A Day to Remember

So many things are happening this day it almost seems wrong to post the new chapter. 9/11 was the first day I brought my daughter home from the hospital. Such a strange day. I was asleep on my living room floor- beside her and her mother- and woke up in time to see the 2nd plane hit. I remember Katie Couric saying how it was a terrible coincidence and remember thinking she was an idiot. I looked at my ex-wife and said, “we’re going to war.” Sure enough, 10 minutes later I got the phone call. Report to your unit with full equipment. Weapon draw is at….. We each have stories and memories. I’d like to hear some of yours. After you get to the bottom of CH 22 though.

TWENTY-THREE

Under Minion

Mnemlath licked the hot blood from the back of his hand and smiled upon the destruction they’d created in such a short period of time. The last of the pathetic resistance was being dismembered now. A few of his Berserkers sustained minor wounds, mostly ion scoring from ricocheting rounds. The pain was mild but served to fuel their rage. He looked down the hall and was pleased to see no one approaching yet. Mnemlath snorted his amusement at the thought of the youth running away. The Berserker knew he’d be back with more guards. This was no longer a safe place.

“We are done here,” Spills Blood announced. “We need to return to the Hive. The risk is too great.”

“No,” Mnemlath said. “Continue the hunt. The others will wait for us out in the dune sea.”

Spills Blood snarled. “Fool. You endanger us all. Kargosh will hear of this.”

“Time makes you soft. The Creator demands actions. Your Kargosh has led us to decay for far too long. Here, I am in command.”

“The Creator was of flesh and blood as well,” the wraith snarled. “Let us return to the Hive.”

Evil dancing in his glare, Mnemlath snapped back, “Speak again, and I will tear your soul out. Kargosh is not here.”

“Know this: you shall die before I will,” the wraith replied in an icy voice.

The Berserker warrior barred his teeth, fists clenching, but said naught. There would be another time for this, he promised himself.

“Gather the others. We move before more of the fleshlings arrive.’

The Berserkers surged forward through the darkened hallways of Minion in a mass of wickedness. It must have been a service corridor they traveled in, for there wasn’t any sign of life moving. They ran for twenty minutes before making contact. A young man and his consort were returning from dinner on the surface part of Minion and about to enter their home when the Berserkers caught them by surprise. It took the monsters but a few seconds to react, and by then there was barely time to scream.

 

The scream sounded like a world being torn apart, shocking the halls and ruining the supposedly peaceful night. More than a few overcurious residents poked their heads out their doors to see the source of the scream, while dozens more cringed within their homes. Like most things, the noise died away, and Minion went back to its usual self.

Kane dropped to a knee with his rifle aimed the moment the sound reached him. The twelve men behind him mimicked the gesture. He prayed none of them grew trigger happy, because he was the only they were going to shoot if anything came at them. This was a tricky situation. If he moved too far ahead of the guards, the Berserkers would be able to ambush him alone. On the other hand, if he stayed put and the Berserkers came, they’d all be caught in a funnel, with only one or two guards in a position to return fire. Deciding to trust Fate, Kane motioned them to stay put as he crept forward.

Kane stalked his way down the hall, clinging to the wall in the event of an attack. Showering sparks and the flickering lights made it difficult to see more than a few meters ahead, but his senses were telling him there was nothing here. The Berserkers were moving away from them.

“What’s wrong?” the Captain asked as the pale-faced Slayer returned.

“We must hurry. They are already entering the inner city.”

A murmur arose among the guardsmen. There were over five thousand people down there. If the Berserkers managed to make it past all of the defenses, there was no telling how much destruction they might cause. Leaving them to their whispered concerns, Kane took off at a sprint. Anrack was close on his heels, the youth brandishing a blaster and a rifle. They gained the next stairwell and abruptly stopped. A body lay twisted and broken at the foot of the steps. Right next to a Berserker.

It was a trap!

Mnemlath snapped his head around towards the intruders. A wicked smile crossed his face when he recognized the lean form of the Slayer and the coward boy in the background. The Berserker barked once, and his minions split into two groups and took off down the passages.

Anrack was stepping forward to meet the lone monster in combat when Kane’s arm blocked him away. The Slayer shook his head and said, “No. This is my fight.”

“Ah, Slayer. Again you cross my path,” the Berserker crooned. “I grow weary of this. Let us end this now.”

Kane swallowed any fear he may have and replied, “So be it.”

A nightmare laugh poured from his lungs. “A challenge met! Slayer, I shall enjoy killing you. Almost as much as I did when we murdered your family.” He smiled at the shock in Kane’s eyes. “I have seen your face before. We thought you dead, but you continue to haunt my sleep.”

Kane’s heart dropped, and his hopes seemed mere false images now. A blinding rage tore through his veins. He felt himself snapping and did all he could to stay steady. This inner turmoil was what the Berserker was hoping for.

“Did I upset you?” the monster taunted. “Come, avenge them if you can.”

Ion fire made both of them duck. Anrack had heard enough and decided to open fire. None of the rounds hit their intended mark, instead splaying into the walls and ceiling. Dust and haze billowed, choking the area. Mnemlath dropped and rolled away as the vicious noise deafened him.

“You continually impress me, Slayer,” cried the monster from his sanctuary. “I will end this and move on to greater schemes. Your little boy servant isn’t very good with that weapon, is he?”

Anrack kept his smile to himself. Catching his breath under the cover of wooden crates, Kane sighed in relief. He’d almost lost it, making himself no better than the Berserkers. Focusing on the moment, he ducked low to see what he could see. It was difficult at first, but he was able to make out the legs of another Berserker. With things growing perilous, he resigned himself to the hard fight. Another burst of ion fire, coming from across the hall, interrupted his thoughts.

“Come on out, you bastards!” cried an angry voice. The Berserkers were caught in a crossfire!

The Viper and his squad arrived in the nick of time, inspiring higher levels of confidence among both groups. Both Kane and Anrack moved out from their cover and took the head of the advance. As poor shots as the majority of guards were, he hoped they might still be able kill these two before they got away. The only problem after that was that the rest of the Berserkers were still moving deeper into the city. Unable to worry about what they couldn’t control, Kane brought his rifle up and began firing.

Mnemlath frantically searched for a way out as the second group of guards stormed in. There was another stairwell leading down no more than ten meters from him, and it would be no great feat to gain it. His experience told him the guards weren’t taking the time to aim. This made things very dangerous and opened opportunities for him at the same time. The major obstacle facing them now was the man with the red eyes and his Slayer friend.

Each round spent made it harder to see. The air was turned thick with smog and humidity. The blue residue marking where the rounds struck and the haze turned the Berserker images into ghosts. Superstitions were emerging, and the guards paused from tremors of confusion. A mighty roar broke the silence, so deep it buckled the very walls. Afraid of what might happen next, the guards held their fire. This was all the Berserkers needed to escape.

The Viper was the first to understand what was going on, recklessly dashing forward to cut them off. His let out a long burst towards the fleeing shapes, managing to hit the place where they’d just been. The closest guards moved forward to secure the stair and were cut down by their comrades from across the area. Anrack cried out, but his screams came too late. They’d been mistaken for Berserkers and forced to pay for it through the ignorance of their friends. The Viper met Kane’s sour glare and nodded. Things were not going well at all.

Grabbing Anrack by his collar, Kane shouted, “Where do these stairs lead?”

“To the columbarium,” the boy answered after quickly recalling.

It was an ill omen. The Berserkers were taking refuge in the halls of the dead, and Kane knew he was going to be hard pressed to keep up the courage of the guards.

“We have them trapped,” smiled the assassin. “Down the stairs and form up in two ranks. Let’s finish them before it gets too late. I need a drink.”

“That is hallowed ground,” mumbled a guard.

“If we go down there, it will bring the anger of the Gods upon us,” said another.

The Viper spit at them all. “So you’d rather let your families and friends all be slaughtered than try and save them? Gods. Pah! Show me one, and I might be inclined to believe you. Otherwise, we fight.”

Matching each other stride for stride, Kane and the Viper didn’t bother waiting for an answer. The sudden enthusiasm spreading behind them told enough. They formed the guards up at the base of the stairs in two ranks evenly distanced with the front rank uncovered to allow both a clear field of fire. A strange and mythical sensation eased into them, for the place they watched held the souls of their kinfolk. The ghosts of past generations rose to haunt them. A chill wind blew in lazy circles, driven by the city ventilation system in the ceiling.

Kane touched the panel on the ornate door, and it hissed open. Rolling mist boiled out around their ankles. Here, the wind became a slight howl. The columbarium was a tricky place, for there were hundreds of statues dedicated to long forgotten heroes of days past. Shadows added an eerie effect, shimmering from the multitude of different colored lights marking certain tombs. The Berserkers might be anywhere in here. The steady hum of ion rifles soon drowned out the winds.

The guards were ushered inside and reformed with their backs towards the thin titanium walls. They started maneuvering as soon as the last man was in place, each rank making a swinging motion designed to circle the entire crypt. Each footstep was a harbinger of invasion. The jaws of the trap were slowly snapping shut. Another few moments, and they were not going to have a choice of whether they wished to be engaged.

One guard carelessly brushed against a crusted statue, intent on the swirling mists forming in front of him. He took another step and lost his head to the flash of madness lying in wait. The Berserker howled before dashing back into the illusions. Another two men died under the crushing blows of hidden monsters, and the Berserkers erupted into open battle.

The Captain looked up in time to see a pair of evil wings bearing down on him. Stray rounds splayed the ceiling, with a few hitting the winged monster. He jerked under a heavy blow, his rifle falling away, and sank to his knees. A dazed look bewitched him. Dark blood was flowing from the enormous wound in his chest, and his began to roll back into his head. He was dead before he hit the ground.

The surviving guards watched this and let themselves be stricken with panic. Kane felt the shifting tide but was near helpless to quell it. A Berserker sprang at him from atop a nearby crypt, narrowly missing Kane’s head with his claws. Kane dropped low, swinging a kick out and up into the stomach of the off-balance creature. Ion fire blew the crypt apart. The Berserker bounced back up and buckled as rounds ripped into his knee.

Kane swung around to see Anrack hammering down on the monster. His actions were successful in rallying the men, and the guards began pressing the monsters back. The Viper smiled, adding his own fire into the chest of the dying Berserker. Neither man stopped firing until his chest blew apart in a bloody mess.

A low growl escaped Mnemlath’s lips as he began plotting the way out. The danger here was much too great for them to stay, and he knew the preening traitor, Spills Blood, was going to report everything back to Kargosh. Another troop of guards had just arrived, making the situation much worse. He noticed another set of stairs in the distance and made up his mind.

The Berserker growled his commands in a series of guttural sounds, and the rest of them started to move. Bits of shrapnel scored his cheeks, but he kept running, bounding over the crouching guards. The sting of an open wound and the flow of his own blood were exhilarating. More guards fell in the retreat, and their total was now less than ten. Mnemlath offered Kane a final backwards glance and disappeared up the stairs.

Running as fast as he could, with what little energy he had left, Kane reached the bottom step to the sizzle of ion fire. The battle was short lived, with the Berserkers fleeing through the empty corridors. A few moans were the only sounds drifting down to him, making it hard for Kane to separate the battles. Anrack and a few of the guards charged past the weakened Slayer and up the stairs.

“Don’t go up there yet!” the Viper shouted, knowing it was too late.

Blinded with blood lust, they ignored the assassin and continued the advance. A terrible bellow dropped some to their knees. No more than a dark shadow come to life, Mnemlath sprung from the darkness, attacking in a whirlwind of motion. His cudgel came crashing down on the tender, exposed skull of Anrack with a bloody sound.

Bone and brain matter splattered to the walls, as Anrack buckled under the weight thrown into the blow. A blood-riddled groan frothed from his mouth as the weapon tore through his stomach. Jerking it free, Mnemlath howled again, the thrill of this minor victory reenergizing him. He laughed as the youth’s mates cowered and broke from his glare alone. In one smooth motion, he tore Anrack’s head from his body and heaved it into the retreating guards.

The rage building, Kane and the Viper squeezed off a few rounds, but the Berserker was already gone. They raced up the stairs, quickly finding a trail of blue-black blood and stalking after it. The trail soon began to thin until they lost it altogether. Kane slumped down against the nearest wall, struggling for breath. They both knew the Berserkers were gone, climbed back over the wall and lost in the harsh desert night.

“What now?” the Viper asked.

Confusion played into his already disturbed emotions, and Kane wondered if anyone had an answer.

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A Little Closer to the End

Labor Day has come and gone, fled like the summer. It’s amazing how fast time seems to go when you have things to do and drags on when there’s nothing doing. Hurricane Harvey got me thinking. Security. We all crave it. We desire it. Need it to carry on with our everyday lives. How secure are you in these odd times? Surely more than our heroes…..

 

TWENTY-TWO

Unexpected Fortunes

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist this place,” Kane said, taking a step closer to the Viper.

Puffing lightly on his pipe, the assassin replied, “Business interests keep me moving. Not good to stay in one place for too long. You should know that. The competition would be too much to work with!”

“Cut the act,” Kane said. “Why are you really here?”

“I have come into the service of the Imperium — contracted, of course. I hear you’ve done the same?”

“You knew my intentions before we left Black Tide.” Kane didn’t like playing games, especially with a man as dangerous as the Viper.

“Quite right, though you can’t possibly understand my motivations in this endeavor.”

The assassin fell silent, waiting for the slew of inevitable questions, but none came. Sighing, he continued, “Back when I was in the Black Pits, I honestly thought I was going crazy. The ground trembled with little quakes nearly every hour. There were no signs of anything alive, not the smallest form. Bones were everywhere, but I doubt the gases from the pits did it. Sand dragons and argots, even a few rib cages from some poor individuals who got too close. And the area smelled worse than fresh death.

“The tremors increased, leading me towards the low foothills due west of the Pits. That’s where I found the cave. It was on top of a ruined mountainside, must have been an old castle or the like. Towards the back was a tunnel. I don’t know how far down it goes, maybe a mile. Maybe more.”

Kane folded his arms across his chest, more interested in this tale than he let on.

“I knew I was on to something big, Kane. Bigger than that job under Rook Mountain,” he paused to enjoy his smoke. “When it finally began leveling out, I felt like I was being watched. It was easy to stay hidden; there was nothing but shadows down there. I crept along a little more with my blaster in hand.

“That’s when the voices began. I followed after them, against better judgment, and was about to round a sharp corner when a group of Berserkers came from the walls and went on by. I hid in a tiny crack, hoping they wouldn’t be able to smell me. I have stood at the gates of their hive and come out alive! It was the hive, the damned underground hive no one’s been able to find. Right under our noses the whole time, and I made the discovery.”

Kane soaked in his words, praying there was nothing more to it. Certain elements of the tale made no sense. Even the Berserkers would have had guards on the off-chance of someone doing what the Viper had. And why weren’t they able to smell him out? He wanted to ask these questions and many more, but common sense told him he would get no answers.

“And you headed south to find the highest bidder?”

The Viper touched a finger to his nose with a smile. “Can’t fool you, can I? Aradias, I’ve been sitting on this information for cycles. After our little fight under Rook Mountain, I decided it was time to sell it. The Imperium Intelligence Corps paid a pretty sum for what I had to say. Don’t think I’ll be able to spend that much in the rest of my lifetime.”

“You mean to lead them to the hive? They’ll all die,” Kane said.

“Maybe,” shrugged the assassin, “maybe not. That’s not my problem. We both know they were going to attack, with or without the information I provided. All I did was guide them in the right direction.”

There was deception involved here. Kane caught the gleam in the Viper’s eyes. “You’re not going with them, are you?”

His laugh resonated from wall to wall. “You must be joking. I’ve been paid in full and have every intention of living to enjoy the spoils. But you! I can see by the look in your eye, whether you admit it or not, that you plan on joining this merry band of fools. There’s still time for you to back out. You might just save something of your life in the process. What do you say, Kane? We worked pretty well together out there in the desert. Could make for a great team.”

“Matters are slightly more complicated than that. I have given my word to more than one and am honor-bound to live by it. If they are to die, then I shall be there with them.”

Kane fell silent, an ill omen passing through him. What secret part was the assassin playing in all of this? There had to be more than he was telling. Wanting to put his demons to rest for a while, Kane headed back towards the inn.

“Think about it, Kane. Is it really worth dying for? A cause you’ve bled for without end. Now that a major operation is under way why can’t you sit back and let them do the brunt of the work? I’ll tell you. You can’t stand the thought of offworlders getting the glory you’ve felt just beyond your fingertips. Abandon this foolishness and join me while there’s still a chance.”

Kane kept walking, too many things going through his mind for him to talk. He had to admit that some of what the Viper said did play some small role in his decisions, but in the core of his being, Kane knew that this could be his one chance to rid the world of the Berserkers. His one chance to avenge the wrongs committed so long ago. Perhaps.

“I’ll be right here waiting for you, boy-o. Find me when you change your mind,” the Viper called out.

The sudden explosion threw both of them to the ground in a storm of rock and dust. Pieces of the broken buildings were showering down on them, and the city quaked from the aftershock. The Viper growled and flipped himself to his feet, weapon in hand. His ears were pounding from the concussion, accompanied by a trickle of blood running from his nose. He tried to fan the dust away and catch of glimpse of Kane, but it was still too thick.

Townsfolk were starting to come out to see what had happened, their curiosity pushing them to the brink of danger. A frightened, half-dead youth came crawling through the destruction and collapsed in the fading sunlight. There were smatterings of blood on his uniform, from the explosion and something else.

“Help me,” he whispered with an outstretched hand before unconsciousness claimed him.

Kane and the Viper reached the fallen guardsman at the same time. After checking the extent of his wounds, they were able to revive him. A gut feeling tore at Kane, leading towards a terrible realization. Fumbling for explanations, the youth stammered and went on about monsters. Sweat poured from him and his flesh was clammy and flushed. Kane noticed two shades of blood on the boy’s jacket and pointed so the Viper could see.

“Get yourself together, boy!” the assassin growled.

“What’s your name,” Kane asked.

“An…Anrack,” he panted, the words stuttering out. “Third District City Guards.”

“Who did this to you?” the Viper growled.

Anrack doubled over, shooting pain tearing at his insides. “Monsters! They were monsters.”

A woman screamed. A baby cried. And the old knew it was the beginning of the end of the world. Monsters could mean only one thing: Berserkers.

“Take us now!” Kane ordered.

The Viper clamped down on his arm. “Hold on a minute. Two of us against a Berserker war party isn’t exactly my idea of heroism. We go down there, and we die.” He watched for a positive reaction from the Slayer and was forced to abandon those thoughts when he got none. “All right, go and get your friends, boy. Just tell us where they are.”

“Second level guard room. Right under the Sanctum Hotel,” he paused as fresh tears began falling. “The screams. I’ve never heard anything like them.”

“Pray you never do again,” the Viper warned as he and Kane headed down to the stairwell.

“There’ll be more if you don’t find help,” Kane added.

Neither of them was afraid, despite the fact that this situation was new to them. The usual uneasiness was there, but the threats were higher. Fighting underground and in an enclosed area put the advantage in the Berserker’s hands.

Kane was the first to exit the stairs. His blaster was pointed down the darkened street, and he found himself wishing for a rifle once more. Soundproof walls were preventing the sounds of battle from running wild through the underground level. Normally, this would be a good thing, but the dangers were far greater here in the confines of the city. There was nowhere for the people to run if the Berserkers charged through the door.

Kane narrowed his eyes when he caught their scent. In the flickering darkness ahead, a door whined as it partially opened and closed. Sparks showered down on the mass blocking the way. They neared the door, and the object and Kane’s head drooped in sorrow. Half of a body was wedged into the doorway, with fresh blood coating the nearby walls. The Viper clicked off his safety and leveled his rifle towards the room as Kane held three fingers up.

One finger dropped, and the Viper gritted his teeth. Kneeling close to the body but still out of sight of whatever might still be in the room, Kane dropped the second finger. They might both die when the third finger dropped. The assassin felt his body tense when the final finger went down. Instincts took over as Kane jerked the corpse out of the way and wedged the door open. An ancient battle cry preceded the Viper’s perfectly timed attack. Blinding flashes of ion fire shredded the darkness of the room.

A terrible thunder echoed down the halls long after the sharp metallic click announced that the rifle was empty. The Viper jumped back to cover. Residue from so much condensed fire stung their flesh and burned their eyes. A light haze was filtering out from the room, blanketing the hall.

Drawing a deep breath, Kane aimed his blaster into the haze and stepped inside. It was a scene of complete decrepitude. The Berserkers had long since gone, no doubt moving on to a greater slaughter. The bitter stench of so much death made him cough. He was familiar with scenes like this but never used to them. He fanned away as much of the smoke as he could and walked further in. A lone table, scored from blaster fire and covered with bits of a guard and debris from the partially collapsed ceiling, was the only thing left standing, and that was tipped over to form a sort of shield.

“By the Gods,” the Viper whispered from his position in the doorway. “Poor bastards didn’t even know what hit them.”

Closing the eyes of a boy no older than Anrack, Kane nodded.

Heavy footsteps coming down the corridor announced the arrival of reinforcements. Slayer and assassin exited the room and patiently waited. They fully expected to be met by some pompous officer who had no clear understanding of what was going on. Kane also knew that all of this combined was only helping the Berserkers.

The guards pulled up in a tight formation, weapons ready. Kane caught a glimpse of Anrack skulking in the far back, not wanting to see what had happened to his friends. The Captain stepped forward and commanded them to move aside. The Viper, weapon cradled in his folded arms, shook his head.

“Stand aside or I shall you placed under arrest for interfering with City Guards business,” the Captain persisted.

“If you really want to go in there, be my guest,” the assassin scoffed. “But it’s more than any of you are ready for.”

Most of those arrayed before them were no more than fresh-faced boys working in a volunteer status. The older ones, like the Captain, had no other job. They were the ones who, more often than not, believed themselves to be on the same quality level as the Slayers. If Kane and the Viper weren’t careful, this man was going to get a lot of good men killed tonight. When the Captain finally emerged from the room, his face was pallid, and there was a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“You must now look to your hearts to see where your courage lies,” Kane told them all. “The Berserkers are already moving deeper into the city.”

“What’s the plan?” the Captain asked as he wiped the last strings of bile from his chin and tunic.

“We need to move quickly. Put the word out for everyone to stay in their homes. The less we have in the way, the easier it will be. But know this: do not let a bystander caught in the way keep you from killing one of these beasts,” Kane’s voice turned cold.

The Viper could only stare in shock, for he’d never heard words like this come from the older man’s mouth before.

“We’ll need more troops. Put the city on alert, and notify all roving patrols to shoot on contact. I’ll take one squad for now, and my partner will lead the other. You will take all commands from us if you have any hope of going home to your loved ones again.”

 

The Viper stood frowning at the amount of inexperience radiating off of the twenty-four guards standing before him. He hoped there were other Slayers and bounty men roaming Minion, or else this was going to be a short-lived counter strike. Anrack stood as close as he could to Kane, finally regaining his wits so he could give a half-accurate description of the Berserkers to the other guards.

A knot had formed in the pit of his stomach. He should have died with his friends, should’ve been there next to them, fighting for the city. Kane confided in him that he was still alive to serve a greater purpose. He must focus on the present. It was a hard thing to do, but Anrack needed to ignore those feeling of rage and revenge inspiring him and become one with the environment. He had to become a man much sooner than he’d planned.

Additional guards were arriving even as they developed their plans. The sight of them was enough to bolster the wavering confidence of the original squads. They were eager to be on the hunt, Anrack especially. Kane took a rifle and ammunition off the body of a dead guard and soon returned to the helm of the growing column.

“What do you think?” he asked the Viper.

“I think I must be crazy,” the assassin replied.

“We all are.”

The Viper smiled and looked around, wondering how he’s gotten himself into this mess. “Let’s get these guys moving and try and pinch the bastards between us.”

“Do you think we’ll be able to reach each other in time?”

He shrugged. “Can’t say, but I know a lot of people are going to die if we don’t move now.”

“I agree. Go ahead and take your men. We’ll file out in the opposite direction. Fate be with you.”

“All right,” the Viper growled out to the guards. “Let’s do this.”

Leading his men off on the trails of monsters, the Viper was soon lost to the distant shadows, leaving Kane with an uneasy twist in his stomach. Waiting until they were out of sight, Kane moved to the front of his column and ordered them forward. His confidence in the ability and loyalties of the assassin was growing. Once again, the Fates had thrown them in the midst of battle without any clear expectations of them. All he could do was pray for a safe return. Finished, Kane nodded to the Captain and took the first step forward.

Blackjack! Tomorrow’s Demise CH 21

Monday afternoon and a new week. Welcome back to the rat race, folks. Before I drop the next chapter on you, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I saw this weekend. At my son’s birthday pool party I noticed one important fact. Being my stepson, he is Cuban. In the pool with him, his friends, was a little bit of everything. Girls, white, black, Indian. You name it and they were his friends. If you don’t take away anything else from this you should realize that this country is so much better than the nonsense the mainstream media preaches to us. Anyway, on to the show!

TWENTY-ONE

Berserker Attack

Compared to the menacing glare of Helscape’s moon, the colored lights of Minion seemed unimportant. Desert rats settled down in their burrows to make ready for the cold night. Vipers and other predators emerged from their dens. Mnemlath stood in the open air, relishing the almost strange sensation. He stared at the fleshling city, close, but far enough away to pose no threat. The aroma of civilization drifted to him, and a low growl escaped his lips. The moon cast his shadow for meters, and with no immediate place to seek cover, he knew they would be made short work if an Imperium patrol caught them. The rest of his group pulled themselves from their tunnels and scanned the dunes. None of them had ever been this far south, so the terrain, though vaguely familiar, was still alien to them.

“Spread out,” hissed Mnemlath.

They fanned out to form a rough semi-circle, wide enough to protect three quarters of their perimeter. Beast sniffed the night air and bayed once. Diving to the ground to avoid discovery, the Berserkers flattened themselves as the sound of man-made thunder neared. Two assault choppers raced overhead, bent on another mission of war. Mnemlath was worried for a moment until they passed by into the desert. The fools had no idea how close the enemy really was.

Picking himself up, the Berserker warrior began to issue orders. “Beast, take us to their gates.”

The burly monster bounded out in front and was soon nothing more than a hulking shadow in the night. They still had more than a league to go before reaching their target, giving them time to think and plot. Mnemlath thought on Kargosh’s words and let them slip away. The old fool had no real concept of what was happening in this war. Avoid detection. Mnemlath had no intention of that. He was a warrior, designed for killing without emotion, and that was exactly what he intended to do this night. But still, he found himself admiring the fleshlings’ tenacity. They refused to give, even when it was hopeless. He liked that. It made things more interesting.

Before him lay a valley of such suppleness, Mnemlath had to balk. They’d had no idea such a place existed and were certainly unprepared for what was to come. He was hunched atop a dune, the others behind him at the base. Here lay the answers the First One sought. Hundreds of hastily constructed tents spanned the horizon. Such sheer numbers could mean only one thing: invasion. He had little doubt that thousands of reinforcements would soon be pouring into Minion. A new war was being brought to the Wastelands, and for the first time in a hundred years, the Berserker hive was in danger. Ill fortunes rode the wind.

Kargosh had known of this coming flux of soldiers, but not to this extent. There was something wrong with the deal made between the two. Mnemlath confessed he knew little of the fleshling’s ways, but there was no way they had need of so many just to escort his kind off world. There was far more to this than what appeared.

He bade the flying shade, Doom Shadow, take flight and scout the entire area. It would do ill for them to run into a large fleshling patrol so early in their quest. Unbidden and concealed by a thick cloak taken from a recent fleshling host, Spills Blood stalked his way next to the Berserker leader and watched. Though second in command, he was over a foot taller and twice as malevolent. His sapphire eyes were all that could be seen within the dark shadows of his cloak. The tip of his sickle stuck out from the bottom of the cloak, gleaming in the moon light. Those who survived him claimed he had no body or form. He just was.

“This is not good,” he growled in a soothing voice.

Mnemlath agreed. “More fleshlings come.”

“The First One must be told.” He was the ultimate killer, but even a monster such as this knew limitations.

Eyeing him suspiciously, Mnemlath kept silent. Spills Blood had only been with him for a short while, probably since Kargosh first caught wind of possible treachery. He knew that something must be done at some point, but the spy still served a purpose for now.

“No. Doom Shadow goes to find entrance to their city. Blood must be shed before we leave. These fleshlings have no fear of us. Tonight, they shall.”

Spills Blood lifted his head to the winds. “We are too deep in their territory to escape. They will hunt us down long before we reach the open sand. Are a few fleshling heads worth our defeat?”

Running a hand through his hair, Mnemlath continued to watch the engineers in the camp. Anger swelled within. Dissension among them would only serve to segregate them and make it near impossible to enter the city. Kargosh’s puppet was very trying.

“We steal into their sleeping city when he returns. Do not forget who is in command, Spills Blood,” Mnemlath said.

The wraith remained silent and went back to the darkness beyond.

Mnemlath stood and watched from atop the dune for over an hour. He could almost sense the mutiny brewing behind him. Each of them had petty desires with the ability to bring about the downfall of empire, but speaking of such aloud was punished by death. For now, they would sit and wait, patiently watching the fleshling world and wondering if they were going to return to the hive.

The city patrol vehicle drove around the outer wall of Minion as fast as it was safe.

Only a trail of dust and the winds whispering of events moments past were left to tell of its passing. Night was in full swing. Shadows filled the streets, some empty and some containing things best left undiscovered. An uncharacteristically warm breeze filtered through the twisting alleys.

Mnemlath poked his head from the darkness, watching the tail lights of the patrol fade away. Satisfied the way was clear, he rose to his full height and stretched. An eagerness unlike any he’d ever felt washed over him. His senses became overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of the most guarded city in the Wastelands. It was all so different from the sparsely populated northern towns and nothing like he was expecting. A virgin to this world, Mnemlath took his first eager steps into a nightmare of his own creation.

Doom Shadow watched their progress with disinterest. His wings were closed behind him, as if bored with how slow they were going. Beast’s sudden movement made him look into the streets again, wary of any poor enough to choose this path. The wraith floated from roof to roof with ease, and much faster than the ground forces.

Every now and again, the Berserkers stumbled upon a vagrant laying passed out in the gutter. It took all they had to repress their instincts and leave them alive, but killing them now would only serve to alarm the rest of the city. They finally arrived at a seldom used entrance to the undercity and paused.

“We go down,” Mnemlath said. “Nothing to be learned from the shadows. Treasures await below. Here, we will obey Kargosh’s command. Do not attack unless they see us first. The slaughter begins on our way out.”

Growling their approval, they lurched to their feet and began the descent. Claws scraped and dug, mindful not to use the fleshling stair else they be discovered and trapped. Two stood the watch as the rest burrowed their way into the ground. They were forced to slow once the ground became harder, transitioning into concrete. Mnemlath cocked his head at the sound of a terrible cracking and had them stop digging. The ground caved in before they had the chance to react.

The fall was a short one, landing them in the middle of an occupied guard room and a dozen off-duty guardsmen. Shouts from the mortified men and the singe of ion fire accompanied the chaos. Spills Blood was the first to his feet and to recognize the threat. He barked commands, and the Berserkers retreated behind two partially ruined wood cabinets. The sounds of startled men told him they were overturning tables and forming a defense. Funny, he thought, how these people were able to respond with no notice. Not even the villagers they often attacked were ever so well prepared. Feeling the excitement of a challenge, Spills Blood drew his scythe.

 

For Anrack, this was an impossible nightmare. He’d been enjoying a quiet nap before his shift when the ceiling had collapsed. He fumbled for his rifle and ducked behind cover, and then the battle began. The guards were able to lay down a timid suppressing fire. None of them had ever seen a Berserker before, and the sudden revelation tweaked an unknown fear in them. Anrack buckled down for the fight and silently prayed for his life.

The Berserkers began smiling at the faint sounds of the guards running out of ammo. One by one, the line went empty. Spills Blood stepped from behind his cover and snarled. His scythe tumbled through the air, coming to rest in the skull of a frightened guardsman who had turned to flee. The force with which it was thrown speared both weapon and body into the wall.

The commander of the guard drew his sidearm and emptied the first clip into the monster’s chest. A ball of red and black fur and flesh vaulted over the falling monster and landed in the midst of the men. The commander pulled his knife and swung hard at Beast’s shoulder. The blade left only a nick in the toughened flesh.

Sensing the futility in this, the commander turned and shouted, “Anrack! Get to the surface and sound the alarm!”

Beast howled, crushing the body of his foe into a bloody pulp. Anrack, still but a lad in his late teens, felt his orders were betraying the rest of the squad, but no one else was close enough to escape and warn the rest of the city. The door hissed closed behind him, and he smashed the locks in the hopes of delaying the monsters from breaking free. The screams of his friends dying still managed to come through as he ran. All the dreams and aspirations he’d once had of serving his people as a soldier or even a Slayer were dashed aside. It was all he could do to hold back his tears as he ran for help.

Rules For My Son

I couldn’t agree more.

Aaron Conrad

1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down.

2. There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The stairs ain’t one.

3. The man at the grill is the closest thing we have to a king.

4. In a negotiation, never make the first offer.

5. Act like you’ve been there before. Especially in the end zone.

6. Request the late check-out.

7. When entrusted with a secret, keep it.

8. Hold your heroes to a higher standard.

9. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas.

10. Don’t fill up on bread.

11. When shaking hands, grip firmly and look him in the eye.

12. Don’t let a wishbone grow where a backbone should be.

13. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.

14. Carry two handkerchiefs. The one in your back pocket is for you. The one in your breast pocket…

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Where has the time gone? And Tomorrow’s Demise CH 20

Can you believe it has been 20 weeks since I first started teasing you this story? 5 months already? No way. At any rate, this week has flown by. Perhaps it was the solar eclipse. Perhaps it was me starting grad school at UNC Chapel Hill- thank God it is online and I don’t have to be trapped in liberal snowflake central. Perhaps it is my son’s 13th birthday this week. I don’t know, though it is probably the combination. But you don’t want to hear me ramble. You want the story. Read on, my friends. Read on!

TWENTY

Hard Choices

Nathan spent the majority of the night staring at the empty ceiling. His hands were locked behind his head, forming a comfortable pillow he’d used during many lonely nights. Part of his dilemma came from the sharp effects of the native alcohol he’d had. It was far stronger than any on Earth, and he knew he was going to be paying for it come morning. The rest stemmed from the roads on which his decisions lay. Most of him wanted only to go home, which was a daunting task in itself. But there was something about this place he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Everything he’d seen thus far had an exotic air about it, deepening his desires to explore this strange new world and conflicting with the urge to return home.

When the dawn finally came, he was up and moving, though a bit sluggish and with a pounding headache. He was just splashing some cool water on his face when there came a knocking at his door. Nathan knew it could only be one person, so he called for Kane to enter. The Slayer stepped in, fully dressed and feeling fine. He took a seat at the table and waited for Nathan to finish getting dressed.

“What are you smiling at?” Nathan asked after a few minutes of the Slayer’s ridiculous smirk.

“It takes some time to get used to our ale here,” Kane replied. “You have seen yourself in the mirror already?”

“Funny,” Nathan said. “Sounds like you went out and got laid last night, smiley. This is the most you’ve said to me since I got here.”

Kane cocked his head with the mentioning of getting laid, for it was term he hadn’t heard before, but he went on to say, “Matters are beginning to look up for both of us. We’ll be able to set out for Rook Mountain within the week if you still wish to return to your world.”

“You know, that’s sounds really nice, and I can’t wait to make the trip, but I made a deal last night with that big gray guy. The one with the red eyes,” Nathan replied.

“A deal? I don’t think that’s wise.”

“Well, while you were off chasing some broad with red hair, I decided to find out exactly what the hell is going on around here. After that, we can see about getting me home,” he said matter-of-factly. “Let’s eat.”

 

The Imperium inprocessing station for scouts was practically empty. Less than five hundred men and women had answered the call, put out nearly a year ago, and it didn’t look like many more were coming. Honest men chose to stay home with their villages and families rather than confront their fears in open warfare. The spaces were easily filled by men, women and aliens who all had that same look in their eyes. This war was personal for them, a means of closure. Bounty men and local mercenaries came for the challenges, while Slayers came to put an end to a horrible task.

A burly sergeant with thick, black hair and a number of faded tattoos on his arms manned the applicant table. Clouds of light-colored smoke trailed from the end of the dark body cigar in his mouth. He eyed the natives with casual indifference, not really caring if they chose to defend their world or not. By his own admission, he hated this place more than any other world he’d seen. The only reason he was even here was to ride out the remainder of his time in service. An old wound from his previous campaign had permanently removed him from combat status. Now he was relegated to watching broken men and women struggling through life. He narrowed his eyes at the staggered mass approaching his station. One thing he hated worse than Helscape was drunken infantrymen.

A hung over and slightly staggering Snake Eyes, supported by the equally bad Xill, eventually found his way to the gates. The twin suns were already blazing, and it was only a quarter hour past sunrise.

Snake groaned as he gently lowered himself to an empty chair next to the inprocessing tent. “Tell me again why we are doing this?” Snake asked while rubbing his aching temple.

Xill grimaced. “Because I made a promise while you were taking paystubs.”

“Which I’m surprised you can remember right now. I have to tell you, this doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

“Too late for that,” Xill said. “Here he comes now.”

Nathan squinted in the direction of Xill’s pointing finger. This time, Nathan Bourne was nearly indistinguishable from the locals. Xill was surprised to find the man in good spirits after his first taste of Telgeise ale. Right now, that was cause for envy.

“Why so glum?” Nathan asked. “I’d have thought troopers like you would have been able to hold their own when it came to drinking.”

Snake Eyes spit. “Laugh while you can. I’ll be ready to do it again by sundown.”

“I am glad you arrived, Nathan,” Xill nodded.

Nathan offered a shrug. “Are we going to stay out here and talk, or can we go somewhere more private?”

“Preferably out of the suns,” Snake Eyes added.

Nathan led them away from the dulled activity and back into town. He was still a stranger here, but his sense of direction was quite good. It only took a few wrong turns before they were back at the inn. They passed under the watchful eye of the owner, who sat silent as the three filed past her. What they did was their business, so long as it didn’t endanger any of her other patrons. She sensed they were soldiers, just something about the way they looked, and that almost always meant trouble. Reaching out with her foot, she reassuringly ran it along the polished finish of her rifle.

After politely opening the door for them, Nathan ushered the two inside. Both men smiled, grateful for the dimmed lights, and entered the room. They stepped back from shock upon seeing the gaunt Slayer from Rook Mountain sitting in a high-backed chair in front of the window. What little light allowed in was shining behind him, casting him in a radiant glow. Snake Eyes passed a devious glare towards Nathan. He should have known there was more to this than the simple facade shown in the beginning.

“Gentlemen, please come and have a seat. We have much to discuss.”

The door closed with an eerie groan.

 

“That’s really all they’ve told us so far,” Snake Eyes finished, and picked up his cup to finish the last of his coffee. He didn’t care much for the way it warmed him up, but it did have a soothing effect on his aching body.

“Your Imperium does not believe in letting the common citizen know until the last possible minute?” Kane asked.

“You have us all wrong,” Xill replied. “We aren’t here because we want to be. The army sent us here and made it our mission to end the war. We need as much help as we can get from your people. My own home world is engaged in a terrible civil war with no end in sight. Do not think for an instant that I take lightly what we do here.”

“There is more to this invasion that what appears on the surface,” Kane went on.

“How can you explain the arrival of hundreds of shuttles over the past cycles? Or is this merely some build up to the invasion?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Snake answered. “Where are these shuttles being kept? I can’t remember seeing any build up.”

“They’ve been coming in one a day for the last six cycles. They come in and are taken out beyond the city to the desert somewhere. I haven’t met anyone yet who knows a thing about them. No cargo, nothing.”

Kane eyed them both, sensing that neither was lying. “There is more to this invasion than meets the eye. The mysterious shuttles stink of nefarious intent. I warn you, nothing good can come of it. Nothing.”

Xill and Snake exchanged nervous glances. Maybe things weren’t as hopeful as the command was making them out to be.

“Maybe we should check it out,” Snake offered.

Xill balked. “On what grounds? We are rank and file. Not Imperium investigators. Should we get caught…”

Growing uncomfortable with the thought of subversive military activity, Nathan decided to change the subject.

“And my question is simple — at least to me, anyway,” Nathan said. “Do you people really know where these monsters live? Or are you just going to bounce around the damned desert hoping you get lucky?”

“That’s where the locals come into play,” Snake answered. “Common sense says that more than one of them knows the location of the hive. And there is always one. Always.”

Kane let out a sigh before speaking. “There is, and I think I know where to find him.”

They subconsciously crowded a little closer to him, but Kane was finished. He rose in one smooth motion and donned his jacket and pistol belt. The Slayer set his wide brim hat on his head and smiled once.

“Gentlemen, I have business to attend. If you will excuse me.”

“Just like that?” Snake Eyes asked out of confusion. “You haven’t even heard my offer yet.”

“I’m listening,” Kane replied, hand on the doorknob.

“Okay, here’s the deal. I can get both of you in and assigned to my squad. It’s a win-win situation.” He turned towards Nathan. “You can’t go home until you find a way, and you’re the one who came to us. I think a big part of you wants in on this fight with the Berserkers.”

He focused back on Kane when he got the nod he was looking for. “You can’t rest until the enemy is vanquished. We can’t win without the help of men and women like you. This can be mutually beneficial. Once the offensive is over with, I will lead the squad personally to take Nathan back to the portal.”

Kane stepped into the empty hall and called back, “You have a deal.”

Snake allowed a smile to crack his face for the first time. “Your turn, slick. What do you say? Or do you have something else worked out?”

Nathan cracked his knuckles. “I need to think about it. My first concern is getting home again, not getting killed in some damned war I’m not a part of. If I do decide to play along, we do it by my rules. No one learns my real name, and no one knows where I came from, or the deal’s off.”

“A wise idea,” Xill commented. “The base interrogator wants to get his hands on you. He thinks you may provide important information. Secret information.”

“And what do you think?” Nathan asked Snake Eyes.

“Me? I’m just a plain old line sergeant. What does difference does my opinion make in all this mess?”

 

Emerald Razorback tied back her flaming red hair and sat down to eat a cold meat sandwich. The meat was left over from the feast at the inn the night before. Probably a desert goat, she guessed from the salty taste. A cool drink of water from her canteen washed the food down here throat. At least the water was better than usual, she thought.

The man she’d killed last night was already a fading memory. Authorities had recovered the corpse at sunup and quietly took care of it. With so many Slayers and bounty men about, it was best to cover such matters up.

A shadow cast over her solitude, and Emerald smiled. “You can’t talk me out of it, Aradias.”

“But I must try. I can see you have already enlisted, and it saddens my heart. I came here to try and get you to consider the dangers in this. This entire expedition to find the Hive and destroy it is folly. We’ve tried for generations with no success. Can these soldiers do better? You and I both know they’ve failed thus far. How many do you honestly expect to come home alive? And do you truly believe the Imperium is going to give their hold up once the offensive is over?”

Emerald gave him a sour look. “Ever since that first day I came to you and Skrapp, I’ve thought of you as a father, but now you’re acting like an old man. I have grown up, like it or not, and I am fully capable of taking care of myself.”

She laid a gentle hand on his forearm, “Don’t you want to know what it will be like without the Berserkers around? This may be our one chance at true freedom, Kane. I can’t pass that up, not when I know they’re going to need every last one of us they can get. This may well end the struggle!”

Kane smiled. “I have spent over fifty standard years thinking about what you speak, but this doesn’t mean anything. The Imperium soldiers will go into battle and fight bravely with banners held high and full of hopes and dreams. They will die just as bravely. I cannot see the end to this conflict, not yet.”

The sadness marking his voice pained her.

“I honestly don’t think you want this to end,” she whispered. “For so many years, this is all you’ve known. You need more than revenge, Aradias. The war can’t go on forever. We have the opportunity to do what our father’s fathers couldn’t.”

“Revenge is all I know, I’m afraid. What, then, would become of me should this land find the peace it deserves? You have given me much to think on, Emerald.”

Kane excused himself with a kiss on the cheek. She offered a quiet goodbye, and that was that. Stepping out into the dying day, Kane was surprised at how empty the streets were. A silence greeted him, one he was unaccustomed to. A faint whisper from the shadows behind warned him, and he spun with blaster in hand.

Casually leaning against the nearby wall, the Viper lit his long stem pipe and exhaled a thick plume of smoke. He smiled at the look of shock on Kane’s face.

“Surprised, boy-o?” he asked. “I couldn’t leave just yet. There’s one bit of information I have that you might find useful.”

Tomorrow’s Demise: CH 19

A new week, a new adventure. I don’t know if any of you watched the AMC show: Turn: Washington’s Spies, but it ended on Sat. Great show about the spy ring that helped win the American Revolution. These men- and women- did what they did out of loyalty and didn’t expect recompense. Perhaps more people should be like that. The world might be a better place. At any rate, here is this week’s chapter:

NINETEEN

Down Time

The majority of Minion’s civilian population knew nothing of the coming storm, but the soldiers did. Tonight was theirs to celebrate what might be the beginning of the end of their deployment here on this backwater world. Except for a few patrols and everyone not on duty, the garrison was given forty-eight hours of down time. It was their one chance to forget about the worries of a losing war and to have a drink to the future before the relief division arrived. They’d been waiting for this for half a year. Tonight was their one chance to forget the troubles of the war and let go.

Snake Eyes led his troops through the streets in search of his favorite bar. He had every intention of using the Old Man’s orders to the fullest, especially after the last time their liberty was cut short. Russell hadn’t really bought his story about Scoops getting killed, but there was no way for him to find out the truth unless he decided to use an interrogator. Writing it off as a combat loss, Russell had bit his lip and said nothing more on the matter.

The odors of the seedy nightlife was like a blessing to the weary sergeant and his squad. This was his element, the place where he always managed to do his best work. Though still quite young, Snake Eyes had made a career out of two-bit hustling and gambling. Always a sucker for a good card game, Snake left his men at their tables and went on the prowl.

Most of the platoon splintered off into smaller groups, leaving Xill with five others. Ardn Kelg, his spotted yellow fur shining in the light, motioned for a serving girl with flaming eyes to take their orders. She swayed to them seductively and gave Xill an extra smile before making the trip to the bar. She was back before any of them had a chance to ride Xill about it.

“Here you go, boys, compliments of the house,” she said in a voice laden with sexy images. “Our finest brew. Guaranteed to get you drunk after three!”

The first swallow, always bitter to the tongue, burned down their throats. This was the first time they’d been able to drink in over a week, and it felt damned good. Out of the platoon, Lal-owk was the only one who elected to stay behind, using this time to catch up on some reading and copy a letter to home. The rest of them didn’t plan on remembering the night by the time the suns started to rise. Besides, no one wanted to think about what might happen in the near future. Some things were best left unsaid.

“T’is is the worst brew I t’ink I’ve ever ‘ad,” spat Kelg.

“Tastes good, doesn’t it?” Seli T’lain replied with a smile. Her blue skin looked almost purple in the discolored lights. “Beats water and salt tablets.”

“If you say so. You know, I’ve been ‘ere a year already, and I still can’t get used to ‘ow terrible everything is.”

Seli leaned forward, a smile on her face, “Does anyone on Hynomida pronounce an h at all?”

Kelg snarled but held his tongue.

She continued, “Ironic that the bloody planet begins with an h.”

The rest of the table broke out in laughter.

Across the smoke filled bar, Snake Eyes found what he was looking for. From the looks of it, the game was right in its prime, with a pot bigger than his last paycheck. He cracked his knuckles and started thumbing through his gambling money. The other players welcomed him in, every last one of them eyeing his purse. Snake caught a glimpse of Klausky sitting at the bar with a red feline-like prostitute on his lap and smiled. Everyone got to spend their money however they saw fit.

The dark thoughts of a few days prior were beginning to fade. Word spread quickly that the first wave of the division was already landing across the river. That was all well and fine, but Snake knew it was going to take more than that to worm the Berserkers out of their holes. The 76th was a first strike unit, designed to hammer enemy lines once the air strikes finished. None of them were used to fighting a guerrilla-style war with a foe who never showed himself until the last moment. Maybe that was why they were failing already.

Snake didn’t want to die as a soldier. He knew the higher powers had something special in store for him; it was just a matter of waiting long enough to find out what. The possibilities of a happy life weren’t far off, and he often fantasized about what he’d do when he had the freedom to choose again. His greatest fear was that the military was his last hope for a decent life and that he’d wind up like one of the old timers who didn’t know anything but the service. They were the thirty-year men who were too afraid to leave, knowing they had nothing valuable to give to the outside world.

A cutthroat smile briefly flashed as he won his first hand. The game was on now.

 

Nathan swallowed another mouthful of the harsh brew the bar maid kept bringing him and watched as the Snake and his squad came through the doors. He couldn’t really care less about this Imperium and its wars, but there was a danger of them sending someone out to find him and bring him in. Aside from that, his main concern was finding a way to get home. He turned to tell Kane of their arrival but found the Slayer already moving through the crowds.

Kane had left as soon as he saw that first glimmer of shining red hair tied seductively atop her head. He knew she’d eventually show up. The lure of the promised invasion was too much to ignore. After himself and Braxton Skrapp, she was the third most dangerous Slayer he knew. Kane only hoped he could reach her before the Imperium did. But confronting her within the confines of the inn wasn’t going to help his cause any. No, he was going to choose how they renewed their acquaintance.

Outside the bar, he relished the feeling of the wind blowing through his hair. Helscape was a world ripe with magic and fantasy, but he was always uncomfortable underground. Kane passed by Kimel and his men on their way in and was glad they failed to recognize him. They were beyond the limits of their reasoning, from what his experience under Rook Mountain had taught him. All they had were incredible weapons and probable solutions to the same problems. They still had no concept of how deep the myths and fables ran out here.

The streets were nearly deserted, which surprised Kane. It was still very early, barely an hour past dusk, and there was hardly anyone moving around. He almost welcomed the ghostly image offered, but instinct told him otherwise. A deserted street like this could only mean trouble.

Hiding in the shadows, Kane watched the striking speed of a petty thug pinning an innocent man up against the nearest wall, blade to his throat. The trembling man was struggling to produce his purse, his eyes wide with terror. Kane cursed himself for not bringing any weapons save his long dagger made from a sand dragon’s tooth. It was an effective enough tool, but the man was going to be dead long before Kane would be able intervene.

Temporarily forgetting his quest for the redhead, Kane shrugged out of his jacket and made ready to attack. The thief jerked back and screamed before Kane had a chance to move. His blade clanged against the street, and the victim dashed off. Sensing danger, Kane slipped back into the shadows and scanned the area for the source of this new threat.

Using what little strength he had left, the thief crawled to his knife, rolling to a sitting position. “Come on out, you bastards! Come out and face me like a man!”

The silence of the wind was his only reply. Struggling to his feet, the thief ignored the loss of blood and waited for his attacker to reveal himself. Kane knew what was happening and could only lean against the wall and watch. His conscience told him that a life was a life, regardless of how one chose to use it. He also knew that, if he went into the open, he’d become a target as well. Still, there was a familiarity to this scene he couldn’t quite place his finger on.

The thief’s back was covered with running blood — his blood. Stretching to reach the weapon in his flesh, he jerked it out while stifling a cry. It was a feathered dart. The dart had pierced his left shoulder right under the bone and gone on through to puncture his heart. He knew this was going to be his last moments and wanted only to confront his killer. Maybe he’d be able to avenge his death.

“I’m waiting!” he cried out, using everything he had to handle the pain and its dulling effects. “Let’s get this over with you son of a….”

“Son of a what?” interrupted a soft, female voice.

Kane smiled to himself and re-sheathed his dagger.

The thief turned to face the threat. A slender woman stepped from the far shadows, and he stared dumbfounded. She was young and much too attractive to be the one responsible for his death. Her long red hair had fallen a bit out of place, with strands falling down across her face and shoulders. A fire burned in her green eyes, and he knew there was no chance for escape. Preserving some form of dignity his only recourse, the thief forced himself towards her.

Bracing herself for the blow, she met his attack by ducking under his swing and bringing her knee up into his abdomen. His breath forced its way out, and the thief buckled. The knife hit the streets again. The thief dropped on one knee and swung his arm around in a mighty backhand designed to catch her in the throat, but she danced away and was back before he could follow through. The tip of her short sword split his rib cage, severing the spine on its way out the back. Muttering a curse through frothing blood, the thief dropped to the ground.

The woman tore her blade free of the dying man, gouts of blood and strings of flesh still clinging, and towered over his hapless form. “Remember this moment when you enter the next life, scum,” she told him in a threatening whisper. “Remember who did this to you and why.” The thief was dead before he hit the ground.

Kane decided to show himself. The woman wasn’t at all surprised when he came into the open; in fact, she had a smile on her face. They stopped a few feet apart and quietly enjoyed the sight of each other.

“I knew you were out there,” she said.

“It’s been a long time, Emerald.” Kane nodded.

Wiping a tiny trickle of blood away, Emerald said, “I’ve been here going on a cycle now. I knew you were going to show up down here.”

Kane held his next comment, mindful of how things had a way of being known around Minion, especially if you didn’t want them to.

“You want a drink, Aradias? Because I could sure use one.”

He laughed. “After your little performance, I think you deserve one.”

 

Nathan downed the last swig of half-warm ale and decided he’d had enough waiting. He did his best to forget he was actually on an alien world, surrounded by a hundred different species of murderers and cutthroats, and tried to fit in as just another traveler here for the big hunt. The smells of smoke and drunkenness enveloped him, helping make him feel more at home.

Xill blinked his middle eye when he noticed the Earth man heading towards their table. A part of him knew he’d seen the last of the strange man when they’d reached the edge of the city. The Crendaphidian kicked out an empty chair, offering it to him. “Go ahead and have seat. We’re not too picky about who we drink with.”

“Especially now,” Ardn Kelg snarled.

Nathan went ahead and accepted the offer, still uneasy with the situation. It was as if they were expecting him. A fresh drink was placed before him, complemented with a pat on the back from Seli. He carefully eyed each of them, remembering most and feeling a strange closeness to them. Someone was missing, though.

“Where’s the sergeant?” he asked.

Xill motioned to the distant corner. “Probably taking a few guys’ pay stubs by now. What brings you over here? I thought you were only interested in going back home.”

“Yeah, well, I guess that has to wait now that the way I came here is under a few hundred tons of rock. But there is something I very much need right now. I want to know what’s really going on here.”

“Forget about it,” Ardn Kelg answered. “We’re getting drunk.”

“You’re pretty funny for a talking pussy cat, you know,” Nathan countered.

Seli laughed again, sweet and charming in sound. “Looks like you’re not going to win tonight, Kelg.”

Xill leaned closer and said, “If you really want to know, come to the main gates in two days. Right after morning chow. Snake and I will be there waiting for you.”

“I’ll be there.” He shifted uneasily in his chair. An inexplicable nagging tickled the back of his mind. Trust wasn’t easily given and Nathan was still having a hard time admitting that any of this was real.

For some reason, Xill didn’t doubt him.

***

The First One sat alone in his ruined chambers. Once a grand meeting hall for kings, the Berserker way had transformed it into a vision of despair. Broken pillars carved with intricate figures of legend held up what was left of the ceiling. All around the crumbling throne were the remnants of statues marking the height of a desert empire long since lost to darkening memories. Many were missing arms or legs, and not one of them had a face. Kargosh seethed at their likeness of humanity, for his hatred was bitter. Their faces were lost now, destroyed in a way in which he ached to finish this desolate world. Always alone, Kargosh plotted his vengeance.

To him, it couldn’t have been more appropriate. This served as reminder of their struggle for survival. Soon, his kind would be walking under the light of the suns. Kargosh smiled at that thought. Too long had his horde kept to themselves. They seldom ventured out into the populated areas anymore. He worried his minions were losing their fighting edge. Desert peasants posed no threat or challenge for the genetic superiority of the Berserker warrior. War was needed, and war was coming. Soon, the Berserkers would unleash a fury unlike any the world had ever seen.

The heavy knocking on his chamber doors shattered his inner peace. In walked three of his warriors, failures he couldn’t afford to punish. He watched them with disdain, for they had failed him again. Even in defeat, Mnemlath approached with thinly veiled disgust. Kargosh resisted the urge to strike him down, for there was need of the battle leaders. But once the offensive was done…

They knelt at the base of the throne, heads lowered in wary anticipation. The First One unfurled his wings, knocking the dust away. He didn’t like being made a fool of, and this matter was pushing him over the edge. “How is it you managed to get my warriors killed under the great mount?” he snarled down at them.

Mnemlath stiffened. “Ambush. Slayers waited for us.”

“Indeed.”

“We should not have met with the fleshlings,” the Berserker went on. “The army needs to be raised and pushed south toward their major city. The fleshlings know too much of us. We must strike now.”

Kargosh spit fire at his subordinate. “We strike when the time is ripe.”

Mnemlath bowed his head in the attempt of hiding his hatred. Animalistic by nature, the Berserker war leader struggled with the impulse to kill Kargosh. The thought had been burning through his veins for years. It was all he could do to keep from acting on it.

“As you command, First One,” he seethed through clenched teeth.

The First One drew back in a whirl of motion and launched an assault on the lesser Berserker. When the dust began to settle, Mnemlath lay on the ground, bleeding from long gouges in his chest.

“Go to the fleshlings’ fortress and learn their secrets. I want to know what they want of us. The one they sent to me was hiding something. Find out everything, but do not get caught. If there is the slightest possibility of being detected, return to the Hive.” He paused to consider the other two. “Go, and do not come back until you have done as I require.”

Mnemlath pushed his warriors off after they raised him to his feet. “Stand back,” he snarled with wounded pride. Skulking from the decayed chambers of ancient leadership with the dreams of his future evolving in his mind, Mnemlath could think of only one thing better than stealing the mantle of leadership. He desperately wanted to kill the Slayer. Perhaps they would run into each other in the fleshling city. They stalked through flickering shadows with newfound intent. If things worked in their favor, it would soon be their time to shine.

Kargosh sat on his broken throne contemplating what needed to be done. The issue with Mnemlath was not uncommon. Many of his warriors felt the same way. But only he had been given the intellect of the Creator. Only he had been given the gifts of magic and a complete working knowledge of the fleshlings. He’d mastered their languages and mannerisms, learned of their deceptions and self-destructive nature. But none of that mattered to their underdeveloped brains. They’d been bred to kill and conquer, whereas his sole mission was to rule the empire once it was founded. Now that rule was in peril. Something must be done if he was going to retain his powerbase. His dark mind took him through many possibilities, most of which would result in a civil war among his kind. Perhaps none of them would notice a silent assassin moving through them, waiting to strike until the moment was right.

The First One smiled. That was exactly what the situation called for. He summoned his imp, thus setting the solution in motion.

A whole new adventure is coming your way

I am a man who cannot turn off the idea engine. To give you all a thank you for reading along with me these last few years, I’ve decided to share the cover for my forthcoming novel: The Children of Never. This is a continuation of my war priests of the award winning Purifying Flame short. Not going to say much. Just know that the time is fast approaching. Children of Never E book.jpg