In the same instant Cerberus shouted his orders, Hellflower’s pistols were in her hands. A dozen deafening cracks rang off the walls as she pulled the trigger.
Her shots were cast all through the hall, too fast for her targets to find cover. However not all of these men were pushovers, as some were quite skilled. Their armor protected them from the worst of it.
“Do it! Kill the bitch!”
Twenty ferocious wastelanders charged in. Some of them fired guns back at her to counterattack, others closed the distance to fight hand to hand.
But Hellflower handled her pistols with the speed and destruction of a machine gun. Her attackers were immediately caught in a hail of suppressive fire. A handful of unlucky ones had their heads blown off by being a second too slow.
She was too damn strong!
Meanwhile Cloudhawk watched as though enjoying a show, taking his time to enjoy his meal. He then drank down what remained of his poison wine, and only at that point seemed to pay closer attention to the fighting. By now it had reached a fever pitch, and although Hellflower was deadly these men were not slouches. She couldn’t handle all of them by herself.
Sure enough, a few of Cerberus’ men were pushing forward under the protection of shields. Sparks flew as the thick slabs of metal deflected Hellflower’s bullets. They pulled out guns of their own and started firing back at the invaders. Food and dishware exploded every which way as the table was peppered with gunfire.
Cloudhawk’s response was to lazily wave his left hand. A streak of silver wormed out of his palm and whipped through the air. What bullets weren’t reflected back towards the wastelanders were cut in half and rendered harmless.
The savage faces darkened.
Power like this definitely didn’t come from the wastelands. Was this one of the legendary demonhunters they’d heard about? Regardless of a demonhunter’s storied strength, they were also completely mysterious to these ignorant killers. They couldn’t even begin to understand how to fight against one.
After deflecting the bullets Cloudhawk pointed at them with a finger from his right hand. A gout of green fire belched from the digit, like a star had shattered and spread across the dining hall.
What was this? Everyone – Cerberus included – was astonished by what they witnessed.
Countless sparks of green fire wafted through the air. They slowly approached, swinging back and forth as though they had a life of their own. One man was enthralled and reached out to touch one. He sensed no danger in the unassuming tongue of fire, but when it grazed his skin it clung tight and she couldn’t pat it out.
His pained screams were deafening. With wide eyes he watched the fire consume his hand and quickly spread inch by inch up his arm. Flailing wildly about in desperate attempt to douse the fires only helped them spread faster. In only a few moments there was nothing left of the man but a pile of ash.
Cries of fear and powerlessness rang through the hall. Even Cerberus was frozen in place. He had witnessed something incredible, the most unbelievable scene in his entire life. One of his subordinates was simply gone – consumed by evil fire.
What sort of wickedness was this? That bandaged freak was no human, he was a demon!
Motes of fire were bobbing closer to the Governor. With a roar he stamped his feet, crushing the stone beneath and casting it into the air for cover. He then flung himself through the nearest windowand tumbled a dozen meters to the ground below.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Hellflower’s pretty face bore a frightening and beautiful grin.
She leaped from the open portal, using the wall to steady herself on her descent. Agile as a cat she scrambled down, while firing her guns at Cerberus. However the man was Governor for a reason. He could guess track where the bullets would land, making even Hellflower’s storied precision insufficient.
Hellflower finally reached the ground, landing deftly on her feet.
“Everyone, after her! Kill this bitch!” Cerberus shouted at the top of his lungs then looked back at her. “Let’s see how much you can handle!”
Cerberus had had the foresight to station a few hundred of his soldiers near the fort, in the off chance his ploy failed. They were equipped with guns and bows to kill their targets from afar. A number of them had heavier artillery that was a threat even to Hellflower. Even a veteran demonhunter wouldn’t be able to defend himself against such an onslaught for more than a few seconds.
It didn’t matter how strong she was. Hellflower was just one woman, after all! Greater numbers always won out!
Hellflower looked around at the bristling gun barrels and crossbow bolts aimed her way. She paused for a moment, then raised her head skyward. “Hey. Are you just going to watch, or get involved?”
The soldiers felt a strong wind blow through. They followed her gaze, and then one after the other gaped in utter shock at what they saw. An enormous crystal beast hovered just overhead, its massive wings causing the air to grow tumultuous. It was as though the beast was carved out of gemstones, and every scale was impossibly beautiful.
Standing on its back was a young woman in green robes. She scowled down at the wastelanders like a giant regarding an anthill.
Autumn was a prideful, conceited former god. She would not suffer a meal with these insignificant creatures and expect to feign respect. She deigned not to attend their little get together, and even now was loathe to lift her hand against these paltry foes. She was a god, and even giving them this modicum of respect was beneath her.
The dragon creature dove at them. Bolts and bullets ricocheted off its hide without so much as a scratch. Its deadly claw lashed out, rending flesh, armor and stone. A swath of soldiers were flung from the walls or torn to ribbons while at the same time, the dragon released a plume of fire from its maw.
But while it looked like fire, it was not. The deadly substance was a corrosive energy that dissolved its victims like acid. The soldiers below howled in agony as their flesh melted away. No armor, not even bone could withstand it. After the dragon passed overhead it left in its wake softly bubbling pools of melted human.
The beast reared back, beating its wings. The sharp edges of its claws cut right through another group of warriors. It was no battle, it was a massacre. While the wastelanders had the advantage of numbers, their weapons were powerless against this monster. Without a way to fight back, what choice did they have but to die?
Autumn raised her flute to her lips. A single note arose.
Countless dark figures emerged. Beasts which had lain dormant awakened as her command. They charged into the city’s midst.
Hellflower watched. She wasn’t a soldier. Her talents lay elsewhere. As for Cloudhawk, his Castigation Fire was incredibly lethal, but was not fire in the proper sense. It didn’t combust the material it consumed to birth more flame. In order to continue to spread, it demanded will from the one who controlled it. Cloudhawk hadn’t recovered enough to destroy thousands of soldiers with a flick of his finger.
But Autumn? She was another story. Of the three of them, she was a true powerhouse.
It didn’t matter that Cloudhawk was injured, because even in peak form he was no match for Autumn. Besides, her powers were unique. So long as there were weak-willed creatures around, she could summon an army to her aid with but a few notes from her flute.
Her power over these beasts was indiscriminate. There was no different to her between controlling one monster and one thousand. Not even a Master Demonhunter could level an entire city. But to Autumn, it was an afterthought!
When had Cerberus ever witnessed such frightening strength? He only just now realized the depth of his stupidity, how much he was really ignorant of. There were those in this world he couldn’t even lift a finger against. Perhaps if he’d agreed to surrender the city, they would have let him live. He would lose his home, but at least he would still be breathing.
But it was too late. Acutely aware that this fight was hopeless, Cerberus abandoned his soldiers and fled for his life. None of this was important anymore, his only interest was to get as far away as possible.
He rushed past the soldiers, away from the din. He was beginning to think he’d made it when in front of him the air rippled strangely. Not the air – space. A figure stepped into existence, his gray cloak flapping in the winds. His bandaged form was unmistakable.
A demonhunter! Cerberus’ face was ashen. How many powers did this freak have? He’d left him back at the fort, he was sure of it. How did he show up here all of a sudden?
He’d heard Hellflower’s name before, knew that she was an unparalleled wasteland scientist. She was responsible for creating the Dark Atom’s genetically modified soldiers, as well as any number of other incredible discoveries. She was a woman capable of changing the face of the planet. The woman standing on her dragon was capable of destroying it. The man before him was a mystery, with powers that made him seem omnipresent.
He vastly underestimated these three! Regret was bitter in Cerberus’ mouth. What the hell made him think he could defy them? He fell to his knees before Cloudhawk and slapped himself several times across the face. “Spare me! Please, spare me! It was a moment of stupidity, let me live and I swear I’ll leave and never come back. I’m begging you!”
Cloudhawk reached into the void and pulled forth a large, broken sword. He gave it a few practice swings, which caused fire to leap off its surface. He said nothing, but the look on his face was easy to read. Cloudhawk had no intention of letting him live.
“I’ll deal with you myself.” Cerberus stared up at him with bloodshot eyes. He wrenched his own weapon free and threw himself at Cloudhawk in a last-ditched effort. His intense will to survive gave him unnatural strength.
But it was no use. Before a man of true power, he wasn’t even worth a second look.
Cloudhawk waved his broken sword, and from it reached a roaring flame. It streaked across the ground and crashed into Cerberus before he even got within striking distance. The intense heat of it immediately set him aflame. His body then burst into chunks of blackening meat spread across the ground.
Cough, cough! Cloudhawk put away Ardent Wrath and struggled to catch his breath. A few drops of blood trickled from the bandages around his mouth. He was still too weak, but strong enough to easily deal with a worm like Cerberus.
Was it that the Governor was weak? No – Cloudhawk was that strong! Cerberus was about as strong as Hydra had been, all those years ago. In these parts it made him top of the food chain. Yet even a wounded Cloudhawk had still put him down without effort.
He’d spent too long in the Elysian lands, where the strong were an entirely different class altogether. There were so numerous, in fact, that he’d hardly noticed how much he’d progressed. Now that he was back home, it was becoming clear there weren’t many who could stand against him.