What a disappointing world we live in, sometimes. There’s nothing like waking up to find the horror of foreign battlefields being recreated at home. My thoughts and prayers go out to every caught in the disgusting business in Las Vegas last night.
Here is this week’s chapter. I hope you enjoy and forget a little about the rest of the world while you read.
An erupting volcano far to the west sent shocks wave after wave through the trembling ground. The effects stretched for leagues, both across the ash-laden plains and deep into the belly of the world. Giant, winged beasts soared through the toxic air in search of frightened animals fleeing the rushing tide of lava before it drained into the massive Lava Lake at the center of the continent island. Lizards much larger than houses went blundering across the plains, virtually impervious to the goings on.
High above, the skies were embattled with a clash of different shades of red and black. Here, the sun was no more than an unheard of dream. Further north, towards the Northern Ocean and the settlements beyond, the sky won back its natural blue haze, for there was no volcanic activity so close to the frozen Northlands. There was nothing so close to the Seven Hells as was Furnace Island.
Caught between the sands of the Wastelands and the green river valleys of the east, the island was a world forgotten by most — perhaps time most of all. Legends and dreams walked the blackened ash sand aplenty, leaving nothing for the imagination. The southern population was close to three thousand, none of whom could be considered upstanding citizens in any form of society. Thieves and murderers flocked there as well as men who just wanted to be forgotten. Massive pirate ships built from the strongest metals hovered over the expanse of the Lava Sea, often fighting and clashing with each other. Enemies were a quick thing to come by here, and a hard thing to ignore.
The island stretched for hundreds of leagues, though most of the cities were either in the far southern tip or lodged in the mountain crags to the north. The northerners had a goodly amount of sea trade going with a few of the Northlander cities, but the constant threat of invasion served as a reminder of the bitter times they lived in. No one was safe on either side.
A hundred leagues north of the port town of Redemption stood an old man in a lonely house. It was the humblest of homes, as void of decoration as it was of color. The walls were of a smooth lava stone that helped cool the house during the day and nights. Each room had a rounded dome, the size signifying the important of the house. A single tower rose high above the land on the west side, placed as if to watch over the growing darkness in the western world. Windows of glass reinforced by the wizard’s spell kept his home illuminated, though there were times enough when it proved a distraction for him.
The nearest town, Kratchen by name, was more than a day’s ride east, and no one ever ventured so far out as to annoy him these days. Long ago, travelers had come in flocks to seek his sage advice. Those days were but a memory now. It had been years since the last time a man had come seeking his counsel. Now it was just him and his Kordite assistant. They kept to themselves, hardly seeing fit to interfere with the weight of the island.
Gage was a very old man, but what was age to a wizard? He’d been here for countless centuries and could not go home. Once, back on his own planet, he’d had a longer name and was full of hopes and dreams. Since then, he’d abandoned humanity and their killing ways. Even their supplies were contracted out to them, delivered once a cycle in exchange for minor services usually involving medicinal help for the sick and elderly. They often went out into the volcanic fields to find various artifacts and things deemed important to his research. Aside from that, they sat and waited until the time approached when his services would be required on a grander scale. Then, and only then, would his mission be complete, his failure redeemed. Then he could go home.
Four hundred years was more than any one being deserved to spend on this perpetual nightmare of a planet, but his exile was coming to an end. He felt it in his bones. He and the others had come here seeking to turn Helscape into a cultural refuge and economic center the galaxy could respect. The others were gone now, dead in some fashion or another. Their designs had crumpled in failure, leaving him to deal with the misery of so much wrong.
Klaa, the aging Kordite, made his way from the aromatic kitchens to the laboratory tower just past the sun’s zenith. The tower was Gage’s one sacred place where he came to find peace with himself. The squat Kordite nimbly made his way up the twisting stairs, knocking once before entering. They’d known each other for eighty plus years, and Klaa was the one being Gage could honestly call a friend. The aged wizard looked up from his charts, his face drawn and weathered.
Flexing his eye stalks, Klaa telepathically said, the food is prepared.
Laughing to himself, Gage lurched to his feet and stared out the window, more intent on what was out there than on filling his stomach. A thin ray of sunlight broke through the ashen barrier, landing within the wizard’s sanctum. It was enough to bring a tear to his eye, so rare was the occasion. Klaa missed none of the translation as he stood next to his friend’s side.
He was studying the wall charts when the realization came to him. A frown crossed his face.
It’s about to begin, isn’t it?
Gage smiled as he placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Yes. Come the dawn, I will head for the ferry and go to Redemption. The messenger will be sent from there.”
It hardly seems possible after so long.
“Well, in truth, the time is not yet upon us. I sense they have much to accomplish before they begin the trek to us. But they will be coming soon. Begin preparing them a place to stay. I have much to do. Time has fled so fast, we’ll be hard pressed to be ready by the time they arrive.”
Will you be eating up here?
“No, my friend. I shall be down shortly.”
I am looking forward to seeing your homeworld.
The emotions in Gage threatened to burst. “As am I. As am I.”
The sun was shining. Clouds filled the sky in lazy patterns. A faint breeze was just enough to keep it cool. Birds lined the treetops, merrily singing to one another, and a family of rabbits emerged from their warren to feed. Nathan smiled as he noticed the excitement on his daughter’s face. Her small fingers grasped and pointed towards the rabbits as the big male gingerly crept forward to take the carrot chunk from her. The rabbit winked and bounded off, only to be replaced by another. Nathan couldn’t remember ever feeling so fulfilled. Evelyn, his loving wife of ten years, crept up behind them, covering his eyes as she nibbled the side of his neck with passionate kisses. He smiled as her arms circled around him, filling him with her warmth.
“You’re lucky we’re not alone right now, Mr. Detective,” she whispered in a smooth, seductive voice. Her hand trailed down his belly, inside his pants until she grasped hold of him.
Forcing himself to remain silent, his own hand reached behind him and moved up the length of her thigh until brushing against her. Evelyn moaned in his ear.
“No panties. I like that.”
“I’m full of surprises today, baby,” she replied, pressing her exposed breasts against his back. “But this is all you get until we get home.”
“Spoilsport.” He pouted.
Lightning struck a nearby tree, and it exploded in a storm of electrically charged slivers. The skies darkened before he could blink, followed closely by a heavy hailstorm.
“We have to get out of this!” he hollered above the roar.
But Evelyn couldn’t hear him. She lay on her back, her shirt ripped apart. She writhed, being caressed by something invisible. Her arms and legs were pinned to the ground, and her skirt was up around her waist. She moaned and shook from the unseen forces manipulating her and began to change before his eyes. Her face became deformed with lengthened fangs and facial hair, and her skin grew covered with scales and fur. Spikes grew from the ends of her nipples, and she howled from the pleasure and pain. The tail growing behind her was long and sharp, swishing with fury. Crawling on all fours, she moved towards him, her long, forked tongue tasting the air. Nathan reeled in horror. She had become a Berserker!
“You fool,” the monster hissed. “You thought to keep us from entering your world by staying on Helscape. Look now and despair, for we have become your world!”
Nathan ran for his life, outdistancing the monster with no clear route. The grass and trees fast wilted and died, turning the landscape a bitter sand Wasteland. He collapsed, able to run no more. He was exhausted and had only one bullet. There was no question in his mind what that single shot was for. Evelyn’s tongue snaked around him, crushing the air from his lungs. The smell of her made him vomit, and she snarled. Evelyn twisted his body around to face her, staring deep into his frightened eyes.
“Forgive me,” he whispered to her as the barrel of his pistol leveled at her heart. The shot struck with enough force to shatter the Berserker.
Nathan screamed himself awake, rolling from the bed. Bruised and afraid, he turned on the lamp and began to weep.