Happy Monday y’all!
Huddled in a tiny group, the ruins trembled and shook around them. Try as it might, the storm couldn’t bring down the walls, for Gage’s magic was too powerful. He found it funny, sitting off to the side just beyond the range of flickering firelight, how he wasn’t able to sense the storm’s approach. The oddness soon developed more sensitive feelings, and he questioned if he still had what it was going to take to see the quest through.
The task of trying to keep the horses calm and subdued went to Snake Eyes and Nathan. They were tied off in the rear corner, which was the sturdiest part of the ruins — not to say that either of them were experts with horses. Wave after wave of sand crashed into the wizard’s shield, sizzling away and replaced by more. Something large would strike from time to time, but everything the shield touched dissolved as if it had never been.
Emerald sat next to Nathan. Neither seemed inclined to give in to the frustrations and edge biting at the rest of the group. The Viper paced from one corner of the building to the next. He wished he’d never joined them. Not even a king’s ransom was worth their sickening company. Kane and Gage sat off in the far corner quietly discussing their next move. Xill lay asleep next to the small cooking fire as the stew was heating.
“I hate this damned desert!” Snake Eyes finally announced. The tension was too much for him. He absently scratched at a patch of dry skin on his back. “Forget about the miserable heat or how the air is so dry my skin is flaking away. If I get bit by one more of those little black flies, I’m going to shoot someone! Now this?” he pointed towards the storm. “I may not be the brightest guy around, but I know enough to see the Gods are telling us not to do this.”
The Viper snorted his distaste.
“He’s just saying what everyone is feeling,” Nathan told the assassin. “Why don’t you try being a positive for a change?”
“I’m just here for the money, Law man. You’d do well to tend to your own affairs and let me worry about me,” the Viper snarled.
From high above in the remains of the tower came a rumbling laugh.
Snake Eyes looked up and shook his head. “Out of all of us, how is it Hosking is the only one not affected? We’re wasting time here. The Berserkers could already be pushing their armies south.”
“You can always attempt to brave the storm,” Xill said without opening his eyes.
“I thought you were asleep,” Snake Eyes said blandly.
Fed up with the brittle emotions and tenderness these people had, the Viper gathered himself and left. He’d had enough of their drivel to last the rest of the trip, and they had hardly just begun. The darkness felt good on his eyes, letting him see more naturally. A flight of semi-rotted stairs stood alone against the far wall, and there he headed. What he needed more than anything was time alone. Time away from the warmth and caring of the group.
The Viper was a loner by trade, had been for so long that he couldn’t remember the name he’d been given at birth. He started to despise newer feelings ebbing into him. As if he could be part of them. The notion normally would have been absurd, but for some reason they seemed calming. Alone at last, in the tower, he could let his guards down. The storm raged on all sides around him without danger. Gage’s spell was stronger than Helscape’s nature. Here, he found a peacefulness obtainable nowhere else. Perfect tranquility. Could this be the eye of the Gods, he wondered?
Kane came up behind him, intent on speaking with the man. With the world howling out of control around them, the Slayer knew nothing he had to say was going to change the Viper’s mind. He turned to go back down the steps before the assassin noticed him.
“It’s a sad thing, Slayer,” the Viper said suddenly. “I’ve been roaming these deserts for fifty and three years now, and not once have I stopped to see the world around me. The pure destructive force is so empowering.”
“I thought you were incapable of emotions,” was all Kane said.
“Times change. Remember when I told you how old I was the first time I saw a man killed? Did you ever wonder why, or how? Sure, I said I stumbled upon it in the forest. If that were the truth I’d be content.” He shifted his weight and continued, “I was sold to a band of assassins and mercenaries when I was three. My father compensated for this by saying it was an honorable profession; he failed to mention how fat his pockets grew after I was gone. All I’ve ever known is killing, Aradias. I excel at it, always learning new ways. Do you know what my reward was for evolving the way they wanted?”
Kane shook his head.
“My final test before becoming a full-fledged assassin was relatively simple. All I had to do was return home and kill my father. After all, how good a man could he be if he was willing to get rid of his firstborn for money? Could you have done it? Could you have killed your own blood with a snap? I didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink. All it took was one pull of the trigger, and it was over.”
“I don’t understand.”
The Viper laughed. “It was all part of the game. If I didn’t kill him, they were going to finish me off right then and there. A simple world.”
There was nothing for Kane to say. Every man had his own demons tormenting him, and he was no one to try and soothe the pain. Time was the only healer.
“You’d think the sand would be gone by now,” mused the assassin. “I had a vision, Kane. I was alone in the Hive, surrounded by hundreds and out of ammunition. Wave after wave kept coming, and I was powerless to stop them. It was my death reed. I have seen my own death.”
“Tis ill news, indeed.” Eyes closed in silent prayer, Kane knew the man was in a pain without comparison. It was written that when a man sees himself die, his own doom is not long away.
“The master of understatement! Perhaps now you can see the reasons for my boundaries. Tell no one of this, Kane, I ask you. The last thing I need is sympathy.”
“You will have your peace,” Kane assured him.
“As will we all. You’re going to die as well. You just haven’t figured it out yet.”
Kane stood steady in the storm. “I wonder.”
“If the children will live long enough to see tomorrow’s demise? The future is bleak, worse now than I can recall.”
“Only time will tell, Slayer.”
“If we stay here any longer, I’m going to go crazy,” Snake Eyes complained.
“I have never seen a storm so big,” Gage agreed.
The only good thing about being trapped was the time it gave them to heal old wounds and prepare for new ones. Time was spent discussing plans and cleaning weapons. Life dragged agonizingly on until the storm finally began to break. The suns battled free, baking fresh made dunes. Sand still fluttered about, without the previous intensity. It would soon be safe to ride out.
“We leave at dusk,” Kane told them once the spell was removed.
Grateful the storm was nothing more than a dark memory, he collected his belongings and left the ruins.
“Where are you going?” the Viper asked.
“There is a matter I must attend before we leave. I shall return when it is time,” he answered.
Once again alone, Aradias marched off through the ruins. The suns’ freshness beating down played havoc on his eyes, and it was long before they managed to adjust. Fortune smiled on him, for the storm failed to bury the ruins and the cemetery beyond. The same cemetery he and Skrapp had dug those many years ago. Most of the names were lost, forgotten without anyone to carry them on. He never knew the majority of them, though they all befriended his family. Everyone knew young Aradias Kane. Finally, his fingers came to rest atop his family’s crumbling headstones, and his eyes closed in agony. A heaviness stole his heart, and he dropped to his knees.
“Father, Mother,” he whispered, “I have come back honor to my promises. Soon, we will be taking the war to the Berserkers, and I know not the outcome. One of those responsible for this plague is with us to make things right again. I pray he will be the advantage, else it is suicide at best. Give me strength for just a short while. I won’t have need of it after long.”
His eyes widened in amazement. The remains of their headstones seemed to glow the color of hope. He’d seen many miraculous things during his travels, but none so endearing to his heart as this. Could it be the Gods still cared? Or was it the suns playing off reflections? He didn’t care either way. It was enough to know that his family was with him when he needed them the most. He was going into battle well received.
“I pray you save my place among you,” he was finally able to say, wiping a tear from his eye. “A new age is dawning across the Wastelands, whether they wish it or not. The winds of change blow to fast for the common man to see, but let it be known that we are the catalyst of change. Guide my hands in battle, father. This, I pray.”
Sunlight embraced him the way a mother would her babe, and he knew he’d been heard. He closed his silver eyes and cried.