Welcome back gang and Merry Christmas. Hope your holiday was filled with warmth and joy. But enough of that already! Let’s get back to Helscape and see how the battle unfolds. It has been a pleasure bringing you this tale- and seeing the response to it. On a positive note, I am finishing my follow up novel to the award winning Purifying Flame. A little something I call the Children of Never. Look for it soon. Along with the 10 other books I have getting republished this year. The train never stops.
A Heartbeat Away
Lost in the Gorge’s shadowed heart were a thousand sets of emotionless eyes. They stared down on the winding snake with special interest, waiting for their time. They’d been in place for a day already. Their mission was one of great importance, so they sat and waited. Some shuddered and wrapped themselves in their wings as the cold winds invaded. Tales wagged aimlessly from partial boredom. One cried out as it stretched the dust off its exoskeleton. Another calmly watched a swarm of small insects hovering among the scrub weeds growing along the rock face.
The sounds of distant thunder announced the arrival of the main body. Some of them instinctively looked skyward while the rest kept watch on the ground below. They all knew what was coming. It was a sound they’d been looking forward to since first arriving here. The equivalent of happiness eased into them, for this was a great day. Content, the shadow creatures closed their eyes and slept one final time. The thunder was still leagues away but marching closer.
Nathan no longer felt the weight of missing home after the inner battles he’d faced the day prior. Home could wait. This mission was a far greater thing than his own initial selfishness. Literally billions of lives rested with him and the people he followed into the fire. If the Berserkers won here, they would be swarming onto Earth in no time. After witnessing their attacks under Rook Mountain and the lethality in Minion, Nathan wasn’t willing to let that happen. The line had to be drawn. He silently wondered if they were going to be enough. Nervous, Nathan watched the desert roll by under the grinding force of the Imperium army.
He started laughing all of sudden, drawing peculiar looks from those nearest him. It was like a scene taken fresh out of a comic book. The heroes racing in on horseback to save a people with no knowledge of the matter. Ridiculous as it seemed, Nathan very much felt the part of the hero. The only hard part in swallowing it came from trying to imagine himself in a tight-fitting costume with a mask.
Kane was watching him laugh. “It’s good to find humor in times such as this.”
“Got to do something to keep my sanity, right?” Nathan smirked. “How much longer do you think it’s going to be?”
“Hard to say. It might come later today.”
Both men knew what was going to happen even if the rest of the division did not. By having this knowledge, Kane and Nathan became the protectors of everyone in their track.
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “Kane, I had a dream the other night, and it’s been bothering me.”
The Slayer’s eyebrow arched.
“I was in a castle of some kind out in the desert, and the ghost of a man came to me. He basically said to keep the faith and that I was going to be the reason for future success.”
“Odd indeed. I do not believe it was ghost, though. It is said that wizards can influence our dreams, make us see what they want us to. There are rumors of one last wizard alive on Helscape, though I know not where. What else did this man say?” Kane was suddenly uneasy with the conversation. He felt a pull towards some unforeseeable future.
“He told me that this campaign was doomed to fail.”
Soft winds blew across the top of the vehicle.
Lieutenant Hosking sat at the front of the track. Snake Eyes could tell the man’s nerves were moving past frazzled. He didn’t seem like the type of man who could handle large quantities of stress well. It was only the combination of luck and Fate combined to put him in one of the most aggressive units around. Hosking wasn’t a bad officer in so far as Snake guessed, but the potential was there.
“Might as well enjoy the view while you’re at it,” Snake Eyes told him.
The might of the division roared all around them, for they were in the middle of the convoy. Hosking was reminded of the old training exercises in different deserts and how quickly the division moved through them. He seriously doubted things were going to be as easy this time.
“It’s almost worthy of a picture,” he concluded.
“Yeah, on the outside, Lieutenant. Inside every one of those vehicles is a platoon of the most scared men and women you’ll ever see. Pride and this fool campaign can only take you so far. This,” Snake paused to pat his rifle, “is going to take every bit of their hearts if there’s a hope to win. Stay alert. You’re our eyes and ears should anything pop up.”
Returning to his position behind the aft gunner, Snake left the young lieutenant to his thoughts.
Pierce watched the suns reach their zenith and drift back down. Part of him questioned the games the cosmos played. All things had their place in the universe, himself included. Did the sun ever get tired of chasing the moon? Joneth Pierce rode on; the symbolic head of the great snake come to wreak havoc. This was the culmination to years of pent up frustration and rage. The hatred soothed him, burning him closer to the edge than ever before. Pierce was in his private zone.
His scar was itching, driving him beyond annoyance. He’d grown used to it, not that there was a choice. It always began to itch right before the bullets started flying. That danger was imminent was no surprise. His bones had been telling him that since they’d arrived on planet. But could they actually be so close, he wondered. Pierce narrowed his eyes to slits and watched the growing the shadows.
They were close. He knew it. Felt it. But where? His killer instincts took him beyond mortality, allowing a glimpse into the Berserkers’ twisted lives. The convoy rolled on, pushing deeper into the heart of the Gorge. Joneth Pierce watched, and he watched, and he watched.
His heart was racing so fast it took the feel of cold steel in his hands to calm him down. Just a little more, he silently coaxed. This was the worst scenario imaginable for his units. Trapped here in the Gorge, they were effectively rendered useless except for small arms fire. His plans were folding, and Pierce knew it. He was just about to issue the lock and load command when it all went wrong.
He was the First One, leader of what should have been the most powerful race on all of Helscape. Truth be known, they were degraded and broken after decades of battle and mounting losses. The Creator’s dreams were no more than just that: dreams. The glory of the Berserker horde was reduced to hiding underground and in shadows. Kargosh was tired. The battles had taken their toll, making him more hermit than leader. It was better that way, he thought.
Shadows played across the throne room, seductively dancing in the flickering torch light. Serpentine pillars lined the chamber. Once grand and proud, they stood crumbled and in ruin. Kargosh felt comfortable here, lost among the decay. A spiral of wizard’s fire burned in his palm. It was a trick genetically implanted and one he often used to pass the time — especially when he was anxious.
Complacency had helped steal away many of the things taught to him by the Creator. The flames died down before disappearing altogether, leaving him alone again. Twin gargoyles flanked the ancient human throne, their chipped and cracked faces staring sternly down upon him. Kargosh often consulted with them, for they’d been watching over him since he came to power. Always they second-guessed him, smirking with distaste at his decisions and desires. Kargosh felt trapped, in a way, between his own inadequacies and their mockery.
A heavy knock echoed across the crumbling marble floor, and his doors swept open to allow a slim hell-spawn with flowing robes. The Berserker stank of decadent desires and ill wishes. His booted feet struck the floor in heavy assaults until he stopped at the foot of the throne and kneeled. Kargosh knew it was lost as mock tribute but was in a position to do little about it.
“Arise, my servant.”
Standing at his full height, the Berserker flexed his chest muscles and said, “My Lord, the enemy has entered the Gorge. Battle is but a breath away.”
The Berserker lord smiled, tight lipped and lusting. “Very good. You may begin the attack at will. Go now, and return our glory to us.”
The Berserker nodded and stormed off. Waiting for the doors to close, Kargosh mouthed a dark spell. His arms stretched to the ceiling, his wings unfurled and menacing. The walls and ceiling began to fade, transforming into the half-darkened image of the Gorge. Most of his legions were lurking there, but he was careful enough to keep a goodly amount close by should the fleshlings break through.
Kargosh let out a low laugh that echoed away and prepared to watch the battle. The information sold to them by the enemy was paying off better than he dreamed. Soon, his armies would sweep through the silver soldiers and then drive across the deserts in a campaign of sheer brutality. None would be able to stand before the might of the Berserker Horde. Only through violence would the future be forged — a future where his kind ruled with an iron fist. After all, it was the dream of the Creator.
I’m torn between wanting the battle to be over and won by the “good guys,” but then the story will end, and I’d like it to go on longer. Sitting on the edge of my chair, holding my breath. What hell is Kargosh about to unleash?
Exactly that, Mike- exactly that.