Sorry for the two day delay gang, but when my back is screaming I don’t want to sit behind the computer. It is only through great endurance and your desire to keep reading that I struggle on now! Hopefully you have enjoyed the story thus far. I’d love to hear from you whether you do or don’t.
Flanked by a pair of winged guards, the survivors of the war party that had run into Kane marched down a crumbling hall to the inner chamber of the Berserker lord. Mnemlath held his head high, though the loss of two of his own was more embarrassing than public execution. Anger filled his cold, black eyes. He knew he would have to atone for his crimes. Not that he cared. Death was their life, whether their own or a victim’s. Killing was their sole purpose for existing. Bred from the mind of a madman, the Berserkers had become a near unstoppable force.
But they were not invincible. Their one flaw lay in their inability to reproduce. Each death brought them one step closer to extinction. The Creator’s dream was slowly dying. Clutching the hafts of their spears, the guards moved with a purpose. Shadows from the countless torches lining the walls danced in shapeless patterns. Cobwebs and dust covered most of the ceilings and floors, covering cracked marble tiles and vaulted paintings. This had been a grand hall at one time, but age and succession had worn it down.
Few Berserkers dared to venture this deep in the Hive, for this was the lair of the hand of the Creator. This was where Kargosh, the First One, dwelled. The flavor of the air grew sour with the stink of rotting flesh, smoke and excrement. They passed a well, old and dried up many years before. Mnemlath stole a glance down into the yawning dark and wondered if this was what Kargosh had in store for them. He didn’t need to look around to know that the First One’s assassins and personal guards were close at hand, lurking in the dark places where prying eyes couldn’t see.
“Stay,” growled the first guard once they entered the antechamber overlooking the main hall of the Berserker’s underground hive. Despite being buried under a quarter mile of hardened sand and rock, the lair was vast and full of life. Fires raged everywhere the eye looked, lighting the cavern in a way much resembling damnation. Ventilation shafts had been bored out to allow the smoke and gases to escape. Great columns, a thousand feet around, supported the roof from a hundred points on the cavern floor.
Mnemlath stared at his world and dreamed. He could just make out the edge waters of the huge lake back in the depths of the hive. Beneath the betraying calm of the water laid a monster more terrible than the Berserkers themselves. More than one of his brothers had been claimed by those long tentacles from the deep. The Wastelands of Helscape were unforgiving. Life was forced to struggle for survival each time the twin suns rose. Such was the cycle of life; it was no different for the Berserkers.
This foul place suited his kind, though there was so much more to be had. Life was abundant across the river, green and verdant — a life they had been denied two centuries before when the Great War had raged across the planet. The Creator once had a dream for his kind, and here Kargosh sat, wasting away in a throne once used by powerful men. As if he were afraid to achieve what they had been created for! Kargosh wasted their opportunity. Wasted what the Creator had in mind. The past was useless, broken memories for a Berserker warrior, but the promise of the future lured them down dark paths. Mnemlath wanted more. His primal hatred for humanity demanded more. The time was almost ripe for his bid for power. One day, Mnemlath would sit upon the Berserker throne, and Helscape would drown in its own blood when he did.
He let his memories carry him away, back to a time when the Creator began his obsession. The Creator had chosen this place well. It was hundreds of leagues away from the more civilized parts of the Wastes. He’d even used this part of the Hive as his private laboratory during the days of Creation. After years of effort and hardship, the Creator’s work had at last been ready to be revealed to the world. His armies had swept from their hiding places in waves, crushing the unsuspecting humans. The Berserkers ad attacked with such force humanity had had no choice but to abandon the Wasteland regions. A planetary army had been raised, and they’d actually held the Berserkers at bay along the shores of the Angril River, establishing the boundary for the world today.
Everything had been lost in stalemate until the arrival of a new enemy a few years ago. The silver-clad armored warriors of the Imperium had been called upon by the Regents of Helscape, safe in their grassland homes in faraway Draken. Thinking this would be nothing more than a mop-up operation, the Imperium had only committed one brigade, less than a three thousand men. Helscape was relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of galactic design and, therefore, unnecessary to occupy. The one benefit was that it could be used as a base from which to strike at their enemies in the Xempsarillian Empire. Their miscalculations had cost them dearly. Slowly but surely, the Imperium had found itself bogged down in an ugly conflict with little hope for the victory they’d thought easy to come by.
“Inside,” the guard grunted upon his return.
Armed guards stripped him of his weapons and ushered him up the crumbling stair into Kargosh’s private chamber. This was the heart of the Berserker Empire, now grown old and wasted from lack of proper use. Nonetheless, it was the seat of power for the First One. Few torches lined the walls, for the First One preferred the tranquility brought by darkness. Mnemlath jumped as the heavy doors slammed shut but managed to keep his head up.
The ebony throne of the Berserker lord occupied the end of the short hall, hidden by shadows and looming from flames at the same time. A dark shape sat upon it. Mnemlath felt evil eyes boring into him even from here. Only a few years older than the rest, Kargosh bore a thousand times the weight. He had a long, gray beard, adding character and partially concealing the stress he felt. His leathery wings were old and covered with dust. Mnemlath always found it odd that Kargosh would look so old when Berserkers did not age like normal mortals. He snorted derisively. Kargosh was a fitting symbol of what their once grand empire had stagnated into. Named for the ancient god of Hatred, he now wasted away on his decaying throne.
Mnemlath strode confidently to the foot of the throne where he kneeled to show respect. Respect for what it represented, not the creature sitting upon it. When he finally had his way, he would remove this throne and have one made from the bones of Kargosh himself.
“Rise,” rumbled Kargosh’s deep voice.
The Berserker warrior did as he was told, stepping back some when Kargosh spread his great wings in a shower of dust.
“Again you bring me defeat, Mnemlath. Could it be that the fleshlings are getting better as time winds on?”
Mnemlath bowed his head with mock shame. “It was a Slayer. They adapt quickly. Soon, they will be able to stop us.”
Kargosh roared to his feet, arms spread in a symbol of aggression. “We, who are the perfect killers? We have killed since conception, but now you inform me that the fleshlings are better? Humbled by mere mortals! I should have your head for that cowardice.”
Mnemlath snarled the rage he felt. Jealousy nearly consumed him — almost forced him to act before it was time. Kargosh had been given every gift of the Creator. The others had been forced to learn with time. It was a travesty. The Berserker Horde deserved more.
“I can assure you….”
“Enough.” The First One resumed his seat, some of the fire gone. “I am tired of this life. For every one of us that falls, ten of their own die. Yet still they persist on fighting. Why?”
“They fight for their survival.”
Kargosh laughed. “And we do not? The day is fast approaching when this war will end, for good or bad. Leave this place, Mnemlath. The sight of you disgusts me.”
He waited until Mnemlath was nearly to the door before adding, “If I hear of more carelessness on your part, I will have your head mounted at the castle steps as a reminder for the price of failure.”
The Berserker warrior snarled to himself and left the throne room. There was much he wanted to say and do, but it was best to keep his thoughts private. To speak them would be traitorous. No; instead, he decided to let Kargosh play his little games. There was time enough to deal with him in the near future.
Hitting the silent running switch, the pilot brought the assault chopper down to a few meters above the desert plains. Sand kicked up by the rotor wash would give them away if anyone was watching, but it was a risk they had to take. Captain Smythe Menzel eagerly held onto the strap holding him in his seat. He was a pale-skinned man with cola black hair and a pencil-thin mustache. A normally quiet man, Menzel patiently watched the desert for any signs of life. Both suns had gone down, and the moon had yet to rise, but the chopper was still at risk. Heavy smells of fuel and machinery drifted away from it, and with them the scent of flesh. If the Berserkers were watching, they were dead.
Using recent data provided by General Gulluette, Menzel had commandeered this bird, replacing the crew with his own men. It had taken little to sway the actual pilot and crew. After all, this expedition wasn’t worth dying over. That was just over two hours ago, and here they were.
Only Menzel knew what they were waiting for. He was a man of infinite patience, and everything about him showed it. He had left behind his Imperium army uniform and wore clothes of a relatively light fabric. They were a shifting gray and surprisingly warm. Nothing betrayed him as an Imperium officer, not even the sidearm at his hip. He’d made doubly sure of that for him and his men. Should the bird go down and they be captured, it would only hurt them more if anyone found out the Imperium was behind this.
“There!” he shouted through his helmet.
The pilot turned his head in time to see a band of Berserkers emerging from their tunnels. The village they were about to attack lay but a few hundred meters away. Menzel smiled and turned back to the troop seats, where his gunner sat ready. Giving him the thumbs up, the gunner grabbed his rifle and took aim.
“Fire it just in front of them. I don’t want any of them injured.”
Slowing his breath and focusing on the calm, the gunner leveled his weapon, gently squeezing the trigger. The missile rocketed into the shifting sands a few meters ahead of the lead Berserker. The demons jumped back from the sudden sight of the flare, even without noticing the chopper turning around and heading back to base. Menzel had accomplished his mission. The world was about to change.