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:
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.”
“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.