Took a week off to refocus and get back in the game. Let’s get back to the fight. And please, if you have enjoyed this story, leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It is much appreciated.
The Viper ripped his blade clear of the Berserker’s chest. The others weren’t far behind. Time was running out. Carefully exhaling a deep breath, he pulled the pin from a thermal grenade and marched towards the returning war party.
“Go kill them. I’ll handle this group,” he told Snake Eyes when he passed.
Snake Eyes immediately shifted around to laid down a steady stream of fire into the onrushing Berserkers. Ion rounds shredded the first to ribbons before they scattered. A three-legged monster bounded towards Hosking, who ducked and rolled, coming up on the right side of the monster and driving his Imperium-issue dagger deep into the Berserker’s throat. It died with a frothing growl.
This was what it was all about. A projectile whistled past the Viper, brushing his arm and exploding into the rock wall beyond. The impact threw them all to the ground, Berserker and invader alike. Only by the Old God’s grace did he manage to keep a hold of the grenade.
The Berserkers howled and attacked. Slowly getting to his feet, the assassin brushed some of the dirt and rock off and waited. Again, they howled, the mockery of their foe arousing their bloodlust. The Viper flung the grenade into the mob and ducked. The blast melted flesh from bone, limbs from bodies. More than half of their number died in the flames. The others rolled over and attacked only to be cut down by a thick rain of ion fire.
“Viper, we need to go!” Nathan yelled. “More are coming from the Hive.”
Normally, he wouldn’t have cared, but his vision had other ideas. He wasn’t supposed to die in an empty tunnel. He took another look at his handiwork before running off.
“The whole damned horde’s coming down on us,” Snake Eyes said with concern. This clearly wasn’t how he planned on going out. “Which way do we go now?”
“Keep right. I think I can make out the near edge of the lake. If Lady Luck is real, we might be able to sweep around the far side and hit them from behind.”
Further discussion being pointless, they ran for their lives.
Torches in grime-encrusted candleholders lit the way through the murky corridors. Once marble and polished to a bright sheen, the floors now lay in broken ruins. Large pieces were cracked and broken beyond repair. Shadows played with their minds, pushing Kane ever closer to the brink of sanity. They crept past crumbling statues and dust-covered mirrors, always in search of a lurking monster.
Xill recommended they fan out in a tight wedge. The wizard stayed in the middle, careful not to step in front of their rifles. Kane’s wrist was throbbing again. He couldn’t think about it now. Somewhere in this madness waited the one responsible for stealing his hand. Revenge kept him going when all the other fires were died out.
“How much further, wizard?”
Gage looked around, patiently trying to remember. “I don’t know. I don’t recognize this part of the castle. There seems to be a block on my ability to see things. I’ve felt it since we entered the tunnel.”
“It’s a good chance they probably know we’re here.” Kane frowned. “We’d better keep moving.”
Palace guards and grunting battle lords drove the tiny band into the shadows time and again. Kane sat watching as three more Berserkers squabbling in a foul language entered the room at the far end of the hall. Satisfied with what he’d seen, the Slayer crept back to the others.
“That makes thirty-five in the last half hour. It’s got to be the meeting hall,” he told them.
“No,” Gage said, shaking his head. “It’s the throne room. Kargosh is inside.”
“How can you be sure?” Emerald asked. She didn’t like the thought of being so close to the Berserker lord.
The old man smiled softly and kindly. “I can feel him. It’s time we went about our tasks. I must face the devil alone.”
“You’re crazy,” Emerald exclaimed. “Going in there alone is suicide.”
“There is no choice, child. Each of us has our own demons to face. Allow an old man the right to deal with his own. You cannot help me. He has the magic in him. It seems that we have come to the zenith of our adventures. The nadir is upon us, and what we do in the next few moments will define the lives of every man, woman and child in the Wastelands for generations to come. Plant your charges and flee. I must do what I was sent to do. Go.”
The Black Lake, as Nathan took to calling it, appeared to stretch on forever. The foul pond was over a mile wide and twice as long. Air bubbles popped across the surface, and they moved a little further away. The Viper had warned them of the monster in the water before they entered the Hive. Nathan was the first to notice that something wasn’t right with the water, so he knelt down and dipped his fingers in. The substance was more slime than water, slicking his skin. Sudden realization hit him, and he smiled for the first time since entering the cavern.
“Do you smell that?”
“Smells like fuel,” Snake Eyes said.
“That’s right. It’s pure, unrefined gasoline,” Nathan said.
“You’re telling us this is one big bomb?” the Viper asked.
“That’s right. We blow this baby, and all our troubles are over. I think we’ve just found our ace in the hole.”
Snake Eyes laughed. “All we need to do now is get the horde down here for a group photo.”
“I’ll handle that,” the Viper said. “As soon as we round the lake, split up and plant the charges. We meet back here in twenty minutes. Questions?”
Nathan whispered, “Yeah. What the hell is that?”
They followed the length of his arm out towards the center of the lake where a monstrous tentacle broke the surface. The skin was a sickly gray-green. Lesions and open sores covered the body. A pasty fluid seeped from several open wounds. The creature gave off a putrid odor, even from this distance. They could make out rows of razor sharps claws lining the tentacle. None of them cared to see what else lay beneath the surface.
“Please tell me we don’t have to fuck with that,” Nathan whispered.
“Must be another surprise created by the dead wizard,” the Viper mused.
Bubbles rippled up from the bottom of the lake, and the weary band, grim faced and determined, started splitting up.
The impish Berserker slithered forward, unconcerned with the gathered crowd. His sole focus was on staying alive after he delivered the message to Kargosh.
“Lord Kargosh, enemies are inside. The guards are dead, as well as over a score of warriors,” his said in a cruel speech.
The Berserkers fell silent in disbelief. No one had ever dared invade their home before, especially not on the eve of their greatest campaign. Kargosh’s fist crushed the fragile bone arm of the throne to pieces.
“Who dares strike us in our home?”
“They are elusive. Warriors are searching the tunnels now.”
They had to act fast if there was any chance at stopping the invaders before too much damage was done.
“Alert everyone. I want the fleshlings found and brought to me. Summon Mnemlath to my chambers. I have an odd feeling in my bones. Rouse the host!”
The lesser monster wormed past the crowds, flinching at kicks and angry fists. The Berserkers were furious and unconcerned upon whom damage was wrought. Kargosh sat back down and concentrated. Not even his gift of sight had warned him of the invaders. He was getting old, and there were too many lurking beyond his reach to seize the throne. If it was going to be war, he chose to keep his enemies close. Mnemlath was going to have to wait another day to take the broken crown.
A tiny light blinking from green to red was the only sign that someone had been there. Xill dug into his pack for the next demolition and stalked off to the next position. They’d already rigged the palace with enough explosives to wipe out an Imperium battle cruiser. He hoped the other team was having as much luck as they were but wasn’t naive enough to believe they were going to make it out alive. The charges could only be detonated manually; meaning one of them was going to have to stay behind to set them off. Xill checked his bag. Four more charges, and they could leave.
Four more charges until Gage was left alone in the Berserker lord’s crypt. The Crendaphidian worked hurriedly to finish his task. A hundred Berserkers must have stormed by already, each murmuring about an invasion. There was no doubt that the Viper and his team had been discovered. Xill hoped they had enough time to finish their part.
Mnemlath spent the majority of the early morning walking alone along the shore. Too many thoughts clogged his head, a matter he found exceedingly troubling. The war with the fleshlings was progressing rapidly, and soon it would be time for him to make his move. Kargosh was old and weak, growing more so every day, and unfit to lead them into new worlds. A few more days, and all would be in place to overthrow the decrepit ruler.
He was close to the tunnel mouth when the grenade went off. A heavy ring spit into the Hive, confusing and horrible. Mnemlath had no idea what could have made such a commotion, at least not until a handful of shadowy figures dashed into the Hive to disappear in the darkness. They were under attack!
Heedless of the risk involved, the Berserker warrior charged into the tunnel with the hopes of killing. Soon, he found himself stepping over twenty-five bodies and pieces of several more. Burn marks scored the walls, and a handful of spent casings were sprinkled over the engagement area. There was no remorse for the dead. They happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time against a heavily armed foe with the advantage of surprise. But as much as it pained him to know that a mere handful of fleshlings had broken into his home and wiped out a full strength war party, Mnemlath was impressed by their audacity. Smoke drifted up from ion wounds in several bodies, but those were few. The majority of the dead were covered with burn marks. The fleshlings had come prepared.
A ray of hope settled on him, and the Berserker dashed back into the cavern to ready himself. There were few who would dare attack the Berserker Hive outright, and he had a good idea who one of them was. Mnemlath felt giddy at the thought of meeting the Slayer one final time.
“How many charges do you have left?” the Viper asked. Another group of Berserkers had just marched by and he was getting worried. Time was getting tight. The whole Hive was waking up and fanning out to search for them. He really didn’t feel like being around when they found out who was responsible.
Snake Eyes rummaged through the sack. “Two more.”
“Hurry up. We don’t have much time.”
Passing seconds went by so fast the Viper was feeling his life end. His dream was slowly unfolding, allowing him to set the stage for his greatest act. He didn’t want to die, but there was no escape from the death dream. His only hope was that the other team was having as much success as he was.
Finished with his mission, the Mad Hosking quickly became engrossed with the comings and goings at the palace doors. So many demons and so few rounds, he mused. There was definitely something important going on. Hosking stroked the barrel of his rifle lovingly, soothing it with a cool voice while Nathan put his last charge in place.
“That’s the last one. Let’s get out of here,” Nathan came up and said. Sweat was pouring down his face.
He tossed the empty bag down and unslung his rifle just to be safe. Hosking didn’t move.
“Damn it, come on! We don’t have time for you to sit and stare. We need to leave now if we’re going to make it to the rendezvous.”
“You go,” Hosking warned him. “I have a dream to fulfill.”
This was ridiculous. Time was running out. More and more Berserkers were out and moving, searching for the intruders. Nathan didn’t care how crazy Hosking was; they had to move fast. Reaching out, Nathan grabbed the insane man by the elbow before Hosking realized what was happening, and they ran for their lives. They used the pillars as much as possible to cover their movements, and so far, it was working. Nathan refused to slow down until he was out of breath.
“The charges are all set,” he managed between gasps.
The Viper stepped from behind the other side of the pillar, never once taking his eyes off of the moving Berserkers.
“It may not be quite that easy,” he replied. “Have you seen any of the others?”
“No. They must still be inside.”
Or dead. The thought was most prevalent, but none of them wanted to voice it. Anything was possible, especially with Gage lacking self-confidence. An outburst of rifle fire forced them to duck and prepare to return fire before any of them recognized what was happening. The Mad Hosking was the first to understand.
“Look. The Slayer.”
A battle had erupted on the palace steps between three humans and a host of foes. Two Berserkers were already dead, and another was leaping into the air. An explosion from inside the palace trembled the caverns, bathing the world in a foul green light.
Xill took off at a light jog, weapon trained on the path ahead. He collided with a dozing guard shy of the main door, knocking the Berserker to the ground and punching a round through his chest. Dark blood splashed up to stain his trousers. Kane and Emerald pushed past him. The decayed doors kicked open with a groan, revealing the immensity of the Berserker Hive to them for the first time. A score of Berserkers was awaiting them on the broken steps. Kane wasn’t surprised to see an old enemy staring back at him.