Our time is winding down on this one and I hope you all have enjoyed the ride thus far. If you have, please hop over to Amazon or Goodreads and drop a quick review for Tomorrow’s Demise: The Extinction Campaign. I would greatly appreciate it. And you can pick up your paperback copy now.
Into the Hive
A score and a half of heavily armed Berserkers marched from the cavern under the watchful gaze of the sentries. Some carried packs laden with obscene instruments alien to the invaders. Snake Eyes and Nathan watched from their hiding spot. Nathan felt an old anger building. His imagination swept in to take momentary control. It didn’t take much to imagine this force heading for the buried portal under Rook Mountain and then Earth. Should that happen…Nathan shook his head, unwilling to think of the consequences if he was right.
“Victory!” called down the winged sentry on the right, gnarled fist raised high.
“To the Quest and the Creator!”
The troop rumbled on, erupting in harsh cheers at their leader’s response. They were eager to get underway. Rook Mountain was still many days travel. Renewed fires kindled in their hearts, for they were confident of their victory. Soon, the Berserker horde was going to be unstoppable.
The Berserker siege machines marched on, unaware of what was developing around them. Kane inched forward as the last warrior disappeared down a tunnel. This was the only shot he was going to have. The Viper had the rest of them ready to break and run as soon as the second shaft was in the air. Fighting his nervous heart, the Slayer took aim and fired. Death was upon the Berserker with a faint whistle, the silver spear striking deep in the monster’s chest. The second shot was fired before the first hit home.
“Run!” bellowed the Viper.
Mortified by the nightmarish scene unfolding, they ran for their lives. A pierced body crashed atop a pile of yellowed bones, blood and gore splashing away. Then the Viper was past the twin pillars marking the Hive’s entrance. Wasting time to hide the bodies was useless. The next war party would discover the missing guards and raise the alarm without fail. One by one, the others shuffled by.
“Where to, wizard?” Kane asked. “We don’t have much time before they figure out what has happened.”
Gage struggled to catch his breath. He was far too old to be running around the world and playing hero. “The main cavern lies down the right. Left are the forbidden tunnels of the old kings.”
“Are you ready?” Kane asked the Viper.
He offered a curt nod, hardly a movement at all.
“Take your team and go. I’ll see you when this is done.”
Nathan found himself thrown into the whirlwind of combat for the second time in as many months. Not only that, but he was forced to leave behind the one thing in all of Helscape that mattered to him. Every bit of him wanted to run to her and hold her one last time. They passed longing looks instead.
“Let’s go, lover boy,” seethed the assassin. Emotions could get them killed if he let it get out of hand. Best to nip it in the bud now. “We don’t have all day.”
Nathan bit his tongue. There’d be time enough to argue with the man at the end.
“We climb. The wizard says that ledge runs all the way into the cavern. Hopefully, we get there the same time the Slayer hit the keep. Now climb.”
The Mad Hosking was quick to pull his way up the twenty meters of broken stone and sand, matched closely by Snake. Both were Imperium-trained rock climbers, an often overlooked skill suddenly quite necessary Snake Eyes only hoped it didn’t get him killed in the process.
Dark, winding corridors carried them deeper into the Hive’s bowels. The way was straight and sloping for the first quarter mile before leveling off and coming to an end. Two centuries of dust and grime coated the massive double doors blocking the tunnel. Each was easily the size of a man. They made several attempts at prying the doors open and met with failure each time. Gage bade them move aside so he might try a spell. With no further use for the current situation, Kane and Xill moved back up the tunnel to take up defensive positions.
Standing by Gage’s side, Emerald patiently waited for the doors to open, spewing forth hundreds of soulless monsters.
“Can you do this?” she asked when she noticed a slight delay.
His hand waved her off. “Yes, yes! All I need is a bit more time and for you to stop pestering me. Thank you very much.”
“We don’t have time,” she growled. “And if you make any more noise, we won’t be alive, either. Now be quiet and get these damned doors open.”
Wisdom and power faded, leaving the old man balking at her harsh words. It had been a very long time since the last man had talked to him in such manner. Emerald huffed up the tunnel, leaving him to whatever evils he created. His weathered hands coursed across the aged wood, searching for weaknesses. Wood and rusted metal groaned under pressure. Dust clouds rose to choke the already stale air. One great push, and the seal was broken.
“So far, so good,” he whispered to himself.
Kane was already entering the tunnel.
Step after step proved arduous and deceitful. The Viper had never cursed so much in all his life. The ledge was wide enough for a man, if barely, but it was old and decayed. Any mistake and he was going to fall. Thoughts sped by too fast to grasp, so he cautiously reached for the next finger hold. A sudden chorus of foul voices froze him in place.
His first instinct was to stop the others. A noisy pebble striking the ground was sure to get their attention. A more damning thought followed. The Berserkers would be at the guard posts shortly, and the bodies were in the open. Time grew alarmingly shorter. The demon troop was marching closer, so close they could feel the ground shake from terror. The Viper knew that stopping now would only lead them to death. The assassin crept forward.
Ill fortune was awaiting them around the next bend. Time and corrosion had helped erode the shelf, leaving gaping holes in the path before them. Snake Eyes cursed. He guessed they’d gone no more than a mile and had another two to go before they were in the cavern. The gap facing them was over the length of a man. There was no way they were going to be able to jump it. They had to go back down.
Nathan honestly believed Fate was a woman with a fickle attitude. Dim torches lit the walls at normal intervals. Not enough to light the tunnel but plenty to give them away to the next war party to come along. They teetered on the shelf until the Viper decided it was safe to move, and there was no other way around it. One by one, they began the descent. A storm of pebbles escorted them, but the Berserkers cared little for goings on behind them. Worlds were awaiting conquest.
“Looks like we made it out of that one,” the Viper whispered in a panting breath.
Nathan wasn’t so sure this was much better than the shelf. “What now?”
“We run. It’s another two miles to the cavern, and the others should already be deep in the tunnels by now. Time is against us, Mr. Bourne. Cling to the walls, and don’t stop unless we run into more Berserkers. Let’s go.”
More of the Berserker world was revealed to them, and still deeper they went. They picked up a quick jog, reminding Nathan of his days in the military when they’d awake before the crack of dawn and run four or five miles. The Mad Hosking chose to stay in the rear, just as in the desert. Oddly enough, the others found it more comfortable that way.
“Which way?” Kane asked.
The tunnel suddenly branched out, leaving them with a half dozen choices. Gage had a nagging in his brain, urging him down the dark path. No doubt Kargosh had laced the old ways with traps and hidden terrors of wizardry. Gage could feel the spell clouding his senses with distress. Quiet voices beckoned him down the wrong paths. Tempted, it was all the wizard could do to stay their might. The battle was long and arduous and went unknown by the others.
Finally, Gage prevailed. The way was shown.
“Down there,” he said confidently.
A faint gleam came from the direction of his finger, but Kane resisted the urge to question. The Slayer tightened his grip on his rifle and plunged forward into the growing light. The intensity became so much they had to shield their eyes. Xill’s mouth fell open when they finally entered the chamber.
“Amazing,” he whispered.
Untold riches covered the floor in massive piles. Gold and jewels mined before the old empire collapsed under the Northern invasion lay next to the crowns of kings long forgotten. This was the last of the old empire’s wealth, covered in dust and forgotten through generations. It had been stashed in this chamber by the last band of resistance right before Aeginion Xurilious had fallen at the gates of his beloved city. The plundering raiders had never discovered it. Kane smiled. The Viper was right after all. The very treasure he’d been so adamant about, and Kane knew the assassin was never going to see it.
“A king’s ransom,” Gage said.
Emerald was smiling. “So it really does exist.”
Slight hints of guilt betrayed Kane against the Viper. He’d coerced the man into joining them and now denied him the possibility of dying in satisfaction. They never liked each other, but the assassin deserved better than what the future had in store.
“Perhaps there’ll be time to live as kings later,” Kane finally said. “The others are counting on us, and I have no intention of failing them. We need to be in position soon.”
Unable to hold out any longer, Emerald gave in to temptation and slid a long string of red pearls inside her shirt. The necklace sent pleasurable chills through her as the soft beads caressed her silky flesh. Soon, there wasn’t going to be any need to think about the welcomed chills. She hurried to follow them through the tunnel at the back of the chamber.
Luck was a fancy for half-time gamblers and peddlers, but it was giving the Viper pure hell. Nothing was going his way, and he desperately wanted to shoot something. Yet another war party ambled by, and he was slowly beginning to think they were never going to get inside the cavern.
“There’s not going to be much of an offensive if we keep having to do that,” he cursed once the way was clear.
“That takes care of the need to bring the roof down, then,” Snake Eyes added. “They’ll all be dead in tunnels.”
The two killers enjoyed a quiet laugh, confusing the Mad Hosking. He failed to see the need for humor at a dark time as this. “We need to continue.”
“No shit,” Nathan snapped while wiping the tears from his eyes. He figured that they were all dead anyway, so they might as well enjoy a good laugh. Anything to take his mind off Emerald and her perils.
Five minutes of uninterrupted sprinting brought them within eyesight of the familiar glow of fire. The tunnel steadily widened, making it nearly impossible to keep hidden. Sweat ran down their bodies, and exhaustion was setting in, but they’d finally made it to the doorstep of the Berserker empire. A new dread entered them.
So intent with their own thoughts and revulsion at what lay before them, none noticed the heavy shadows fall in front of them to block the way. Nathan caught on in time to see a Berserker draw his sword. Confidence welled in the Viper. He watched the snarling Berserker drawback to swing and felt those emotions rage through him. He calmly stepped forward, blocking the rushing Berserker, drawing his own blade. The clash of steel rang across the tunnel mouth.
A tremendous roar came from down the tunnel, and a great commotion was raised. The dead guards had been discovered. Snake Eyes turned to face the returning Berserkers. How in the Hells were they going to get out of this one, he wondered.
Gage and the others trudged on without knowing the dilemmas assailing Kane. Questions without answer filled his head so much it was hard to concentrate. He couldn’t figure out why the Viper was troubling him so much. Surely, his heart wasn’t so small as to condemn the souls of everyone in the Wastelands for a meager treasure. All Kane could do was pray the Viper held true to his word.
The wizard had demons of his own to vanquish. He alone knew where they were going, and a host of nightmares lay in wait. Somehow, Ganelin D’mala had always known his life was going to end with this one deed of redemption. Oh, Aragin, he sighed internally, if only you never succumbed to the darkness. We could all be home now, enjoying the summer sunrise in the Edula Mountains.
“We are here,” he said with finality. “The old palace lies on the other side. Do what you must to ready yourselves.”
“Is this going to be as hard to open as the others?” Kane asked.
“Not unless the entire horde is expecting us.”
A short spell later, the door groaned open.