Sorry for the delay, gang. Yesterday was a rough one on all counts. Let’s get back in the saddle and push through to the end. Hooah.
Heroes and Monsters
The shock wave threw them to the cavern floor moments before the front of the palace exploded outward. Hundreds of aroused Berserkers were caught by the blast whose sheer force drove them into the Black Lake under a hail of broken stone and sand. The Viper was the first to regain his feet.
“No more wizard,” the Mad Hosking stated.
The Viper growled. “And we don’t have the time to mourn him, either, soldier boy. There’s a ton of squaffa about to get dumped on us if we don’t get the Hells out of here.”
He pointed to the mass of Berserkers picking themselves up and looking for those responsible. It wasn’t going to take long time find them. Body parts lay scattered for as far as the eye could see. Mournful cries went up from a hundred places, and the Berserkers wanted blood. The horde massed forward to claim revenge. The Viper had no intention of waiting to see what happened next.
“What about the others?” Nathan asked, matching the assassin stride for stride.
“Even if they survived the blast, there’s no way they’re going to escape that horde. Don’t worry about them. We have our own problems to face.”
Incoming rounds from captured rifles began hitting all around them. Snake Eyes thanked the Gods the Berserkers weren’t good marksmen. The assassin ducked behind the nearest pillar to return fire while the others dashed past. Blue flame spit out the barrel, and an acrid smell burned the air. The body count slowly climbed.
This is more like it. He laughed. More monsters fell under his fire, and there was no sign of letting up. He continued his attack until the charge ran dry and he was forced to retreat. He’d forgotten his team in the firefight and found himself searching to see if they were still here. A frown creased his brow when he realized what he was doing.
Xill was in the fight of his life. The Berserker outweighed him twofold and was the meanest creature he’d ever come across. Saliva burned his exposed flesh. The pain was almost too much to bear, but he struggled through it. Fist after fist pummeled down on his chest and head until the Berserker smelled the kill. The monster reared his head back and bellowed.
The opportunity was slim at best, and Xill needed every bit of strength he had left. He brought his forearm crushing into the monster’s throat. Bone and cartilage snapped and broke. Gaining momentum, Xill jammed his knee into his enemy’s stomach and threw him off. He saw Emerald groggily getting to her feet and knew they only had one chance.
“Blow the charges!”
Emerald wasn’t so sure. Every last one of them would be caught in the blast if she did that, and she didn’t particularly feel like dying today. Another monster charged down from the ceiling. She squeezed off a well-aimed burst, and the monster crashed into the palace wall. Dozens more rose to take his place. There seemed little choice in the matter. Emerald had to blow the charges.
The Berserker hit the crumbling steps and quickly rolled to his feet. Both were in sore condition, bleeding with broken bones, yet neither was willing to give up. The Berserker charged again. He went high, focusing his energy towards decapitating the gray man, but Xill was too fast. The soldier dropped low and drove his combat knife up into his opponent’s chest. His body went slack and slipped from the blade. Satisfied with his victory, the Crendaphidian snatched up his rifle and ran to Emerald’s side.
“If we don’t blow them now, we’re dead!”
“I can’t,” she shouted back. “Not until I know the others made it back to the tunnels.” Tears clogged her eyes. She knew she was going to die. The only thing keeping her going were thoughts of Nathan and what might have been. Her death would be worth it if he lived.
“Give me the trigger, and get out of here,” Xill roared above the hissing Berserker’s.
“I’m not leaving you!”
More Berserkers fell dead.
“Get out of here, Emerald!” Kane warned.
Mnemlath laughed. “Yes, sickly puppet, do as the dead man commands. Run to your little friends and die.”
Xill’s eyes turned cold, and his thumb slipped off the safety and dropped the trigger. The first charge went off deep in the palace ruins.
The Mad Hosking was running for his life. The world was crashing down on his head, and there was little he could do but kill more Berserkers. Death wasn’t the problem. Failure was. Huge segments of the ceiling were collapsing, making it perilous to take a step. Hundreds of frantic Berserkers died with each cave in, but the horde was only growing. Soon, he’d have no choice but to stand and face his demons.
He caught the fleeing images of the gray soldier with the redhead and suddenly knew the end. Hosking stopped running and turned to face the horde. The lake’s heated waters lapped against his heels, and he laid down a murdering fire. Berserkers were ripped in half under his aim, and still they came. Ten, fifteen, twenty. The body count was rising. A wicked smile creased his troubled face. He was slowly avenging every friend who had died in the Gorge. Justice was upon the wicked.
The monster of the lake was stirring also. The smell of combat had aroused it. Fresh blood and gore brought its desires surging upwards. The great beast snapped up its prey. Blood trickled from Yonash’s mouth. He felt his bones breaking from the pressure. Hosking glared down at his killer and laughed. A trickle of blood sported his cheek.
“You’ll need…do better than…that…murderer!” he gasped, the life slowly fading from him. He emptied his rifle into the beast and was pulled under before he could reload.
Water and something else spit into the cavern, causing Emerald to stop. She managed to make out Hosking’s body enclosed in the grasp of a great tentacle before he disappeared. His death hit her harder than watching a division of strangers mercilessly slaughtered. She now understood that there was no way out. Xill grabbed her by the elbow and kept running. His middle eye closed in prayer. Perhaps Yonash had finally made his peace with the Gods who’d seen fit to torment him for so long.
Another explosion shook the world. Tremors rippled throughout the cavern, and more of the ceiling rushed down. Time was nearly up.
Blood dripped from his upper lip. Mnemlath hadn’t expected a one-handed man to put up such a fight, but he liked it. All of his warriors were dead, leaving him to deal with the Slayer alone.
“You fight better than I gave you credit for,” he complimented. “Will your death be equally commendable?”
Kane remained quiet, refusing to play the game. He was out of breath and exhausted, but the Berserker wasn’t in much better shape. The two old foes continued to warily circle each other.
“One of us has to die. Make it easy on yourself, Slayer. I promise to kill you quicker that way.” He smiled. “Just like your family.”
Rage swelled within him, but Kane struggled to keep it suppressed. Giving in now would only serve to feed the Berserker’s hatred. He cleared his mind to prepare for the final attack. The Berserker flashed his blade from hand to hand. Its tip was broken off among the rocks, leaving hints of a painful death. Hundreds of screams rose from around the Hive. The castle behind them was utterly ruined. Wizard and explosives had seen to that. Most of it was already collapsing in on itself. The end wasn’t far off.
“Can you hear, demon?”
Mnemlath cocked his head, willing to play along for a spell if only to regain a measure of energy.
“That’s the sound of four hundred long years of oppression being lifted. Your threats are idle.”
Be that as it may, Kane knew he was only going to get one chance at winning his private war. Helscape’s future may be bordering on security, but he was going to die. The rock face behind the monster was threatening to drop, giving Kane an idea. A look of pain crossed his face, and he dropped to his knees. His sword fell from his grasp, leaving him defenseless. Mnemlath laughed and moved in for the kill.
Kane waited until his foe was standing directly over him, sword raised over his head to deliver the final blow, before flinging a handful of dirt and sand in his eyes. The Berserker stumbled and then staggered from the heavy boot hitting his chest. Kane rolled to safety and fired his magazine into the trembling rocks above.
Tons of rocks and dust started to fall on the dazed Berserker. Kane watched until the dust was too great to see. A quick look around told him he was relatively safe, so he waited until the dust settled. The Slayer limped towards the partially concealed broken body but felt no satisfaction. Dark blood escaped the monster through his eyes, ears and nose. The Berserker managed to cock his head and look into the eyes of the man who’d killed him.
“A trick,” he whispered.
The Berserker’s last breath escaped him, and his body spasmed in death. Kane’s battle was finally ended. He dropped down to a knee and poured the remainder of his canteen over his head. A strange part of him was empty, as if a piece of his soul had died with the Berserker. Kane had spent so long hunting Mnemlath that he was lost now. The burning rage and desire of decades was spent upon the sands of the Wastes.
“You were worthy, demon,” he said in salute.
More explosions shook him back to reality. He gathered as many weapons as he could and ran off to join the others almost at the tunnel mouth. A ball of bright flame spewed from the palace doors, as if to signify the end of the Berserker empire. Kargosh was gone, and the horde was in rout. Kane could almost feel happy again. His feelings of joy were short lived, for a monster of horrific magnitude rose from the ranks to quiet the horde and train their efforts on the fleshling enemy still alive. Slowly, the horde began assembling into a great army. They weren’t finished yet.
As always, your comments and reviews are appreciated.