Cloudhawk watched the whole scene play out.
Outside the portholes the world was a chaotic display of explosions and beams of light. The flames of this conflict painted the dark clouds an angry red, and everywhere they turned they were met with disarray. Burning wreckage and hunks of shattered warships floated passed, crisscrossing the horizon and striking the hull of their ship. All together it was like a scene from a nightmare.
This was war. Real war.
None of them – not Barb, not Dawn, not even Cloudhawk had seen combat of this scale. The howling winds and burning skies made the world angry and inhospitable.
All around Fallowmoor was the enormous dust cloud which hid it from view. The perpetual storm restricted their field of vision, as well as the many other airships which were locked in combat between them and the floating city. So to the four of them furtively hiding in the hip’s bridge, all they could hear were the deafening explosions. They had no idea where they were coming from.
An order flashed across the screen: Begin the attack!
The flagship relayed its commands to the rest of the wasteland fleet in this way. Pilots didn’t need to know where the enemy was, or even required a visual. All the relevant data was provided on the screen, all they needed to do was comply. Since the area around Fallowmoor did not submit to the rule of gravity, the missiles fired from wastelander ships could travel much farther. This allowed them to keep a safe distance while still punishing the enemy with artillery fire.
Dawn’s face hardened in a look of anger. “Ahead is the home of the wasteland alliance, and the expeditionary forces have been trapped. These blasphemers are hoping to stab them in the back.”
She’d never seen anything like it. For the moment she wasn’t sure how to react.
“After the Blisterpeaks everyone was sure the Dark Atom would stay under their mountain and lick their wounds. Not even grandpa expected them to have a fleet like this. Even though the expeditionary force had the equipment to protect themselves, between the conclave and the help from Woodland Vale there are too many variables. They can’t handle it, we need to do something immediately!”
Barb was visibly nervous. How could she – an average demonhunter of no great importance – know how to react to a situation like this?
It was clear to everyone that the expeditionary force had found itself embroiled in a deadly plight. Without timely intervention, the consequences they faced were dire.
“Old man, guard the bridge door and make sure no one gets in. The two of you, back me up.” Cloudhawk then smashed his fist through the control screen. “Activate all weapons and throw the engine wide open. Go, go, go!”
Through the Heart-scry Thorn, Barb knew how to do all of that. She hurried to follow orders.
Cloudhawk’s plans were not hard to guess. The woman felt their hearts race, if they did this right they stood to vastly change the tide of this war!
Barb shoved the throttle as far forward as it would go. “Engines at full power!”
Meanwhile, Dawn hurriedly unlocked the weapon systems. She was unfamiliar with these scientific constructs, o it took her a moment to get a handle on how to use them. But she was very smart, so before long she knew what to do.
“All weapon systems active!”
Everyone could feel the ship rumble beneath their feet as the engines roared.
The cast iron sheets that made up the ship’s exterior were pulled back, revealing several dark cannons. One of them was different from the other – larger and more complicated. That was the airship’s main weapon, a pulse cannon of tremendous destructive force.
“Excellency! Energy storage at max capacity!”
“Weapons are ready!”
Both women nervously looked through the bridge’s windows. They were situated in the center of the enemy fleet, leaving them with a wealth of targets to choose from. Yet the plethora of choices also made picking the most suitable one difficult. What’s more, the moment they took out one of them their cover would be blown.
“It doesn’t matter, shoot somebody! Blow them to fuckin’ pieces!”
Cloudhawk didn’t even hesitate about pushing the launch button. Hundreds of shells were launched from the ship.
They weren’t all fired in one direction, but spread all over like deadly flower blossoms. In the next moment five or six ships nearby were rocked by unexpected explosions. The pulse cannon shot a beam directly into the ass of another vessel right in front of them, blowing it to pieces.
The sound was deafening. Outside the grit-stained windows the world was a sea of fire.
Cloudhawk’s ship was like a wild animal suddenly going rabid. The ships nearby where wholly unprepared, so several were rendered incapacitated from the attack. Many others were badly damaged.
Their ship continued to pick up speed, like a wild horse trying to escape the lasso. They recklessly smashes into several ships as they pushed through the fleet toward the front. A large number of parts were left in its wake like discarded building blocks.
Such an expected scene quickly garnered everyone’s attention. Wastelanders on other vessels and the one Cloudhawk controlled stared in wide-eyed disbelief.
“What the fuck?!”
“Who the hell is controlling that ship?!”
All of a sudden the Dark Atom’s sneak attack was interrupted. Everyone scrambled furiously through the ships to try and get a handle on the situation. Now was the perfect opportunity for the Dark Atom to deliver a knock-out blow to the Elysians. Fifteen minutes was all they needed to shoot down at least a hundred of those gaudy warships. If it didn’t route the expeditionary forces outright, it would at minimum be a crushing blow to their morale.
And just when the Dark Atom was licking their chops, the unthinkable happened. Even a brief delay was catastrophic to this well-laid plan!
Several messages were crackling through the radio system, other ships trying to figure out what the hell was going on. All went unanswered. By now the Dark Atom leadership had to know that somehow the enemy had gotten control of a ship.
“Destroy it!” Buzzard screeched the order and made to handle it himself. “I’m going to take a look, see if I can’t figure out who the fuck is playing games with us.”
Coal and Greenscale decided to join him.
Two minutes and two more destroyed wasteland airships later…
At last the Dark Atom ships pulled around to respond. Their cannons roared as heavy machine gun fire and missiles were spat at the traitorous vessel. Jagged, gaping holes appeared on the patchwork hull, each one hemorrhaging fire. On the bridge sparks were flying from the control panels and the acrid scent of burning electronics filled their nostrils.
Outside the bridge, it was an absolute mess. A group of Dark Atom soldiers had gathered and were trying to break through the door. The old drunk made quick work of them with his iron cane.
“Fire another round! Another!” Dawn’s face was red with excitement. She hammered on the control panel,blind to the danger that surrounded them. “Let me this time!”
The pulse cannon fired another shot, causing the ship directly in front of them to immediately detonate.
Barb and Dawn whooped triumphantly.
But Cloudhawk’s keen danger sense was filling the pit of his stomach with fear. He knew it wasn’t time to celebrate. “Good enough. Let’s get out of here!”
In that moment the blast from a particle cannon struck. The shot was well placed, and their vessel split in two with a shuddering blast.
The bridge was devoured by fire.
Cloudhawk’s quick reaction gathered his small crew and teleported them a thousand meters away. They were floating out in the weightless place between dimensions as rocks and debris floated passed. They didn’t stop. Jumping from one massive boulder from the next, they could see the lights of the expeditionary force in the distance.
“Kill them! Kill them all!”
A host of Dark Atom ships gave chase. Their left flank was aimed toward them, bristling with cannons and gun barrels.
Dark Atom agents were positioned behind heavy machine guns and opened fire when the four culprits swung into view. The bullets were deflected by the old drunk, who single-handedly knocked the spray of lead off target by spinning his cane.
“Where do you think you’re going!”
Their escape was cut off by the sudden arrival of Dark Atom agents. Greenscale’s burly form had completely switched to its bestial state.
Barb quickly deflected his opening attack with her exorcist rod. Buzzard and a handful of others were right on the shapeshifter’s heels.
Cloudhawk wrapped his fingers around Ardent Wrath and pulled it from his waist. He heaved it at Buzzard to keep him at bay. Engaging his mental energies, the broken sword suddenly flared to life and became a longsword of fire.
“Out of my way!” The angry flames reached for Buzzard’s face.
The Dark Atom lieutenant was protected by one of his lackeys. The formidable soldier lifted a sword to protect them, grossly underestimating Cloudhawk and his new weapon.
Ardent Wrath was not made up of physical energy, so using his sword to deflect the blow achieved nothing.
The flaming weapon slipped passed the sword like it wasn’t there, then burned through its bearer’s body. Where it passed the flesh was immediately carbonized.
What an incredible relic! Cloudhawk was satisfied. He took the lead, Ardent Wrath held aloft, then cut down the next few Dark Atom agents who made to bar their escape. Once several more soldiers had died, the rest were too afraid to draw near.
But not all. Another figure swept by to stop Cloudhawk’s advance. His scowl darkened: Another asshole looking to die?! He stabbed toward the attacker’s face.
But when Cloudhawk raked the sword against the sturdy body before him, it didn’t have the same effect as it had on the soldiers before. In fact his new opponent heaved an enormous fist in to counterattack, which caught the physical half of Ardent Wrath and knocked the attack wide.
Cloudhawk reeled like he’d been struck by a cannonball. He felt his whole body shudder and ache. When he finally stopped to look at who delivered the punch, he understood. Coal’s imposing figure hovered in the air before him.
No wonder Ardent Wrath hadn’t done anything. The mutants of Blisterpeak had a high tolerance for heat!
Coal also paused when he recognized his new foe. “You?”
Cloudhawk warily held his flame-spewing sword at his side. “Coal, it’s been a while. You’ve gotten a lot stronger. But you still aren’t strong enough to stop me.”
His words caused the large mutant to hesitate. Not long ago he considered the outsider a friend. Cloudhawk had even saved Coal’s life. His was a simple code of ethics; repay favors, and punish slights. But which one applies here?
Raising his hand against Cloudhawk was disrespecting a friend. But if he let Cloudhawk leave, he would harm others. There were already many in the Dark Atom who disliked him. He was still struggling with the answer when someone dashed in to join them. The old drunk whipped a kick at Coal’s body.
Crisscrossed arms extended to deflect the attack, but he wasn’t expecting how much strength was behind the old man’s kick. It sent it tumbling head over heels through the clouds, ultimately smashing to a distant boulder.
The drunk looked over his shoulder. “No time for chit-chat. If we don’t leave now, we aren’t going anywhere.”
“Do you not see me trying to do that?”
The phase stone around Cloudhawk’s neck shimmered. A flash, and the four of them disappeared further into the dust storm.
Buzzard watched helplessly as his targets vanished from right under his nose. He was so furious he could spit blood. Of course he recognized Cloudhawk. What he didn’t understand was why this shit stick was stirring up trouble just when they didn’t need it, and what side the asshole was even on!