At some point we are going to get to the end of this story.
“How long do you think he’s going to keep us waiting this time?” the Viper asked. Every minute was one spent regretting the decision to come along, treasure be damned.
“Not long at all, I’m afraid,” Gage answered. He stood in the doorframe, dressed in robes of plain gray. Thick despair clung to him, tightening their collars. Gage ambled to his chair in the middle, waited for them to all take a seat, and began the telling of a tale long in the making.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment. Now that it’s arrived, I hardly know where to begin. It was nigh on three hundred and fifty years ago when my people came across this planet on a deep space exploration. The Imperium had already discovered it but deemed it of little importance. It was a primitive world. There was no structure for education or technology. Culture was practically a curse. Our leaders decided that four should be sent to Telgeise in the attempts to bring it closer to civilization, something we wizards had been doing for countless generations.
“I was just a boy, really, when they chose me. But I knew this would put me in good standing for a place on the Supreme Council when I reached the proper age. The four of us already knew each other. There was nothing special about any of us, really. One man in particular stood out from the beginning, though. His name was Aragin Mephistile, a bold man not much older than I but one with the gift of vision. He had the makings of a grand wizard from birth and was destined to excel at whatever task put to him. But there was always something sinister in him. Buried.
“I’m not sure when, but Aragin slowly began distancing himself from us. He became irritated much too easily over the simplest things and was losing all patience with the local populations. His attitudes steadily worsened. Some of us thought him sick. One day, we woke up, and he was gone. A message left explained that mankind was not strong enough to remain a dominant species. Madmen from across the world soon flocked to his banners. Our people were of a kind nature and seldom hurt others unless it became necessary. We’d been to a million worlds, visited countless species and helped them advance.
“Aragin must have been mad not to realize his full potential, or perhaps he did. We learned he was gathering a small force of scientists from other worlds. None of us knew exactly what he was doing, but there were dark portents in the skies. Many fiendish experiments were conducted before the Council saw fit to put an end to his madness. He had grown deranged with lunacy over the span of those dark decades, and he’d also made an army. Reports started coming in from across the river of demons rampaging at will. I believe that was the first time I had ever known fear. Aragin’s genetically superior beings were beyond his control.
“Myself and Neiyo Hidtrea gathered a token force from the local regency of Draken and set out towards his desert castle in the hopes of dissuading him before the Council sent in an army. Aragin met us on the rampart walls with mockery. He said we were fools doomed to spend eternity in failure. There was clearly no dealing with him. My friend had gone mad. The hardest thing I ever had to do was give the order to fire. If he wasn’t going to surrender, then I had orders from the Council to finish the task.
“The first attack was horrible. Neiyo and I raised a valiant defense, but to no avail. Less than twenty of the soldiers remained, and Neiyo was horribly slain by their apparent leader. Aragin spared the rest of us with a warning to never return.
“We knew we could not go home until Aragin was dealt with. Years went by, and both armies grew. There were small battles and skirmishes up and down the Frontier for a good time. Lord Governor Cayix was tired of waiting and took it upon himself to dispatch his army west towards the Angril River. His guessing paid off, because our spies returned the next day with news of a massive army heading our way. The conflict had blown up into open war. Cayix got to the river first and began deploying his forces on the western banks. They had three bridges at their back, should the need to retreat arise, and nearly two full days to draw up his defense.
“Two weeks did we do battle. Tens of thousands from both sides died. I can still see it from time to time. My friends all died there, and I alone was left to confront my old friend.
Aragin had grown frustrated with the staunch defense meeting him and sent half of his force to secure the northern bridge. Control over the rest of his army was given to their leader, one named Kargosh. If ever there lived a nightmare, it was truly he. Rage and hatred filled him, and he wasted no time in taking it out on our men. Hard pressed to hold the southern bridges, I was forced to ride north and try to prevent Aragin from crossing the river.
“I was too late. They’d already gained the bridge. Somehow, Aragin spotted me, and the battle drew to a halt. He was going to kill me on his own. We met in the middle of the span and did battle. I was tested to the length of my ends, and it took every ounce of strength to throw him back into the desert. Aragin was always stronger than the rest of us. We won the day at a terrible cost. Nine thousand men died that day.”
Gage seemed to grow distant the deeper his tale became.
“Kargosh had taken a heavy beating as well and was fighting a brutal withdrawal back across the dunes. Ten thousand Draken men pursued them with revenge in their hearts. Cayix called a halt at what is now Minion and ordered them to dig in and wait. Supplies and reinforcements were sent to them as quickly as could be arranged. I left to meet with Cayix in secret council in his chambers in Draken. The enemy’s secrets had finally been discovered, he told me. They were all genetically created and incapable of reproducing.”
“This news came as a blessing, but I was troubled nonetheless. I first heard the name Berserker then, and it perplexed me to find the meaning. You might find this next bit interesting, Nathan Bourne of Earth.”
Shocked with the proclamation, Nathan leaned forward and asked, “How do you know where I’m from?”
Gage smiled. “I am a wizard. The journey from one planet to another is long and boring. I spent many long days and nights aboard my ship accessing the archives on Homeworld. The term ‘Berserker’ comes from the Viking mythology of your planet Earth. In essence, the demons you hunt were born on your very own world.”
His strong eyes centered on Nathan, making him uncomfortable. Nathan knew a little about the old Viking myths and legends but certainly not enough to qualify him as an expert.
On the other hand, he was beginning to understand why they were able to invade his home.
“Yes,” Gage answered his silent question. “We have been to your world. Specifically, during your Middle Ages. There are many detailed references to your Norsemen and their winter travails. Aragin considered himself a scholar and must have read about them on the journey to Telgeise. Ah, the dangers of too much knowledge! It proved too much for him and brought about his downfall.”
“I can understand the Berserker thing, but how did a gateway to Earth appear under Rook Mountain?” Nathan asked.
“Aragin created it!” the wizard replied. “He saw it only right that the planet from which his ideas spawned should be next among his conquests. Many spells and souls were used to feed his magic, and of that, I will speak no more. I discovered this after the war and set a containment spell around it. Judging from your arrival, I would say that it was finally broken, leaving the Berserkers free to range across both worlds. But I have not finished speaking of the war.
“Cayix sent heralds to every city and town in the eastern counties, and a grand army was raised. We set out a month later under the Lord Regent’s sapphire banners to take back the world and set things right. There must have been a hundred thousand soldiers. Very awe inspiring. The Berserkers came down to attack twice and ran in defeat both times. They weren’t very sound warriors in the early days. Soon, it was decided to send a raid with the purpose of seizing Aragin’s laboratories at Fulcrum’s Outlook. He was foolish to keep them so close to the front lines.
“The cost of life was tremendous, but we came away with the victory. His labs were destroyed and kept under constant watch. Reinforcements continued to pour into Minion. Aragin had not been idle through his defeat. He took Kargosh and as many of his monsters as he could and retreated into the deep deserts, leaving only a token force to fight and delay us. Our generals wanted to push on, but the soldiers had seen enough.
“Most were volunteer citizens doing the right thing and were lonely for their wives and families. Cayix himself grew weary of the constant combat and agreed to let the enemy retreat. A heavy garrison was left at Minion, and most of them wound up bringing their families with them.”
“I went east with Cayix and the main army, but my heart was restless. Aragin was out there and still a threat. I returned to the Wastelands on countless occasions to seek him out, but he was not to be found. It was as if the desert came alive and took him.”
“Change was sweeping the east. Many newer senators saw the Berserkers as a western problem. They were reluctant to send their men to fight the battles for someone else. This ultimately led me to leave Draken. There was no longer a place for a wizard who helped create the problem. So I moved to Minion. Not long after, while standing upon the guard wall, I was visited by a handful of demons. They told me of Aragin’s sudden illness and his desire to meet with me. I made ready to fight them but stopped when they named me. My trust had already been betrayed, and I was loathe to die at their hands. I agreed to accompany them only after careful deliberations.”
Snake Eyes and the Viper exchanged looks of disbelief.
“I cannot remember how long we rode, but it was long and far and down roads which no longer exist. Half a day past the Black Pits, we came to the underground hole Aragin claimed as his throne. I was taken deep into the living world and saw many things I will not speak of. The cavern was large and had many tunnels. I made out the ruins of a once-great castle and a lake filled with a foul liquid. The stench of decay and rotting flesh was overpowering. Apparently, our war had more success than we’d believed. They led me to the inner sanctum of my old friend, and it hurt my heart to see him. He was a weak, old man now, having spent his energies in the development of his monsters. The toll was a heavy one. I forced my smile and sat at his side.”
A single tear rolled down the old man’s cheek.
“He looked me in the eyes and asked where the others were. I explained their fates, and he cried in regret. Then he told me something I shall never forget. He asked for my forgiveness for what he’d done. ‘For the monsters of my madness have doomed this world forever,’ he said. ‘No one is safe. Leave this place while you may. There will be no one to control them when I am gone. No one at all.’
“‘You’re wrong, old friend,’ I told him. ‘I cannot return home until they are destroyed and this madness is put to rest. I am the last guardian of the old ways.’ A smile crossed his face, and his last breath passed his lips.”
The room was locked in an awkward silence. Only the sounds of burning wood went around. None of them could believe the magnitude of what they’d heard, for it was beyond their imaginations. The enemy could be seen in a clear light for the first time. Kane found himself with hope again.
Nathan asked, “You’ve been alone here ever since?”
Gage nodded. “Yes, but not alone. Klaa here fought beside me at the battle of the Angril. And I have always known that you would be gathered in my halls. A band of heroes to bind the light under the blanket of the storm. Honored guests, you are not only the salvation of this world but my passage back home. I will not accept failure a second time.”
“You intend on going with them?” Thalon asked. “Death may be your reward, wizard.”
“Does it matter? I’ve been forced to live with defeat long enough. Knowing it will be over soon, for good or bad, is quite agreeable.”
His eyes closed for a moment, and then he said, “But come. Talk of defeat often is enough to serve the enemy’s cause. It is getting late, and I find myself suddenly eager to begin this final journey. We shall make to leave for the docks when the dawn comes.”
Ganelin rose from his leather cushioned chair and bowed before excusing himself for the night. He could almost remember the face of the woman he’d once loved. Soon, my love, he told himself, soon.
Four days came and went amid much turmoil and discussion, and the Misfortune drew closer towards her goal. Kane led them aboard the launch with a somber air, for wizards were a fickle sort, recluse and deceptive. Thalon stayed with them to guide them the rest of the way, much against his liking. He’d never felt comfortable on land where a thousand things could go wrong. But it was he, out of the entire crew, who had been the distance to the wizard’s home and back, and it was his task to finish.
The launch ran aground a short while later, and the passengers disembarked in a file. They could make out the rise and fall of a city on the horizon. The old pirate explained that it was halfway between Redemption and the northern port of Une.
“That is Kratchen,” he pointed. “It’s not near as rough as Redemption or Doom Town and hardly as inhospitable, but there are bad spots. We will do well to avoid them.”
They found a transport awaiting them, probably at the wizard’s request, making their journey slightly more enjoyable. The ride was stiff and filled with bumps, but it saved them from walking the two miles into town.
“There is the statue of Krinson Haddle,” Thalon announced. There was a certain regality to his voice. “It was he who rose up against the Berserker oppression and fought to keep us free. Every child on the Isle knows Haddle’s deeds. Heroes are few and far between and are necessary for our continuation. Krinson Haddle will remain a hero for the people to look to when the hour grows dark.”
Nathan leaned close to Emerald so only she could hear and asked, “Why have I seen that face before?”
“He was born in the old empire and was the guardian protector of the King’s daughter, Jiena,” she explained. “Legend tells that he was ordered to abandon his king in the darkest hour to save the rest of the royal line. He escaped the Berserker armies and returned some years later with an army of his own. They retook Furnace Island but were unable to get back into the desert.”
“And from that, the Wastelands are the way you know them now,” Thalon interrupted. “Had he only been able —”
“For some reason, this place seems worse than all the others,” Nathan said.
They wormed past a crudely constructed fence and came to a stop outside of a broken-down inn. The wood was old and rotted, and it had shingles peeling from the roof. The windows were blocked from the inside with a dark fabric, and they could smell smoke coming from the cracks in the frame. Thalon jumped off, telling the pirate twins to guard their guests until he found out if it was safe. Their yellow eyes flared against their blue skin as each nodded.
“Great boss you’ve got,” Snake Eyes snorted. He didn’t like the idea of placing his life in the hands of others.
Kuln, the ship’s cook, shrugged. “It’s not my place to decide. I prepare the food and fight when I get the chance to. The only reason I’m even here to begin with is because I was born here.” His voice turned angry. “What’s your story, soldier boy? We heard the Imperium was cutting its losses and turning to run. Why are you still here?”
“I don’t know. Revenge sounds like such a harsh word, and desperation is too far gone to be of any use,” Snake Eyes replied with a rude twist. “I’m a risk taker, buddy, and I couldn’t find a better way to pass the time.”
Time crept slowly. The tension between Kane’s party and the pirates thickened with the growing day, but nothing more was said after Snake’s retort. Nathan found himself wondering what Emerald was going to do with him and her father. She’d promised not to make any decisions until they re-boarded the Misfortune and took port in Redemption. Nathan let out a long sigh. He had thought all of his relationship troubles were behind him on Earth.
Thalon finally emerged from the dank inn with an old man behind him. The pirate’s clothes stunk of filth and smoke and were covered with sweat. He had the look of a man who desperately needed to get off dry land. The man behind him was a different story. His robes were full and flawless, made from a more civilized age and protected with a spell to keep them whole. His beard was pure silver and close kept to his chin. His gaze cast deep, though much of the spark of life was already faded.
“My friends, this is the wizard Ganelin.”
The wizard smiled. “Nonsense. My friends call me Gage.”
“Gage, Ganelin, all the same,” Hosking laughed. “All die in the end. Yes, we die.”
Kane removed his hat and bowed in respect, ignoring the madman. He’d learned of this old wizard and the deeds of his kind when they’d first arrived and saw it only right to pay respects. The wizard smiled and pushed back his robes of billowing crimson and gold. He recognized that this was his final hope at finishing his task and returned the bow.
“I have been waiting for two hundred years for this day,” he said in cracking voice. Much emotion tried to win free, but he held it back. “The liberation of the Wastelands and my return home. My sins will soon be held accountable, but let us not talk of such things now. Come, we have much to prepare.”
It took another full day’s ride before they arrived at the home of Gage the wizard. The house was bereft of glory, future or past, and was made of simple brick, stone and steel. Nathan had been expecting something vastly different. Simply put, it was a well-lived in house, quaint and homely. The sweet smell of fresh-baked bread mixed with herbs and ancient potions greeted them at the door.
Gage left them with instructions to put up their gear and disappeared not long after. His personal assistant was on his way, he explained, rounding the corner. They were beginning to remember what it was like to breathe real air again when Klaa ambled his way towards them. The smallish creature bowed low and introduced himself, the force of his telepathy dizzying those who hadn’t encountered a Kordite before. He smiled without emotion and explained that the effects would soon pass.
He welcomed them in his own fashion, ushering them into his home quickly. Another storm was rumbling down across the valleys, and it would do well to be inside while it passed. They soon found themselves standing in a large, circular room filled with chairs and old, dusty bookcases. The wizard’s library. Klaa offered them seats and to help themselves with the two bottles of off-world whiskey sitting on the marbled table in the center of the room. A small fire burned in the fireplace on the far wall.
“That was nice of the little guy,” Snake Eyes said, watching Klaa move off to the kitchens to finish preparing dinner.
“I’m starting to get the feeling that no one wants much to do with us,” Nathan said. He didn’t like being invited and then left on his own. “This is a waste of time.”
Emerald clutched his arm, shaking her head. “Give them a chance. Remember, this could mean the difference between life and death.”
“Yeah, but for whom?”
Alone and in an unfriendly world, they sat and drank. There were no stories of old, no dreams of future celebrations to be passed around. Night rolled in, and still there was no sign of their hosts. The heavy liquor helped calm their rumbling stomachs but did little to ease their suspicions. They’d been there for hours and had not seen one glimpse of either host.
“If this wizard is so damned important, why is he toying with us like puppets? Is it we who need him or the other way around?” the Viper scoffed.
Snake Eyes looked up. “For once, I agree with him. This is ridiculous. We could be halfway across the desert by now.”
“We need him to survive,” Kane said, trying to defuse the situation before it got any worse. “If his being there means some of you will go home again, I will not attempt to dissuade him.”
“Ever the hero,” the assassin laughed. “Your nobility sickens me.”
Klaa returned to lead them to the dinner table before Kane had the chance to reply. He stayed with them while they ate, answering what questions he could. The food was exotic and flavorful, filled with spices and seasoning. Their trembling stomachs satisfied, Klaa led them back to the library and supplied them with fresh pipe tobacco. He came back once more a few hours later to lead them to their rooms.
One by one, they were shown their rooms, the massive wooden doors magically shutting and locking behind them. When asked why, Klaa shrugged and said the master held few in his trust and that there were things within the keep that could harm them. The Kordite finished seeing to his last guest and returned to his kitchen to clean up.
Sometime during the dark hours of the night, Snake Eyes was shaken awake by distant rumbling of some giant beast marching across the lava fields. He crept from his bed to sneak a glimpse at what could cause such commotion and was sickened by shock. A monstrous lizard running on two legs was stalking a herd of smaller lizards on all fours. Deep screams and shrieks echoed over the world as the beasts fought and killed. Two of the smaller ones lay dead with the rest of the herd moving away to forage for food. Snake Eyes crawled back into bed, having seen enough to twist his stomach. He lay there for a long while wondering what was in store for them at the end of the road.
Breakfast smelled even better than dinner from the previous night. Each of them got up to bathe and dress. An eager air settled over the house. They’d waited long enough here in the middle of nowhere, and it was time to undertake the next leg of the adventure. They found plates already prepared for them once they filed down into the dining area. Even Kuln was impressed with the extravagance of the feast shown.
“Did anybody notice anything strange last night?” Snake Eyes asked.
“Other than being locked in our rooms like prisoners?” Nathan returned.
“There are a great many dangers out here,” Thalon helped. “It was wise to keep us away from the night.”
Nathan got up from his seat and began browsing through the wizard’s books. None of them were in languages he could understand, but the pictures were nice. He found himself amazed with the size of the petrified tooth being used as a bookend. It was as long as his forearm and wickedly curved to a point. He barely touched the tip, and it drew blood.
“The tooth of a sand dragon,” came an old voice from the doorway. “Not quite so dangerous as it once was.”
They rose as a group and stared at their host. He didn’t seem as old as he had the day before. There was an air of royalty about him, lending him a certain importance.
“I welcome you to my home, be it humble,” Gage smiled. “And I do hope my lack of attention was not taken in mistrust. You see, a terrible thing happened at the expense of my trust once, and I cannot afford to let it happen again.”
“We were beginning to think there was a mistake,” the Viper stood forward to say.
“And plenty have been made, but none at the moment,” Gage tersely replied. “I would sit back down and be patient if I were you, assassin. Oh, yes, I know you. I know you all. Indeed, I’ve had my eyes on you for some time now, waiting to see who would be strong enough and who would come seeking me out.”
“I thought it was you who summoned?” Thalon asked.
Gage nodded. “So I did. But one can hardly send forth the summons without knowing who is alive or not. Be at ease, Thalon Zimbele. No harm will come to you or your precious crew. My intentions are purely invested with these fine people accompanying you.”
That old feeling of something bad crept into Nathan’s soul. He couldn’t place his finger on it, but there were dark forces at work here.
“I really should apologize for my lack of availability, but there is much I need to get done and such a short amount of time,” the wizard went on. “All will be told this evening, explained to the fullest of my abilities. And perhaps you may learn something of yourselves along the way. This is going to be a grand adventure. Epic, at the least.”
“Great,” Snake Eyes said dryly. “Just what I’ve been looking forward to!”
His words were meant with sarcasm but reflected all of their moods. Gage pretended to ignore him. Hosking erupted in a giggling laughter from his far corner. The sound sent chills throughout the room. Emerald clutched onto Nathan’s thigh just enough to make him flinch. The smile she wore was as promising as Gage’s words, but he saw her real fears mirrored in the beauty of her eyes.
“Alas, I must leave you again,” Gage said, “but for the day only. After dinner, when we all have full bellies and a good pipe in our mouths, we shall sit and learn the events that brought you to me. If there is anything you need, anything at all, do not be afraid to ask. Klaa will be more than happy to assist. Until tonight.”
Gage bowed low and swept from the room. The waiting began anew.
Sage advice here.
Every author I know dreams of finding the perfect ‘set and forget’ book promotion.
I’m here with some bad news: it doesn’t exist.
Effective book promotion is about engagement and communication. It’s letting people know your book exists, what it’s about, and why they should read it… without stuffing it in their face and demanding that they buy it.
What many people don’t realise is that effectively promoting your book is a process, not an event. You cannot simply advertise it once, post it on Facebook and/or Twitter, then sit back to wait for the sales to roll in.
Personally, I’d love to think that everyone I know who sees my book will buy it, and that would flow on to lots of people I don’t know buying it. That isn’t how it works. The people you know are often less likely to be interested and willing to buy and…
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So the holidays got involved and things went to a general hell. Lots of confusion and chaos and well, you know the rest. Let’s get back to the quest.
Vesper sat in shock. His tired eyes stared across the table at an image long in his nightmares. A fear rose within him. Was this some trick?
“What devilry is this?” he gasped.
“There is no trickery, Captain,” Thalon offered. “She is your daughter.”
Vesper slowly rose. “My daughter is dead.”
The old pirate captain gave a curt bow and left the mess. Emerald felt the walls closing back in. Memories she didn’t want came back, mocking her. Her father was still alive. She’d given up hope of finding him so long ago, yet here he was, taking them up to see a wizard. Emerald struggled to keep the tears back. Only the Mad Hosking seemed unaffected by the sudden shock. He reached over and gently touched Emerald’s shoulder.
Emerald sat in one of the seats running along the great bay windows of the cabin deck. Tears ran down her cheeks, though she gave the illusion of staring into the endless sea of flames. Pain reached up to consume her. The pain of ignorance. The pain of childishness. She grimaced at the waste her life had become. The soft hands gripping her shoulders did little to comfort her.
“Care to talk about it?” Nathan asked.
Emerald fell back into his arms and said, “He’s my father.”
There was no way to conceal the surprise he felt. “I thought you said he was dead.”
“I did. This is too much for me, Nathan. How can I go back in there and face him after I gave up on him all those years ago?”
“At least you’re being given the chance to start over. Most of us don’t get that. I know I never will.”
She turned to kiss his cheek. “You already have.”
Vesper Razorback sat in his cabin staring at the tired gray wall. He always thought of himself as a practical man faced with certain difficulties. This went beyond any reasoning. It had been decades since his ordeal in the Northlands, decades since he last held his daughter and knew joy. As much as it lifted his heart to see her again, he was too proud a man to accept the obvious. A lifetime of being a pirate brought suspicions and questions. Proud and troublesome as he was, he stood a torn man.
“Come in, Thalon,” he replied to the gentle knock.
“I don’t understand.”
Vesper sighed. “Nor do I. Do you know what it’s like, Thalon? To lose those dearest. To hold them dead in your heart for so long the pain fades? She and her mother were the most precious things to me. Seeing her again, now, has opened the old wounds. How can I go back to her? How can I hold her in my arms again and tell her everything will be all right? Those days are lost to me, my friend. Time has seen to that.”
“I stopped believing in miracles long ago, but a wise man once taught me to never ignore a gift from the gods. You have been given a gift, Vesper. Don’t throw it away on stubborn pride. Go to her. I’ve done many things I will regret when my time for judgment comes, and I know a mistake when I see it. She’s hurting as much as you are. It’s one thing going on this suicidal quest of theirs but another knowing that a world long lost to her has suddenly been there the whole time. How troubled do you think her heart will be now when they storm the Berserkers lair?” Thalon shook his head. “Go tell your daughter you love her. At least make this parting one you both agree upon.”
Vesper smiled despite himself. “You are a man of few words, friend, but what you say always has a point. Aye, I will go to her once she’s had time to think some. As you say, miracles don’t happen, but an idiot will ruin the day. Thank you.” Thalon nodded. “That’s what a Mate is for, Captain.”
Later that night, Vesper Razorback gathered his courage and made his way to his daughter’s cabin. Never was a simple task so difficult.
The early hours of the morning found Kane on the bridge with Vesper and Thalon, marveling at the ship he was on and the view before him. Spouts of lava dotted the sea at random. Night and day had little meaning out here. The world seemed bathed in a host of reds and blacks with orange and yellow mixing in. As breathtaking as it was, he had other concerns to focus on.
“Your friends still sleep?” Vesper asked.
“They keep their own hours,” the Slayer stiffly replied. “Two of them are on the mid-deck practicing hand-to-hand combat.”
“This is quite the entourage you’ve assembled. I have seldom seen a more dangerous group,” Vesper went on.
“They all serve a purpose, I suppose.”
Vesper stared into Kane’s silver eyes and said, “I’m not in the habit of taking on passengers without a price, and I always find out their reasons for hiring me. Think what you will, but we’re not mercenaries. This wizard is an odd sort, and it is unwise to question his motives, but you, on the other hand, I have no compunctions with questioning. I shall enjoy your company more after you’ve told me what this quest is all about and how it concerns my daughter.”
Kane stood unflinching.
The pirate laughed. They were both too proud to bend a knee, and it was getting them nowhere. “Really now, Kane. This is ridiculous. I know about your wars with those damned Berserkers, and I truly understand the secrecy, but there is nothing out here save you, me and my crew. Why does the wizard summon you?”
“I would have thought you could answer that question better than I,” Kane said. “It was your crewman who came to me. We would be days into the desert by now and getting close to a finish.”
“One way or the other? How did you manage to collect so many?” Vesper asked.
“They have their personal reasons. Some came because it is the right thing to do and some for the nobility of the quest. The lure of forgotten treasure drew others. I command none of them and can only offer guidance on our journeys.”
Vesper nodded. “Admirable and utterly foolish. Would you throw away your life so easily? And the life of my blood?”
“I never asked them to come. Each of us lost something dear to the Berserkers, and we now have the chance at striking terror in their hearts. With a wizard to guide us, could the end be so bad?”
Neither man was willing to voice an answer. Some matters shouldn’t be brought into the open air, not without grave consideration.
“This gets better and better, doesn’t it?” Emerald asked, lying on her side with the sheet partially covering her legs and front.
Nathan brushed her long hair over her shoulder and kissed her neck. “What does?”
“He asked me to stay here with him so we can get to know each other again.”
No words made it past his lips. She was torn between two of the greatest influences of her life and was hopelessly confused.
“What should I do?”
Pulling the sheet up to cover her exposed flesh, he kissed her again and said, “Don’t worry. You’ll know what to do by the time we get back to the Port of Lies.”
“Would you stay with me if I decided to join him?”
“You know I can’t answer that.”
She closed her eyes and tried to cry but found the tears were all used up.
The Viper stood alone. Thousands upon thousands of distorted monsters surrounded him. Untold riches lay strewn everywhere he looked. It was his, all his. The ones he came with were all dead, leaving him to stem the tide of war. He slew his foe with each breath and knew no mercy. The bodies rose in great piles.
The illusion of success faded quickly, announced by a sharp clang of his empty rifle. Realizing what was happening, the dying Berserker leader gargled his last command, and his hordes converged on the assassin. The Viper drew his sword and asked for a good death. Soon, there was only pain and darkness.
He jumped awake, covered in sweat and refusing to believe what he’d just envisioned. It was a death dream. He found himself afraid for the first time. Death was come to pay respects. Wiping the terror from his brow, the assassin slid from bed and quietly dressed. The new dawn was uncommonly cold. Nothing he did that day could keep his mind from the impending doom, though it lay several weeks away. He mostly kept to himself, afraid the others would pick up on his laments. Not even the treasure at the end of the tunnel was strong enough to win his mind.
The Misfortune raced steadily on.
Like what you’ve read? Swing over to Amazon and leave a review for book one- you know, since you’ve already read it. Even if you didn’t like it please leave a review. As long as it’s honest, I dig it. Tomorrow’s Demise.
Shoot, with all the excitement I forgot to mention my latest: Anguish Once Possessed is now available for preorder! If you like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and the Lord of the Rings this series is for you. The Forgotten Gods Tales rolls on with the final part of act I. All told I plan on making this a series of 3 acts with 3 novels in each one for the full story. Those of you who have already jumped into the fire, my endearing thanks. For those who have yet to begin this tale of ancient races, aliens, and a galactic civil war, sit back, strap in, and get ready for one hell of a ride.
It begins with Dreams of Winter
“I welcome you aboard the mightiest vessel on the Lava Seas!” Thalon said with a sweeping gesture of pride to half-drunk and weary travelers. “On behalf of the captain, welcome aboard the Misfortune.”
Both sailors guarding the dock side of the gangway stepped aside with the First Mate’s words. They had a natural distrust of foreigners, and these seven stank of land.
Nathan stared at the detailed tattoos covering most of their arms and shoulders. They were heavily muscled with blue skin and long, wild looking hair. Each held a long spear and had piercings ranging across his face. His gaze eventually worked past them and settled on the smallish skiff where Thalon was waiting to receive them.
“Awfully small ship, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Nay, Outlander. This is but a skiff. The mother ship is yon.”
Their collective gaze followed Thalon’s outstretched arm to behold a breathtaking sight. Even at a mile away, the pirate ship seemed strong and mighty. The Misfortune was the queen of the seas, uncontested by most and feared by all. The tempered gray hull reflected the vehemence of the liquid fire beneath. She had ten full decks and a mighty hold in the center. Thirty hover fans ran to keep her afloat above the dangerous lava. The crew was two hundred strong and all veterans of long years at sea. Nathan’s mouth dropped open in awe.
“Believe me, she’s much more impressive from atop her decks,” Thalon told them. There was pride in his words. “The captain is anxious to set sail, so we must be on. If you’ll follow me aboard, we can begin the journey.”
Pneumatic doors sealed behind the last man, and the skiff wasted no time in launching. Nathan was seated next to the blue guards, giving him a better look at their features. He was shocked to find many of the piercings were of tiny bones. Closer inspection of their hair found it was so dark a green it looked black at a distance, and they had devious yellow eyes brighter than any moon.
The skiff cruised along at a comfortable pace. It was high enough to keep from getting too heavily scorched by the boiling lava. Thalon tried to explain the composition of the alloy they used, saying it wouldn’t do them any good should the seas bubble up and wash them under. The pilot switched on the air conditioner to cool the cabin. Both Xill and Snake Eyes exchanged glances, wondering what they were doing out in the middle of such an easy death.
“Why is it called the Port of Lies?” Nathan asked once his excitement began to ebb.
“Because, Mr. Bourne, you cannot trust anyone. Even if you pay for their services,” Thalon said. “Take no mind in this! It is just talk of late. Despite what you may choose to believe, we live by an honor code and deal with violators as warranted.” He saw the humor growing in Nathan’s eyes and continued, “Some of the best men and women you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting dwell on the island. Our community stands as trophy to the will of the people who sought to break the chains holding them down. Oppression and persecution are unknown here. Surely, there are places of this nature where you come from?”
Nathan’s silence was answer enough. The one-legged pirate shifted his attention to a quiet Emerald. “I see you’ve managed to lose your cast.”
“Yes. I took it off last night,” she politely answered.
“I wonder what it was that placed you in such a bind?”
“A fall in battle.” Her dissatisfaction was apparent.
Thalon again noticed the stump of Kane’s wrist and felt the degree of their pains.
“Perhaps my people would have offered assistance had we known the peril facing you. We are grand warriors.”
“It wouldn’t have done any good,” Snake Eyes muttered. “It was a total slaughter. You and your kind would have wiped out along with the rest of us.”
“You’re doing it again,” Nathan told Emerald once he leaned close enough for her to hear him.
“Doing what?” she asked.
“The quiet thing. I think it’s getting worse.”
She smiled, but he saw through it. “Is it so wrong to want to think on things?”
“Depends what you’re thinking,” he answered. “I’m not going to push you. I just like to think you’ll tell me when it’s time.”
“I promise,” she whispered.
The Misfortune’s bulk loomed before them, blocking all else from sight. It was a majesty of the pirate’s pride. Running lights cast places in shadow, though they were able to make out gun turrets in the gloom. Nathan found himself wishing for a camera for the thousandth time since his arrival under Rook Mountain. There was no way he was going to be able to explain any of this back home.
“Impressive, isn’t she?” Thalon asked.
They could do naught but nod, all save the Viper. He was as unimpressed with the glory of it as the pirate was with him. They knew each other too well for liking.
“She has a crew of two hundred plus, all loyal to the captain. You’ll not find a more powerful ship on all the seas. The wizard has chosen well in his scheming.”
The Viper scoffed. He’d had enough of the pomp and grandeur. “I don’t know much about wizards, and can’t say as I care. He’s taken us weeks out of our way when it’s all said and done.”
“You are a man of little faith, assassin. Creatures like you become a threat to the solidity of the crew,” Thalon said.
Smiling, the Viper said, “You seem to forget one thing, pirate. I work for the highest bidder. It is ill of me to lend my life to the hands of another.”
“You are a dangerous man, assassin,” Thalon said. He turned to the pilot and mumbled something only they could hear. “If you would please strap yourselves in. We are about to dock.”
Their stomachs rose and fell with the bouncing skiff as it shifted directions and crossed the air currents. The faint taste of bile rose to their throats. Hitting the thrusting jets, the pilot slowed the skiff and passed under the Misfortune’s shadow. A hydraulic hiss was followed by a slight bump, and they were successfully docked. Thalon unbuckled and slapped the door release.
Kane was the first to step through the airlock and set foot on the surprisingly clean and steady deck. He was amazed by the engineering involved to keep such a great ship as solid as a castle. What was more amazing was that these people managed such feats when half of the world was starving and oppressed.
“I apologize for the captain’s absence, but there are pressing matters that require his personal attention. If you’ll have me, I’ll be your guide and custodian until a time when he may free himself,” Thalon said. He cast a stern gaze over them in search of a specific reaction and seemed disappointed when he didn’t get it. “You will be shown to your quarters after a rather hasty debriefing and then summoned when it is time for the evening meal. Follow me.”
Their boots made sharp clicking sounds as they ranged across the decks. He told them it was all right to remove their respirators once they were inside. A deckhand was there to supply them with fresh towels to wipe the ash and grime away. The crew they passed shot them wary looks and curious glares. These were, after all, invaders of their inner sanctuary. Kane’s mind drifted away towards things to come, so far he hardly noticed being shown his quarters. It was through the faintest realities he heard Thalon bark the commands to raise anchor and get under way.
They boarded with unease, all but the Viper. Deck hands hurried out to take bags, carefully avoiding the massive amounts of weaponry each of the guests carried. Thalon presented escorts to see Kane and the others to their cabins. What he called modest accommodations. The Misfortune was comparable to a floating city, thus making it easy to get lost without assistance.
Nathan dropped his pack on the deck at the foot of his bunk and surveyed the room. A small bed with rolled up blankets beneath a pillow. The round window above the bed allowed the ever present red glow to seep in, reminding him of old paintings of what Hell was supposed to look like. A wall locker was big enough to hold a few sets of hanging clothes and little else. There was a foldout desk presently locked into the wall behind the door. That was it.
“Now I know why I never joined the navy,” he muttered and went to rejoin the others in the main lounge.
He was the last to arrive though he failed to see how. The others must be more anxious that me to get this moving. Can’t say as that I like the idea of floating over a sea of lava. He idly scratched the back of a hand and took a seat on the long bench opposite Thalon.
“Ah, Mr. Bourne, I trust you are settled into your cabin?” Thalon asked, the falsity of his smile unsettling.
“Well enough I suppose, though I don’t recall seeing the head on my way down,” he said.
Thalon cocked his head. “The head?”
Nathan grinned sheepishly. “Latrine. Bathroom.”
“Ah, facilities are placed throughout each deck. Yours will be located a few doors down from you.” Thalon looked around to see if there were any other questions. “Nothing else? Good, the Captain is waiting. Let me escort you to the officer’s mess so that we may embark.”
They followed the grey skin First Mate deeper into the bowels of an impossible ship. Nathan couldn’t help but feel trepidations as he strayed farther from all he knew.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the captain of the Misfortune.”
Everyone seated at the impressive dinner table rose and awaited their host’s arrival. His heavy footsteps echoed down the carpeted hall, heightening their expectations. The crew stood tall and proud, for they were mostly the officers and important members of the ship. Servers and cooks stood against the far wall with hands clasped in front of them. Thalon was next to the door and beaming with pride. Nathan felt the love coming from this man and knew respect. The door hissed open, ending the wait.
“Be seated, all of you,” the captain said with a deep, rumbling voice.
A gasp came from next to Nathan, and he turned to see Emerald’s face pale and drawn. There was horror and confusion in her eyes.
The captain still hadn’t seen her. “For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, my name is Vesper Razorback, captain of the Misfortune. I humbly welcome you and ask you to share this feast.”
Part of my ongoing Christmas giveaways is this dandy. A little bit of a ghost story, a little bit fantasy, all adventure. The Children of Never is the first full length novel set in the world of the Purifying Flame, a short story that won me 4th place in the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest back in 2012. Enjoy, and please drop a review. I love to hear what you think.
Lizette awakens to a nightmare, for her daughter has been stolen during the night. When she goes to the Baron to petition aid, she learns that similar incidents are occurring across the duchy. Her daughter was just the beginning. Baron Einos of Fent is left with no choice but to summon the war priests. Brother Quinlan is a haunted man. Last survivor of Castle Bendris, he now serves Andrak. Despite his flaws, the Lord General recognizes Quinlan as one of the best he has. Sending him to Fent is his best chance for finding the missing children and restoring order. Quinlan begins a quest that will tax his strength and threaten the foundations of his soul. The Grey Wanderer stalks the lands, and where he goes, bad things follow. The dead rise and the Omegri launch a plan to stop time and overrun the world. The duchy of Fent is just the beginning.