There were very few settlements in the southern wastes that could count as ‘cities.’ None of them could compare to the power or scope of the Northern Barrens. However, that didn’t mean they weren’t a potential threat, and if three of them were able to organize this quickly it meant they’d been planning this for some time.
It made sense. Greenland City had come under foreign influence, and using the well-defended outpost they could build a fine foundation. It was only a matter of time before these outsiders tried to extend their reach to the rest of the southern wastelands – which was exactly what Cloudhawk was planning.
Instead of waiting for that day to come, it was better to be proactive. Seeing the writing on the wall, leaders from these three settlements agreed to work together.
It’d been less than a week since the coup. Cloudhawk had to assume there were spies, as that was the only way the cities could have learned Greenland changed hands so quickly. Word was must have gone out through something like messenger pigeons the moment Cerberus was killed. The minute it was received, these vipers slithered from their nests and gathered for an attack on the city. Hoping to take advantage of their precarious status as new leaders, perhaps Greenland might change hands again.
The wasteland had its own rules, and when outsiders came to try and impose their own they had to be dealt with. Even beasts protected their territory, to say nothing of grizzled wastelanders who fought and bled every day for what they earned. They weren’t about to tolerate a place as rich as Greenland City coming under foreign control, not when they could have it for themselves.
Cloudhawk was both surprised and frustrated. He’d just gotten back and assholes were already causing trouble. Rather than sit around and wait for conflict, though, he gathered the four thousand strong warriors of Greenland City and organized a defensive line.
Once again Cloudhawk’s wastelanders displayed impressive efficiency in following his orders.
Just five days after Cloudhawk took control, Greenland City had a shifting black line appear at its borders. Maybe ten thousand savage fighters were licking their chops and waiting for a cut of what Greenland City promised. They were a motley crew with wildly different equipment and hardly seemed organized, but there had to be close to ten thousand of them.
Some of them rode twisted mutabeasts, others rode in vehicles. Some wielded massive shields and others crude buster swords. Peppered among them were mutants several meters tall with heavy weaponry. From gear to appearance, there wasn’t anything unifying these killers. Strategy and unity was not a wasteland strong suit. They fought for themselves, each one competing for a greater cut of the winnings.
Cloudhawk looked over the milling soldiers with a scowl. He used to live here, and never had he thought the barren and sparsely populated southern wastes could gather such a force.
Hellflower looked at the two sides and gauged their situation. “Without Autumn’s help and with you sick, I’m not sure we can rely on a few thousand half-assed troops. Even with the advantage of our walls I don’t think we’ll be able to fend them off.”
The creases in Cloudhawk’s weathered face deepened. He couldn’t think of a way out.
From among the enemy forces a large man, perhaps two meters tall stepped forward. He had a strange look about him, for his skin gleamed with a metallic sheen form head to toe. At a glance it was hard to tell if this was some sort of armor, or if he’d somehow absorbed a metal for protection.
“I am Iron Grizzly!” The hulking man shouted toward the defenders. His booming voice felt so intense the soldiers could swear they saw sand being pushed by the sound waves. “Listen up: This place belongs to me now. Surrender and I let you live, otherwise you’ll wish I let you die.
“Men go to the mines. The women we’ll have our way with ‘till they’re no more use!”
The wastelanders shouted and brandished their weapons, making themselves look as fierce as possible. It was like two wild animals meeting on a narrow path. Neither was willing to back down, for if they gave in now they’d have lost before the fight even started.
As the wastelanders shouted their curses and dark promises, the air between the two armies shimmered. A figure stepped into view, appearing from nothing.
Gasps ensued and the wastelanders staggered back.
He was a strange in a gray cloak, and those close enough could see that he was covered in bandages. Such a strange figure, appearing out of nowhere, made them both wary and curious.
Iron Grizzle glowered at him. “Are you a man or some sort of ghost?”
Cloudhawk didn’t respond immediately. He slowly drew his eyes across the uncertain faces of his enemy. “I am the new ruler of this place. You traveled hard to get here so fast, it couldn’t have been easy. Maybe you could use a rest. We’ll sit, have a talk. Life is a precious and fragile thing and we can lose it in a blink if we aren’t careful. I’m willing to overlook your grand display today.”
“You think you can intimidate me?!” Iron Grizzly spun around to his men. “You saw what he can do. This piece of shit must have come from the Elysian lands, a mutt in the service to those killers. Demonhunter tricks! Fuck, they think they can just walk into our territory and take control? What do you think about that?!”
“Kill! Kill! Kill!”
Many of them didn’t know what an Elysian was, but a few were more widely traveled and knew what the word represented. Elysians and wastelanders mixed about as well as oil and water. No way in hell they were going to let an Elysian set up in their territory!
Cloudhawk had hoped to scare them a little, but instead he’d only managed to rile them up. This wasn’t just some group of wasteland thugs, and though they obviously feared Elysians they were still itching for a fight.
“Kill this one first!”
Iron Grizzly cried the order and the wastelanders let their hostility free. With guttural howls they flung themselves toward Cloudhawk, coming from all directions like a hoard of beasts.
Sons of bitches… these idiots really want to die.
If Cloudhawk was in better shape he could have torn through a chunk of these idiots, Iron Grizzly included. Sadly, he wasn’t in the position to pull out all the stops. He was left with no choice but to teleport back behind his defensive line and prepare for the inevitable attack, even though he knew the half-rate soldiers protecting his new home weren’t enough.
Besides that, a war here would destroy the fertile land this place relied on. Ground like was precious in the wastelands. If they won this fight but lost most of the usable land, the losses would outweigh the gains.
The enemy charged and starting closing in on Greenland City’s defenders. Soon they would be within firing range.
But just as they were about to clash turmoil erupted from behind the invading force. Heads spun around toward the sound of pained screams.
“What the fuck?!”
Iron Grizzly and the other chiefs looked back in surprise. Had Greenland sneaked a force behind them? That didn’t make any sense. Judging by the defenders they didn’t even have enough fighters to protect themselves. Why would they risk defense by exposing more of their forces in a sneak attack?
Iron Grizzly was beginning to doubt it was Greenland he was contending with, when suddenly the ground came to life beneath his feet. It felt like something was alive down there, moving under him.
The ground shook violently and where a minute ago it had been calm now they could see the earth moving invisible waves. Waves of mud and dirt billowed into the crowds throwing many of them to the ground.
At the same time the ground fought back. Spears of jagged rock stabbed out, ripping through the wasteland solders who’d just been pitched off their feet.
This was… a demonhunter? A strong demonhunter!
His enemies had more than one, a fact which made Iron Grizzly quickly rethink his plans. Soldiers regrouped to face the threat from behind, but as they formed up whole swaths exploded into gouts of blood. Invisible blades carved them into pieces. Dozens started to die from threads that were barely visible in the dappled light.
The threads were frighteningly strong and deadly. At the briefest touch it cut through flesh like bean curd. After watching their companions be cut apart, every soldier stopped. They were too afraid to move, afraid of what those threads would do.
A figure leaped up from among the crowd. She was a woman with short hair, bearing a three-edges rod in one hand. She came crashing down onto the wastelanders like a meteor and charged at Iron Grizzly.
He spun around, knocking away the rod with his spiked mace. The impact elicited a shuddering recoil that knocked him back several steps. His attacker followed up with a series of rapid blows, but he was strong too strong for her. One, two exchanges and then she landed a blow against the man’s iron-like skull. The exorcist rod shattered.
“Bastard!” Barb wiped a bit of blood from her face, then shouted toward the walls of Greenland City. “It’s us! Miss Polaris and the drunk have come to help!”
Cloudhawk was surprised at their sudden and fortuitous arrival. He looked out over a group of considerable size – six or seven hundred of them. Among them he saw Dawn, Gabriel, Barb, the drunk, Claudia and other familiar faces. All of them were old friends. He had no idea how they’d found him, and never expected so many to show up all at once.
Cloudhawk ordered his soldiers to charge at the enemy, pining them on two fronts. A brief but brutal confrontation followed, and three thousand of Iron Grizzly’s troops were cut down before them. The rest surrendered when they knew they were beat.
What did Greenland City lack the most? Laborers and young people. Winning this fight replenished the city’s resource of young, able-bodied workers in one fell swoop. Eliminate a few trouble makers and the rest would be desperate to join up.
Cloudhawk was astonished that Dawn had brought the old drunk, Gabby, Barb and even Claudia with her, along with several hundred loyal warriors to her family. He was delighted.
Hadn’t Claudia always dreamed of being a demonhunter instructor? Now she had her chance here in Greenland City. She was a proper, trained demonhunter so she knew how to deal with novices. The old drunk, meanwhile, was an old master in his own right. He would do a fine job teaching these troops the martial arts.
It seemed heaven – or something – was smiling on him. Suddenly all his problems were solved.