Monday afternoon and a new week. Welcome back to the rat race, folks. Before I drop the next chapter on you, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I saw this weekend. At my son’s birthday pool party I noticed one important fact. Being my stepson, he is Cuban. In the pool with him, his friends, was a little bit of everything. Girls, white, black, Indian. You name it and they were his friends. If you don’t take away anything else from this you should realize that this country is so much better than the nonsense the mainstream media preaches to us. Anyway, on to the show!
Compared to the menacing glare of Helscape’s moon, the colored lights of Minion seemed unimportant. Desert rats settled down in their burrows to make ready for the cold night. Vipers and other predators emerged from their dens. Mnemlath stood in the open air, relishing the almost strange sensation. He stared at the fleshling city, close, but far enough away to pose no threat. The aroma of civilization drifted to him, and a low growl escaped his lips. The moon cast his shadow for meters, and with no immediate place to seek cover, he knew they would be made short work if an Imperium patrol caught them. The rest of his group pulled themselves from their tunnels and scanned the dunes. None of them had ever been this far south, so the terrain, though vaguely familiar, was still alien to them.
“Spread out,” hissed Mnemlath.
They fanned out to form a rough semi-circle, wide enough to protect three quarters of their perimeter. Beast sniffed the night air and bayed once. Diving to the ground to avoid discovery, the Berserkers flattened themselves as the sound of man-made thunder neared. Two assault choppers raced overhead, bent on another mission of war. Mnemlath was worried for a moment until they passed by into the desert. The fools had no idea how close the enemy really was.
Picking himself up, the Berserker warrior began to issue orders. “Beast, take us to their gates.”
The burly monster bounded out in front and was soon nothing more than a hulking shadow in the night. They still had more than a league to go before reaching their target, giving them time to think and plot. Mnemlath thought on Kargosh’s words and let them slip away. The old fool had no real concept of what was happening in this war. Avoid detection. Mnemlath had no intention of that. He was a warrior, designed for killing without emotion, and that was exactly what he intended to do this night. But still, he found himself admiring the fleshlings’ tenacity. They refused to give, even when it was hopeless. He liked that. It made things more interesting.
Before him lay a valley of such suppleness, Mnemlath had to balk. They’d had no idea such a place existed and were certainly unprepared for what was to come. He was hunched atop a dune, the others behind him at the base. Here lay the answers the First One sought. Hundreds of hastily constructed tents spanned the horizon. Such sheer numbers could mean only one thing: invasion. He had little doubt that thousands of reinforcements would soon be pouring into Minion. A new war was being brought to the Wastelands, and for the first time in a hundred years, the Berserker hive was in danger. Ill fortunes rode the wind.
Kargosh had known of this coming flux of soldiers, but not to this extent. There was something wrong with the deal made between the two. Mnemlath confessed he knew little of the fleshling’s ways, but there was no way they had need of so many just to escort his kind off world. There was far more to this than what appeared.
He bade the flying shade, Doom Shadow, take flight and scout the entire area. It would do ill for them to run into a large fleshling patrol so early in their quest. Unbidden and concealed by a thick cloak taken from a recent fleshling host, Spills Blood stalked his way next to the Berserker leader and watched. Though second in command, he was over a foot taller and twice as malevolent. His sapphire eyes were all that could be seen within the dark shadows of his cloak. The tip of his sickle stuck out from the bottom of the cloak, gleaming in the moon light. Those who survived him claimed he had no body or form. He just was.
“This is not good,” he growled in a soothing voice.
Mnemlath agreed. “More fleshlings come.”
“The First One must be told.” He was the ultimate killer, but even a monster such as this knew limitations.
Eyeing him suspiciously, Mnemlath kept silent. Spills Blood had only been with him for a short while, probably since Kargosh first caught wind of possible treachery. He knew that something must be done at some point, but the spy still served a purpose for now.
“No. Doom Shadow goes to find entrance to their city. Blood must be shed before we leave. These fleshlings have no fear of us. Tonight, they shall.”
Spills Blood lifted his head to the winds. “We are too deep in their territory to escape. They will hunt us down long before we reach the open sand. Are a few fleshling heads worth our defeat?”
Running a hand through his hair, Mnemlath continued to watch the engineers in the camp. Anger swelled within. Dissension among them would only serve to segregate them and make it near impossible to enter the city. Kargosh’s puppet was very trying.
“We steal into their sleeping city when he returns. Do not forget who is in command, Spills Blood,” Mnemlath said.
The wraith remained silent and went back to the darkness beyond.
Mnemlath stood and watched from atop the dune for over an hour. He could almost sense the mutiny brewing behind him. Each of them had petty desires with the ability to bring about the downfall of empire, but speaking of such aloud was punished by death. For now, they would sit and wait, patiently watching the fleshling world and wondering if they were going to return to the hive.
The city patrol vehicle drove around the outer wall of Minion as fast as it was safe.
Only a trail of dust and the winds whispering of events moments past were left to tell of its passing. Night was in full swing. Shadows filled the streets, some empty and some containing things best left undiscovered. An uncharacteristically warm breeze filtered through the twisting alleys.
Mnemlath poked his head from the darkness, watching the tail lights of the patrol fade away. Satisfied the way was clear, he rose to his full height and stretched. An eagerness unlike any he’d ever felt washed over him. His senses became overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of the most guarded city in the Wastelands. It was all so different from the sparsely populated northern towns and nothing like he was expecting. A virgin to this world, Mnemlath took his first eager steps into a nightmare of his own creation.
Doom Shadow watched their progress with disinterest. His wings were closed behind him, as if bored with how slow they were going. Beast’s sudden movement made him look into the streets again, wary of any poor enough to choose this path. The wraith floated from roof to roof with ease, and much faster than the ground forces.
Every now and again, the Berserkers stumbled upon a vagrant laying passed out in the gutter. It took all they had to repress their instincts and leave them alive, but killing them now would only serve to alarm the rest of the city. They finally arrived at a seldom used entrance to the undercity and paused.
“We go down,” Mnemlath said. “Nothing to be learned from the shadows. Treasures await below. Here, we will obey Kargosh’s command. Do not attack unless they see us first. The slaughter begins on our way out.”
Growling their approval, they lurched to their feet and began the descent. Claws scraped and dug, mindful not to use the fleshling stair else they be discovered and trapped. Two stood the watch as the rest burrowed their way into the ground. They were forced to slow once the ground became harder, transitioning into concrete. Mnemlath cocked his head at the sound of a terrible cracking and had them stop digging. The ground caved in before they had the chance to react.
The fall was a short one, landing them in the middle of an occupied guard room and a dozen off-duty guardsmen. Shouts from the mortified men and the singe of ion fire accompanied the chaos. Spills Blood was the first to his feet and to recognize the threat. He barked commands, and the Berserkers retreated behind two partially ruined wood cabinets. The sounds of startled men told him they were overturning tables and forming a defense. Funny, he thought, how these people were able to respond with no notice. Not even the villagers they often attacked were ever so well prepared. Feeling the excitement of a challenge, Spills Blood drew his scythe.
For Anrack, this was an impossible nightmare. He’d been enjoying a quiet nap before his shift when the ceiling had collapsed. He fumbled for his rifle and ducked behind cover, and then the battle began. The guards were able to lay down a timid suppressing fire. None of them had ever seen a Berserker before, and the sudden revelation tweaked an unknown fear in them. Anrack buckled down for the fight and silently prayed for his life.
The Berserkers began smiling at the faint sounds of the guards running out of ammo. One by one, the line went empty. Spills Blood stepped from behind his cover and snarled. His scythe tumbled through the air, coming to rest in the skull of a frightened guardsman who had turned to flee. The force with which it was thrown speared both weapon and body into the wall.
The commander of the guard drew his sidearm and emptied the first clip into the monster’s chest. A ball of red and black fur and flesh vaulted over the falling monster and landed in the midst of the men. The commander pulled his knife and swung hard at Beast’s shoulder. The blade left only a nick in the toughened flesh.
Sensing the futility in this, the commander turned and shouted, “Anrack! Get to the surface and sound the alarm!”
Beast howled, crushing the body of his foe into a bloody pulp. Anrack, still but a lad in his late teens, felt his orders were betraying the rest of the squad, but no one else was close enough to escape and warn the rest of the city. The door hissed closed behind him, and he smashed the locks in the hopes of delaying the monsters from breaking free. The screams of his friends dying still managed to come through as he ran. All the dreams and aspirations he’d once had of serving his people as a soldier or even a Slayer were dashed aside. It was all he could do to hold back his tears as he ran for help.
All I can say is: hurry next week and installment!!!
You gotta slow a little, Mike. It’s all about the presentation!