Where do the weekends go? If anyone knows please let me in on it. I was checking some sales figures for the month and am quite pleased with the recent turn of events. Looks like I might have made the right decision of moving my e books to Amazon after all. I almost feel like He-Man…”I have the power…..” Perhaps what buoys my spirit most is the resurgence of my Armies of the Silver Mage. I don’t think I’ve sold this many copies of it in the 5 years it’s been published. My baby- I wrote this while I was not getting shot at or mortared in Afghanistan in 2002.
Squirrel moment aside- let’s get back to Helscape and see what our heroes are up to. Is anyone else getting the feeling the war is only beginning?
The song of a desert thrush whistled from right outside Leggis Fint’s window. Faul gave killing it a thought, but it was the only lively thing he’d run into since arriving on Helscape over a year ago. The mercenary walked to the window and surveyed the town. It was only midday, and the long trains of vehicles and people fleeing the Wastes stretched further than he could see. Hope was gone. Every day since the Imperium disaster was the same, while the nights were commonly ravaged by petty criminals and half-hearted thugs looking for an easy score.
Military police patrols were doubled to help the City Watch, but they weren’t enough. There were some places in Black Tide that weren’t safe to walk without an infantry regiment covering you. All of this added to their ship being blown up meant it was time to get out of here. Dissatisfied with the choking columns of dust and smoke kicked up by the horses and vehicles, Faul went back to the small table in the center of the room. His blaster lay within arm’s reach and he was facing the door. He seriously doubted Menzel’s assassins were going to be in any shape to make an attempt on their lives so soon after recent events. There was no telling how many he and Fint had managed to kill in the ambush at Reeves, but the danger remained prominent. A hatred had been building since that night, and it was evident by the way he was slapping the playing cards down on the table. The last person responsible for trying to kill him had ended up missing both arms and legs, but Menzel was elusive. None of them were exactly sure where he was.
A key fumbling in the lock was enough to bring his finger to the trigger. He knew who it was, but these were dangerous times. Fint and Ardn Kelg stepped into the room without surprise at the blaster pointing their way.
“I don’t think you need that,” Leggis said with a smile.
Kreegin shrugged before returning to his card game. “Never can tell anymore.”
Ardn Kelg stretched his fur-covered body out after throwing down his pack and growled. He’d been held prisoner for over a week before being rescued, and now he couldn’t wait to get his hands on Menzel.
“How do you enjoy walking with the free folk again, Convict?” Faul laughed.
The hair on the back of Kelg’s neck ruffled. “Funny man s’ouldn’t make jokes.”
“Relax, I meant nothing by it. Besides,” he added, “if I was serious, I’d have already turned you in for the reward.”
Leggis had to step between them to keep the leaping cat man from getting shot by his laughing counterpart.
“Enough, already!” he ordered. “How much longer do you two plan on playing this game?”
Kreegin cocked his head and answered, “Until the next one of us messes up. You remember how long he picked at me for being shot by my own rifle back on Grendez.”
Even Fint had to laugh. “Fair enough, but we have business to attend to.”
The three of them settled in around the table while Fint laid out a crudely drawn map of the Wastelands. Prominent features were penciled in along with various routes going across the open desert.
“How did that Grenden manage to get your blaster anyway?” Fint smirked.
“Funny. Very funny,” Kreegin snarled under Kelg’s laughter.
“We’ve booked a transport back across the river to Trusgar. Our contacts are still in place, so it shouldn’t prove that difficult to get a new ship for run around purposes.”
“What about Menzel?”
Leggis held up a hand. “I’m getting to that. We get rearmed and refitted for the field and push north to Furnace Island. I’ve learned that the assassin who sold the Imperium the location of the Berserker Hive headed up that way a few days ago, and it’s one of his favorite places to drum up business. If anyone can help us find Menzel, it’ll be him.”
“What makes you think that?” Kreegin asked.
Ardn leaned forward to say, “Because t’ere is treac’ery going on. Someone sold out the Imperium, and it came from rig’t ‘ere. I remember my squad leader coming back in the middle of the nig’t and w’ispering about a lot of s’uttles t’at mysteriously disappeared. Seems Menzel ‘ad a ‘and in t’at. No one’s seen ‘im since word of the defeat came down. ‘E’s turned into a g’ost.”
Fint smiled despite himself. Kelg’s speech was bad enough, but with the taste of ale in him, it was worse.
“A ghost who’s about to be found and disposed of,” Fint added. “Which is the reason we head north to find the assassin. I think he knows exactly where this worm is. Pack your bags; we leave at dusk.”
Things were developing just as Smythe Menzel had envisioned them. The Imperium’s defeat wasn’t by chance but by his own hands. The Berserkers had offered him far more than the deceitful generals involved in this conspiracy ever could. He was promised jewels and the wealth of a long dead empire in return for his services, and it was a deal he gladly made.
Men like Menzel never quite seemed to fit in with society. He kept to himself, quietly doing as he was told and making his plans. He struck at the right time. The Imperium had been embarrassed and was unlikely to return here again. It wasn’t going to be hard to disappear with the rest of the dead once the retreat started. All he had to do was avoid being detected and collect the rewards. He’d heard Draken was lovely in the spring. It had taken almost a full year to develop his systems of spies and trustworthy men.
They had gone with him to meet the Berserkers and remained loyal when Gulluette ordered the deaths of the mercenaries. That part had quickly turned to disaster. He’d lost countless men and women in the blunder and was unsure whether the targets had been eliminated. Dangerous men they were, and he could ill afford to have revenge-driven mercenaries coming after him.
Smythe had to smile at the thought before dismissing it to go about his business. The screen in front of him came to life with General Gulluette’s distorted image. He didn’t look pleased.
“General, it’s good to see you again.” Menzel nodded. It was a blatant lie, but he was hoping that idiot didn’t pick up on it.
“Cut the niceties, Captain,” Gulluette snarled. “Where do we stand right now?
Always the businessman. “Well, sir, our attempts to dispatch your mercenary team ran into a few snags, and a lot of my people got killed.”
“I’m not overly concerned with your cosmetic losses, Menzel. Where are they now and what are you doing about it? The defeat in the Wastelands is being broadcast to every world in a hundred systems, making this a dangerous period in time. The enemy is massing a fleet near our borders and will no doubt attack with the belief that the rest of us are as weak as Pierce. If news of our little plan reaches the public, every last one of us will be tried for treason. Do you understand me?”
Smythe feigned concern. “Yes, sir, I do, but the mercenaries have escaped. At least for the moment. My people are attempting to track them down.”
“I don’t want your excuses, Menzel. This matter needs to be resolved before we talk again.”
Oh, it will be. Smythe smiled. “Of course.”
“Do not fail me a second time, Menzel. We have too much invested in this for your mistakes.”
The image faded, leaving Menzel alone in the darkness. All of his plans were now useless and needed to be changed. He seriously doubted he’d be able to escape this in time. The Berserkers weren’t going to be of any use. They cared as much for fleshling affairs as he did. When it came down to it, Menzel had only two choices. He could run and disappear here on Telgeise — where there was no guarantee he’d remain hidden, especially from an assassin — or he could try and get rid of Leggis Fint one more time. Menzel struggled to compose himself and left the room. There was much to be done if he was going to retire a king.