Good Monday, my friends! I apologize for skipping last week but I spent Memorial Day remembering old friends who are no longer with us. War is hell, right? At any rate, let’s jump back into the story and see where Kane is getting to.
Rook Mountain looming in the near distance by the end of the following day, Kane and the Viper decided it best to make camp for the night. Kane’s unwillingness to risk his life without so much as a reconnaissance of the situation had put an end to that argument. Scowling at the man’s hesitancy, the assassin tethered the horses down and stalked off into the desert to look for lurking nasties, leaving Kane to throw up the rudely constructed tent they’d been forced to use when no natural cover was available.
Once finished, Kane pulled out a canteen and stared up at the lonely mount. It was much larger than he remembered, carrying a certain dominance over the landscape and those of weaker stature. He could feel night coming on. The sudden coldness rushed up to tear at his exposed flesh. Kane sighed. An emptiness suddenly filled him, one he’d felt a hundred times over. Evil was waiting for them.
The assassin strolled back into camp in time with the second sunset, his dust-plastered black clothes nearly indistinguishable from the forming shadows. He sat down near the entrance of the tent and removed both boots so he could rub his sore feet. Neither of them had spoken much since the previous night’s attack. The Viper wasn’t the kind of man who needed others. He was a solitary figure, better suited to combing the shadier places of the world alone. It was easier to move and do what needed to be done that way.
“We need to be there by first light,” he offered finally.
Kane nodded. “The enemy does not stalk the night alone. It seems now as if there is no longer the safety we once knew. Night or day, it will dark under there. This bodes ill for us.”
“Ill or not, we really don’t have a choice, now, do we?” the Viper sighed. “Or am I to believe that we’ve wasted the last week of our lives by coming this far to turn back now?”
Kane returned his gaze to the massive Rook Mountain and said no more.
Kane awoke sometime later to the subtle rustlings of the Viper pulling at his feet. A leather-gloved hand quickly clamped down on his mouth before he could speak. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the purity of the night, and when they finally did, he saw the vile red eyes of his companion staring down at him. Kane could have sworn he saw the faint flicker of fear deep in them. The assassin shook his head in a short, jerky movement and pointed towards Rook Mountain.
There, his deepest fears were realized, and the promise of the future dwindled. The mount was bathed in an eerie green light, pale as a dead man’s skin and bright as a dying sun. A pallid glow was cast across the dunes. The cold they experienced was far deeper than anything natural. What dark manner of Hells made this? Kane wondered.
The Viper was already suiting up for battle by the time Kane even began to realize the portent of the night. There was little doubt for either of them that the Berserkers were already there. Kane dressed quickly, taking his time only to ensure his weapons were loaded, and the pair stole off into the night.
With a mighty roar and tremendous burst of strength, a Berserker broke through the crusted cavern floor of Rook Mountain. Expecting a battle and finding none, the Berserker sniffed the air from a fighting crouch. The armor plates running the length of his spine wagged reflexively. The Berserker snarled for the others, and they filed up from their tunnel. It took seconds before they stood in a huddled knot awaiting further instructions.
Mnemlath looked idly about, holding his hands before him in bewilderment over the green glow. It lent his warriors a devious look well suiting them. A winged Berserker circled him, staring down a long, water-hewn passage. He sniffed the stale air for signs of humans, snorting displeasure at the amount of life in the dark tunnels. The fleshlings were close.
Shaking out his flaming blue hair, the Berserker growled, “Down here. I can feel it.”
Another launched into flight and glided down the hall, his shadowy form easily lost in the darkness. Whatever lay in store for them, whether it be the promise of an extended future or a grizzly demise, the Berserkers rumbled to life. Regardless of the outcome, Mnemlath had every intention of keeping it for himself, Kargosh be damned.
They stalked in single file, studying the surroundings though there was no sign of the enemy. Silent as the wind on a cold winter day, the Berserkers passed without a sign. Not even a footprint in the sand. The glow grew brighter the closer they approached the source. Mnemlath felt the adrenaline building, flowing through his veins in a delicious power.
They reached the innermost chamber without problems, and were forced to shield their eyes from the blinding light. The intensity was sickening, but the Berserker kept going. He entered the chamber without regard, casually coming to a halt at the base of the light. The purity of it was enough to spark elation in him. Euphoria spread to the others, and they rushed in to join him. This was total bliss. The Berserker stretched forth a hand to touch the light, to touch the very soul of the Death God himself. They had found perdition at last.
Roaring from the intense pain suffered, the Berserker watched his hand disappear, as if sucked into the embrace of a darker evil. He fought and struggled to regain himself but was fighting a losing battle. Mnemlath could do nothing but watch as the winged demon was claimed by the Death God. The others stepped away, a sudden fear clutching them at the disappearance of one of their own. Yet the light was enthralling, almost possessing. They lost all sense of time and awareness. Could this be the path to enlightenment? If this nirvana was so powerful as to consume the whole of their fellow, then why should he be the only one to experience the totality of it? One by one, without knowing what lay on the other side, the Berserkers made ready to follow.
The killers stole their way through the undiscovered catacombs, breathing lethality. Assassin and Slayer, though having shared a near death experience, lacked total trust. Each would do his job, but at what price? Loyalty was an expensive luxury this deep in the desert. Kane stayed along the tunnel walls, moving with the grace and litheness of a cat. His rifle was raised and trained on the open passage. The Viper, with an eternal flare for the dramatic or maybe just a flaunted fear of the obvious, strode without shame or concealment. He was thumbing the safety catch on a thermal grenade. Anything surviving the initial blast wouldn’t last long after that — of that much he was sure.
Death was a primitive fear for which a man like the Viper had no time. Everyone was assured death in their own time and fashion, so why should one be concerned over it, he argued. His only concern at the moment was the oddity of light ahead of them. Neither had ever seen the like, and that did worry him. He’d lived through the creature from the other night and felt no fear, spent most of his life around thieves and cut throats without fear. So why was he worried now? The catacombs had an air of un-holiness about them.
Kane signaled a halt as soon as he was able to pick up the first Berserker voice. They were right around the bend from each other. Double-checking his weapons a final time, he and the assassin readied themselves. He offered a passive glance to the Viper, who nodded his confirmation. But something was wrong. Normally observant, the Berserkers should have been expecting them. None even bothered with a glance their way. Kane knew better than to question. This was going to be their best chance at stopping their enemy. Clicking off the safety, Kane rounded the corner and attacked.
The explosion shook the ancient walls, threatening to rip their eardrums apart. None of the Berserkers saw it coming. The thermal grenade had bounced off the back of one and rolled away. Mnemlath saw the object rolling and had begun barking orders slightly before the explosion. The Berserker nearest the grenade realized too late what it was. The explosion melted the monster as shrapnel sped outwards to strike a number of the others. While they were confused and disoriented, a rain of ice blue ion fire spit into the chamber. More Berserkers howled from the sudden pain.
Mnemlath smelled the air as he rolled to cover and smiled. The Slayer! The rancid odors of burnt flesh and fresh blood brought his bloodlust to a boil. This was the reason for their creation. Dark blood splashed across his cheek, and he turned in time to see another nearly torn in two from the crossfire. A sudden fury seized him, and the time for retaliation had come.
“Attack!” the monster bellowed.
They moved as one. Smoke and ion haze choked the air, making it hard for all of them to see, even with the Berserkers’ enhanced senses. For the humans, it was a scene like a nightmare in the cave. A minor rumble knocked the Viper on his back with a leaping Berserker coming down atop him. Long fangs dripped a burning drool across his cheek, and the monster smiled. The Viper could see death approaching, reflected through the empty eyes of the Berserker. Neither of them saw the silver spear come in to pierce the side of the monster’s head.
Seeing how badly things were transpiring for them, Mnemlath decided it was time to end this until another day. He growled his commands, and the last of those few chosen to enter the Death God’s embrace leapt into the light. That was the easy part. He also knew that there was no way he could leave this gateway open to the fleshlings — not when he stood on the threshold of obtaining its newfound power, one strong enough to turn the tide of this war in his favor. Another explosion ruined the chamber. Mnemlath was forced back, retreating enough to assess the situation and regroup for another attack. There were enough bodies on the ground for now.
He snarled another set of orders, and the Berserkers disengaged the enemy, leaving them dazed and slightly confused. The last to leave bellowed once and then shattered the archway to an exit tunnel. The collapse was enough to seal them away from the mortals. This battle was over.
Kane helped the Viper to his feet and stepped closer to the light. Whatever it was, the column of light was humming now. Of the living Berserkers, there was no sign — not even a hint of where they had gone.
“This is not what I was expecting,” the Viper admitted, still trying to catch his wind. He also knew there was no way he was going to go back to Redemption with this.
Kane ignored him so he could finish inspecting the curiosity. “This is no weapon. I’ve never seen anything of its like,” he finally said.
“Squaffa load of good that does us then,” growled the assassin. His ribs hurt, and he could tell one was broken.
Kane scowled. “This is a prize far greater than any of our expectations could have produced. The last vestige of a golden age we will never know.”
“Who cares. Looks like we made this trip for nothing. My employers can’t use this, and I’m not going to even try and explain where the Berserkers disappeared to.”
Kane had a bigger concern. Why had the Berserkers abandoned their find so easily? A gnawing feeling bit into him. They were going to find out before this affair was finished. He hoped the answer wasn’t as bad as he was guessing.