A Friendly Ask

Tomorrow's Demise I.jpgGood Monday morning friends! As you know, I have been slogging out chapter after chapter of my Tomorrow’s Demise saga for your enjoyment. (Love reading the comments!) What you don’t know is that I am getting ready to throw my first baby to the wolves of the world. Tomorrow’s Demise has never gotten much love from old publisher. The cover was horrid, and they never promoted it much.

Good news is I have fixed the cover, tidied up the text and am getting ready to republish for your enjoyment. What I ask all of you, if you liked the story- or even if you didn’t, would you all please be so kind as to leave an early review while the book is in preorder? After all, you’ve already read it! My endearing thanks to all of you ahead of time. Just leave a message and I will shoot you the details.

 

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Happy Monday!

Father’s Day weekend is in the books and boy was it a good one. Hope you all had the same, whether you are a father or were celebrating one. Now, enough of the nice stuff. Let’s get back to the fight.

FIFTEEN

The Crazy and the Damned

This was the first night Emerald went to sleep with a smile in many long years. She’d never found anyone she could talk to so deeply before, and there he was without her even looking. They’d spent hours just talking as two old friends who hadn’t seen each other for years might. She didn’t think they’d even gotten around to having a drink.

The arrival of the man from Furnace Island threw everyone off but was quickly set aside once the message was delivered to Kane. Nathan ignored all of his internal warnings and found a way to enjoy what remained of his night. Never in his wildest imagination did he think to stumble across Emerald. Especially not in the middle of a war-torn desert gone mad.

Emerald, for her part, enjoyed every word of conversation. So much of her life had been bent with violence she almost forgot a large portion of her humanity. It was no easy thing to ride the deserts in search of an enemy that only offered two options. More than once she caught herself staring into his foreign eyes, forgetting all of the trials that had forged their bonds, making them what they were. It was only towards dawn that they parted company with the promise of seeing each other again later.

Nathan Bourne. His name kissed her lips as she drifted off to sleep.

 

Shadows had become Yonash Hosking’s best friends. They covered his movements and stood watch over him while he slept. They offered him a thing more precious than any of his previous life experiences. They gave him comfort. The enemy lurked at every turn, and the shadows kept him safe with anonymity. He was now become the hunter, always stalking the great beast of myth and lore.

Tonight offered him something different, something special for his self-imposed sufferings. He was off in the shadows of an alley humming an old childhood song taught to him by his mother when the bar doors swung open and two men stepped out. They were men who carried faint recognition to him. Sergeant, his mind struggled to remember. The word sparked him back to the military. What was his name? Kimel! That’s it. Sergeant Kimel, he proudly told himself. They had, at one point in his brief career, been assigned to the same company. It must have been years ago now, he mused. He watched the pair stalk off and smiled. This was going to prove interesting. Hosking snatched up his rifle and picked up the trail, cautious to stay far enough back not to be seen. The night still had many hours left in it and even more secrets yearning to be discovered.

 

“We are going to Redemption,” Kane announced to the gathered crowd the following sundown.

Snake Eyes grinned and said, “I imagine we all are before we die. Where’s this coming from?”

“Redemption is a city on Furnace Island,” Emerald chimed in. “Not the place you’d care to vacation in.”

“Indeed,” Kane agreed. “A pirate haven filled with hundreds of volcanoes and dangers unimagined. We are headed there first.”

“For any particular reason? Or are we on a sight-seeing trip?” Snake wasn’t too sure about this one. “My understanding is that the Berserker Hive is to the west, not east.”

“The man Nathan brought to me last night came with information that may prove useful if we are going to succeed. Apparently, there is a wizard there awaiting us. He seems to have taken special interest in our endeavors and is offering assistance.”

“And the only way to get his help is to go to him first,” Xill finished. “How much longer does this add to the schedule?” Nathan asked.

“Fifteen days,” the Viper answered. He knew the wizard well enough but decided to keep his opinions private. “Takes three to reach the ferry and another two to get to the town.”

His red eyes carried a distant look from behind the veil of his darkened glasses. They were focused on a king’s ransom. One man had a better chance at sneaking down into the Hive than ten. Perhaps Kane wasn’t that far off the mark when he suggested the former treasury of the old empire still remained in the Berserker caverns. A cunning man might just find a way to fill his purses without getting caught. A clever man indeed.

“Watch your backs there,” Emerald warned. “They’ll cut you down in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful.”

Snake Eyes turned to the assassin and said, “Sounds like your kind of place. Real friendly.”

“This lengthens matter considerably, at least another hundred leagues,” the Viper continued, ignoring Snake’s sarcasm. “Seems you have quite the adventure unfolding.”

“It is not a choice I was given. This wizard may prove the difference between victory and defeat. How far along are we with getting supplies?”

“I’ve scraped enough water skins together to last each of ya five days,” Braxton said.

“There’s no transports available, so yer going ta have ta use a wagon. Got my man Rolf working on that.”

“We’ve got enough medical supplies, provided nothing extraordinary happens along the way,” Snake Eyes added.

Emerald said, “Nathan and I are in the process of buying travel rations, and I think I’m coming with you.”

There wasn’t much surprise in her announcement. Kane had known Emerald for a long time, and she always stepped up when the fires got too hot. He’d tried to keep her from joining the Imperium war, and they’d both come home crippled.

“You won’t be of much use with your leg like that,” he said in weak defense.

Emerald scowled. “You will be with your hand like that? You know better than most that I can handle myself, Aradias. Godhelm says the cast can come off in a week. I’ll be as good as new by the time we reach Redemption, and you’re going to need all the help you can get. Just for once I’d like you to admit that. You’ll find things flow much smoother when you do.”

The Viper had been enjoying the debate when he noticed the passing shadow of movement outside the window.

“What was that?” he asked the instant his falcon launched.

“What was what?” Nathan asked, rising to his feet.

“Don’t move. Not yet,” the assassin warned as he drew his blaster. Snake Eyes and Xill did the same but slunk back to cover the door.

“Am I the only one who can’t see what’s going down around here?” Nathan asked to no one in particular. He watched Emerald and Skrapp move to covering positions on the assassin’s flanks.

“Lawman,” he whispered, “when I count to three, you pull those curtains down and duck. Real fast unless you care to get shot.”

Nathan held his tongue against his better judgment and mouthed, “Don’t shoot me.”

“One.”

His heart was beating faster, reminding him of his vice days. The Viper had a cold smile on his face.

“Two.”

His thumping heart drowned out every other sound. It wasn’t fear. He’d been involved in this type of situation numerous times. This was adrenaline.

“Three!”

The heavy fabric ripped to the floor, following Nathan down in a careless heap. A shadow behind the window danced away, chased by a steady stream of blue-tinged ion rounds melting through the glass. The wall of the building opposite them burst into open flame in a cloud of dust. The assassin was in the window frame a second later and firing down after the fleeing shadow.

“He’s moving around the front!”

Xill and Snake Eyes were already halfway down the hall by the time the Viper helped Nathan up. Blaster fire rang in his ears, but he didn’t let that slow him. Whoever the man in the window was, the others felt he was dangerous enough to hunt down. He wondered if it was the gray pirate from the night before.

Temperatures were dropping fast, chilling their exposed flesh the instant they stepped outside. Xill rounded the corner and collided with a cloaked man stumbling from one of the bars. Both went down, the wind knocked from them. Another volley sliced the air above their heads. They missed the prone men and exploded against a wall, narrowly missing Snake Eyes. Rock and wood splinters pelted him to his knees.

“Watch where you’re shooting!” Snake cried.

The Viper was already across the street. “Stay out of the way, then.”

Nathan rushed forward and helped Xill up. The spy was moving faster than they had previously thought and was almost out of sight. Snake Eyes was on the assassin’s heels down the alley. The Viper’s cloak was as dark as eternity, thus making him all but impossible to find in the night.

“Where is he?”

They caught the fluttering beam of light coming halfway down the next alley.

“There!”

Both men fired at the same time. Blue bolts blinded the night, but they both missed. Nathan was watching events play out and ran for the cutoff. He had once let a monster escape and was determined not to let the same mistake happen twice. He was at the corner in no time with his blaster leveled at the next thing to come his way. The spy came faster than anticipated. Nathan was still breathing heavily and trying to regain his composure when the spy came creeping out of the alley.

“Stop where you are and throw the weapons down, or I’ll kill you where you stand.”

The spy halted. Nathan could see the madness working behind his eyes. He laughed in his captor’s face but was wise enough not to move. Nathan got that old nervous feeling he got every time he was forced to fire his weapon on the job. He didn’t want to kill the guy, but he wasn’t giving Nathan much of a choice.

“I said drop the fucking rifle. Now!”

The madman smiled. Snake Eyes and the Viper’s sudden entrance gave him the opportunity he needed. He roared and raised the rifle high in the sky. Ion rounds launched into the heavens in rage, showering sparks down on both men. Nathan turned to protect his face while Snake and the assassin ducked back into cover. The madman bolted down the next alley.

Some of the more curious citizens awakened by the ruckus were poking their heads from windows and doors all along the alley, eager to catch a glimpse of the disturbance. They questioned where the City Watch was but would have nothing to do with the affair. This was a matter belonging to others. However, the thrill remained. Running gunfights were a seldom seen event in Black Tide, and this was definitely worth savoring.

The madman continued down the dark and dusty alley. He could smell his victory, breathing in the rush of his narrow escape. Only darkness stood before him and freedom, and it felt good. He never saw the mass of gray flesh come barreling out of the shadows to take him down. His breath was crushed from his lungs when the full weight of the man landed on his chest. He was caught!

“Hold him, Xill!”

Dust washed his face, sneaking into his eyes, mouth and nose. His lungs burned from lack of oxygen. Tears clogged his eyes. And through it all, he remembered a name. Xill? The other three were upon him before his deliberations had the chance to conclude.

“All right,” Nathan panted, “turn him over, and let’s see what we’ve got.”

The madman felt his cloak torn from him, exposing him to the world. He instantly felt naked and insecure. Where was the night to comfort him?

“By the Gods,” a voice exclaimed.

“I don’t believe it,” another whispered.

“Kill him and get it over with,” suggested another.

“It’s Lieutenant Hosking!”

This Month’s Promotion

elves bannerI recently got involved with a promoter and we are rocking. Each time I do this my numbers soar, along with new followers across my platforms. This time, we are highlighting a fun story of mine called: Where Have All the Elves Gone? It is the tale of a fantasy writer who discovers the world he writes about exists, and it is all around us. Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a 10$ Amazon gift card, buy the book- and please review it!- or just swing by Twitter to see what’s going on.

 

Sometimes the Struggle is Real

I had one of my old soldiers reach out to me the other day saying he read my memoirs. I always find it interesting to see what people who lived through the same events as me think about my interpretation. This particular man was featured in the book (a little- sorry dude). I haven’t seen him in over 10 years and the war we shared was in Mosul, Iraq in 2003. Memories never fade, my friends. Not like that. All of this made writing my battle scenes more visceral. As you might have noticed. There is a bond soldiers share that no one else on the planet can replicate. Read on, my friends. Read on.

FOURTEEN

Victory

Fresh fires sprang from caverns dug too deep, and the smell of death was renewed to a ripened vintage. Tens of thousands of idle Berserkers lounged in the caves, while even more readied for the coming invasion across the Wastelands. Soon, they would conquer everything from the ruins of Bastion on the edge of the Weston Sea down south past Minion and the Angril River. The Berserker empire was growing again. They came and went with impunity, no longer fearful of the quick response of the soldiers. Village after village was falling to their grasp.

The sands between the old castle of Regwin Hold and Rook Mountain were clear for them to walk on the surface again. Great companies of warriors were being formed to march south and seize the cities of Helgscroft and the old Delvar Prison Colony. Kargosh’s designs called for expansion. Berserker bases would be set up in those three places, and from there, he would control the war. Humanity was slowly fading from the deserts.

An unparalleled fear pushed out ahead of them, for if the mightiest army in the world was destroyed, who, then, could stop them? Most of the smaller villages along the Frontier knew nothing of the Imperium’s defeat or even the invasion. They lived their lives cut off from the rest of the world, some managing to thrive without protection. Little did they know their fragile dream was ending. Each village was a target for annihilation, and they started falling. Total victory along the Frontier was but a matter of time.

Mnemlath refused to partake in the victory celebrations. His mind was burdened by other troubles. Too often he’d seen their hopes rise only to be dashed by the deeds of this Slayer or that. His miseries took him to the darkened waters of the lake and the creature therein. So many things were transpiring around him, he longed for that quiet time to reflect. The waters lulled him with false security and soon lost their focus. He jumped when he found two silver eyes staring back at him, haunting him with their lone hand.

His foul heart longed for one more battle with the man who’d turned defeat into victory, for though Kane had lost a hand, he had killed two Berserkers. Destiny screamed for that final confrontation. A blast of warm air on his neck told Mnemlath that he had been joined by another.

“The First One has called for his captains. There are preparations to oversee, or had you forgotten? The eve of a new age is finally upon us, and here I find you staring into the waters like a mortal,” said the wraith. “Have you forgotten your warriors?”

“Quite the contrary, Shadow Demon. They seem to be the only thing on my mind as of late,” he growled. “Tell me, how is it the Slayer manages to survive all I do? I’d have thought we destroyed humanity’s hope long, long ago.”

“Persistence seems their nature. One day, they will be gone, and we shall stand under the suns.”

“And what then?” Mnemlath asked. “Don’t you see? We will never have their numbers. Our armies can destroy the lands west of the river, and they will come after us with an even larger force. Not even with the technology will we best them. It will take decades to come close.”

“You speak of treason,” the wraith warned, suddenly uneasy with the direction things had turned. They were soldiers of the One and must obey.

“I speak of reality! We need see beyond the present and seize the future if we are to have any hope of survival. How many more battles like the last do you think we can maintain before we are too few to resist?”

Tiny red eyes blinked in disbelief. “You would proclaim defeat in the throes of our greatest achievements? Kargosh will have you executed for this.”

Lighting quick reflexes weren’t enough to save the wraith from Mnemlath’s claws squeezing around his neck. The Berserker leader leaned forward so that no other might hear him and said, “He will never find out, or I shall tear you limb from limb and feed you to the beast in the water before I die. Understand?”

Fear answered him.

Letting the wraith go, disgust smeared his face. “Now go. Leave me to my solitude. Watch over the others until I return, and spread no discontent among them. I hold you accountable, wraith.”

Embarrassment singed the wraith’s pride as he took to flight. If only the Creator had given him the genes of leadership, life would be vastly different. Fear kept his tongue in check — fear of being murdered before his time. There were other ways to make his opinions known.

Alone again, Mnemlath’s attention returned to the bubbling waters. The monster in the lake was stirring again. He wondered what made the lurker so eager to rise from his slimy depths now of all times. The Berserker had always felt a certain closeness with the creature, more so than with others of his kind. The lurker was simple. It killed to live. Mnemlath longed for such simplicity.

“I know your hunger,” he told it. “Your pain of being hidden forever must burn at you in ways unimaginable. Soon, you will have day to claim.”

He knew the lurker was watching him from its prison depths. A giant eye stared up through the murk considering if this was another chance meal. It had grown fond of the taste of Berserker over the course of its life. Slowly, it started moving the great weight of its body closer to the shore.

“Always hungry aren’t you?” the Berserker mused. The trail of bubbles breaking the surface moved closer. “You kill to sustain yourself while I kill for the purity of it. What will happen when the world changes?”

He offered the waters a final glare and said, “We shall speak again, demon.”

 

 

Let’s Do This

Happy Monday y’all! Hope you had a refreshing and relaxing weekend. Nothing like some good whiskey- no mixers please, we’re not animals after all- a fantastic couple of cigars and an afternoon at the pool to get me back in the mood to create. I was thinking through some generational issues with my kids and it got me to a point. The only way I know how to handle a problem is to attack. Right? There’s no point in avoiding the issue. Attack it, beat it, and advance. These kids today hide behind their fears instead of confronting them. Makes me think D Day would never have succeeded with this generation. Oh well, let’s jump back to Helscape and see what old Kane and his crew are up to.

THIRTEEN

Redeployment

The silence of the chamber dwarfed those seated within. There was none of the usual chatter passing back and forth before the speaker took his place, no joy to be away from the stress of everyday work. The hundreds assembled struggled to stay awake, and those who did were in a far off place. Gladak took the smallish stage under a blanket of anxiousness.

“Today,” he began in a low, grating voice, “marks the beginning of a new era for this proud division. The division chaplain will deliver a memorial to our fallen friends as soon as I am finished here. Hopefully, this will put our demons to rest and allow our focus shift on matters at hand. Today, I received official orders to report back to Amicir! This war is over. Everyone north of Minion will begin withdrawing at sunrise. Brigade commanders have the order of march.”

His eyes formed tight slits, and his heart filled with pride at their sudden renewal of life. They had purpose again.

“Hold your banners high so that every living person knows who you are. Take pride in your uniforms and your deeds. Indeed, you are all heroes in the eyes of the universe. Long live the 76th!”

The assembly broke out in cheers and fierce battle cries.

Gladak held up his hand for silence and began again. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve among you, which makes my next statement more difficult to say.

“The division is being deactivated upon its return. Those of you willing to stay on with your careers in the military will be given reassignment to the unit of your choice. And if the rest of you feel that you have reached an end with recent events, you will be allowed to exit the service. Heed me, though! Take the lessons learned here, and put them to good use. Never let anyone say that you are a coward. I thank you all for the opportunity to serve you.”

His salute sent waves of sadness and elation across those gathered. The moment was more emotional than when they’d finally sat down to figure out if they were alive or not after the battle. Singly and then in groups, they rose to applaud their newest division commander. He was the man who was leading them home in pride. Gladak left the building with a grim impersonation of a smile. The Extinction Campaign was finally over. Helscape had won.

 

The Viper stepped back and drank long from Snake Eyes’ bottle. “I have nothing else to say. You have been given what you need to make it to the Hive with relative safety, not that it matters. You’re all going to die anyway.”

His part of the quest finished, the assassin moved to the back of the room and calmly lit his pipe. The soothing flavors of his smoke did much to liven his spirits while he sat and listened to their fractured arguments. A part of him admired Kane’s determination. The two soldiers were showing serious misgivings about their decisions, the apparent initial motivation for revenge wearing off. The Viper was silently laughing. Even if the fools made it there, the Berserkers would tear them apart in no time.

His eyes focused on the lawman with saddened conviction. It was as if the man had no choice but to tag along. Oh well, to the fires with them. What cause did it serve to go off and die a hero when there were plenty of jobs right here needing to be done?

“It’s getting late,” Braxton said, stretching his old bones. “I have work to do and must go. Good night.”

“And our bottle has just about reached the bottom,” Snake Eyes added. “Care to join me, Xill?”

The Crendaphidian snatched up his jacket with a smile. “I seem to have no choice.”

Nathan felt it was time to go as well. He was dead tired and needed some time along to digest the dangers he’d learned. Sunrise was fast in coming when he made his good-byes for the night.

“Nathan?”

He smiled. Her voice was the one thing he wanted to hear.

Emerald returned his smile and said, “I don’t think I got the chance to thank you for saving my life. I’d like to do that now.”

“I appreciate that, but there’s no need. I did what I did because you were still alive. Any man would have done the same.”

Emerald frowned. That was not the answer she was looking for.

“Look,” he said in attempts at amending whatever he said wrong, “how about I buy you a drink? Maybe we can get to know one another that way.”

“I’d like that.”

Together, they casually strolled their way to the Inferno.

Kane and the Viper were the last ones there. They sat staring at each other from across the room. The assassin plumed great smoke rings of changing color. Kane saw that it was time to make his bid.

“You spoke of the old Empire.”

“What about it?” the Viper cautiously asked, not sure which way Kane was going.

“Do you know the whole legend?” he asked.

The Viper watched him pour a drink and then painstakingly made his way to a chair next to him.

“Enough to know better,” he shrugged. “It was never important to me, but I assume you’re going to enlighten me?”

“With bits and pieces. Everyone knows how the old Empire ruled in splendor before the invasions, but since the first Berserker entered creation, no one has set foot within the old palace. Can you imagine the wealth accumulated down there? An entire empire lost forever. The Berserkers have no need for jewels or riches, and the Northern armies kept their loot stashed there when their king took over. Even you might be able to profit from this incursion. Think about it.”

The Viper laughed. “Think how many ways you will die! You really are crazy, aren’t you? I’m not about to risk my neck for some dusty pieces of gold when I can get paid for hunting men down. The rewards are the same, but the price is far less dangerous. Keep your forgotten treasure, old man. I’ll stick to killing men.”

“Legends say a terrible sandstorm was conjured by wizards, burying the palace for all eternity. Ask yourself, what would the Berserkers do with that wealth? They have no allies, no friends to purchase weapons from. What would you do with the fortune?”

Kane smiled to himself. He knew it was going to take some time for his words to sink in, but the Viper couldn’t resist the lure of wealth. This was far from over.

“The treasure is still there,” he went on. “All alone in those cold caverns waiting for the right master to claim it.”

The Viper knocked the tobacco from his pipe and placed it inside his jacket. “Aradias, you need let your wound heal before you go off on some fool crusade. And watch your back when you do. They may be good people, but they know nothing about what they’re up against. Ignorance will get them killed.”

The door swung shut behind him. Kane let out a sigh. The bait was set, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the Viper bit.

 

Thalon entered the smoke-filled bar room and was taken aback by the stark contrast to his own home of Redemption. A place like the Inferno there wouldn’t dare have windows, much less the mirth and merriment going on here. There hadn’t even been a fight since he walked in. This was definitely not a pirate’s paradise. His silk clothes and overall appearance drew immediate attention from the few local women, but as much as he liked to indulge in their darkest fantasies, they were going to have to wait. Maybe later, though, his looks suggested.

He scanned the crowd with a cold eye until he was rewarded with the one he sought. Thalon slipped through the crowds to meet the one the wizard had spoken of.

“What can I get fer ya, lad?” Braxton asked.

“You are the owner, Braxton Skrapp, are you not?”

The old Slayer’s hand slipped down to the rifle he kept under the bar. “Aye, but I don’t seem to recall you.”

“That is unimportant right now. I have been sent from Redemption to find you,” Thalon said. He caught how Skrapp’s hand moved and smiled. This guy was no fool, but he left something to be desired. “I assure you, sir, you have no need of that with me. I am looking for Aradias Kane. I have news that may interest him.”

Confusion slapped Braxton across the face. Only seven people knew about the plan, so how in the Seven Hells did this one find out?

“Guided by a wizard’s hand,” Thalon whispered when he saw the older man’s confusion. “Are you the right man, or shall I find another?”

“He can’t be seen tonight. And you’ve not told me who you are yet.”

Thalon was close to getting upset. “I have no time for this. I need to see Kane at once. I was not given an option of when and where, Skrapp, so neither are you. The wizard has commanded! I must be on my way back to Redemption by mid-morning.”

“Who’s this?” Nathan asked as he and Emerald took seats.

Thalon smiled, the look of a shark watching his prey. “Ah, yes! Nathan Bourne, the offworlder. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, but I do not have time for this. I need speak with one man, and he is Kane.”

“Buddy,” Nathan scowled, “you’ve got some answers to give before you get to see anyone. Start talking.”

“All will be revealed when and only when I see the Slayer named Kane,” Thalon angrily spat. “Not a moment before.”

Nathan, Emerald and Braxton stared at each other.

 

Heavy rapping on the stained wooden door echoed down the half-lit hallway. Most of the inhabitants were locked away by sleep, so the rapping grew louder when there came no answer. The door finally groaned open. Kane took a defensive step back when he found himself staring into the cold eyes of a stranger. Weaponless and still haggard from his experiences, the Slayer made ready for a quick doom.

What he saw surprised him.

Nathan looked at his friend with an odd expression. “You’re not going to believe this one, but I think you need to hear it.”

“Come in,” the Slayer finally said.

Fire Up the Engines

Anyone else come back from the weekend refreshed? Despite the teenage hell of emotions gripping my house- as my daughter is about to graduate high school and her moment of oh shit hits- I am ready to beat this week into submission. Who’s with me?

the madman on the rocks1

This bad boy was released on Friday and is already moving. Where would I be without all of you? The Madman on the Rocks is book 2 of the Forgotten Gods Tales. Still early in the story, as I am thinking this will flesh out to around 9-10 books. Funny though, I have never written a trilogy. 6 book series. 4 book series, but never. Huh. Anywho, if you all are interested, swing over to Amazon and snag your copy today. I won’t mind! If you’re feeling extra bold, drop a review for this or any of my other books. Just as long as it’s honest.

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005HP3EOW

The War Inside my Head

A new week and a new war. I feel like this is going to be a miserable- after all, I have to spend it in a classroom at UNC Chapel Hill….barf. Anyway, no reason for you to suffer! Here is this week’s episode of Tomorrow’s Demise:

TWELVE

The Conspiracy Deepens

“All right, lads, you’ve had yer look,” Braxton growled to them once Emerald had been standing there for a moment too long. “I think you already know a good deal of us. Over there,” he pointed, “is Corporal Xill, and you met Sergeant Kimel outside.”

“Hello,” she mumbled from her daze.

He smiled back. “Call me Snake Eyes.”

“Both are from Fort Evans. Been here a while, too. Over there’s the…”

“The Viper. Yes, I know. We’ve had business before,” she said coldly.

The assassin blinked once and looked away. His falcon screeched.

“And this strapping lad be Master Nathan Bourne from across the river. Methinks he’s the one you’re looking for,” Braxton said proudly. The last he said only to her rather than rouse suspicion among the rest.

Nathan smiled again, or maybe it was the same one. “You look a lot better than you did when I was dragging you out of the fight. We can talk afterwards if you care to stick around.”

She gave him a shallow nod, perhaps leading him more than she wanted.

“It’s good to see you alive, Emerald,” said a familiar voice.

A different warmth filled her heart. Here lay the man she’d looked to as a mentor and dear friend. He was the closest thing to a father she’d had in a long while. “Kane! By the Gods,” she cried upon seeing his sad condition. “What happened?” She rushed to his side, forgetting the days since they’d last seen each other in Minion.

“I ran into an old friend in the Gorge,” he said in a voice laced with sadness.

Emerald did her best to fight back the tears welling. A few won free to trickle down her soft cheeks. She’d already lost her family to war and the ravages of the Northerners. Losing Kane, the man who had helped raise her, would tear at her soul.

“Save your tears for my enemies. I’ll be all right,” he whispered softly to her alone. “We still have much to do if I am to avenge the loss of my hand with Mnemlath’s head!”

The Viper perked at the Berserker’s mention. This was a bit of news. He smirked at the irony of things, especially after he’d given the Slayer a chance to kill the same beast a month beforehand. The devils themselves were smiling at the brutal circles life played out.

“Let’s get this show started, shall we?” Braxton asked, eager to end this affair and return to the comforts of his bar.

“How far can she be trusted?” the Viper asked.

Snake laughed. “Farther than you, I’m willing to bet!”

The assassin struggled to hold back his instincts and began laying out the maps and various documents he’d brought. The rest crowded around the table to see how Kane’s dream was going to take shape.

“This is the most recent map of the Wastelands. I had it smuggled out of Imperium Intelligence in Trusgar a few months ago. Everything they’ve done leading up to the invasion force arriving has been annotated.” He paused to shift his finger. “Here lies the Berserker Hive. It lies over two hundred thirty leagues from Black Tide. Not the most accessible place, but within range with the right men and equipment. You’ll see the Black Pits near. I have been there, and I would not wish to go a second time.

“It will take an estimated thirty-five days on horseback to gain the Pits, almost a full month. There’s no telling what the devils may do in that time now that the Wastes are wide open for invasion.”

“A month is long for such a ride,” Kane answered.

“Not if you want to keep them alive, Aradias. You know how harsh the Wastes can be. There are only two villages along the route, and you’ll be cut off from civilization and help if you need it. Not even the Gods will be there to hear you cry for help.” The assassin seemed rather pleased with himself.

“What’s so special about the Hive’s location? It’d make more sense to be closer to the killing grounds,” Snake Eyes observed.

“That’s where the throne of the Ancient Empire was seated, or so legends tell. Regwin Hold. It was a place of grand design and splendor, matched by none since,” Braxton added. “Now the Berserkers choose to place their own wicked master upon our ancestor’s throne. Some say it’s warded by a wizard’s spell.”

Nathan’s eyebrow raised in question. “Wizards? I’m a little old to believe in fairy tales.”

The assassin laughed. “Best change your mind, boy. I’ve been there. You can’t see it unless the sun is just above the far horizon. At first, I thought I was hallucinating, but the closer I got, the more I saw. It’s there, all right.”

“Rumor has it a wizard once visited before the end,” Emerald piped in.

“So they stayed holed up in a bunch of ruins until they win?” Snake Eyes asked, choosing to ignore the talk of wizards and their ilk.

The Viper nodded. “Basically. The palace has long been in ruins and swept under the sands, all but the peak of a single tower. Most of the sand is hard now, compacted by years of abuse, so you won’t be able to blast through. I found a tunnel on the southern side, so I suggest you enter there. I should remind you that no living man has ever returned from the Hive. Not now, not ever.”

“Except you,” Kane said.

“Straight through the jaws of the Netherworld,” Xill muttered.

Emerald had a queer look on her face. “What is this about? You can’t seriously be thinking about attacking them. You’ll all die!”

“Relax, lady. We’re just going down to take a look around. If we get lucky, we’ll kill a whole lot of them,” Snake Eyes smiled. The thrill of the hunt was clawing back into him; either that or they were all going crazy.

“You’re crazier than that officer who’s got himself locked up in his hotel room down the street,” she swore.

“What officer?” Snake Eyes asked in genuine interest. He had a sinking suspicion of who it was, and that bothered him.

“I don’t know,” she said in thought. “Haskin or Hosking or something to that effect.” She noticed the gleam in his eyes and asked, “What does he have to do with this?”

“Nothing at all,” he answered and looked to Kane, who only shook his head.

“And you most of all,” Emerald scolded. “You’ve got one hand and are already near death. How in the name of the Gods do you plan on making it far enough to fight the rest of the Hive?”

“This is what we’re trying to decide here!” Braxton lashed out. He didn’t feel like spending another full night in endless deliberations. “Now, lass, I’m none too fond of such foolishness myself, but their minds are made up, and men need go where their will takes them. It’s the way of the Gods. Let each man be so lucky as to choose his own death, and he’ll be the richer for it.”

Sadly enough, it was beginning to make sense to her.

“No one is asking you to join us,” Xill said in support. “You shouldn’t even be here by all rights.”

“But we’d appreciate the help in any way you can,” Nathan added.

The Viper scowled. “This is all very touching, but can we get back to the task? Some of us do have lives outside of your madness, Kane.”

Emerald resumed her seat towards the back of the crowd and did not speak again.

“You’ll need a wagon or transport of sorts to carry enough supplies for both ways. There are no barter stations along the route. Four men against the host of the horde isn’t promising. Weapons shouldn’t be an issue, not at the moment. Know this, though. The Berserkers still have tens of thousands sitting in their stronghold. You have one hope, that the Berserkers are already gone. I know of no way to mask your scents from their heightened senses.”

“A tank would help nicely.” Snake Eyes whistled. He wasted no time in refilling his empty glass.

The Viper passed him a curious glance and continued, “The luxuries of the desert are minimal at best. Water shouldn’t be much of a problem so long as the wells are still in use. If not, I don’t think you have much of a chance. Once you get inside the Hive is when the trouble begins. How do you plan on defeating their entire empire with a handful of men and a few explosives? You’ve already witnessed what the might of your finest division was capable of. Granted, it was an ambush, but the results were still the same.

The enemy is fouler than you can possibly know. Kill all you can, but there will always be more.”

“Every enemy can be beaten. It’s just a matter of how and when,” Snake Eyes broke in. He grew tired of the Viper and his constant threats of doom and despair. “What about individual arms? What’s the best to use on these things?”

“Fire. The Berserkers may give the illusion of humanity, but they’re the furthest thing from it. They are natural killers by birth and design, animalistic and raw. But even the greatest predators fear fire. Burn enough of them, and they run. Their weapons, on the other hand, you should be familiar with. They are crude yet magical to an extent. The Berserkers themselves have no magical capabilities, but their weapons were designed by an evil power. ‘Ware them,” the Viper cautioned. “You truly believe you can win. I admire that, foolish as it is. How exactly do you plan on breaching their defenses and getting away alive?”

Nathan, who’d been silent trying to absorb what was unfolding finally said in a long, controlled voice, “Looks to me like we need a wizard.”

Everyone stopped and looked at him.