Through Darkest Night

Whew. All those weeks of building and here we are. Can you imagine being trapped in such fury? I can’t- and I went to war 3 times! Speaking of which, if any of you saw National Geographic’s The Long Road Home- I am proud to say that SFC Butler (the real one) is a good friend of mine and about to retire after 26 yrs. One of his stories is also in my memoirs: A Long Way From Home if anyone is interested.

But enough chit-chat. Let’s get back to the fight. And please keep in mind, this was written before I went to Afghanistan back in 02, so I had only my training to rely on.

THIRTY-NINE

Routed

The explosion threw Kane and Nathan backwards. They helped each other up and checked for injuries. Nathan cursed as his hand came away with blood. Metal and rock fragments peppered his face and hands, but there was no serious damage other than to the track they were riding in. The eighty-ton vehicle was completely destroyed.

“I’m all right,” he announced. “You worry about those bastards.”

Recharging his rifle and strengthening his resolve, Kane reentered the battle. It was the most desperate scene he’d ever been forced to witness. Thousands of bodies were already littering the ground on top of blood-enriched sand. Black smoke and charred flesh crawled into his nostrils with their putrid odors. Smoldering vehicles and pieces of twisted metal roasted where they lay. The Berserkers were paying a heavy price for their aggressions, but the battle was beyond redeemable.

Kane noticed small pockets of resistance forming through the haze. Soldiers with one thing on their minds formed tight circles and laid down murderous fire on advancing Berserkers. Once headed on an “Extinction Campaign,” it was now the Imperium who fought for survival. The numbers of Berserkers was so great Kane had little doubt the entire horde was here.

Rifle rounds sawed through a Berserker’s chest, but he kept coming. Kane threw the weapon down and drew his spear gun. The silver shaft whistled through the air on its way into the monster’s heart. The Berserker was dead before it hit the ground. Kane felt the rage beginning to consume him. The powers bestowed upon him by the meditation ritual in Black Tide took control, and he was thrust into a private war he couldn’t win.

 

Captain Xaen stood in a growing pool of demon blood. The enemy had attacked shortly after his last vehicle exited the Gorge and prepared a defensive position. One by one, the troopers of his command were massacred by the genetic nightmares. They never stood a chance. He was one of the last ones left to put up a fight. His rifle fired until the charge ran out, forcing him to throw the weapon away. It wasn’t until then that Xaen noticed the levels of carnage around him. Bodies lay in twisted shapes, some Berserker, but most had once belonged to him. Options were running out.

The Crendaphidian had always prided himself on being professional, and this was no different. He climbed into the front of his jeep and snatched the hand mic. “Gamma Gamma, this is Whiskey Four. Request immediate suppression on my position. Give me all you’ve got, and keep it coming, boys. Gods save me.”

Xaen closed his middle eye to pray.

“Roger that, Whiskey Four. Rounds inbound. Keep your heads down, and good luck.”

It was far too late for any type of luck to be of use to him. Xaen reached down and drew his boot knife. It was the last weapon he had, but there wasn’t going to be much time left to use it. The average flight time of a high explosive round was less than thirty seconds. Plenty of time, he thought with a grimace. The Berserkers finished killing his last man and slowly moved in to encircle him. This was fear, but Xaen refused to buckle.

“If this is how it’s going to be, come and get it!”

The Berserkers leapt in perfect unison with the incoming rounds. Shell after shell exploded around them, but Xaen wasn’t able to see his small measure of triumph. A triumphant Berserker lifted Xaen’s severed head and howled just before a round exploded next to him. Everything within fifty meters was instantly incinerated.

 

Gladak managed to make out the whistling artillery over the roar of his own battles and growled. Artillery fire so far forward meant one thing: Captain Xaen and his company had been wiped out. He passed Pierce a glance, but the General was already too far gone to be salvaged. The once proud warrior stood amidst a sea of blood and rage. He seemed larger than life, cleaving down foe after foe. Gladak rushed forward and snatched the man by his shoulder.

“General! We need to sound the retreat! The division is being torn to pieces. This is the last chance we’re going to get!”

“Remove your damned hands from me, Colonel! We fight as long as I still command. Do I make myself clear?” Pierce let out a terrible laugh and returned to the killing.

A thousand things were running through Gladak’s mind at that moment. Saving Pierce wasn’t one of them. He’d just made his mind up to sound the retreat when a leaping Berserker tackled Pierce to the ground. He moved to help his old friend but was stopped by two more. All five combatants were dragged to the ground in a cloud of dust and grunts.

 

Bliss now controlled Yonash Hosking. Wave after wave of the growing storm washed through him, and the madness loved him. Secret desires burned him far worse than any fire had yet. A leaping Berserker was cut down by a well-placed burst of ion fire. The monster doubled over to prevent his innards from spilling out, but it was too late. Hosking slammed his rifle butt in the monster’s mouth and kept running.

Watching from the distance of his own battles, Mnemlath was remotely impressed with the man. Few of the ones he’d killed thus far had bothered with the drive to survive. His impressions faded when he saw what Hosking was running towards. The Berserker barked orders to intercept him before it was too late. The first to reach the abandoned track was also the first to be ripped apart by Hosking’s ion fire.

The Berserkers had inhuman strength and speed, but Hosking proved faster. He was already on top of the abandoned APC and charging the machine gun by the time the Berserkers broke through to him. The mad man howled with glee and opened fire. Sizzling ice blue rounds caught the monster square in the chest, lifting him from the ground. Following rounds ripped strings of flesh from his bones while the body floated down. The power coursing through Hosking was unlike any he’d ever known, and he was confident that he alone was going to save the day.

Diving to avoid being shredded as well, Mnemlath rolled and came up on one knee. Winds blew his wild hair from his face, and he snarled as more of his brothers fell dead around him. He was about to charge forward when more rifle fire came at them from another direction. Beast was the first to turn and identify this new threat.

“Behind you!” he growled.

Mnemlath crawled around and saw the one thing he had wished for. The Slayer was standing over another Berserker ensuring it was dead. A smile crossed the wicked monster’s face as he burrowed underground to end things once and for all.

 

Any concept he once had of combat was quickly devolved. This was sheer madness bordering on wholesale slaughter. Even being armed and well armored the Imperium soldiers didn’t seem to stand a chance with so many Berserkers swarming through the column. Nathan forced the graphic images from his mind and focused on his immediate front.

With no lack of targets, he was able to continue firing until his weapon ran dry. Snake Eyes and Xill flanked him. Each threw curses and taunts at the enemy in the hopes of raising morale. Berserkers and soldiers fell all around. Nathan spied a glimpse of Kane, gaunt and clad in black like a terrible reaper, wading through the enemy mass. Everywhere he strode death followed. It was enough to turn Nathan’s stomach.

Nathan watched as the APC exploded and knocked the redhead unconscious. There was no way she nor any of the other survivors were going to make it as a host of Berserkers converged on them. He could have sworn he heard their screams over the droning roar of the battle. She appeared to be far enough away from the vehicle not to be in immediate danger, but she wasn’t going to make it very far on her own. Nathan knew there was only one way.

Baleful screams from the dead and dying took him back to the night he’d left home and how these monsters managed to generate such indescribable amounts of chaos. Now he was locked in a place where every life was precious and necessary. He snatched the rifle from the wounded Seli’s hands and jumped down. Nathan had never been exceptionally fast; in fact, he hated running altogether, but adrenaline pushed him on. If there was even the slightest chance of rescuing her, he was going to find a way.

“Bourne!” Snake Eyes cried after him. He received the same response Hosking had given him. I don’t get it, he told himself, is everyone here crazy?

Xill and Klausky swung around to give him cover, plowing the road open for Nathan to reach his objective. A round from a captured tank ripped into their hull, igniting the vehicle in a dozen areas. Dark smoke wafted up, and they caught the growing smell of fuel spilling out.

Xill picked out Kane’s blurred image stalking off into the fight but was given little opportunity to stop him. There was no time to worry about anything but the troopers in his APC. Xill made his way to the back hatch and crawled inside the burning wreckage where an odd silence met him. The manic sounds of battle faded, dulled from inches of armor. Xill found it disturbing.

Internal power was knocked out, and only one backup light still worked. Xill shifted through the mess in search of life. Lifeless eyes stared back at him, keeping their secrets. These had once been people whom he called friends. He had eaten and drank with them, laughed and fought. Now they were all dead. His skin was a ghastly pale by the time he crawled back up to the roof of the track. Lal-owk was finishing bandaging Seli and getting ready to move her when Snake Eyes stood up so all could hear him.

“Listen up! We don’t have time to worry about them anymore. They’re already in a better place. I need everyone’s cooperation if we’re going to have a chance. Pair off, and make for that empty track over there. Corporal Xill and I will provide covering fire until you’re all there. Collect up your gear and hit it. This thing’s gonna blow.”

The medic and Klausky helped Seli down and practically carried her to the next vehicle. Ten others followed in staggered groups until Xill and Snake Eyes were the last ones atop their burning carriage. Snake looked at his friend’s three eyes and smiled. They both knew this was a no-win situation, and all of them were going to die.

“Jump in the driver’s seat and gun that thing up. We’ll pick up the pockets of troops still holding out as we go. Radio any vehicles still operational to form up on us. I don’t want to stay here any longer. You ready?”

Xill nodded.

“Then let’s get the Hells out of this damned gorge.”

They made it ten meters before the APC exploded. Xill was the first to regain his feet and shake off the slight concussion. He helped his fumbling sergeant, and they dashed their way through the gauntlet with a little help from thirteen other soldiers pouring fire into the swarming Berserkers.

 

The ground trembled around and beneath Kane’s feet. He stepped away from his gutted victim and swept his jacket back. The cool steel of his spear gun fit comfortably in his hands as he waited for the Berserker to emerge. Two clawed hands broke through, and Kane took aim.

The Berserker never knew who killed him. The spear slammed into his head and dropped the body back down into the hole before he knew he was dead. An explosion concealed the second Berserker’s arrival from Kane as he paused to reload. The collision knocked them both sideways, and it was all Kane could do to twist his body and bend with the blow. A third monster charged from his blindside, but Kane’s reflexes proved faster. His sword was out and flashing in time to deflect Beast’s advance before ripping into his stomach. A war hammer exploded against the rock wall past Kane’s head, and he fell to the ground. He wasn’t sure which one did it, but a swift kick to his kidneys kept him getting up. Vicious hands clawed at him and finally rolled him onto his back.

Mnemlath crouched over his prey with a hungry look. He was preening at the chance to finish his quest. This was the first out of all their chance encounters and private battles in which he’d been given the opportunity to stare into his enemy’s soul. The Berserker was genuinely surprised with what he saw. He’d been expecting a young man full of life and vigor but saw only a man grown old before his time with weathered skin and sad eyes. Mnemlath stared into the crossed and squinting silver eyes looking through the pain up at him.

“Ah, Slayer, did I not promise you another time?” He laughed. “I’ve been waiting for this for far longer than you can imagine. You were the only one who ever escaped me, and that as a mere child, no less! When you die, I’ll have your head as a trophy and your body for my feast.”

He kicked the fallen man again.

Kane coughed blood, spitting it in his tormentor’s face. “Why don’t you come a little closer and try, monster?”

“No.” He knew enough of the human’s tricks not to risk his life needlessly. Instead, he snatched the Slayer to his feet and showed him the battle. “Look and see what has become to your pathetic attempts of insurrection. Your dreams and desires shattered under my foot. This is our time now, Slayer, and I aim to tear the very soul out of your humanity. Good bye, Aradias Kane.”

Kane’s hand was moving so slowly that none of them noticed it slide into his belt and draw a small snub blaster. Mnemlath’s fist drew back, poised to strike. A brilliant flash left the Berserker clutching at his chest. Kane felt the sharp sting of his own sword slice through his wrist before he was able to squeeze off another round. He screamed as he watched his hand and blaster fall to the ground under a shower of blood.

A Berserker warrior kicked the wounded man away and dragged his leader off. The black-haired Berserker dipped his fingers into the wound and raged when they came away with his blood. Shock prevented him from believing a dead man had done this to him. Mnemlath snatched up Kane’s sword and roared to defy the Gods. He aimed to finish this game at last. Tank rounds began slamming into the area, kicking up gouts of bodies and sand. The pace of the barrage thickened to the point where it was suicide to stay. Mnemlath was not to have his day after all. The Berserker cried out and watched his dream fade. He’d been cheated again.

“Slayer! The Gods appear to favor you, but even they won’t be enough in the end.” He waited until the others were safely in their holes and said in a menacing tone, “Until the Seven Hells can hold no more tenants, I’ll see you in their fires.”

It was all Kane could do to tie off the stub of his arm and stop the majority of bleeding before he passed out.

 

Pierce slashed through his attacker’s throat with a roar and kicked the body away. His body was laced with cuts and fresh scars, but he felt wonderful. His vision was clouded and limited to the extent of personal glory. Pride didn’t allow him to see his division in ruins around him. Six Berserkers already lay dead at his feet, and there was no shortage of volunteers for the seventh.

Warnings going off in his head warned him that he was alone. Gladak was presumably lost, already a memory right along with his command staff. Joneth Pierce stood in the center of the inferno, bleeding and nauseated, tempting death to claim him. Wasn’t this what the Gods had created him for? He was out of ammunition, out of support, and down to a small combat knife. The Berserkers surged forward. They knew the importance of killing him and were reveling in the challenge of it. Once Pierce was dead, resistance would crumble.

The Berserkers struck. An arm was loped off. A belly split open. Pain went around the circle as the blood flowed thicker. A fire burned Pierce’s brain, intensifying with every heartbeat. It was through this madness that Pierce finally discovered who he really was. He bared his teeth and let loose a primal growl to his distant brethren. Joneth Pierce was every bit a purebred killer, just like his enemy.

Berserkers continued to attack, forcing Pierce further away from the rest of his shattered division. His weapon ran dry. Berserkers swarmed closer. Using the rifle like a club, Pierce smashed the face of one and crushed the windpipe of a second. His muscles burned but he continued to fight. More of the enemy came near. More died. His uniform was shredded. Blood flowed from numerous wounds. Pierce grinned with blood smeared teeth.

The Berserkers respected the fleshling through all his faults, which made killing him all the more special and appropriate. His violence was uncontainable. His rage all consuming. His voracious appetites weren’t enough to stay the Gray Lady’s hands, though. Pierce’s blood continued to run away as if it had never belonged there. He screamed one last time before weakness sank him to his knees. A Berserker plunged his fist into Pierce’s chest and came away with his crushed heart. So it was that General Joneth Pierce made his last stand and fell. A great fire left the universe at that moment. The battle raged on.

Gladak finished cutting through his last opponent in time to watch Pierce fall. Broken and haggard from exhaustion, Gladak assumed the burden of command. The intensity of the fight was already subsiding, as if it knew the head had been cut off from the body. Groups of soldiers were forming here and there, and Gladak ran to the nearest one. They were no more than office workers and pencil pushers who had never expected to see actual combat, but they were practically all Gladak had to work with.

The comfort of being around more Imperium soldiers did little to ease his troubles. The Berserker horde was rampaging through his strongest units and would, no doubt, push on until they wiped out the rear-deployed units as well. It pained him greatly to do this, but survival was more important than pride. Gladak raised his pistol and squeezed the trigger. The missile sizzled into the sky and exploded over the middle of the battle. Twin green starbursts slowly floated back down.

Berserkers looked up in wonder. Soldiers looked up and felt their hearts torn from them. The Berserkers had won. Gladak patted a new private on the shoulder and nodded before bellowing a single word.

“RETREAT!”

4 Comments on “Through Darkest Night

  1. Sitting here in a sweat on the edge of my chair. Oh, hell, is all I can say, things are shot to hell. Great battle scene, can feel smell and taste it. Totally engrossed in the story. Great writing!!!

  2. Wow that was intense!!! Great but intense!! Hard to believe this was before your war experience. It was like you were retelling your own experience. Also enjoying Hammers In The Wind. Lucky I ordered 2 books, the husband stole the other one to read while I was at work. Oh by the way Happy Birthday on Thursday.

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