Just when it feels like the weekend is about to get good- its gone and we’re left with another week of grind. To be fair, my grind goes when it needs to. There is no set time or place for writing, editing, marketing, etc. Must be nice being retired huh? Well, our little band of fractured heroes is trying to find a reason to go on. To keep up the fight. It’s not an easy chore, but one we must all do in our unique ways every Monday morning.
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“His fever is getting worse,” Xill said.
“Is he going to die?” asked Snake Eyes.
Closing his middle eye, the Crendaphidian looked down on his patient. “Possibly. His wounds are deep and may be unrecoverable. The blood loss is astounding. He is quite lucky to still be alive. A normal man would have died long before we got to him.”
“Should’ve left him to his fate,” Skrapp grumbled. “No. He still has much work to do.”
Nathan coughed on the first puff of his native smoke. It was pure and unrefined and was definitely going to take some getting used to. He was sitting off from the others. Sickness wasn’t a good thing for him, so he generally tried to stay away. Going unnoticed had been easy until his cough interrupted the conversation. All eyes fell upon him.
“And what do you have to say about this, Mr. Bourne?” Skrapp asked him.
This ought to be fun. “Well, I hate to break up this psychic friends’ hotlink you’ve got going on, but it’s pretty ridiculous. We risked our necks to go find him — on a whim, I might add. And now the best you can do is say ‘I think he’s not going to die’? Give me a fucking break. This man needs a doctor. We passed over a hundred others who might have been in the same situation. Make this one count.”
Leaving things at that, Nathan placed his hands in the small of his back and walked to the window. The murderous suns were beginning to crest the horizon, driving the dark away under a flood of golden light. They’d been back in the relative safety of Black Tide for the last four hours, and he was starting to feel the effects of the long night. Then a sudden idea came to him.
“Kane sent for a mercenary before we left. Has he arrived?” he asked.
“Not that I know of,” Skrapp answered. “What’s he got to do with any of this?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but there has to be a damned good reason.”
Confused, Snake Eyes stepped forward to say, “Can we please focus here? I thought we were talking about finding a doctor?”
Nathan held his hand up. “Kane knew the campaign was going to fail way before we rolled out. That’s when he sent for this mercenary. He had to have planned something else to end the war. All we need to do is find out what.”
“And do what? I think you need some sleep,” Snake Eyes retorted.
“Hold on, he might be right,” Skrapp said in his defense.
“Destroying the Berserkers was Kane’s whole purpose in life. It may be the reason his fires still burn. He has a strong spirit, but strength does not keep what does not belong to us. There is something else,” Xill added.
“We need to find this guy,” Nathan offered.
“Shouldn’t be so hard. He sticks out in a crowd, but I’ll be damned if ye can escape him. If he’s in town, he’ll be at my bar tonight.”
“Don’t forget the doctor,” Snake Eyes added.
The Viper could see most of town from where he stood. He’d chosen the room for the direct view to the Inferno. It was one of the few two-story buildings in town, making it an excellent vantage point to track foes and prey. Dealings took him along a broad range of places, but they all seemed to center on Black Tide. Today, it was a very different place from his last visit. The air was heavy and depressing. Defeat was whispered on the wind.
He wouldn’t even have been here if it wasn’t for the strange message sent to him a few days ago. There were serious doubts the man was still alive. The assassin closed his curtains and went back to bed. A man of his profession couldn’t afford to stay in one place too long, so he gave Kane another two days.
“What a life,” he murmured with his hands interlocked behind his head as he stared at the ceiling.
Tiny waves of pain burned through his veins. Each jolt prickled his nerves. The pain gradually took control, causing violent memory flashes. Muscles twitched and threatened to separate from bone. Nightmares and daydreams, fantasies and fears all whirled together. A thousand lives went before his eyes, the last being the worst. A madman was standing over him twirling a pair of flaming sabers. The level of pure evil was repulsing.
Aradias Kane jerked awake exactly as the sabers swung down. His body was covered with sweat. His head pounded. He tried to move only to find a thick leather strap across his chest. It took a mighty effort for him to remain calm.
“Well, that’s as good a start as any,” came a queer voice from the chair next to the bed. “Feeling better?”
“Who are you?” Kane croaked. His throat and mouth were parched.
“My name is Godhelm. I am the local healer, and you, Aradias Kane, are my patient.”
“Where am I?”
The little man edged closer, staying at the border of Kane’s blurred vision. “In Black Tide. I am here because you have friends who care a great deal about you.”
“Have I been here long?”
“Only a day. A day in which I performed wonders, if I do say so. You were crossing over, my friend. I was afraid I was going to lose you.”
He heard the doctor chuckle. A man of only five feet tall, Godhelm needed to laugh about something.
“What happened to me?”
“Ah, I was hoping you could tell me.”
Kane tried his best to recollect the horrors of the Gorge, but certain nightmares were permanently locked away in the dark recesses of his mind. Important facts were concealed to make his recovery easier.
“I don’t know,” he finally whispered. “I can remember the smoke and the smell of burning flesh. Bodies were torn apart. Ion rounds everywhere. I have never seen such a terrible thing.”
“Perhaps you remember who attacked you?” The question provided a spark of recognition.
“My hand!” he cried.
Kane’s arm came slowly up, and he fought away the painful memories of his crippling. The Slayer wanted to cry. Pain rushed back through the medicines. The entire battle played out behind his eyes.
“Everything. I remember everything.”
A name pushed to the front of his mind, and he growled in hatred.
“Mnemlath. He stole from me once, twice now, and for that he shall pay.”
Deciding that this wasn’t the time for anger, Godhelm cut the conversation off. “I think you should rest now. Yes. The battle has taken a heavy toll on you, both mentally and physically. Rest is what you need. I shall see you in the morning, Aradias. You will recover. Sleep now.”
The quirky little man collected his important possessions and slipped from the room. He was little surprised to find the man with three eyes waiting in the hall with his civilian friend. Godhelm cast suspicious glares at both.
“What’s the deal, Doc?” asked Nathan. He stayed on edge. There was something about the way the man was constantly fidgeting that bothered him.
Godhelm removed his glasses to wipe his eyes. “He’ll survive, but I fear for his mind. A terrible thing has been done to him. Terrible. The stress is unimaginable. It may well destroy him in the end. Keep vigilant watch, you and your people, for the dangers of the mortal heart are far worse than you can perceive. Yes, he may yet succumb to the night. Gentlemen.”
“Good day, Dr. Godhelm.”
Godhelm stalked off, mumbling under his breath.
Nathan waited for him to disappear down the stairs before asking, “What do you think about him?”
“He is an odd man, indeed, but I trust in the doctor’s wisdom. We should let Kane sleep. I, too, believe the Gods wage war for his soul.”
The tallest building in Black Tide was the perfect place to watch the changing of the guards. Both suns were setting, and Hosking was there to see it. Violets, red and purples collided into a beautiful storm the like of which few could recall. He stood and watched until the last slip of color was washed under steely black clouds. Hosking tilted his head back and howled at the dying day.
It was an alien sound, but one that garnered little attention from the local population. All manner of aliens called Black Tide home. He was already beginning to blend in. His hair was unkempt and greasy. He hadn’t shaved since the morning of the battle. Come to think on it he hadn’t showered in perhaps as long. What he needed to eat and drink he stole just to survive. He had never felt more alive. More free.
The Mad Hosking, a title he took for himself- for what else could he be beside mad- could make out flocks of argots heading towards the feast in the Gorge. It was a nightly ritual that was going to continue until the Imperium decided to salvage the corpses. He couldn’t feel any sorrow, not anymore. His mind was broken, snapped from the stress of combat. Not that it really mattered; Hosking had discovered a new mission. He’d found a map to the Berserker Hive in the wreckage of a command vehicle during the retreat. At first, he’d simply stared in disbelief. No one from the rank of battalion commander down had been given access to their destination. The Gods must truly be on his side to leave such an omen, contrary to his previous beliefs. Soon after, the purest design had become clear to him. He was going to seek out and destroy the demons of fear.
A risky endeavor but one he felt compelled to make. Enemies lurked all around. He couldn’t sit back and rest. Hosking knew he was destined to become the hammer of the gods. The very same gods who had cast him out and left him awash in seas of sand and blood. Any other time he might have found being used as a mere tool annoying, insulting even. But not now. No, now he welcomed the task with open arms. The heavens would hear his rage and none would be able to withstand his righteous fury. The glory of tomorrow was all but promised.
Hosking turned towards Lucifer’s Gap, arms thrown to the skies in invitation. “Hear me, demons of the Wastes, for I have come to spell your doom!”
Out in the deep deserts, the demons didn’t care.