The Darkness Inside
The Wolfguard stand at the gate, muscles tense and flexed, mouths hanging open in anticipation of what is to come within seconds, the sound of panting breath nearly audible even over the screaming of the engines and the howl of the surrounding air during deceleration.
Jayden holds his place at the fore, his age and longevity within the unit affording him the honor of being the first one out the door. He carries a pair of machine pistols with which to battle the foe, and a long, curving sword rides sheathed on his back.
Behind him, hearts pounding in delighted anticipation, Carr and Shay clutch their autoshotguns like beloved children. Shay dances in place, swaying from side to side as she listens to some kind of music on a chip player. One graceful ear remains cocked and aware of her surroundings, but the other has a speaker bud poked into it.
In the final position, in the rear of the diamond as it were, is me, the one that the crew of the ship has dubbed the Berserker. I stand with difficulty, body so tense that it quivers. Axes hang at my sides and my fingers tighten and loosen on their leather-bound hafts. Already I can taste the blood of our foes, feel their bodies tearing and shattering before my powerful onslaught. My teeth come together in a grinding sound and I feel my feet begin pawing at the floor.
Will landfall never come?
I have pistols, too, holstered on each hip. I rarely use them. I want to be in close. I need to feel the heat of their filthy bodies as my axes open them. Feel the rush as their blades and bullets fail to stop me. Revel in their pain as the Wolfguard does in minutes what others would take hours to accomplish. We wade into the foe with the sure and certain knowledge that we are doomed. We welcome it.
The engines flare once again, and the dropship shudders as our descent is slowed even further. If you listen carefully, past the shrieking devil’s chorus of power versus gravity, now is when you can hear the first of the bullets begin to bounce from the skin of the craft.
Jayden takes a deep breath, and we all follow his example. Behind us, the assembled soldiers have no clue what is about to happen. They have never been in a Wolfguard drop. Before today, most of them had never seen one of our number, and some even believed us myths.
It starts as a low rumbling in his chest, bursting forth in a glorious howl that rattles the soul. Carr is next into the chorus, his voice so pitch-perfect it is a marvel. Shay joins, raising her autogun above her head in powerful paws and shaking it. Once she is established, I am there, feeling my entire body shudder as the howl breaks forth.
I know not what or who the others sing for — asking such would be considered rude to the point of suicide — but my song is for Brigid. My beloved Brigid. Her soft fur, her loving touch. It will always be for her. For the days spent by her side, and the nights spent in her embrace.
The sound is a wall of power now, a tangible thing that reverberates from the walls of the craft. Behind us I know that many are covering their ears. Some lift their voices in a roaring cacophony that begs to join us. There are those who think we are simply shouting our joy as the combat nears, for they are told that we seek the war as some eternal quest.
We are no Crusaders. Battle is no holy sacrament. We do not seek it for the glory.
We come to die.
Armored only in the scars of our former battles, we stride willingly into the reach of the foe. Each of us courts death as surely as once I courted Brigid. We taunt and tease it, delivering rows of the foe into the grasp of the Reaper while begging to be taken as well.
Lights in the bay change from red to blue and the intensity of the howl builds to a deafening crescendo. Five seconds to touchdown.
Behind us the soldiers ready their weapons.
The clock in my head ticks away the seconds as our howls fade. Each of us takes what may be our last breath, filling lungs left bare from the prayer-song.
My heart hammers in my chest. I look down to see the band tattooed on my left wrist. I remember with crystal clarity the moment we had the marks made. The elder that oversaw our joining smiling as she spoke the sacred words even as the tattoos were applied. Brigid smiling, her image burned indelibly into my heart as much as this ink remains.
My prayer is simple. I need not speak it aloud. The gods know my desire. The words flow through my brain anyway, and I know that they are heard.
Hands tighten on the grips of my axes. The leather creaks within my paws. My muzzle snaps shut although the lips peel back in a savage display of pointed teeth and raw hate.
The dropship shudders and shakes as exterior anti-personnel mines detonate in a flash of shrapnel that spreads around us in a wave designed to give us at least a few steps through the gate — a gate that even now begins to fall in an arc that lets a pale morning sun stream into the craft. The air reeks of chemical waste and exhaust, but soon we will smell naught but blood and death.
The craft slams to the ground with authority, the gate becoming a ramp down which we charge. Our claws catch in the metal mesh of the gate and propel us forward. Jayden is firing already, his sharp eyes finding the foe. Shay is next, the rapid banging of her autogun a song all to itself.
My feet touch actual ground. Sandy loam with a thick cover of grass that is now browned and dead in response to the powerful jets of our landing. In powerful bounds I run past Shay. She adjusts her aim to complement Carr’s, knowing my blades will touch the foe and giving me the berth I need.
They are there, crouching behind makeshift barriers of dirt and stone. Thousands of them, their beady eyes bugging out as I vault through a hail of small-caliber gunfire like a demented acrobat. Behind the assembled rats, I see her, beckoning me to join her in death.
I am among them now, arms pumping and spiraling with the twin blades. I am a demonic beast in their midst, and their gunfire chews their own more often than any bullet even scrapes at my fur. In the melee, they shoot each other, the ground, even the sky, but my ferocious form seems protected by a wall of force handed down by the gods themselves. I am drenched in blood within seconds, a crimson reaver plowing through their ranks with a fresh howl on my lips.
She is there again, a ghostly figure that promises a reunion when my task is finished, and I remember that it was a fight such as this that took her. Cut down beside me in a volley of exchanged shots, her life snuffed out in the span of a heartbeat. I would never know her caress again, never feel her form beside me at night. She was taken from me, and I will make them all pay. Wolves mate for life, and without her I am only a tool of death.
I have come to take the souls of the foe, and send them screaming into their hells.
I am Ivar Bloodaxe.
I am the Berserker.