Many long nights and weekends were spent in my barracks room when I was a young private. No car, too young to hit the bars, I picked up the pen and began to write. A strange world opened up and has been my pride and joy (not my best written, mind you) for the past 20 years. Damn, has it been that long? Regardless, I have decided to put Tomorrow’s Demise up for a weekly serial, all for your enjoyment.
Sit back and strap in. This is going to be a long ride. Read on, my friends. Read on.
Ganelin D’mala sat by himself enjoying the calm summer day. A cool breeze blew, rustling the trees while easing some of the extreme heat. The sky was laced with clouds of purest white. Song birds flit everywhere. For a moment he could almost forget this was his last day on Mandrak Prime. His last day home. He effortlessly conjured a ball of pale fire in his right hand, letting it dance between his fingertips as visions of the future entertained him. Not even the power of his magic was enough to remove the pall of leaving everything behind however. This was a moment of immense…change. How easily would he cast aside all that he once was in favor of the vast unknown of time and space? Even being accounted as one of the future’s brightest wizards, Ganelin found the concept as terrifying as it was exciting.
Still considered young by most standards, at one hundred and twenty-seven he was on the brink of assuming a teaching position at the Academy. A prestigious spot for any wizard. He’d graduated at the head of his class in both conjuring and illusion and already held a reputation as one of Mandrak Prime’s master illusionists. The future was indeed limitless. All that stood in his way was a brief mission abroad.
His thoughts drifted back when he was first informed of his selection to the Crusade. His best friend, Aragin Mephistile, a powerful wizard in his own regard, burst into his quarters with a grin so wide his face could barely contain it. Four had been chosen for the once a year expedition. More importantly, Crusade was the right of passage for becoming a fully ordained wizard.
It was the hardest task an apprentice undertook and Ganelin had the feeling theirs was going to be especially difficult. They were being sent to Telgeise III to assist the native peoples in constructing a better civilization out of the ruins in which they presently dwelled. Their hope was to bring the people of Telgeise into the stars within a few hundred years.
“Ganelin, come on. There’s time for one last drink before the shuttle leaves.”
He looked up to see Aragin standing in the cantina doorway waving at him. Ganelin returned the gesture and let the flames in his hand to dissolve. There’d be enough time to fiddle with his craft during the long voyage. He collected his gear and hurried to join his friends, who were already well into their cups. Ganelin wasn’t much of a drinker but knew better than to try and escape now.
Aragin passed him a mug and raised his own in salute. “My friends, today we embark on a long journey. Though we will long to be back home among friends and family I have no doubt that our deeds will long be echoed across the stars. To us! And the glory of our deeds!”
“To us!” they cheered.
Ganelin smiled but again found a cruel shadow creeping over them. He suddenly doubted they were ever going to see Mandrak Prime again.
Aradias Kane sat atop the lone boulder watching Helscape’s twin suns set. Most of the other village children were out playing now that the heat was finally subsiding. A barren desert stretched out before him. Barren but far from empty. The Wastelands of Helscape were unfriendly for young and old alike. Villagers struggled to etch a meager living farming or making random trinkets and goods for those rare, passing caravans still venturing this far into the sands.
His village was comprised of mostly mud huts and reinforced tents. The weather was brutal most days, conspiring against them with punishing heat during the day and near frigid temperatures at night. Both paled in comparison to the darkness lurking just beneath the surface. A menace unlike any other hunted the local population, killing without reason. Or mercy.
Everyone in the Wastes knew the stories. An ancient horror that lurked beneath the shifting sand dunes, patiently waiting for the moment when exquisite violence could be unleashed. Most people had lost friends and family to this horror. It was a fact of life. Men named them Berserkers. Strange and powerful beasts from the most vivid nightmares. They had been a plague on humanity for so long few, if any, remembered where they came from. Prayers were whispered for safety and deliverance though such contrivances seldom worked. There was no safe haven from the Berserkers.
Aradias’s father often told him stories of lone warriors named Slayers who roamed the deserts in search of the darkness. He filled the boy’s head with tales of grand heroes who willingly sacrificed all for the sake of others. Aradias wasted too many hours pretending to be a Slayer while the other children mocked him, treated him like an outsider. He didn’t care. Aradias knew what his life held in store and dreamt the nights away hoping for the day when he might prove his worth.
Eyes closed, he tilted his head back to enjoy the last rays of sunlight on his face. The sound of children playing drifted lazily past him and into the village. Leather winged argots, the great carrion birds of the desert, floated across the near horizon. Aradias opened his eyes and watched with envy as they disappeared in a collage of gold, red, and orange.
His silver eyes were cold, emotionless. At seven years old he was already feeling lost.
The dinner bell rang from the village square. Some children stopped playing to run home for a meal generally consisting of fried cactus and zorinth meat. Meager feedings, but nutritious. The rest of the children ended their games and hurried home before the sun dropped. Aradias tried his best to ignore them, finding their fear of the night boring, contrite. Life in the tiny village of Rivide was often without imagination. Or so he believed.
“Come on, Aradias. Stay out here any longer and the monsters will get you!” Barsh, one of the older boys taunted as he loped back to the village proper.
Sighing, Aradias reluctantly jumped down from the rock. He’d only taken a few steps when he thought he felt the ground move. He froze. The old one whispered of intense quakes in the moments before the monsters came. Aradias scanned his surroundings but there was only rock and sand. Kicking a small stone, he turned away from the sounds. He’d let his imagination get the better of him and felt the fool for it. The critical look in his father’s eyes when he returned home confirmed as much.
“Where have you been, son? I could have used your help in the field.”
Aradias slumped, feeling weight press down. He’s forgotten. Submissively, he lowered his eyes. “Nowhere, father.”
His father grunted. “Probably out on that damned rock again. I just don’t understand why you won’t play with the other children.”
“Leave him be. He’s just a child,” his mother scolded.
Aradias was about to speak up when a blood curdling scream tore across the edge of dusk. His heart leapt. His father was already on his feet and reaching for the rifle he always kept behind the front door. The floor timbers creaked menacingly with each footstep. Aradias knew he’d remember the look on his father’s face for the rest of his life. A mix of mind numbing fear and the sudden realization that they were about to die filled his heart. The crisp metallic sound of the rifle being cocked filled the small home.
“Berserkers,” his mother breathed.
“Get to your room now, both of you! Aradias, help your mother,” father whispered.
“I can help you,” Aradias whispered back. He ran to the cupboard and pulled out the old dagger they kept stashed there. It might as well been a sword in his tiny grasp.
Father snapped. “No. You cannot stand against this.”
The front door burst apart in a ragged storm of splinters moments after Aradias and his mother secured the metal door to his bedroom. They heard his father’s screams. Smelled the fetid combination of blood and urine. Aradias shook uncontrollably. He didn’t want to die. Heavy footsteps padded closer. His grip on the dagger tightened. A sob escaped his mother. Just one. Fists and feet began beating his door down. One blow at a time the monsters were getting closer.
Aradias Kane bolted up from his bedroll. Time weathered hands snatched his rifle up. He scowled. Sixty years worth of nightmares remained as vivid as that night his parents were murdered. Kane groaned and climbed to his feet. The predawn air of the Wastelands was chilled, pitch black. Kane didn’t mind. He found the solitude oddly comforting. A lifetime spent patrolling the deserts in search of the monsters responsible for killing his family were not lost. He felt alive out here. More alive than being trapped in any of the larger, better protected cities to the east and south.
This morning was but another on the hunt. A short distance away his horse snorted. It was the only form of good morning Kane ever heard. Alone as a man could get, Kane began the well rehearsed drill of packing, eating, and getting ready to ride. Somewhere out there, near yet still far enough to confound him, was a pack of Berserkers in need of justice. He was that sword. An unbreakable force unleashed upon his enemies until there were none left. Kane climbed into the saddle and headed out.