A new week and a new war. I feel like this is going to be a miserable- after all, I have to spend it in a classroom at UNC Chapel Hill….barf. Anyway, no reason for you to suffer! Here is this week’s episode of Tomorrow’s Demise:
The Conspiracy Deepens
“All right, lads, you’ve had yer look,” Braxton growled to them once Emerald had been standing there for a moment too long. “I think you already know a good deal of us. Over there,” he pointed, “is Corporal Xill, and you met Sergeant Kimel outside.”
“Hello,” she mumbled from her daze.
He smiled back. “Call me Snake Eyes.”
“Both are from Fort Evans. Been here a while, too. Over there’s the…”
“The Viper. Yes, I know. We’ve had business before,” she said coldly.
The assassin blinked once and looked away. His falcon screeched.
“And this strapping lad be Master Nathan Bourne from across the river. Methinks he’s the one you’re looking for,” Braxton said proudly. The last he said only to her rather than rouse suspicion among the rest.
Nathan smiled again, or maybe it was the same one. “You look a lot better than you did when I was dragging you out of the fight. We can talk afterwards if you care to stick around.”
She gave him a shallow nod, perhaps leading him more than she wanted.
“It’s good to see you alive, Emerald,” said a familiar voice.
A different warmth filled her heart. Here lay the man she’d looked to as a mentor and dear friend. He was the closest thing to a father she’d had in a long while. “Kane! By the Gods,” she cried upon seeing his sad condition. “What happened?” She rushed to his side, forgetting the days since they’d last seen each other in Minion.
“I ran into an old friend in the Gorge,” he said in a voice laced with sadness.
Emerald did her best to fight back the tears welling. A few won free to trickle down her soft cheeks. She’d already lost her family to war and the ravages of the Northerners. Losing Kane, the man who had helped raise her, would tear at her soul.
“Save your tears for my enemies. I’ll be all right,” he whispered softly to her alone. “We still have much to do if I am to avenge the loss of my hand with Mnemlath’s head!”
The Viper perked at the Berserker’s mention. This was a bit of news. He smirked at the irony of things, especially after he’d given the Slayer a chance to kill the same beast a month beforehand. The devils themselves were smiling at the brutal circles life played out.
“Let’s get this show started, shall we?” Braxton asked, eager to end this affair and return to the comforts of his bar.
“How far can she be trusted?” the Viper asked.
Snake laughed. “Farther than you, I’m willing to bet!”
The assassin struggled to hold back his instincts and began laying out the maps and various documents he’d brought. The rest crowded around the table to see how Kane’s dream was going to take shape.
“This is the most recent map of the Wastelands. I had it smuggled out of Imperium Intelligence in Trusgar a few months ago. Everything they’ve done leading up to the invasion force arriving has been annotated.” He paused to shift his finger. “Here lies the Berserker Hive. It lies over two hundred thirty leagues from Black Tide. Not the most accessible place, but within range with the right men and equipment. You’ll see the Black Pits near. I have been there, and I would not wish to go a second time.
“It will take an estimated thirty-five days on horseback to gain the Pits, almost a full month. There’s no telling what the devils may do in that time now that the Wastes are wide open for invasion.”
“A month is long for such a ride,” Kane answered.
“Not if you want to keep them alive, Aradias. You know how harsh the Wastes can be. There are only two villages along the route, and you’ll be cut off from civilization and help if you need it. Not even the Gods will be there to hear you cry for help.” The assassin seemed rather pleased with himself.
“What’s so special about the Hive’s location? It’d make more sense to be closer to the killing grounds,” Snake Eyes observed.
“That’s where the throne of the Ancient Empire was seated, or so legends tell. Regwin Hold. It was a place of grand design and splendor, matched by none since,” Braxton added. “Now the Berserkers choose to place their own wicked master upon our ancestor’s throne. Some say it’s warded by a wizard’s spell.”
Nathan’s eyebrow raised in question. “Wizards? I’m a little old to believe in fairy tales.”
The assassin laughed. “Best change your mind, boy. I’ve been there. You can’t see it unless the sun is just above the far horizon. At first, I thought I was hallucinating, but the closer I got, the more I saw. It’s there, all right.”
“Rumor has it a wizard once visited before the end,” Emerald piped in.
“So they stayed holed up in a bunch of ruins until they win?” Snake Eyes asked, choosing to ignore the talk of wizards and their ilk.
The Viper nodded. “Basically. The palace has long been in ruins and swept under the sands, all but the peak of a single tower. Most of the sand is hard now, compacted by years of abuse, so you won’t be able to blast through. I found a tunnel on the southern side, so I suggest you enter there. I should remind you that no living man has ever returned from the Hive. Not now, not ever.”
“Except you,” Kane said.
“Straight through the jaws of the Netherworld,” Xill muttered.
Emerald had a queer look on her face. “What is this about? You can’t seriously be thinking about attacking them. You’ll all die!”
“Relax, lady. We’re just going down to take a look around. If we get lucky, we’ll kill a whole lot of them,” Snake Eyes smiled. The thrill of the hunt was clawing back into him; either that or they were all going crazy.
“You’re crazier than that officer who’s got himself locked up in his hotel room down the street,” she swore.
“What officer?” Snake Eyes asked in genuine interest. He had a sinking suspicion of who it was, and that bothered him.
“I don’t know,” she said in thought. “Haskin or Hosking or something to that effect.” She noticed the gleam in his eyes and asked, “What does he have to do with this?”
“Nothing at all,” he answered and looked to Kane, who only shook his head.
“And you most of all,” Emerald scolded. “You’ve got one hand and are already near death. How in the name of the Gods do you plan on making it far enough to fight the rest of the Hive?”
“This is what we’re trying to decide here!” Braxton lashed out. He didn’t feel like spending another full night in endless deliberations. “Now, lass, I’m none too fond of such foolishness myself, but their minds are made up, and men need go where their will takes them. It’s the way of the Gods. Let each man be so lucky as to choose his own death, and he’ll be the richer for it.”
Sadly enough, it was beginning to make sense to her.
“No one is asking you to join us,” Xill said in support. “You shouldn’t even be here by all rights.”
“But we’d appreciate the help in any way you can,” Nathan added.
The Viper scowled. “This is all very touching, but can we get back to the task? Some of us do have lives outside of your madness, Kane.”
Emerald resumed her seat towards the back of the crowd and did not speak again.
“You’ll need a wagon or transport of sorts to carry enough supplies for both ways. There are no barter stations along the route. Four men against the host of the horde isn’t promising. Weapons shouldn’t be an issue, not at the moment. Know this, though. The Berserkers still have tens of thousands sitting in their stronghold. You have one hope, that the Berserkers are already gone. I know of no way to mask your scents from their heightened senses.”
“A tank would help nicely.” Snake Eyes whistled. He wasted no time in refilling his empty glass.
The Viper passed him a curious glance and continued, “The luxuries of the desert are minimal at best. Water shouldn’t be much of a problem so long as the wells are still in use. If not, I don’t think you have much of a chance. Once you get inside the Hive is when the trouble begins. How do you plan on defeating their entire empire with a handful of men and a few explosives? You’ve already witnessed what the might of your finest division was capable of. Granted, it was an ambush, but the results were still the same.
The enemy is fouler than you can possibly know. Kill all you can, but there will always be more.”
“Every enemy can be beaten. It’s just a matter of how and when,” Snake Eyes broke in. He grew tired of the Viper and his constant threats of doom and despair. “What about individual arms? What’s the best to use on these things?”
“Fire. The Berserkers may give the illusion of humanity, but they’re the furthest thing from it. They are natural killers by birth and design, animalistic and raw. But even the greatest predators fear fire. Burn enough of them, and they run. Their weapons, on the other hand, you should be familiar with. They are crude yet magical to an extent. The Berserkers themselves have no magical capabilities, but their weapons were designed by an evil power. ‘Ware them,” the Viper cautioned. “You truly believe you can win. I admire that, foolish as it is. How exactly do you plan on breaching their defenses and getting away alive?”
Nathan, who’d been silent trying to absorb what was unfolding finally said in a long, controlled voice, “Looks to me like we need a wizard.”
Everyone stopped and looked at him.