English mixed in. How had they learned how to speak English, he asked himself as an afterthought.

Kane looked to Snake Eyes before answering. “In a land of nightmares. Do you remember how you got here?”

Nathan shook his head. “Everything’s a blur. I remember being on a stake out. Then the deli exploded, and we watched that thing come out of the fires. It was like a scene right from a horror movie, only this was real. I watched it kill my friend, my partner. I guess old instincts took over and I reacted.”

Snake Eyes elbowed Xill with an approving nod, recognizing a fellow soldier.

“Something inside me snapped. I drew up my pistol and began firing. It ran. I chased it. There was only one, but that just doesn’t seem right. I know in my heart there are more. We made it to a clearing outside of town. The son of a bitch attacked and ducked through some kind of light.”

“I do not like the idea that the Berserkers are capable of travelling to other worlds,” Xill whispered. Several soldiers stiffened.

Kane and the Viper, who now showed mild interest, exchanged cautious looks.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, but I followed it. And here I am.” He fell silent and began to take in his surroundings. Burnt orange sand mixed with rock and stone. There was little vegetation, reminding him of another desert on a different world.

Tossing what was left of his smoke aside, Snake Eyes leaned closer and asked, “But where did you come from?”

“Guess that all depends on where I am. Name’s Nathan Bourne, detective for the Binghamton police department.”

“Well, Nathan Bourne,” Snake said with a smile, “welcome to the Seven Hells.”

Kane stepped in when he saw the look of confusion on the alien’s face. “There will be time enough for explanation on the way out of the Wastes.”

The Viper jerked upright, pushing the tip of his hat up to stare down the three. “What’s this? I still have a contract to fulfill, and it didn’t say anything about hauling around baggage from another world. Come on, Kane. Let these soldiers handle this one. We’re supposed to be partners.”

“I think our partnership is done,” Kane said. “I’ve seen more than I cared to over the past few days. Go back to your employers and tell them. Let us hope the Northlanders won’t be able to break through. I am going to Minion.”

“To do what?” The assassin snorted. “You’re going to join this fool crusade, aren’t you? Do you honestly think it’s going to work? Look what they’ve done so far.”

Kane ignored him, turning to face the dwindling daylight. This time of day, the suns turned the dunes into a sea of shimmering gold. A poor man’s treasure.

“Perhaps you’re not as smart as I assumed. Happy hunting, Slayer.”

A part of him wanted to stop the Viper, but his was a wayward soul commanded by only his instincts. The assassin was far better off doing what he did alone. Still, a nagging feeling remained, telling Kane that they would meet again. They watched him mount up and head off into the open desert. He offered them a stern look, one that told them he knew what was about to happen. The Viper offered Kane one final nod and headed back in the direction of Furnace Island.

 

“Okay, let’s get this show on the road!” Snake Eyes shouted, and the massive, fifty-ton armored personnel carrier gunned its engines. He was already mad that command had recalled the air support, leaving them with this crawling death on a track. His one hope was in the Berserkers retreating far enough they wouldn’t notice his own retreat.

Kane, sitting atop his horse, was already moving. Most of the troopers — at least the ones not manning the interior guns — were riding on top for better comfort. Partially hidden behind the pile of body bags, Kane made out Nathan’s sleeping form. A cloud of argots circled overhead, hoping for one of the bodies to fall off unnoticed so they might eat. Snake Eyes mouthed his commands through the intercom, and the vehicle lurched to life. It was half a night’s ride to the pick-up site and another hour or two flight time back to Minion and Fort Evans. They could only hope that there weren’t any more surprises awaiting them along the way.

***

Leggis Fint closed his thermal imaging binoculars and smiled. “Well, he didn’t get killed.”

Lounging in the driver’s side of the hover jeep, Kreegin Faul scoffed, “Yeah, but you might when he gets a hold of you. That was a pretty nasty fight. Could’ve gone either way.”

The mercenaries had been on Kane’s trail long enough to know when a good fight was about to occur. True to form, he didn’t disappoint.

“I agree, but it didn’t. Besides, I told you that Slayer was good.”

“Do you think they know we’ve been following them?”

Fint shrugged. “Don’t see how. We’ve been tracking them for almost a year now, and they haven’t caught on. Though I must admit, I thought they had us that one night.”

“You can thank that giant for saving us then,” Kreegin agreed. “The one with the red eyes knew we were out there. And I recall someone telling me once that I should never take things for granted cause the surprise always comes right when you get settled in.”

Fint smiled. “Yes, that does sound vaguely familiar, but it’s all moot now.”

“So who do we follow now?”

Leggis Fint looked down again at the tiny APC moving across the desert. It was no more than a dark spot.

“My guess is the assassin isn’t going to be doing anything important for a while. We go back to Minion. I have a feeling things are happening much quicker than our good General has let on.”

Kreegin cocked his head. “How do you mean?”

“Kelg’s been sending me reports of secret flights of only one chopper heading off into the western deserts,” Fint replied.

“Standard Imperium procedures say no less than two, three in combat,” Kreegin thought out loud. “Do you think he’s working against us?”

Fint nodded. “It’s not impossible. If he’s willing to go behind Imperium channels, what are three mercenaries to him? We need to get back to Minion.”

Kreegin grinned, “Good. I’m tired of this damned desert. We’ve only been here for a month, and I already feel like I’ve lost most of my hair and about a hundred pounds. I’m ready to move on to another job.”

“You look good, though,” Fint laughed. “I think the desert has built character in you.”

“Squaffa! Shouldn’t we be heading out before something decides to interrupt us?”

“I suppose you’re right. We need to make contact with Kelg. At least he survived this one. I was worried for a minute. The fleet should have already left Amicir. It won’t be long now before we can find a better job.”

Kreegin gunned the jeep and said, “Couldn’t have said it better myself, boss. You’re buying the first round when we get back.”

Any takers up for the challenge?

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Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 13

For those of us in America, this is a week of celebration. I am personally celebrating the great comments I get on here and the friendships I am building with many of you. I can’t begin to express what it means to get such feedback- most of it positive- on what was once naught but a dream. Thanks for sticking with me these long years and let’s see what tomorrow brings. As always, read on my friends. Read on.

THIRTEEN

A New World

The boy and his friends were running through the woods on the way home when they stumbled upon the body. At first, they were afraid to go near it. This was something new to them and would spark sad dreams for many months to come. The boy was the first to overcome his fears. He moved closer, noticing the shallow grave partially dug off to the side. A pall hung over the tiny clearing. The boy suddenly felt his innocence fade, his obsession with the corpse slowly growing.

There was no doubt that the corpse was freshly slain. Steam was still coming off it. The other boys turned and ran away, back to their families in the village not far away, leaving him alone in the darkening forest. The forest, he noticed, was increasingly getting quieter. He was reaching down to close one of the open eyes when the stranger stepped from behind the tree. Shock bit at him. The stranger was dressed in worn black leathers with a heavy cloak concealing most of his features. His eyes blazed a brilliant yellow, piercing into the boy’s very soul. A bloody dagger was in his right hand.

A wicked smile creased the stranger’s thin lips. “Go home, boy. This is nothing for you to see.”

He turned and fled, clutching his fears in his breast. He ran and ran until his breath was gone and the tree line loomed before him. And then something made him stop. He never knew what it was that made him do what he did, only that it was powerful enough to make him turn back towards the forest and watch.

A scratching noise brought the Viper back to the small chamber in which he’d fallen asleep. It took him a moment to remember that he was buried in the depths of Rook Mountain and a moment longer to realize what was making that sound. Berserkers.

The Viper started to get up when Kane grabbed his shoulder, forcing him to stay put. The Slayer held a finger to his lips. The chambers were still bathed in the sickly green light, creating a surreal scene. It allowed Kane to see trouble in the assassin’s eyes. Had the man been dreaming? For a moment, Kane wondered what nightmares the Viper had endured to turn out the way he was. Then, the world exploded into action. Both men raised their rifles and prayed for the best.

The portal came alive in a wash of static electricity and a roar so thunderous it violated the Gods. Dust and debris tricked down from the cavernous ceiling. The ground shook, threatening to tear apart. The whole chamber began to hum, pulsing down the hundreds of tunnels and access ways.

Kane melted into the wall, hoping the mountain wasn’t going to come down on their heads. Both he and the Viper knew the Berserkers would use this to their advantage and stage a counter-attack. A look down the tunnel told him the Imperium soldiers were still moving. By the time the first soldier stepped into sight, the portal opened and spit out the Berserker. His eyes were ablaze with pain and relief. Kane’s stomach lurched as bitter realization washed over him. The green light was a portal to another place, perhaps another time. If the Berserkers managed to gain control….

Mnemlath and his warriors came through the wall they’d made for protection at the sound of his triumphant roar. The first soldier dropped to a knee and unleashed half of his charge into the wounded Berserker’s chest. The force of the sudden attack threw the monster back in a splash of blood and gore.

Dark blood painted the Viper, causing him to lose the grip on his rifle. It discharged upon striking the ground, sending a stream of fire into the crouching soldier. The man died in a guttural scream. “Damned fool,” the assassin cursed under his breath. The boy should have more careful than to open fire without assessing the situation in the first place.

The Berserkers burst as one into action. Mnemlath led the way by heaving his deadly spikes at the soldiers. Kane ducked and returned fire, the feel of sharpened steel grazing his neck. Stray rounds scored the rock walls, forming clouds of dust and showering them with newly formed pebbles.

 

Snake Eyes took a deep breath before entering the tunnel under Rook Mountain. He wasn’t fond of being underground, especially when that was the enemy’s primary means of travel. The chopper dropped them off about a kilometer from the target, much closer than either pilot liked. Snake Eyes wanted them closer, and eventually they settled on flying standby in the event of an emergency underground. None of that mattered now. He forced himself to focus.

One by one, his squad filed into the mountain. Despite doing their best to conceal their movements, the Imperium soldiers moved like a herd of blundering garabeasts. They were heavily armored and unused to traveling underground. Their movements were carried out with a lack of precision that came from normal patrol tactics. Snake Eyes knew it was going to betray them before they managed to creep up on the enemy. He only hoped it wasn’t going to get them all killed in the process. They did their best to ignore the unnatural light haunting the tunnels, though it gradually wormed into their psyches.

Eventually, they picked up signature traces of the two friendlies not far from their position. The only bad part was that it was on the other side of the small cavern where the green light emanated from. Snake Eyes pushed his men forward. Meter after meter went by at an agonizingly slow pace until, finally, they were within twenty meters of the target area. That’s when all hell broke loose.

The cavern erupted in supernatural light, robbing the soldiers of their night vision. Snake screwed his eyes shut until the glare faded. When he was finally able to look upon the engagement area, his stomach lurched. Berserkers were coming from the shadows and attacking someone with murderous ferocity. The frenzied pace of the battle caught up to his squad as well.

Snake Eyes cursed as Private Hammers fell. It was the kid’s first mission, and he’d made a rookie mistake. For that, he’d paid with his life. A round of bone darts sliced open his neck and face as the Berserker turned on him. Snake Eyes bit back a curse. If they were going to make it out of here, he was going to have to come up with something good.

“Scoops! Get your fat ass over here and help me out. Klausky, Xill, lay down a hard cover fire so we can get his body.”

Private Klausky gained the mouth of the cavern and dropped down to open fire. He knew the gray alien was kneeling over him about to do the same. Dropping his light pack, Scoops raced forward and grabbed the dead boy’s right arm at the same time Snake Eyes took his left. Neither of them saw the arrival of another body from the portal. Cover fire poured into the cavern, hoping not to hit any friendlies in the process. Haze was forming from the excessive amounts of ion fire, covering the wounded and the sorrowful cries of men dying. Cursing, Snake didn’t know how they were going to get out of this.

 

Kane didn’t see the torrent of flechettes striking the rock face around him. A few ripped into his calf, and the pain served as a reminder to the desperation of the situation. He hadn’t expected the armored soldiers of the Imperium to join in the fight, and their help was both bane and boon. They were clumsy and ungraceful in their assault, making it much more difficult for him to fight.

“Kane!” he heard above the heavy sounds of battle.

The Slayer looked to where the Viper was pointing between volleys. Brushing the debris clogging his vision, he saw a strangely dressed man fall from the portal. The body hit with a fleshly thump and didn’t move. The Slayer’s first impulse was to think the man dead. He was ready to ignore the matter until this engagement was concluded, but then he caught the subtle rise and fall of the man’s chest. He was still alive. Satisfied, at least for the moment, that the stranger lived, Kane had to focus on himself lest the Berserkers overwhelm their position.

 

Mnemlath watched this new threat enter his world and discovered dismay. Another world had been discovered, but it was one populated by the same pathetic species inhabiting this one. He snarled his commands, and their attack doubled with renewed vigor. The shock grenade rolling down the ground came to a stop at his feet, giving him enough time to recognize the threat. His eyes flew open with the sudden knowing that he was dead. The force of the blast wave was so powerful it threw everyone within a five-meter radius off their feet and into the cavern walls.

Kane used the opportunity to run forward and snatch the man from the center of the cavern. He had almost made it back to cover when a scaled arm reached out from the dust and clutched his ankle. He tripped, the dead weight of his load crashing down on top of him and rolling off. The Berserker pulled himself close for the finishing blow, but Kane was already prepared. He’d snatched one of the silver spears from the case on his thigh and stabbed down hard. Fresh blood rushed up, and the Berserker screamed as it withdrew back into the haze. Kane could barely make out the shapes of two soldiers doing the same for one of their fallen.

There was no better time to retreat than now. He hoped the soldiers were thinking along the same lines.

 

Snake Eyes turned his head just before the grenade he’d thrown exploded. Scoops was struggling with the weight of the body, leaving the grizzled infantryman cursing himself for agreeing to bring the supply sergeant along. Scoops slipped, dropping his end of the body and taking all three of them down. Snake Eyes cursed again. The civilians ran by him, one carrying a body over his shoulders. None of them were his.

Seriously doubting his decision to coming, Scoops panted, his body already slick with perspiration. The armor was constricting him, making it hard for him to catch his breath. If this was what it meant to be a combat soldier on the front line, he wanted no part of it. He bent down to regain his grip on the body and was suddenly jerked backwards.

No one noticed the dulled spear whistle through the air to strike him square in his back. Scoops crumbled, feeling in his spine and legs lost. Snake Eyes watched him drop and spun to bring his rifle to bear on the attacker.

“Snake, help me Snake! I can’t feel my legs. Can’t feel nothing at all,” he choked out through a torrent of sobs. “I don’t wanna die like this. Please help me.”

The Berserkers were upon them before Snake Eyes could form a thought. The first monster bowled into him, sending his rifle down the tunnel. Scoops looked up in horror as the terrible fist punched down and through the top of his skull and deep into the pulp of brain matter. He died with the grim satisfaction of what it meant to be a warrior.

Meters away, Xill tossed a body at the nearest Berserker and drew his knife. Before the dodging monster had a chance to recover, the corporal was on him. It was strength against surprise, leaving Xill the victor as he slashed through the Berserker’s throat. Klausky emerged to block the opening and began picking his targets. They were mere whispers of their true selves, hidden behind the haze and dust, but more than enough for the sniper. His efforts were enough to keep the Berserkers at a distance, and it allowed Xill and his sergeant to get to safety. No one needed to give the command for retreat. It was just the smartest thing to do if any of them wanted to live.

 

Kane took the first trembling step into the light of day and collapsed. His body was sore and abused, as much from carrying the weight on his back as from the firefight. The Viper dropped down beside him, carefully rolling over to cover the entrance. Both were out of breath and pushed to their limits. It had long since Kane felt this bad.

A distant explosion deep in the belly of the mountain brought him out of his daze and left him wondering why the soldiers were there. He then looked down at the body next to him.

If it weren’t for the unexpected arrival of this stranger, they all might have died. They could make out shouting now, mingled with cries and the symphonic sound of gunfire. Another battle was heading their way, and both were too tired to move. Kane locked and loaded another full charge and made ready to begin anew.

Xill was the first to break free of the dominating presence Rook Mountain held. He noticed the three prone men and leapt over them. Exhausted, he knelt down behind them and silently joined the line. He barked orders to each of the soldiers who came next, and the line grew stronger. Snake Eyes was the last to escape, with Klausky huffing and puffing right in front of him. They had barely stumbled through the mass of soldiers and warriors when the first Berserker came into view.

“Open fire!” Xill shouted, and the ion rifles sang in one clear voice. The first line of attackers dropped in death. Not even they were strong enough to survive such a fury. Mnemlath, now fully recovered, watched with dismay as his brethren fell dead without so much as a fight. This was unlike the fleshlings to be so resilient. It disturbed him to great ends until, finally, he was forced to order the retreat. Enough of his warriors had gone on to meet the Death God this day. Any more would serve no purpose. The Berserkers slunk back into the darkness to go and tell Kargosh of these new developments.

Snake Eyes and Kane, lying next to each other, turned over and stared into each other’s eyes for the first time. Shock registered in both as Slayer and soldier struggled to figure out what the other was doing here.

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 12

Hopefully you all had a great weekend. I’m not sure if any of you have realized this yet, but I intend on putting the entire novel up here, all 95,000 words of it. You might want to get up and stretch, we’re in for a wild ride. Oh by the way, how did you like the Earth twist? Don’t worry, you’ll see how it plays out.

TWELVE

Escape

The five tormented shapes swimming across the river went unseen by all and would soon be loosed upon the fleshling city. Halfway across, they caught the faint scent of one of their own going the opposite way. They felt his surge of adrenaline as he fled from someone or something. Excitement spread through them until a sharp command from Death Shrike quelled their impulses. Once the feeling passed, the Berserker war party swam on.

The thrill of it the hunt spurred Death Shrike’s untamed passions and made him all the more dangerous. He turned to see if the human was still in pursuit and wasn’t disappointed. Men like that were much more fun to kill than the average ones. There would be no begging when they finally collided. One would die, leaving the other to stand triumphant over the corpse. Precisely the way it should be. More bullets singed the air around him, some coming so close as to hit the rocks beside him. Bullets he understood and it pleased him to find the indigenous population as war-like as those on Helscape.

The truck driver felt the pressure of the round piercing the sheet metal back of his vehicle right before it burst out through the windshield. He ducked and wove while trying to keep control of the truck and avoid the shower of glass and metal fragments spraying throughout the cab. Another car honked and was run off the road. Both drivers cursed. The truck driver began pumping the brakes, desperately trying to slow the thing down so he could get away from the mad man with a gun. Nathan was forced to swerve as the same car hit the guardrail and flew over the bank. Between his defensive driving and the car’s explosion upon impact, he lost sight of the monster.

 

Nathan crested the hill in time to watch a hapless truck crash and explode in a ball of brilliant, multi-colored flames and knew the monster was close. Long tongues of orange and red flickered up into the skyline. Nathan picked up his pace, gun in hand, before the monster could escape. The heat surrounding the ruined truck was too much for him to think about trying to see if the driver was still alive or not as he drew near. A second explosion threw him to the ground, confirming his fears.

The driver was forgotten by the time Nathan was on his feet again. He squinted into the flames and heat vapors to find the demon responsible for all of this. To hope the monster was dead was more than a mere wish, from what he’d seen so far. But the only body he managed to make out was that of the poor man trapped in the cab. Nothing for it, he began to search for signs. The sweep he made of the surrounding area produced a small trail but nothing substantial enough to give him certainty. Nathan cursed his luck. Too many thoughts were running through his mind for him to control. Frustrated, he let the burning wreckage take his mind deeper into tonight’s mystery.

Twenty minutes or more went by, and he still had nothing — no idea of what that thing was and no idea where it might have gone. They were well beyond the city limits, and it could have disappeared into the forests on one out of a hundred hills surrounding them. He was about to give up when a burgundy Ford sped by. Then, he noticed his first real clue. Revealed by the high beams, Nathan found himself staring at a small puddle of blood. It was darker and thicker than any he’d seen before, leaving him to conclude that this was his enemy. Nathan picked up the blood trail and began the last leg of the hunt.

 

Tangled vines and thick underbrush hampered the Berserker’s retreat. He was close enough to the portal that the human would be hard-pressed to gain the advantage. His breath came in shallow, ragged gasps, and his once-great strength was draining fast. A sliver of metal stabbed through his abdomen. The pain was more than desirable, and he felt himself dying. His surroundings started losing definition, blurring together in a pale fog. Blood poured down his side, thick and murky. With enough good fortune, he might be able to make it back to the portal.

Sudden jets of pain forced him to stop. The Berserker used a near tree for support and tried to catch his breath. A wind carried the scent of his pursuit to him. He was being hunted. He knew that, in this condition, there was the very real possibility that the human could catch and, realistically, kill him. The Berserker turned to make his final stand.

When hope of survival seemed lost, a new smell was blown to him. It was one of strong storms and lightning. The land soon became pockmarked with shadows all but concealing the light of the moon. This new development recharged him, rebuilding the core of his strength. He could make out the pale green light of the portal not too far away and found new hope. The Berserker turned to face his hunter.

 

Nathan topped the rise and looked down into the nightmare. The monster stood on the valley floor immersed in bolts of lightning. It was gaining strength from the electricity in the air. The very air around him seemed to pulse and surge. Nathan barely had time to react before twin bolts of blue-red death rushed towards him. The sky sizzled and shuddered. He groaned when he hit the ground, clutching his side. Trees and shrubs around him were torn apart at the same time. It took only seconds to make the world around him ash.

Not waiting to see the extent of his blasts, the Berserker took off towards the portal. Nathan somersaulted down the hill and came up firing. Bullets bit into the trees around the retreating monster, showering him with splinters. Both hunter and hunted came under the spell of the green light. Nathan stopped at the edge, hesitant to commit his life into this horror, for surely this must be the gateway to Hell, he thought. A sickening feeling overcame him. The very air around them turned putrid.

The Berserker stood on the gateway’s threshold but stopped before entering. He felt himself dying and knew the harshness of the Wastelands would besiege him almost at once. Breath came to him as a luxury, harsh and labored. He turned to face his hunter with deadened eyes. Nathan raised his pistol, carefully aiming at the monster’s throat. Too much was happening for him to comprehend. He knew that, if he let this thing get away, it could bring back more of its companions and leave an even bigger trail of death. On the other hand, he could see the pain crossing its face, giving him a baleful look. Did it want to die?

“Fleshling!” the monster spat. The Berserker fell backwards into the light and was gone, leaving Nathan alone in a strange place.

Anger invaded his reasoning. Not only had this creature killed his partner, it had run amok through his city, causing more damage than a hundred murderers, and it had escaped him. That was what grieved him the most. The monster had gotten away. He tried to catch his breath and regain some semblance of composure, but his inner recklessness was alive. Nathan abandoned his instincts and jumped into the light. Had he known what awaited him on the other side, he would have stayed home, for the nightmare journey ahead was going to push him to the limits of his very soul.

Darkness and pain consumed him.

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 11

Happy belated Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Raising children isn’t easy, for anyone. Ok, now back to the grind. Let’s see what Kane and the boys are up to this week.

ELEVEN

Earth

There are few things in the vast universe comparable to the blinding violation of all things good and bad by evil. It is a darkness, pure and untouched for generations. The complete lack of sight and sound. A place void of emotion and senses. The air was stifling, threatening to suffocate those who were lost here. This was the Never, for it was a nightmare of unparalleled proportions.

Down through the ages, and on into future worlds of alternate realities, traveled the creations of a mad man. The Berserkers fell unchecked, pulled onward by a sudden desperation. Confusion and mist clouded them from each other. Whatever the Old Gods had in mind, there was no rush to reach it. Years passed before them. Some went so fast it was impossible to tell, others dragging on through eternity. Then, without warning, the pale green light filled the end of the void. Had they come back to the dying world they’d left?

It was the end of one journey and the beginnings of another, far more powerful one.

Were they capable, the Berserkers would have succumbed to a colossal fear, but they were not of some god’s impulse. They were the products and desires of a twisted and broken magician. One by one, they embraced the pain of the light until the void was left empty yet again.

The pain was sudden and unlike any ever felt. It coursed through their mutated bodies. Each Berserker twisted and writhed as if being pierced by a thousand nails. This new torture was so exquisite in feeding their hunger. The monsters reveled in the sick pleasure of it. They forced themselves into primal balls, at once hoping to relieve the tensions and remain in the rapture. Hell’s grand gates were thrown open before them in tender invitation.

A large wolf-like hybrid was the first to abandon the Never, hitting the grassy floor and rolling away. Named Death Shrike by the Creator, he was capable of inhuman levels of strength and an unending system of revitalization. Steam escaped his body in waves from a thousand different cuts and burns caused by the Never. Undaunted by the sudden pain, he was already scanning the area for any sign of potential threats. As pleasing as it was to have nothing awaiting them, Death Shrike felt cheated. The others were slowly coming to and shaking off the ill effects of nausea.

Standing on the alien shore for the first time, Death Shrike stared with wonder and amazement. This was a world of plush vegetation and water. He saw things foreign to their bitter deserts. Oceans of green were waving from a summer breeze, and he could smell a river not far off. The horizon was glowing a strange shade of orange, but from what, he could not see. Even the air was different. A strange yet eerily familiar scent came to him. It was so powerful as to stagger his senses from shock. He smelled the abundance of life. Another had followed him.

The clearing they found themselves in was surrounded by walls of mighty, wooden objects piercing up into the night sky. They were covered with small, paper-thin objects that made soft rustling noises every time a wind arose. Small flying creatures covered with feathers could be seen by the dozens. He amazed that such things could be so uncaring and innocent of the world’s ways. He focused on a small, four legged animal with brown fur and littered by white spots running the back and flanks. Nothing on Helscape was even remotely comparable. Nothing at all.

Death Shrike smiled while visions of conquest danced in his wicked mind. This new world was so ripe with life that it was practically begging to be raped by him and his kind. Another was kneeling close by, waiting for the dizziness to pass. Impulse made him snatch up a handful of the green substance covering the ground, and dirt and roots came with it. Bringing it to his nose, the Berserker sniffed hard, inhaling as much of this living world as he could. They were all equally fascinated by this new experience and beginning to succumb to the joys of such simple treasures.

They ran and rolled in the grass, relishing the softness and smell of it. This was so much better than the hot desert sands for which they were created to conquer. Their last memories of such things had been from the defeat on the banks of the Angril River. They’d been within sight of the green back then and nearly succeeded until the planetary army and their wizards stopped them.

Confident that this was, indeed, the paradise promised by Kargosh, Death Shrike made for the tree line, eager to discover what lay beyond the hidden doors of this world. The wolf monster stole through the night under the concealment of no moon and a line of chest-high shrubs. Not even the others could watch his progress. They were the furthest thing from his mind at the moment. Death Shrike eased through the shrubs and balked at the sight of a long, black monster winding across the lands.

“What is this?” he seethed through clenched teeth once it became apparent that the thing wasn’t going to attack him.

Death Shrike gingerly touched its surface, marveling at this newfound thing. It was hard and still warm from the sun. Matching yellow lines ran the length of its spine. What magic is this, he asked himself, for there were no such designs on Helscape to compare it to. He let his curiosity run wild and soon found himself following the yellow lines. Down long valleys and many twists and turns he walked, drawn ever closer to the glow of civilization. There, he knew, would be the answers to their quest.

A faint rush came from behind, growing louder the closer it came. The monster spun to confront his attacker. He was forced to throw his hands up to block the force of the lights blinding him. The beast made an irritating honking noise as it began to speed up. Death Shrike rolled away as the machine went by.

Forgotten memories crept back to him. He stared at the twin red lights until they disappeared. He’d seen such things before, though not quite so primitive, with glaring lights and rolling fast on rubber wheels. A familiar smell tainted the air at its passing. The armored soldiers. There were fleshlings here — many, from the smell of it — but were they soldiers as well?

If he stayed on this hardened path he knew he was going to be seen or caught. The safest way from him to go now was skirting along the tree line. He wasn’t sure how long he walked when he finally stopped to stare in complete awe. Before him was a sight that would have humbled the Creator. The valley below was crowded with an overabundance of life. Towers of steel and lights stretched up into the sky. He saw millions of tiny lights, mere pinpricks compared to the whole, covering the place. Hundreds of them were moving back and forth. More of the wheeled machines, he snarled to himself. He doubted there was this much life on all of Helscape.

This was a dangerous world with much need for caution. He stood transfixed at the scene below for what seemed like hours before remembering his vulnerability and the position of the others. They were no doubt hostile by now, and it was in his best interests to return. They had more than enough time to scout this new breed of human for defenses and weaknesses. For now, they would wait, developing their plans for the conquest of this new world.

***

Nathan Bourne looked down at his watch and growled. It was only 11:30, and he was more tired than usual. Rubbing his bloodshot eyes, he casually lit another cigarette. Smoke filled his lungs in a delicious flavor before floating out the car window in a lazy stream. The radio and a thermos full of hot coffee were the only things keeping him going, and he had to laugh at what his life had become. This wasn’t exactly going to put him on the cover of Success Magazine.

“What’s so funny, Nate?” his partner asked once he climbed back in and shut the door. He handed over a thick sub from the Greek deli across the street.

Nathan shook his head. “Nah, I was just thinking about how things might have been if I had a regular job.”

“What? And give all this up?” He gestured towards the dark city streets. “You must be mad.”

He was half as old as Nathan was, and far less experienced, but that meant little in the middle of the night. A bullet doesn’t care one way or the other. Nathan sighed as his partner went on about what he could be doing right now. Why the younger generations were so excited when it came to sex had always escaped him. Fifteen years with his wife, and he couldn’t really care less. But, for some reason he had no grasp of, the young always wanted to go on and on about what they did with which girl. Didn’t they know that no one cared but them? Nathan held his tongue and pretended to listen.

His own thoughts soon began to drift towards the relationship he had thought was going to last forever. He’d been a committed homicide detective for the past twenty years, much against the wishes of his wife. She was never one to understand why he was who he was and why he couldn’t find it in him to change. Not for her, and not for himself. That one thing alone had spawned a plague of arguments and was the eventual cause for her leaving with the kids. They’d managed to stand the test of a war while he was in the military and a thousand minor fights, yet one job was enough to make her leave. He liked to think that going in to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division had been easier than married life.

It had taken a while before he’d eventually gotten over it, deciding that, if she couldn’t handle the hazards of his lifestyle, there were probably more things she couldn’t handle as well. Oh, he admitted making more than his share of mistakes too — more than he cared to remember — but for all the good and bad, he’d never laid a hand on her in anger and never once cheated. So much for loyalty, he mused.

When the courts had granted her full custody, he’d spiraled down into a seething rage. Some fool in a black robe with no idea the trauma behind the breakup had decided that Nathan wasn’t capable of being a father until the kids were both eighteen. Hate had kept him going, more often than not, through those long nights when sleep was near impossible. He wasn’t a bad looking man and was fully capable of getting most any woman he wanted. The charm was still there, even after all those years.

His six years in the army had laid the foundations for the physical condition he maintained today. A pencil-thin mustache and ghost of a beard accented his light brown hair and eyes. Nathan was in his late forties, and already tiny lines were forming across his face. Father Time was not going to be kind.

“Happy now, Steve?” he asked as soon as his partner stopped rambling.

Steve nodded with a smile and stared off into the shadows next to the store they were watching. Word had come down that there was something big going down tonight, and they had been slapped with the detail. Backup was available but still far enough away to not do much good if things went south. Steve grabbed Nathan’s arm and pointed. He could have sworn that there was someone or something out there, lurking in the shadows.

“I don’t see anything, bud,” Nathan said. “Might as well eat.”

Nathan was more concerned with things other than shadows bumping down empty alleys. Over a dozen partially devoured bodies had been found over the city during the last couple of days, and city officials were baffled. Reports of mythical demons sifting through the night swamped the precincts. The fear level was sharply increasing, and there was no answer in sight. Tensions were high, and the image reached the national level on the second day. The only good thing to say about this was that the crime rate had dropped to next to nothing. Petty thieves and thugs were too scared to run the streets.

A high-pitched scream shattered the calm, followed closely by an explosion. Nathan managed to close his eyes and turn around before the shockwave hit them. The windows burst inward, showering them with glass fragments and debris from the streets. The car was rocked and threatened to tip over. Across the street, the deli was destroyed. When it was safe to look, he watched the devastation with horror. Most of the building was gone, engulfed in flames and reduced to piles of rubble. The force of the blast had propelled the owner’s body into the middle of the street in a twisted, broken mass, dead before hitting the ground.

“Oh shit!”

They could only stare as the nightmare stepped from the flames. Nathan opened his door and rolled away when he saw the monster spot them. He couldn’t believe this. Monsters weren’t real. Everyone knew that. Fumbling from shock, Steve tried to do the same, but the door wouldn’t open. The monster saw this and smiled. Reaching behind his back, the monster produced a weapon of sorts and began twirling it overhead. The faster the weapon moved, the louder it’s scream became until it threatened to burst their eardrums. He let it fly towards the car, and in that moment, Steve knew he was dead.

Helpless, Nathan could only cry out and fire off his clip into the monster’s chest. The force of the rounds jerked the monster back in sudden pain, and a smile painted his lips. Steve worked faster with the door. Nathan ran, out of bullets and exposed. The weapon hit the car with a bone-crunching sound and enough force to throw Steve’s body through the windshield.

The monster stalked across the open area, bone spikes protruding from the back of each elbow, and had the dying man in his grip before he had the chance to groan in pain. Both man and beast stared into each other’s eyes, one for the satisfaction of knowing what killed him, the other wondering what was going through his mind in those final moments. Death Shrike smiled.

Horrified, Nathan cowered in the shadows. A wave of helplessness sunk deep into him from acting this way. But, realistically speaking, what was he to do? He’d already pumped fifteen rounds into the thing, and the only effect they’d had was to piss it off even more than it already was. He also knew that it made no sense for both of them to die like this. He closed his eyes as the monster picked up his friend.

The Berserker ran a jagged claw under the human’s throat, drawing a thin line of bright red blood. Steve groaned again, making the monster balk. He’d thought the man already dead. This was going to be a delicious treat. Producing a sharpened spike, he thrust it into Steve’s belly and roared as the blood began trickling down over his hand.

He let out a baleful laugh and said, “Your kind always die so easily.”

Steve spat blood at the monster. Death Shrike smiled as the spit and blood slimed down his nose. The whine of sirens was steadily growing closer, and that meant there was little time left to enjoy the misery. Sinking a hand into the human’s flesh, the Berserker squeezed the man’s heart until it burst. He left the body where it laid, the broken heart still in his grasp.

Nathan fought to keep the bile from spitting out but lost. He felt like screaming out, but it would only give away his position. A river of crimson ran from under Steve’s body.

When he finally looked up at the monster again, he found it staring right back at him. He knew! With a last act of defiance, the Berserker heaved the organ at him and bounded down an empty road. Police and fire vehicles were just now rounding the corner.

The rage surging through him was empowering, and the last traces of fear dissolved. Nathan emerged from his hiding place and trailed after the monster. He had to know why, what it was. What manner of demon had descended upon them? Nathan needed to find out if for no other reason than the preservation of his sanity. Steve certainly deserved as much. Several officers tried stopping him, but he kept running long after the shouts were too far away to be heard. It wasn’t hard to follow the monster’s trail, thankfully for he knew there was no way he’d ever catch up on foot. And right now he wasn’t sure he wanted to come face to face so soon. The Berserker left enough damage behind to almost make Nathan think he was following a full-sized platoon. Nathan suspected the monster was heading for the river.

Screeching brakes and the smell of burnt rubber told Nathan that the creature was already at the highway. Nathan feared he was never going to find him. Infuriated, the detective broke into a run. He rounded a corner in time to watch as the Berserker slipped around a halted bread truck blocking the road. Hoping his aim was still true, Nathan raised his gun and fired. A car sped by after, blocking his aim, and he caught several obscenities directed towards him.

Frustrated, he hurried after the monster before the trail went cold. He didn’t need to be reminded of what would happen when the monster made it into the open countryside.

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 10

It’s that time again, friends. Enjoy.

A New Mission

“Sir, we have a situation developing you should know about,” the young private said.

The duty officer sighed. Eighteen months on this rotten world, he thought. Setting his cup of water down and placing his hands behind his back, he eased his way over to the console. The rest of the skeleton crew on duty seemed to share a disinterest either from being on station too long or from the knowledge that they would never see the front lines. He held a scowl on his face as he stared down at the soldier. This was the last thing he was looking forward to tonight.

“What is it, private?”

The image on the screen went from blurred and dull to clear and sharp in a fraction of second. Together, they watched as the scene developed into a vision both knew all too well. The battle going on was nowhere he knew and fought entirely by an indigenous force, else they would have shown up in different heat signatures. Whoever was doing this had the Berserkers on the ropes. But there was something wrong with the whole thing. Berserker signatures were disappearing, but not from being killed. They were vanishing too suddenly for that.

“What in the…,” he let slip. He was confused. The course of his career had shown him things most men couldn’t conceive, but nothing like this. “Soldier, find out where they’re disappearing to, now.”

“Yes, sir.”

Normally an admittedly hasty man and never one to feel stress, he was left with an ill feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Sir, we’re not picking anything up. It’s like they’re vanishing into thin air.”

“Impossible! Nothing disappears like that. Are the scanners working right?” Of course, he knew they were, but his military mind refused to accept it.

“All systems are online and running. The Berserkers are not showing up anywhere our sensors can read them, sir.”

But why? The dead were still warm, though cooling quickly, and easy to read. The next decision hurt, but he knew it was the only one open to him.

“Private, I want a full squad suited up and ready to move in one hour. Deploy by chopper, and have the bird wait nearby. It is imperative that they learn as much as they can without compromising their position. Have them bring in those two locals for a debriefing upon completion. Make it happen, trooper.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Hey, Snake,” cooed the slightly overweight supply sergeant. “Look what I got for you, and don’t go telling me that you couldn’t use it, either.”

Snake Eyes was a man who rarely liked to talk about work when he was off duty, and since their fiasco in the village a few days back, he and his men — or what was left of them — had been given seventy-two hours of down time. It was a luxury he knew wasn’t going to last, but if it could have held out just a while longer…. He found himself looking down on the fat rear echelon trooper who was ruining his night. Fighting back the urge to slap the man and walk off, Snake Eyes stayed, making up his mind what the next course of action was going to be.

“And just what would that be, Scoops?”

Reaching into his jacket pocket with a smile the whole way, Scoops produced a fresh bottle of Izndo whiskey. It was one of the few fine delicacies throughout the systems. Snake was wise to him the moment he saw the flash of the label. There had to be a catch to this. You just didn’t offer a high commodity like this for nothing. The last six years had helped Snake grow up, both physically and mentally, and he was normally a very wary man. Scoops, on the other hand, was the kind of man who would rob from his own grandmother if there was a way to make a profit from it.

“What’s the scam, Scoops? You know I don’t like to play games.”

“Hey, come on. No scam. This one’s legit!”

“Uh huh. Why don’t I believe you?”

Grinning, Scoops fought hard to keep his scowl from coming out. “Look, I have this fine bottle of whiskey, eighteen years old at that, ready to give to you in exchange for the one thing you can offer me.”

Snake Eyes shied away from the last part of that. He didn’t know what the man was getting at, but it didn’t sound right. That and the fact that he hated pencil pushers more than dumb privates confused him when he stayed to listen.

“Go on. I’m all ears.”

“I need field time, Snake. I’ve been in this damned army going on ten years and I don’t have a day of combat time. You get me to the field and this is yours.”

As tempting as it seemed, Snake Eyes was unwilling to get the man killed, much less anyone else in his squad.

“Look. I need this. It’s the only way I have a chance at getting promoted. Help me out, man. Just one little op and I can get my combat service ribbon and be good to go. That, and I’d be in your debt.”

Now that one sparked interest. A supply sergeant in the debt of a ground pounder? Snake would never have to go without again. Snake Eyes accepted the bottle with a smile. “Scoops, you’ve got a deal.”

Leaving the man to wonder if his wants were sufficient, Snake Eyes worked his way back to the platoon tent. He found himself laughing. Be careful what you wish for, he warned the man a little too late and then made up his mind to get drunk.

There was no way he could have been prepared for what greeted him upon entering the hut. Half of the men and women assembled were busy double-checking field gear and ammunition supplies. Some were already in their armor, snapping down the sides and donning the leggings. What was this? They were supposed to have been taken out of the rotation.

Corporal Xill watched him enter and nodded, confirming Snake’s fear. “Word just came down to suit up. We’ve got a snoop-and-scoop mission.”

“I hate this place,” Snake whispered under his breath. “By who’s orders?” The bottle in his hands suddenly felt incredibly heavy.

“Came from the X.O. He wants you and the lieutenant to meet him in ten mikes in the war room.”

Snake Eyes offered the bottle to his friend and said, “Keep an eye on this for me. Lock it ‘til we get back.”

A single thought struck him as the door slammed shut behind him. Another frigging day in paradise shot to squaffa.

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 9

Good Monday, my friends! I apologize for skipping last week but I spent Memorial Day remembering old friends who are no longer with us. War is hell, right? At any rate, let’s jump back into the story and see where Kane is getting to.

NINE

Rook Mountain

Rook Mountain looming in the near distance by the end of the following day, Kane and the Viper decided it best to make camp for the night. Kane’s unwillingness to risk his life without so much as a reconnaissance of the situation had put an end to that argument. Scowling at the man’s hesitancy, the assassin tethered the horses down and stalked off into the desert to look for lurking nasties, leaving Kane to throw up the rudely constructed tent they’d been forced to use when no natural cover was available.

Once finished, Kane pulled out a canteen and stared up at the lonely mount. It was much larger than he remembered, carrying a certain dominance over the landscape and those of weaker stature. He could feel night coming on. The sudden coldness rushed up to tear at his exposed flesh. Kane sighed. An emptiness suddenly filled him, one he’d felt a hundred times over. Evil was waiting for them.

The assassin strolled back into camp in time with the second sunset, his dust-plastered black clothes nearly indistinguishable from the forming shadows. He sat down near the entrance of the tent and removed both boots so he could rub his sore feet. Neither of them had spoken much since the previous night’s attack. The Viper wasn’t the kind of man who needed others. He was a solitary figure, better suited to combing the shadier places of the world alone. It was easier to move and do what needed to be done that way.

“We need to be there by first light,” he offered finally.

Kane nodded. “The enemy does not stalk the night alone. It seems now as if there is no longer the safety we once knew. Night or day, it will dark under there. This bodes ill for us.”

“Ill or not, we really don’t have a choice, now, do we?” the Viper sighed. “Or am I to believe that we’ve wasted the last week of our lives by coming this far to turn back now?”

Kane returned his gaze to the massive Rook Mountain and said no more.

 

Kane awoke sometime later to the subtle rustlings of the Viper pulling at his feet. A leather-gloved hand quickly clamped down on his mouth before he could speak. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the purity of the night, and when they finally did, he saw the vile red eyes of his companion staring down at him. Kane could have sworn he saw the faint flicker of fear deep in them. The assassin shook his head in a short, jerky movement and pointed towards Rook Mountain.

There, his deepest fears were realized, and the promise of the future dwindled. The mount was bathed in an eerie green light, pale as a dead man’s skin and bright as a dying sun. A pallid glow was cast across the dunes. The cold they experienced was far deeper than anything natural. What dark manner of Hells made this? Kane wondered.

The Viper was already suiting up for battle by the time Kane even began to realize the portent of the night. There was little doubt for either of them that the Berserkers were already there. Kane dressed quickly, taking his time only to ensure his weapons were loaded, and the pair stole off into the night.

 

With a mighty roar and tremendous burst of strength, a Berserker broke through the crusted cavern floor of Rook Mountain. Expecting a battle and finding none, the Berserker sniffed the air from a fighting crouch. The armor plates running the length of his spine wagged reflexively. The Berserker snarled for the others, and they filed up from their tunnel. It took seconds before they stood in a huddled knot awaiting further instructions.

Mnemlath looked idly about, holding his hands before him in bewilderment over the green glow. It lent his warriors a devious look well suiting them. A winged Berserker circled him, staring down a long, water-hewn passage. He sniffed the stale air for signs of humans, snorting displeasure at the amount of life in the dark tunnels. The fleshlings were close.

Shaking out his flaming blue hair, the Berserker growled, “Down here. I can feel it.”

Another launched into flight and glided down the hall, his shadowy form easily lost in the darkness. Whatever lay in store for them, whether it be the promise of an extended future or a grizzly demise, the Berserkers rumbled to life. Regardless of the outcome, Mnemlath had every intention of keeping it for himself, Kargosh be damned.

They stalked in single file, studying the surroundings though there was no sign of the enemy. Silent as the wind on a cold winter day, the Berserkers passed without a sign. Not even a footprint in the sand. The glow grew brighter the closer they approached the source. Mnemlath felt the adrenaline building, flowing through his veins in a delicious power.

They reached the innermost chamber without problems, and were forced to shield their eyes from the blinding light. The intensity was sickening, but the Berserker kept going. He entered the chamber without regard, casually coming to a halt at the base of the light. The purity of it was enough to spark elation in him. Euphoria spread to the others, and they rushed in to join him. This was total bliss. The Berserker stretched forth a hand to touch the light, to touch the very soul of the Death God himself. They had found perdition at last.

Roaring from the intense pain suffered, the Berserker watched his hand disappear, as if sucked into the embrace of a darker evil. He fought and struggled to regain himself but was fighting a losing battle. Mnemlath could do nothing but watch as the winged demon was claimed by the Death God. The others stepped away, a sudden fear clutching them at the disappearance of one of their own. Yet the light was enthralling, almost possessing. They lost all sense of time and awareness. Could this be the path to enlightenment? If this nirvana was so powerful as to consume the whole of their fellow, then why should he be the only one to experience the totality of it? One by one, without knowing what lay on the other side, the Berserkers made ready to follow.

 

The killers stole their way through the undiscovered catacombs, breathing lethality. Assassin and Slayer, though having shared a near death experience, lacked total trust. Each would do his job, but at what price? Loyalty was an expensive luxury this deep in the desert. Kane stayed along the tunnel walls, moving with the grace and litheness of a cat. His rifle was raised and trained on the open passage. The Viper, with an eternal flare for the dramatic or maybe just a flaunted fear of the obvious, strode without shame or concealment. He was thumbing the safety catch on a thermal grenade. Anything surviving the initial blast wouldn’t last long after that — of that much he was sure.

Death was a primitive fear for which a man like the Viper had no time. Everyone was assured death in their own time and fashion, so why should one be concerned over it, he argued. His only concern at the moment was the oddity of light ahead of them. Neither had ever seen the like, and that did worry him. He’d lived through the creature from the other night and felt no fear, spent most of his life around thieves and cut throats without fear. So why was he worried now? The catacombs had an air of un-holiness about them.

Kane signaled a halt as soon as he was able to pick up the first Berserker voice. They were right around the bend from each other. Double-checking his weapons a final time, he and the assassin readied themselves. He offered a passive glance to the Viper, who nodded his confirmation. But something was wrong. Normally observant, the Berserkers should have been expecting them. None even bothered with a glance their way. Kane knew better than to question. This was going to be their best chance at stopping their enemy. Clicking off the safety, Kane rounded the corner and attacked.

The explosion shook the ancient walls, threatening to rip their eardrums apart. None of the Berserkers saw it coming. The thermal grenade had bounced off the back of one and rolled away. Mnemlath saw the object rolling and had begun barking orders slightly before the explosion. The Berserker nearest the grenade realized too late what it was. The explosion melted the monster as shrapnel sped outwards to strike a number of the others. While they were confused and disoriented, a rain of ice blue ion fire spit into the chamber. More Berserkers howled from the sudden pain.

Mnemlath smelled the air as he rolled to cover and smiled. The Slayer! The rancid odors of burnt flesh and fresh blood brought his bloodlust to a boil. This was the reason for their creation. Dark blood splashed across his cheek, and he turned in time to see another nearly torn in two from the crossfire. A sudden fury seized him, and the time for retaliation had come.

“Attack!” the monster bellowed.

They moved as one. Smoke and ion haze choked the air, making it hard for all of them to see, even with the Berserkers’ enhanced senses. For the humans, it was a scene like a nightmare in the cave. A minor rumble knocked the Viper on his back with a leaping Berserker coming down atop him. Long fangs dripped a burning drool across his cheek, and the monster smiled. The Viper could see death approaching, reflected through the empty eyes of the Berserker. Neither of them saw the silver spear come in to pierce the side of the monster’s head.

Seeing how badly things were transpiring for them, Mnemlath decided it was time to end this until another day. He growled his commands, and the last of those few chosen to enter the Death God’s embrace leapt into the light. That was the easy part. He also knew that there was no way he could leave this gateway open to the fleshlings — not when he stood on the threshold of obtaining its newfound power, one strong enough to turn the tide of this war in his favor. Another explosion ruined the chamber. Mnemlath was forced back, retreating enough to assess the situation and regroup for another attack. There were enough bodies on the ground for now.

He snarled another set of orders, and the Berserkers disengaged the enemy, leaving them dazed and slightly confused. The last to leave bellowed once and then shattered the archway to an exit tunnel. The collapse was enough to seal them away from the mortals. This battle was over.

Kane helped the Viper to his feet and stepped closer to the light. Whatever it was, the column of light was humming now. Of the living Berserkers, there was no sign — not even a hint of where they had gone.

“This is not what I was expecting,” the Viper admitted, still trying to catch his wind. He also knew there was no way he was going to go back to Redemption with this.

Kane ignored him so he could finish inspecting the curiosity. “This is no weapon. I’ve never seen anything of its like,” he finally said.

“Squaffa load of good that does us then,” growled the assassin. His ribs hurt, and he could tell one was broken.

Kane scowled. “This is a prize far greater than any of our expectations could have produced. The last vestige of a golden age we will never know.”

“Who cares. Looks like we made this trip for nothing. My employers can’t use this, and I’m not going to even try and explain where the Berserkers disappeared to.”

Kane had a bigger concern. Why had the Berserkers abandoned their find so easily? A gnawing feeling bit into him. They were going to find out before this affair was finished. He hoped the answer wasn’t as bad as he was guessing.