Cloudhawk tried to shake the fuzziness from his head and eyes.
The only way he was going to escape was if he dealt with this scythe-wielding fucker. The other sweepers would arrive soon, and once he was surrounded it would be difficult to break free. He had to put an end to his enemy quickly!
The sweeper chieftain fixed him with a burning, hateful gaze.
This child was more troublesome than he looked, fighting tenaciously even under these conditions. In addition to his supernatural strength and skill, he also seemed to possess supernatural luck. Even without the abilities of a demonhunter the kid was a threat. In twenty or so years of honing he could probably be one of the strongest humans in the wastelands. It made the sweeper hate him even more.
He was a child of the wastes, with tremendous potential, who decided to throw in his lot with those damn demonhunters. Because of him the Caliph’s dream of unifying this barren landscape was crushed. Now they were forsaken to an eternity of chaos and strife.
Thinking about the consequences deepened the chieftain’s seething anger. Without the Caliph to lead them the sweepers were nothing, synonymous with hideousness and evil – delegated to the lowest caste of society.
Ruined. Everything was ruined. All because of the demonhunters!
The sweeper leader harnessed all of that resentment and turned it into power. Like a howling banshee he raced through the sandstorm with his scythe at the ready, prepared to cut all the wastelands in two.
Cloudhawk lifted his exorcist staff to defend himself. He was met with a harsh blow.
The charge was so intense it knocked him back several feet and left tranches in his wake. A sharp pain ran along his arms before they went numb from the impact. His fingers felt like they were nearly broken off.
He wasn’t given an opportunity to catch his breath. The silver light of the scythe blade carved an arc through the air!
In both speed and strength, Cloudhawk’s foe was his superior!
With his normal abilities Cloudhawk wouldn’t last three rounds, so his chances for victory were slim. He had to focus his power into the exorcist staff and use it to protect himself from the deadly scythe as it sought to remove his head from his body. In the moment their two weapons connected he released the gathered psychic energy in a forceful blast that not only neutralized his enemy’s powerful strike, but also cracked his scythe staff and knocked him back several steps.
Cloudhawk was preparing to follow through but the chieftain was too quick. He followed the momentum of the riposte to bring his scythe around the side, switching hands behind his back and bringing the weapon back around crosswise in a vicious swipe. Cloudhawk was forced to move from attack to defense.
The scythe’s blade hooked onto Cloudhawk’s staff. Suddenly the young man’s hands were empty.
He watched as the exorcist staff was flung away. Cloudhawk scowled, he was left with no way to protect himself. The sweeper leader didn’t let up leaving Cloudhawk no space to find a way out. His knuckles were white as they gripped the scythe tight, bringing it down on the boy in a definitive slice.
Cloudhawk had nowhere to go!
They were too close for Cloudhawk’s invisibility cloak to help him. He threw up his hands with throwing daggers held crosswise to catch the scythe and managed to deflect the blow. He staggered backward again, but this time he let the throwing daggers fly.
Clang-clang! Two crisp ringing sounds hung in the air. The sweeper deftly whipped his scythe around to knock the hidden weapons away before coming in for another attack.
The only weapon Cloudhawk had left was the dagger from the elysian lands, the one the Bloodsoaked Queen had given him. Holding it tight in both hands he held it overhead where it met the scythe. It hit him like a thunderbolt, so strong he was brought down on one knee. His legs were half buried in the sand and every joint in his body started to pop.
Rage poured from the sweeper as he screamed into Cloudhawk’s face. “Die!”
Cloudhawk was clearly no match for his foe. The pressure of the scythe kept growing and every passing second that blade came closer. He growled back at him through gritted teeth. “Was that demon really so important to you? Do you really think he gave a shit about the wastelands? He was a demon. A demon!”
“What does a moron like you know?” The loathing in the sweeper’s face made his hideous appearance even more terrifying. The Caliph’s death was a disaster, he would gladly exchange his life for the master’s just like any number of his followers. “You’re going to pay for your life, young demonhunter. You’ll pay for what you did to the master!”
“Sorry, I'm not in the mood for dying!” Red was creeping into Cloudhawk’s eyes, and with it a strength that steadily rose to counter the sweeper’s. As his scythe was slowly pushed back the chieftain stared in shock, unable to comprehend how this small human had so much strength within him. But he pushed his surprise from his mind and heaved back. The razor-sharp edge of the scythe inched closer to Cloudhawk’s scalp.
Then, in this critical moment, the sweeper’s body shook and went rigid.
An arrow made of sand shot out of Cloudhawk. The sweeper chieftain was too close to dodge and could only watch the sneak attack tear through his weeping flesh and rip out through his back.
“This… is… the master’s power…”
He stumbled backward, staring wide-eyed at the hole in his chest. Spurts of fresh blood gushed out and splattered on the sands below. Even as strong as he was the sweeper couldn’t fight after such a serious wound. Cloudhawk lunged forward and grabbed his enemy’s weapon, fighting for control. He planted a foot in his foe’s wound, flinging him away.
Blood erupted from the mutant’s mouth as he struck the ground. He stared up at the sky, staring into the middle distance in shock. This human, a mere child, had taken his life – and with the master’s own power?
“Why…? Why must it be like this?”
He coughed, thick blood bubbling up from his lungs. Before he closed his eyes the last image he saw was Cloudhawk standing over him, scythe in hand. He’d lost, but it didn’t matter. They’d lost their leader, their pillar. Death was nothing to fear.
The wicked blade of the scythe did not separate the sweeper’s head from his body, as anticipated. When the chieftain opened his eyes he saw his weapon buried in the sand half a foot away. He watched the flapping cloak of that masked youth retreating into the sandstorm.
Disbelief was writ plain on the sweeper’s face. Why didn’t he kill me?
He managed to grab his weapon and use it to help him stand. His wound might not be fatal, but it certainly left him unable to fight. Cloudhawk could have separated his head from his body and ended his troubles – but he didn’t. He simply couldn’t understand why he didn’t.
Cloudhawk recovered his exorcist staff and returned to the site of the crash. There he found the two remaining Greenland soldiers. One had been crushed by the wreckage, and the other – Depp, the mutant – was unconscious. His wounds were bad, but there were still signs of life.
He managed to find one of the wasteland lizards roaming the area and brought it under control. Cloudhawk draped Depp over the back then climbed up himself. He urged the beast away from the carnage.
About ten minutes later the rest of the sweeper contingent caught up to their leader. Several of the more intelligent warriors helped their wounded chieftain stand.
“Boss! Are you alright? Where’s the demonhunter?”
“I’m not gonna die, don’t bother with me. He didn’t get far, go after him!” He waved them off and shoved off the one helping him stand. The hatred in him hadn’t eased at all despite Cloudhawk sparing his life. “We have to kill him!”
Hundreds of sweepers picked up the trail.
However it wasn’t easy. Most of the sweepers were on foot, especially now that their vehicles were destroyed. In less than an hour the sands and wind wiped away his trail. He’d escaped.
By then night had fallen.
Cloudhawk found a relatively safe place to rest. He hadn’t had a drop of water for what felt like ages, and after that fight he was both parched and starved.
“Why didn’t you kill him?”
A deep, weak voice caught his attention from behind. Depp had woken up, or perhaps he hadn’t been fully unconscious.
“Why should I? He couldn’t fight back.”
“You know they aren’t going to let up.” Depp slowly managed to sit up. His dull expression and sharp eyes were an odd contrast. “Mercy doesn’t mean shit to them. They’ll just keep coming.”
It wasn’t mercy, nor was it pity.
Cloudhawk wasn’t entirely sure why he spared the sweeper, he just felt like it was the right thing to do. He was just following what he thought was right. Thinking back on it he figured his moment of compassion had something to do with respect.
Where did that respect come from? He couldn’t say!
“They can’t catch up to us for now.” He was exhausted, and it was showing. He’d summoned the Gospel of Sand’s power at that final moment, but it had drained what little energy he had. “You stay here, I’m gonna see if I can find us some food and water.”
A strange look crossed Depp’s face.
With one weak hand he gripped his bow, and with the other he removed the last iron arrow from his quiver. Slowly he knocked the arrow, pulled the string, and pointed it at Cloudhawk’s back.
The young wastelander was unsuspecting, he didn’t feel the need to guard himself against the dim-looking bowman. After all, Depp had been nothing but helpful and obedient. When the other Greenland soldiers were talking about leaving he forced them to stay displaying a tenacity the others couldn’t muster.
So never in his wildest dreams did Cloudhawk think Deep was aiming an arrow at him.
However, even though he never suspected Depp he had not lost his keen danger sense. As the wasteland wyrm tendon bow was pulled taught that unsettling itch made Cloudhawk turn his head.
The iron arrow shot out like a devilish serpent, faster than he could believe. In his weakened and sluggish state he couldn’t dodge the unforeseen attack. When the arrow hit his chest he flew back like he’d been yanked by a dragline. All Cloudhawk heard was a sharp whistle and a thud before he was knocked through the air a dozen feet. He hit the ground hard.
There was no leather armor that could stop this arrow. Not even his cloak, which could stop bullets, could protect him.
“You’re view of the wasteland is naïve. Just like your view of people.” Depp slowly rose. His dim and honest expression was gone, replaced with the cunning hunger of a feral wolf. “Out here, mercy gets you killed.”