Here is this week’s chapter of Tomorrow’s Demise: Paths of Salvation. Things are heating up just in time for summer. I don’t know about you all, but we are already hitting mid 90s down here. Stay cool, my friends and as always: read on!
Boredom and growing irritation were making Emerald give up for the day. She’d already gone through three hotels with the same results. The day was wearing down, and she was beat. Her throat was parched and raw from talking to so many people in passing. The citizens of Black Tide were so tight lipped she wouldn’t have been able to find out her own name if she had to. It took a second to reach a final decision. Emerald was giving up and going to bed. An odd sight off to her right made her stop and take notice.
She normally wouldn’t have considered the gray man with three eyes heading down an alley to be of much concern, but the one next to him was. He was built the same as Nathan’s right down to the hair and the way he walked. Emerald felt her excitement flow, but she forced herself to relax. She had yet to see his face. There was nothing for her to lose, so Emerald set off in pursuit.
The first truck of the weekly supply run from Minion entered town, forcing her to almost run across the street. Very soon, the town would be ablaze with a bustle of activity, making things next to impossible to work in her favor. Around a twisting corner and down another alley she followed, far enough behind to avoid raising suspicion. Her heart was racing despite herself. Emerald hadn’t felt this giddy since she was a child. The pair stalked up the steps of the last hotel in town and disappeared. This was it. Of that, she had no doubt.
The only thing Emerald couldn’t figure out was why she was acting like this. She’d been a Slayer her entire adult life and done things fouler than most could dream. How could confronting one man be so difficult as her mind tried making it? Shadows of their escape from the Gorge continued haunting her, driving her on to find out who Nathan was and why she was having these feelings.
Her private deliberations were interrupted when she caught a glimpse of a man with blond hair greeting them just inside. The cigarette in his hand was native; she could tell from the wrapper’s color. He shook their hands, waved them up, and then stepped out to enjoy his smoke. Emerald resisted the urge to draw her weapon and continued to watch.
Her patience was soon rewarded.
Another man came slowly out of the building and talked with the smoker. She recognized the smallish glasses immediately. Dr. Godhelm? Mysteries and intrigue were forming in her mind, taking her down dark roads less traveled. Godhelm smiled and walked off, but Emerald’s eyes never strayed from the smoker. This was getting good. Her decision to move closer ended with the arrival of a new player.
The Viper strode leisurely past her, seemingly taking no notice, though she knew better. They’d had a few meetings in the past, and he was the type that never forgot. If he did recognize her, he said nothing and continued on. His falcon stared down at her with that look in its eyes. Emerald couldn’t tell what the assassin was carrying, but it had to be important the way the smoker kept looking down the possible avenues of approach.
Darkness was settling in now. The streets were getting hazy and distant, as if nature wanted things concealed from her. Emerald had no choice but to head for the hotel. She was about to holster her sidearm when a strong hand gripped her shoulder. Another covered her mouth to keep her from crying out. She was caught!
“Whoa, lass. Keep quiet now. It ain’t nobody but old Braxton,” he said with a cool voice.
She gently pulled his hand away and asked, “What’s going on here? Why is the Viper secretly meeting with soldiers?”
Braxton turned her around and stared deep in her eyes. “Things are best left unsaid in the streets, and it appears our secret is no longer kept. I see no other choice but to bring you up with the rest of us.”
Finally, she was getting somewhere.
Watching from the front steps, the smoker released his weapon and sat back down. No one else was coming, and he fully intended on enjoying a little piece of the day before it ended.
Emerald hugged her old friend and smiled. “You were almost dead, you know.”
He laughed. “It would have been at the hands of an angel, no less. Tell me, girl, what brings you sneaking down dark alleys to this place?”
“I’m looking for someone. He saved my life in the Gorge, and I owe him,” she told him. “His name’s Nathan, and that’s all I know.”
An eyebrow peaked. “Nathan, eh? Well, I might just know one or two by that name. Follow me, but try to keep your questions to yourself until this is over. Strange tidings are developing.”
This was better than she’d hoped. Her eyes brightened, and she could have sworn her heart skipped a beat. “Lead on, then, old friend.”
“You’ll kill me with yer kindness yet, Emerald,” Braxton laughed as she wrapped her arm with his and started forward.
They crossed the street and stopped by the smoker. He gave her a discriminating glare and crushed his cigarette out.
“Is everyone already here?” Braxton asked.
“Yeah, you’re the last one,” he answered. “What’s she doing here?”
“A friend. Her name’s Emerald Razorback, one of the sweetest Slayers in the northern territories. Watch your back with this one. She’ll tear ya in half if you cross her wrong, Sergeant.”
“I’ll remember that,” he replied and opened the door.
“I’m not that bad,” Emerald lied.
They moved slowly enough up the stairs to accommodate her handicap. The swarthy manager leaned over the counter to watch their progress, decidedly interested with the quality of people coming and going over the last few days. Emerald’s heart was thumping under her breast, peaking as they came to a halt in front of the door. She wasn’t sure of what she was going to find, but it was too late to turn back.
“I need warn ya, lass. Once you step through this door, you’ll be getting more than ya bargained for. This matter is not to be taken lightly nor discussed with another,” Skrapp warned. His voice was more serious than she remembered.
Emerald gave a half-hearted shrug. “After all I’ve been through, I don’t think there’s much that can shake me up right now.”
“Be surprised,” Snake Eyes leaned in and whispered. “Be surprised.”
She wasn’t listening to a word any of them were saying. Her focus was on what she was going to say to Nathan when they finally met. The doorknob slowly turned. A half dozen stares turned towards her when the door was opened.
“Gentlemen,” Braxton announced, “may I introduce Emerald Razorback.”
Emerald stood in shock. What had she done?
Thalon gained his first glimpse of Black Tide shy of evening and halted. No one had told him it would be ringed with defensive positions and armored soldiers ready for war. Word of the defeat hadn’t reached the Island yet, though they knew of the rumored invasion. Thalon cursed long and silently wished for the calmness of the lava seas. A convoy of heavy howitzers was rolling through the far gate heading south. He found it confusing since the war was here in the north. Rather than return home to the wizard without having accomplished his mission, the pirate spurred his horse forward.
The main gate was upon him, and it shocked him to find the town in such disarray. He choked on the dust of another convoy moving out, this time a long line of empty trucks heading towards Lucifer’s Gap. Thalon looked up into the faces of the drivers and amazed at the look of utter defeat in their eyes. Indeed, every soldier nearby carried it. He saw it in the way they walked and through their voices. A terrible thing had happened here, he guessed.
A thin man with freshly sewn stitches running down the right side of his face stepped in front of the pirate.
“Halt,” he commanded, hand on his rifle. “State your name and business here.”
“Is this necessary, off-worlder? Last I heard, Black Tide was a free trading town,” Thalon said.
The guard stepped back and charged his ion rifle. “It’s my job, buddy. You want in, you go through me. Now, sir, state your name and business.”
Thalon didn’t relish the prospect of being shot over ignorance, so he complied for the time being. “My name is Thalon Zimbele, First Mate of the pirate vessel Misfortune.”
The guard continued to eye the strangely clad man suspiciously but realized he didn’t really care. He was going home in a few weeks. These natives could handle their own affairs, he figured. “Thank you, sir. You may carry on.”
Thalon walked his horse the last quarter mile into town, giving himself a break from the back of the cumbersome beast. His legs were bowed and wobbly from riding for so long. Thalon knew there was no way he was going to ride another horse again. They moved past row upon row of drab gray tents. Most of them were empty now and being torn down and packed away. A few still held life, but they were few and far between. Random fires dotted the general area. Each had a compliment of tired soldiers circled about waiting for a hot meal.
He could feel the misery emanating from them, and it did his heart woe. The air about the camp was too heavy with despair for him to linger, so he went on. Thalon’s eagerness to deliver the message and return to the unforgiving warmth of Furnace Island grew with every step. All he knew was that he needed seek out a bar called Inferno, and it was imperative he did it with speed. Thalon solemnly began the last leg of his quest.
Bonus: The original, horrible cover. Am I right? Who in their right mind would walk around the desert like this? Everyone according to my last publisher.