Dawn had just experienced the greatest pain of her life. But it was transformative. She promised herself that no pain or failure would be a reason for her to abandon herself, or her mission. Dawn had lost the most important part of her family. She would not lose her closest friend in the same day.
Cloudhawk, clutching his chest, looked up at Dawn and was overjoyed by what he saw. Escaping the pit of despair she’d fallen into was no easy task, but she’d succeeded. Only those who had suffered true loss ever matured.
Seeing Dawn stand between their enemies and the fleet’s commander, the rest of the officers were inspired to fight back. Their numbers were many, yet none of them were worth Abaddon or Autumn’s attention.
Dawn was too weak to change their dire fate.
The likes of the crystal dragon, the Dryad or Wolfblade were already too much for her. They were determined to slaughter every Elysian in their path, and Dawn couldn’t stop them.
“You all misunderstand.” Wolfblade had his arms folded in front of him. He was calm and relaxed. It was hardly the stance of a man ready to kill. “I wanted to teach you a lesson – not kill you. Now, I am a gentleman and as such am loathe to raise my hand against such a lovely young woman.”
Was that so? Cloudhawk wasn’t sure he trusted anything this man said. The one-eyed rogue didn’t look like a gentleman at all.
His tone shifted as Wolfblade went on. “However, there is one among my people who has taken issue with one of yours. Seeing as the situation has… changed… now is a fine time to address these grievances. I assume you won’t mind.”
Before Cloudhawk could respond, a lumbering figure stepped into his field of view. Coal!
The mutant didn’t look any different, but his presence was completely different from the kindhearted soul Cloudhawk had met in the Blisterpeaks. It was clear Coal had experienced many things during his months with these terrorists.
Drake recognized the giant mutant right away. Was it really that same mutant from before? It was General Aegir himself who cut this beast down with a dozen sword blows – but he still somehow lived.
“Cloudhawk. You saved Coal’s life, but cannot give him the vengeance he seeks.” Wolfblade’s one good eye flicked toward Drake and Brontes. “These men gave the order that slaughtered an entire tribe of innocent mutants in the Blisterpeak Mountains. Good and evil, as they say, each have their consequences. Our encounter here is an opportunity to judgment.
Curious looks turned to Cloudhawk. He had saved Coal? Cloudhawk also scowled, for Wolfblade was stoking Coal’s lust for vengeance. It put the fleet commander in a difficult position.
The hatred that burned behind Coal’s eyes smoldered from the depths of his soul. His fists clenched, knuckles cracked. A palpable desire for blood hung around him like a stench. Meanwhile, Abaddon and Autumn looked on wordlessly, as casual as though they were watching a play.
Wolfblade’s face bore a small smile. “Go, child. Do what you were meant to do.”
Coal paused before eventually speaking. “Not here.”
A note of surprise crept into Wolfblade’s face. “Child, have you forgotten how these men brutally slaughtered your people? Have you forgotten their pained cries, cut short as they drowned in their own blood? Have you forgotten the responsibility that rests on your shoulders?”
“Never.” Coal looked down at his trembling fists. “I promised myself. Kill them with my own hands. I also promised a friend. No vengeance with him here. Makes it hard for my friend. I can’t.”
Coal was a simple, honest creature. For many, if they came face to face with the monsters that killed their family there would be no hesitation. A lesser man would throw himself at his enemies without a second thought. But Coal had made a promise that he would not fight Cloudhawk’s friends while Cloudhawk was there. He was willing to give up that chance for vengeance to keep his oath.
“While you might imagine these thoughts are noble, you are wrong. If Cloudhawk was a true friend, he would not stand between you and justice for your family.” Wolfblade’s poison words urged Coal’s hatred. “You should do what you want to do – what you know to be right. If your acts are righteous, why should you care what someone else thinks? We humans must learn to be volatile in our volatile world. There are many times in life when you will not be able to have everything you want. You must chose. To have one you must give up the other, or risk losing them both.
“You want to be powerful. This is a lesson you must learn and experience. It is your one chance – either you kill them or I shall. Choose between your promise to a friend or vengeance for a slaughtered family. Think carefully. Listen to your heart.”
“Coal, don’t listen to that snake-fuck!” Cloudhawk shouted over Wolfblade’s sinister words. “He’s trying to turn you into something you’re not!”
Drake scowled in anger and confusion. “What are you saying? If this freak wants to try and kill me, let him. Do you think an Elysian officer is scared of a mere mutant?”
“Do you see? Even to this day, the fiend had no regret for his crimes. To his eyes, your people were were like animals, to be slaughtered as he pleased. What lies beneath that pretty Elysian exterior are sick guts poisoned with narrow-minded hatred.” Wolfblade’s eye never left Coal. “Are you really willing to let this unthinkable crime against your people go unpunished? For friendship?”
A change came over Coal’s stiff expression. Cloudhawk saw pain, hesitation, struggle and then… resolve. Coal turned away from Cloudhawk, leveling his attention unto Drake and Brontes. “I choose justice, for the chief.”
Cloudhawk’s expression fell. He tightened his fists. Dawn stopped him, hissing “Don’t be hasty!”
“Heh, foul mutant. What makes you think you stand a chance?” Drake knew getting out of this predicament was not going to be easy. Better to face it. So he braced his broadsword on his shoulder and growled defiantly. “Show me what you’re made of.”
Brontes strode up to his compatriot’s side without a word. For a few moments the two youths just stared at the freak before them.
The unblinking eyes of Abaddon and Autumn watched with interest. Cloudhawk didn’t know why those two – strong as Master Demonhunters – were listening to an asshole like Wolfblade. But they were here. This was happening. He couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Regret wormed its way through him. If he’d known this day would come, Cloudhawk would have made Coal come with him from the Blisterpeaks.
Joining the Dark Atom was Coal’s greatest mistake. He had so much potential, at least enough to challenge the wasteland kings for their titles. But once he met Wolfblade and Hellflower, all he became was a pawn in their dark game.
All of a sudden, the simple and honest mutant was gone. In his stead was a creature of intense violence, the harvest of Wolfblade’s poison seeds.
Drake just sneered. He thought nothing of this twisted heathen. He was under no illusions that he might be able to beat these opponent. Delaying was to their advantage, for the longer they dragged this out the sooner reinforcements would arrive. It might buy Cloudhawk and the others a chance to escape.
Besides that, his capture at the hands of these barbarians was a great source of shame. Dying on the field was nothing to fear, but dragging down one’s fellows was.
Those were the thoughts running through his mind as he glared at Coal. He just found it ridiculous that there would been a mutant out there hating him so deeply. This malformed, pathetic beast actually thought he was a challenge to an Elysian officer?
Hammont watched from the periphery, his expression tense. He knew what kind of power Coal had in his punch. Fighting him back on the mountain hadn’t been easy! He wasn’t sure even the two officers were enough for a clear victory.
“Come!” Drake taunted. “You ugly freak. Show me and Brontes what your clan shat out as their champion. Monsters like you shouldn’t even exist!”
Brontes hunched in a combative posture. His frigid calm never shook. What the others didn’t see, however, were the engorged veins creeping into his eyes.
Drake and Brontes rushed forward in unison. After a few steps, both charge at Coal with that staple of Elysian military, the Spearhead manuever.
Coal had been trying to contain his anger, but when he heard Drake’s foul words he could no longer. The vision of his chief’s head rolling along the ground played in his mind over and over again. He remembered those uncaring faces as the Elysians killed everyone he loved. When he remembered everything, an anger that had been brewing within him like a volcano broke free.
His people spent their lives on volcanic mountainsides, far away from Skycloud. They’d done nothing to the outsiders, caused them no harm. They welcomed them into their village.
Why did those honest, humble people have to die? Why did these Elysians have to massacre people they’d never met? How could these murderers have been allowed to go on with their lives!?
Coal felt it rising up from within him. Rage, like an inferno, burned away everything but itself. It was released in an earth-trembling roar, and Coal’s ruddy terracotta flesh began to glow.
He radiated like a lightbulb, like a lit coal!
The light came from within him, pressing out to the surface where it enveloped Coal entirely. Even from several meters away people could feel the heat billowing off of him. Coal had turned himself into an avatar of fire.
Drake and Brontes hacked their weapons across Coal’s flesh.
What little scarring they did to his skin healed in an instant.
Drake was shocked. He knew the mutant wasn’t a pushover, but he was expected slightly more defenses and power than typical. This freak was more like Naga. Had he also cultivated his mutation to extreme levels?
Coal let his power free. Two fists crashed into the Elysians faster than lightning, faster even than Cloudhawk could follow.
Both Drake and Brontes felt their chests collapse as they were fired backward like missiles. Luckily they had hardy constitutions, because the blow felt like a dozen tons of freight slamming right into them. Normal folk would have been blown to paste.
The two men were caught after being flung back only a few meters. Coal had plucked them right out of the air, then smashed them into the ground with a feral roar. He then wrenched them out of the craters and threw them both against the dense of the mountain sides. The sheer rock face cracked nearly to its apex.
Cloudhawk howled, “Stop!”
Dawn prepared herself to attack.
Wolfblade snapped his fingers and his sword sprang to action. Guided by its master’s will, the sword rammed into Terrangelica. Incredible force blasted through Dawn’s body and knocked her backward.
Coal paid her no mind and jumped at the holes were his targets lay. Like a wild animal he crashed into the rock and pummeled it over and over with his fists. Shards were flung in all directions.
Wolfblade’s strength was more than Dawn had assumed. She couldn’t get passed his relic sword, only manage to keep it from harming her. If this kept up, the two Elysian officers were destined to die. After that, Cloudhawk and the others faced a similar fate.
The shimmering relic hummed with power. Dawn had never seen nor heard of anything like it. It was incredible to her that wastelands could even use relics. However it wasn’t unprecedented. After all, Cloudhawk was a wastelander. So was that snake Inkshade, who’d hidden in plain sight for twenty years. Not only were they able to use relics, they were also strong. She wasn’t too taken aback by his powers.
But his strength was another matter. The blue blade was starting to overpower her. The cold, icy-blue metal flashed inches from her face. All of a sudden it burst with energy and spun forward in a deadly thrust!
Dawn felt an intense burst of energy drill through her. She’d deflected again with Terrangelica, but her weapon’s mirror surface had begun to crack. She didn’t know how much more she could take.