If given a choice, I always prefer old Metallica to new. The songs were grittier and the sound harder. Much more enjoyable than the artistic, fancy stuff they do now. Oh well, guess there is no preventing growth or change. Last week was tough for me so I apologize for missing your latest chapter. Book one of Tomorrow’s Demise was meant to be a kick in the face. Book two is more subtle and typical of a group of heroes trying to end a nightmare. Hopefully you are enjoying reading it as much as I am writing it. Let’s dive back in.
A New Plan
“You’re crazier than I thought!” the Viper said through rolling laughter. “Risking your hide for the soldiers was one thing, but this is way beyond reasoning. What makes you think you’ll succeed when an entire army couldn’t?”
“Stealth and secrecy are required. They will be adequate to replace brawn and overbearing. Who will hear the footsteps of a lone man strolling into peril? I have been many hours in deep thought, and this is my conclusion. I can see no other reasonable alternatives.”
Having been untied once the immediate threat had passed, the Viper lurched upright and put the bottle to his lips. “Funny, I never took you for a martyr. You don’t mind, do you?” he asked Snake before downing another long draught.
Snake Eyes shrugged. He was just as much in shock as the rest of them. When he did speak, the words came out slurred.
“You mean to tell us that you can single-handedly end the war? I think you’ll be dead way before you get to the Hive.” Snake Eyes snatched the bottle from the assassin. “I think we need to share that.”
“I will go with you,” Xill said out of nowhere. “There is much sorrow and pain here — too much for the soul to stand. Perhaps this will restore some measure of the balance.”
“Aren’t you forgetting one small thing?” Snake Eyes choked. “Like the fact that the unit is being pulled out soon?”
“My people learned to follow their hearts long ago. Mine tells me this is the right thing to do.”
“By going AWOL?” Snake scoffed. “They’ll hunt you down and hang you for desertion, especially given the beating we just took.”
Kane frowned. This wasn’t what he wanted. “I will not ask any of you to come along. It is a thing I need do on my own.”
Nathan had moved to the window when the conversation began, but he wasn’t staring at anything in front of him. Recent events had completely reshaped his life, making it difficult for him to discern where he stood. Helscape was a crazy world with more bad in it than good. A large part of him wanted to steal a horse and ride back to Rook Mountain and then on to home. Ten thousand were already dead due to folly; how many more would it take to end this for good?
“You’ll need more than two to get the job done,” he said. His mind was moving faster than his mouth, and he didn’t believe what he’d just said.
“You may never see your home again,” Kane discouraged.
“Shit happens,” Nathan shrugged. “Besides, I gave my word when I first got here. I never go back on my word.”
Snake Eyes threw his hands up and poured another drink. “That means you’ll need weapons and supplies, no doubt.”
Xill was smiling.
“What happened to this being crazy and the whole desertion thing?” Nathan asked.
“Thing is, no one’s exactly sure who’s alive or dead right now. It could easily take cycles to figure it all out.”
“This is madness!” hissed the Viper. “I’ll have no part in it.”
“You hold the biggest part,” Kane cautioned. “You know where the Hive is.”
“Fine, I’ll give you the damned key to their front door if that’s what you want, but you won’t get me to come anywhere near that Hive, Slayer.”
“No one’s asking you to.”
“The suns are about to rise,” Nathan observed. “Dr. Godhelm will be here soon.”
“We have talked long enough for the night,” Kane coughed. “Let us continue at dusk. If that’s acceptable with you?”
They all stopped to stare the Viper down. There was no guarantee he’d be found again once he left, and he was the only one who knew the Hive’s location.
“I’ll be here, though I caution you on your foolishness. You march straight to doom, Aradias Kane,” he told them and made for the door.
Nathan grabbed him by the wrist and said, “I want to know where you’re staying.”
A wicked grin crossed the assassin’s face as he tilted his head down to his arm. “Is it worth a broken wrist?”
They stood locked in each other’s gaze for long moments before Nathan finally let go. Both came away with a measure of the other’s resolve.
“The Anvil. Room Three. I’ll be there for a few more days. Business is rather slow these days, so you needn’t worry about me slipping off in the night.”
“Be waiting. I’ll be there an hour before dusk,” Nathan said with a leveled stare. The assassin turned to leave. “One more thing. Why are you doing this?”
“You people live in a world of dreams. Maybe they’re starting to rub off, maybe I want to be there when that world comes crashing down on you. I could have killed him, you know. And no one would be the wiser. But where would that leave me? A hunted man with a price on his head. I prefer to do the collecting. Sure, I’ll give you the details and the knowledge for getting yourselves killed, but I won’t take part in it,” the Viper replied.
“Fair enough,” Nathan said.
“With a smile, no less. Watch your back, Lawman.”
The Viper stepped off into the dying shadows and was gone.
Emerald’s quest seemed to gain in vigor the higher the suns rose. Sand and patches of desert sage blew past, drifting across her bare legs and into her hair. Her mobility was severely limited by both crutches, so she opted to use one. The pain remained constant regardless of how she moved, and it took a short while for her to grow accustomed to it. Now, it was a mere routine.
The only problem was the sweat running down her leg into the cast. Emerald knew she was going to pay for it when she stopped moving. Pain wasn’t always a bad thing, though she realistically should still be in bed recovering. Pain let her know how much she could do. How far she could go. It reminded her that no matter what had happened, there was a worse alternative lurking just out of sight.
She spent her waking hours questioning why she needed to find him so badly. Sure, he’d saved her life, but that was one those things that just happened. No one asks for it, especially not the way it had happened to her. She was a Slayer, sworn to a life of cruelty and hardship. The pain in her heart was new and bitter. Emerald tried again to push the thought of her mysterious rescuer from her mind, but it only served to drive the image deeper. Her nights were filled with dreams of a man she didn’t even know. Nathan. Emerald sighed and continued her search. The first hotel loomed before her, and Emerald hobbled on. It was a fairly decent enough place with aged red wood on the second floor and sun bleached steel on the first. Wood wasn’t overly popular this far north in the Wastes, partially because of how much it cost to import. Eastern merchants charged double the rates for delivering this side of the river. Obviously, the owner carried a large measure of wealth to afford such a place as this.
The lobby was decorated much the same as every other room in Black Tide. It was just dark enough to keep prying eyes out of business better left unknown. Twin shaded lights hung from the ceiling adding a bluish tinge to the room. Sparse couches and old lounges were scattered throughout the lobby along with several half-dead plants to add a little life.
“What can I do for the lady this morning?” asked a hawk-nosed man emerging from a second room behind the counter.
Emerald tried concealing her scowl as she took him in. He was generously overweight and an obvious transplant from Draken who, at one time, believed there was a profit to be made here. He was a shallow man known for bad taste in clothing and jewelry as well as a flavor for young boys shy of their prime. His hair, gray and balding, was slicked back with too much grease and oils. The man had rings of every color on all of his pudgy fingers and a dozen necklaces burrowed under his multiple chins. His perfume was exotic, suiting his flamboyance nicely. Emerald was disgusted.
“I’m looking for someone,” she said.
He smiled and held out a hand. “Ah, yes, aren’t we all, darling?”
Emerald wasn’t sure what surprised her more, his directness or the fact he thought she was a whore. “You expect me to pay for a name?”
“My dear woman, I am Koosh, and nothing here is free. Especially a name.”
“And if he’s not here?”
Koosh smiled again, showing off his yellow tainted teeth, crooked and brittle from a lack of hygiene. “Consider it payment for services rendered.”
Emerald was infuriated. She was torn between the urges to strike him down or to walk away. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Suit yourself.” Koosh shrugged and turned his back.
“How about we make a deal?” soothed the tempting Slayer before he managed to disappear in his other room.
“I knew you’d come to your senses, my dear,” Koosh triumphantly announced. He gleefully returned.
Erotic images coursed through his mind. She was a fine specimen and would fetch a goodly price for her obvious talents. No doubt she would become the star attraction in the Black Tide underworld if he presented her to the right clients. Koosh leaned in closer to hear her better. Emerald’s hand was on his tie and jerking down faster than he could blink, slamming his head in the counter. There it stayed under the weight of her double barrel blaster.
“This is my deal. You tell me what I want to know, and I let you live,” she growled in a voice leaving little doubt as to her intent. He grunted when she pushed him away, not once taking her aim off him. Koosh was cowering behind the relative protection of the counter.
“Well?” Emerald pressed.
“I think that seems fair enough. Who might it be you’re searching for?”