Happy belated Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Raising children isn’t easy, for anyone. Ok, now back to the grind. Let’s see what Kane and the boys are up to this week.
There are few things in the vast universe comparable to the blinding violation of all things good and bad by evil. It is a darkness, pure and untouched for generations. The complete lack of sight and sound. A place void of emotion and senses. The air was stifling, threatening to suffocate those who were lost here. This was the Never, for it was a nightmare of unparalleled proportions.
Down through the ages, and on into future worlds of alternate realities, traveled the creations of a mad man. The Berserkers fell unchecked, pulled onward by a sudden desperation. Confusion and mist clouded them from each other. Whatever the Old Gods had in mind, there was no rush to reach it. Years passed before them. Some went so fast it was impossible to tell, others dragging on through eternity. Then, without warning, the pale green light filled the end of the void. Had they come back to the dying world they’d left?
It was the end of one journey and the beginnings of another, far more powerful one.
Were they capable, the Berserkers would have succumbed to a colossal fear, but they were not of some god’s impulse. They were the products and desires of a twisted and broken magician. One by one, they embraced the pain of the light until the void was left empty yet again.
The pain was sudden and unlike any ever felt. It coursed through their mutated bodies. Each Berserker twisted and writhed as if being pierced by a thousand nails. This new torture was so exquisite in feeding their hunger. The monsters reveled in the sick pleasure of it. They forced themselves into primal balls, at once hoping to relieve the tensions and remain in the rapture. Hell’s grand gates were thrown open before them in tender invitation.
A large wolf-like hybrid was the first to abandon the Never, hitting the grassy floor and rolling away. Named Death Shrike by the Creator, he was capable of inhuman levels of strength and an unending system of revitalization. Steam escaped his body in waves from a thousand different cuts and burns caused by the Never. Undaunted by the sudden pain, he was already scanning the area for any sign of potential threats. As pleasing as it was to have nothing awaiting them, Death Shrike felt cheated. The others were slowly coming to and shaking off the ill effects of nausea.
Standing on the alien shore for the first time, Death Shrike stared with wonder and amazement. This was a world of plush vegetation and water. He saw things foreign to their bitter deserts. Oceans of green were waving from a summer breeze, and he could smell a river not far off. The horizon was glowing a strange shade of orange, but from what, he could not see. Even the air was different. A strange yet eerily familiar scent came to him. It was so powerful as to stagger his senses from shock. He smelled the abundance of life. Another had followed him.
The clearing they found themselves in was surrounded by walls of mighty, wooden objects piercing up into the night sky. They were covered with small, paper-thin objects that made soft rustling noises every time a wind arose. Small flying creatures covered with feathers could be seen by the dozens. He amazed that such things could be so uncaring and innocent of the world’s ways. He focused on a small, four legged animal with brown fur and littered by white spots running the back and flanks. Nothing on Helscape was even remotely comparable. Nothing at all.
Death Shrike smiled while visions of conquest danced in his wicked mind. This new world was so ripe with life that it was practically begging to be raped by him and his kind. Another was kneeling close by, waiting for the dizziness to pass. Impulse made him snatch up a handful of the green substance covering the ground, and dirt and roots came with it. Bringing it to his nose, the Berserker sniffed hard, inhaling as much of this living world as he could. They were all equally fascinated by this new experience and beginning to succumb to the joys of such simple treasures.
They ran and rolled in the grass, relishing the softness and smell of it. This was so much better than the hot desert sands for which they were created to conquer. Their last memories of such things had been from the defeat on the banks of the Angril River. They’d been within sight of the green back then and nearly succeeded until the planetary army and their wizards stopped them.
Confident that this was, indeed, the paradise promised by Kargosh, Death Shrike made for the tree line, eager to discover what lay beyond the hidden doors of this world. The wolf monster stole through the night under the concealment of no moon and a line of chest-high shrubs. Not even the others could watch his progress. They were the furthest thing from his mind at the moment. Death Shrike eased through the shrubs and balked at the sight of a long, black monster winding across the lands.
“What is this?” he seethed through clenched teeth once it became apparent that the thing wasn’t going to attack him.
Death Shrike gingerly touched its surface, marveling at this newfound thing. It was hard and still warm from the sun. Matching yellow lines ran the length of its spine. What magic is this, he asked himself, for there were no such designs on Helscape to compare it to. He let his curiosity run wild and soon found himself following the yellow lines. Down long valleys and many twists and turns he walked, drawn ever closer to the glow of civilization. There, he knew, would be the answers to their quest.
A faint rush came from behind, growing louder the closer it came. The monster spun to confront his attacker. He was forced to throw his hands up to block the force of the lights blinding him. The beast made an irritating honking noise as it began to speed up. Death Shrike rolled away as the machine went by.
Forgotten memories crept back to him. He stared at the twin red lights until they disappeared. He’d seen such things before, though not quite so primitive, with glaring lights and rolling fast on rubber wheels. A familiar smell tainted the air at its passing. The armored soldiers. There were fleshlings here — many, from the smell of it — but were they soldiers as well?
If he stayed on this hardened path he knew he was going to be seen or caught. The safest way from him to go now was skirting along the tree line. He wasn’t sure how long he walked when he finally stopped to stare in complete awe. Before him was a sight that would have humbled the Creator. The valley below was crowded with an overabundance of life. Towers of steel and lights stretched up into the sky. He saw millions of tiny lights, mere pinpricks compared to the whole, covering the place. Hundreds of them were moving back and forth. More of the wheeled machines, he snarled to himself. He doubted there was this much life on all of Helscape.
This was a dangerous world with much need for caution. He stood transfixed at the scene below for what seemed like hours before remembering his vulnerability and the position of the others. They were no doubt hostile by now, and it was in his best interests to return. They had more than enough time to scout this new breed of human for defenses and weaknesses. For now, they would wait, developing their plans for the conquest of this new world.
Nathan Bourne looked down at his watch and growled. It was only 11:30, and he was more tired than usual. Rubbing his bloodshot eyes, he casually lit another cigarette. Smoke filled his lungs in a delicious flavor before floating out the car window in a lazy stream. The radio and a thermos full of hot coffee were the only things keeping him going, and he had to laugh at what his life had become. This wasn’t exactly going to put him on the cover of Success Magazine.
“What’s so funny, Nate?” his partner asked once he climbed back in and shut the door. He handed over a thick sub from the Greek deli across the street.
Nathan shook his head. “Nah, I was just thinking about how things might have been if I had a regular job.”
“What? And give all this up?” He gestured towards the dark city streets. “You must be mad.”
He was half as old as Nathan was, and far less experienced, but that meant little in the middle of the night. A bullet doesn’t care one way or the other. Nathan sighed as his partner went on about what he could be doing right now. Why the younger generations were so excited when it came to sex had always escaped him. Fifteen years with his wife, and he couldn’t really care less. But, for some reason he had no grasp of, the young always wanted to go on and on about what they did with which girl. Didn’t they know that no one cared but them? Nathan held his tongue and pretended to listen.
His own thoughts soon began to drift towards the relationship he had thought was going to last forever. He’d been a committed homicide detective for the past twenty years, much against the wishes of his wife. She was never one to understand why he was who he was and why he couldn’t find it in him to change. Not for her, and not for himself. That one thing alone had spawned a plague of arguments and was the eventual cause for her leaving with the kids. They’d managed to stand the test of a war while he was in the military and a thousand minor fights, yet one job was enough to make her leave. He liked to think that going in to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division had been easier than married life.
It had taken a while before he’d eventually gotten over it, deciding that, if she couldn’t handle the hazards of his lifestyle, there were probably more things she couldn’t handle as well. Oh, he admitted making more than his share of mistakes too — more than he cared to remember — but for all the good and bad, he’d never laid a hand on her in anger and never once cheated. So much for loyalty, he mused.
When the courts had granted her full custody, he’d spiraled down into a seething rage. Some fool in a black robe with no idea the trauma behind the breakup had decided that Nathan wasn’t capable of being a father until the kids were both eighteen. Hate had kept him going, more often than not, through those long nights when sleep was near impossible. He wasn’t a bad looking man and was fully capable of getting most any woman he wanted. The charm was still there, even after all those years.
His six years in the army had laid the foundations for the physical condition he maintained today. A pencil-thin mustache and ghost of a beard accented his light brown hair and eyes. Nathan was in his late forties, and already tiny lines were forming across his face. Father Time was not going to be kind.
“Happy now, Steve?” he asked as soon as his partner stopped rambling.
Steve nodded with a smile and stared off into the shadows next to the store they were watching. Word had come down that there was something big going down tonight, and they had been slapped with the detail. Backup was available but still far enough away to not do much good if things went south. Steve grabbed Nathan’s arm and pointed. He could have sworn that there was someone or something out there, lurking in the shadows.
“I don’t see anything, bud,” Nathan said. “Might as well eat.”
Nathan was more concerned with things other than shadows bumping down empty alleys. Over a dozen partially devoured bodies had been found over the city during the last couple of days, and city officials were baffled. Reports of mythical demons sifting through the night swamped the precincts. The fear level was sharply increasing, and there was no answer in sight. Tensions were high, and the image reached the national level on the second day. The only good thing to say about this was that the crime rate had dropped to next to nothing. Petty thieves and thugs were too scared to run the streets.
A high-pitched scream shattered the calm, followed closely by an explosion. Nathan managed to close his eyes and turn around before the shockwave hit them. The windows burst inward, showering them with glass fragments and debris from the streets. The car was rocked and threatened to tip over. Across the street, the deli was destroyed. When it was safe to look, he watched the devastation with horror. Most of the building was gone, engulfed in flames and reduced to piles of rubble. The force of the blast had propelled the owner’s body into the middle of the street in a twisted, broken mass, dead before hitting the ground.
They could only stare as the nightmare stepped from the flames. Nathan opened his door and rolled away when he saw the monster spot them. He couldn’t believe this. Monsters weren’t real. Everyone knew that. Fumbling from shock, Steve tried to do the same, but the door wouldn’t open. The monster saw this and smiled. Reaching behind his back, the monster produced a weapon of sorts and began twirling it overhead. The faster the weapon moved, the louder it’s scream became until it threatened to burst their eardrums. He let it fly towards the car, and in that moment, Steve knew he was dead.
Helpless, Nathan could only cry out and fire off his clip into the monster’s chest. The force of the rounds jerked the monster back in sudden pain, and a smile painted his lips. Steve worked faster with the door. Nathan ran, out of bullets and exposed. The weapon hit the car with a bone-crunching sound and enough force to throw Steve’s body through the windshield.
The monster stalked across the open area, bone spikes protruding from the back of each elbow, and had the dying man in his grip before he had the chance to groan in pain. Both man and beast stared into each other’s eyes, one for the satisfaction of knowing what killed him, the other wondering what was going through his mind in those final moments. Death Shrike smiled.
Horrified, Nathan cowered in the shadows. A wave of helplessness sunk deep into him from acting this way. But, realistically speaking, what was he to do? He’d already pumped fifteen rounds into the thing, and the only effect they’d had was to piss it off even more than it already was. He also knew that it made no sense for both of them to die like this. He closed his eyes as the monster picked up his friend.
The Berserker ran a jagged claw under the human’s throat, drawing a thin line of bright red blood. Steve groaned again, making the monster balk. He’d thought the man already dead. This was going to be a delicious treat. Producing a sharpened spike, he thrust it into Steve’s belly and roared as the blood began trickling down over his hand.
He let out a baleful laugh and said, “Your kind always die so easily.”
Steve spat blood at the monster. Death Shrike smiled as the spit and blood slimed down his nose. The whine of sirens was steadily growing closer, and that meant there was little time left to enjoy the misery. Sinking a hand into the human’s flesh, the Berserker squeezed the man’s heart until it burst. He left the body where it laid, the broken heart still in his grasp.
Nathan fought to keep the bile from spitting out but lost. He felt like screaming out, but it would only give away his position. A river of crimson ran from under Steve’s body.
When he finally looked up at the monster again, he found it staring right back at him. He knew! With a last act of defiance, the Berserker heaved the organ at him and bounded down an empty road. Police and fire vehicles were just now rounding the corner.
The rage surging through him was empowering, and the last traces of fear dissolved. Nathan emerged from his hiding place and trailed after the monster. He had to know why, what it was. What manner of demon had descended upon them? Nathan needed to find out if for no other reason than the preservation of his sanity. Steve certainly deserved as much. Several officers tried stopping him, but he kept running long after the shouts were too far away to be heard. It wasn’t hard to follow the monster’s trail, thankfully for he knew there was no way he’d ever catch up on foot. And right now he wasn’t sure he wanted to come face to face so soon. The Berserker left enough damage behind to almost make Nathan think he was following a full-sized platoon. Nathan suspected the monster was heading for the river.
Screeching brakes and the smell of burnt rubber told Nathan that the creature was already at the highway. Nathan feared he was never going to find him. Infuriated, the detective broke into a run. He rounded a corner in time to watch as the Berserker slipped around a halted bread truck blocking the road. Hoping his aim was still true, Nathan raised his gun and fired. A car sped by after, blocking his aim, and he caught several obscenities directed towards him.
Frustrated, he hurried after the monster before the trail went cold. He didn’t need to be reminded of what would happen when the monster made it into the open countryside.