I wonder if I timed this out right? Not intentionally, I assure you, but the end of Tomorrow’s Demise might just coincide with the new year. Wouldn’t that be cool? An unanticipated gift for you all- especially those of you who live in the frozen north. At any rate, let’s dive back into the campaign and see where war takes them.
The Division Arrives
The blackened armor of the lead scout car reflected heat enough to make life miserable for the soldiers inside as it hovered within eyesight of town. Assault choppers went by to secure the native town aerially. They were flying low, ready to respond to anything sudden but still high enough that the townsfolk wouldn’t get sand blasted by the prop wash. A youthful captain stepped out the passenger side of the jeep, clasping his hands behind his back for comfort.
The ride had been long and extremely bumpy, but they’d gotten here without major problems. One of his men was back in the mobile hospital suffering from heat exhaustion, and the rest were gradually growing annoyed with the harsh desert conditions, but morale was still high enough to make a difference. Running a hand over his naturally bald head, the captain watched the first vehicle break free from the concealing dust.
Another hover jeep came flying down the road past the heavy armored column, and he knew it was only one man. It pulled to a stop next to the recon vehicle, and the passenger hopped out. The captain snapped to attention and saluted.
“General, welcome to Black Tide. Both the fire bases and bivouac areas are on the far side of town towards the Gap.”
Pierce returned the salute and asked, “How much progress has been made?”
“The important facilities are up and running, but they’re still working on a lot of the billets. Limited manpower has slowed the engineers down some, sir.”
“I don’t want excuses, Captain Xaen. We need results. Well, no matter. After three days on the road, I think the troops need a bit of exercise and some good hard labor to get their blood pumping again,” he concluded. “How far have your men scouted?”
“We went as far as the mouth of the gorge and fifteen clicks around in every direction so far, sir. No sightings as of yet. A few of the locals showed us what may turn up as danger areas. The data’s been plotted and mapped for the arty.”
A third jeep pulled up, this one with Gladak driving. He’d had enough of his driver within the first few hours of the journey. “General,” he nodded.
Pierce smiled. Men like Gladak were hard to come by. “Colonel Gladak, you may start your occupation of the city.”
“Yes, sir,” the dragonoid hissed and sped back to the head of the column.
A recon vehicle was there to guide them in with MPs along the way to alleviate some of the confusion. The steel snake of the Imperium convoy slithered back to life as it got closer to the first objective.
“Captain,” Pierce said, “I’d like to see the fire base first.”
“Of course, sir. If you’ll follow us.”
Positioned due west of Black Tide were Pierce’s gun pits. Each of his howitzers had been bermed in by the engineers. Trucks with hundreds of rolls of concertina wire sat off to the rear while the gun crews moved back and forth to wire the perimeter. Each pit was large enough for the guns to have three hundred and sixty degree firing capability. Imperium artillery was bigger and faster than anything they had come up against thus far, and Pierce was their first supporter. The guns had an effective range of seventy clicks and were manned by some of the most professional soldiers he’d had the privilege of leading. The artillery was the deadliest combat killer on his battlefield.
Pierce grinned privately at the sight of the division colors gusting from atop the pole in the center of the firebase. His colors. The command bunker was right behind it, now almost finished being sandbagged into place. He stayed with the battalion commander for a few minutes, eventually making it around to every gun before it was time to head back. Pierce was impressed and looking forward to watching them shoot in the coming days.
Kane knew it had been quiet since his platoon had finally made it into Black Tide. The past two months had gone flying by for him, but it all looked the same tedious pace for the local population. He had to laugh when his memory took him back to the fool’s quest that had led him where he was now. It felt like a few days ago when he and Viper set out towards Rook Mountain to collect on a contract. Now it seemed like he had come full circle, ready to start over again. Black Tide held many demons for him, and he found it best to keep silent. No one needed to hear his troubles. A man accustomed to being alone, the Slayer made an attempt at blending in and becoming part of the time, though truth be told he wanted to be alone. Wars — his war, at least — were easier without the worry of having to care for others.
Both he and Nathan helped the squad pitch their tent, a heavy thing more than large enough to fit them and their bags. A quiet conversation later, they dropped their bags on their bunks and stole back to the edge of town. Snake Eyes promised to keep it quiet if that dumbass lieutenant came sneaking around and to wish them luck. After all, what could the Imperium possibly do to them?
Darkness was settling, allowing them fairly safe passage through the confusion of the Imperium encampment. Nathan still didn’t know why they were risking getting in trouble yet, but he found himself trusting Kane more as the days went by. When he asked, the Slayer merely responded by saying that they had one last matter to attend to before they left for the war. Nathan shrugged and tagged along.
He knew he was in the same situation as Kane — not yet part of the team and not wholly an outcast either. The transition was harder than he remembered from his own military experience, but then again, he’d never served with aliens or women. Time and the shared experience of combat would erase those discrepancies. He only hoped he was going to come back alive to enjoy them.
“This is it,” Kane announced, stealing Nathan’s illusions of another time and place.
Nathan looked up at the building and instantly questioned Kane’s motives. The very building gave off the appearance of being able to hand out diseases just for walking through the door.
“It’s something,” he said as he followed Kane inside.
He almost regretted his decision before the burly shape stepped out from the shadows.
“I knew ya’d be back here with them damned soldiers,” growled a rusty voice from behind the bar.
Nathan’s hand dropped to his blaster, an act that didn’t go unseen by either the Slayer or the bartender.
“What choice did I have?” Kane asked.
“The boy’s quick with the trigger,” Skrapp said, motioning with his head.
“He’s new to our way of life.”
Skrapp looked the young man up and down before judging, “An Easterner eh? Well, he’ll soon find out the way things are this side of the river. Hope you’re not squeamish when it comes to blood, boy.”
“I think I can manage,” Nathan said with a wry smile.
Seemingly satisfied, Skrapp went back to his old friend. “Damn it all to darkness, Kane. I’ve been bored to tears since I left the Way. Wish I’d had the strength to go at it another twenty years the way things are now. Lots of good hunting coming up.” He reached out and clasped Kane’s wrist. “My old bones told me ya’d be coming back. Ya just couldn’t stay away!”
“We all have our demons.”
Skrapp nodded. “This is going to be a good fight.”
Nathan passed an obscure glance to Kane. He was convinced the older man was absolutely crazy, along with everyone else he’d run into since arriving on Helscape.
“But tell me,” Skrapp went on, “you didn’t ask me here just to talk about the old times, did you?”
“I need some information. These Imperium fools are walking into this war blind. I don’t think they’d stand a chance if it weren’t for those of us who answered the call or the troops already stationed here. This is going to be a complete disaster,” Kane finally said, slightly bowing his head.
Skrapp spit. “The glory of the Imperium. Bah! Never did put much faith in all that fancy armor and fast talking. There’s been a lot of tremors lately — big ones, at that. Seem like they get bigger nowadays.”
“Tremors?” asked Nathan.
“Aye, boy. The Berserkers choose to travel below ground to avoid certain un-pleasantries,” Skrapp said with a laugh.
“The bigger the tremor, the more there are,” Kane added.
“My man Rolf’s gone out there when they get really loud,” Skrapp continued. “Says they never come any closer than the Gorge, almost as if they know something.”
“How long have they been going on?” Kane asked.
“Four or five days. Figure they started about a week ago.”
“About the same time the division landed across the river,” Nathan concluded in a stunned whisper.
“Think you can save all them souls?” Skrapp asked him.
Kane shook his head. “No. It’s already too late for that. The man leading them is mad. He’s consumed by a tainted flame.”
“What in the fuck are you two talking about!” Nathan spat once the shock was passed. “I’m not about to die because some bozo doesn’t know what he’s getting into! I’ve got my life to go home to.”
“You’ll live to see your family again, Mr. Bourne. You’ve got the fire in ya. I seen it. And a shade brighter than most.”
“Of survival,” Kane answered. “We’re all born with it, some more than others. Few learn how to harness it to their advantage.” His hand touched Nathan’s. “They will guide your hand in battle when the time comes.”
“Ok, this is too much for me now,” he admitted. “Pour me another and keep on. I think I’m going to need it.”
“Braxton, I need one of your runners,” Kane told him.
“To get a message back to Minion. I need him to get in touch with the assassin.”
“That worm? He’s nothing but bad news. Best you stay clear of him, Kane.”
“I know, but I need his help. We already know each other, and he has something I’m going to need.”
The Slayer was smiling now, a bright idea consuming his thoughts.
“Mind telling me what this is about?” Skrapp asked as Kane handed him a quickly scribbled note.
Kane cocked his head before answering, “It’s better you don’t know, at least not yet.”
“Fair enough,” he growled in his normal voice. “Rolf! Get over here, boy. I got a job fer ya”
Mists swirled around him, conjuring shapes he’d never dreamed. Nathan stood upon the ramparts of some ancient castle. Desert stretched as far as he could see, lifeless and uninviting. There was a deep sense of pain stemming from the very ground. As if the world bled from old wounds and could not heal. He instinctively reached down for his pistol only to find it wasn’t there. Nathan Bourne was alone and vulnerable.
Voices whispered in his head. He felt their anguish. Murder had been done here. Dark stains covered the crumbling stone walls. How many had died, he wondered. The question was one he was loathe to ask. Could this be where the end of the world began?
Nathan Bourne of Earth.
He spun, startled by the frail voice calling him out. The mists swirled away from him, as if being sucked away by some greater power. Coalescing into the ragged shape of a man, the mists glided to a stop a few feet from him.
“What do you want of me?” Nathan asked guardedly.
The mist appeared to bow its head. You are the key. This quest will fail. Many will depend on you for the future.
“I don’t do riddles. What are you talking about?” he snapped back, more out of shock and potential fear than anger.
Trust in your friends. Only through them will peace be secured. Time is fleeting. My agents will be among you soon.
The mist disappeared, leaving him alone atop the ramparts. Darkness closed in around him even as he pondered the mystic words. He awoke with a single word burned upon his lips. Gage.