Shouts and cries echoed through the mist-covered marshland. There were countless terrors that hid in this deadly place. What concerned Cloudhawk the most, though, were the sounds of footsteps getting closer. He had to move faster, but his wounded leg made that difficult.
If it'd been Mantis in this situation, things would be different.
He was out of his depth. Still, in the three months since he left the ruins as a scavenger he'd become a hardened wastelander. A warrior. It was a quick transformation to be proud of, but still limited. He wasn't an expert like Mantis, nor a mighty fighter like Hydra.
What could he do now?
Cloudhawk had bandaged his wounded leg, but while it stopped most of the bleeding it still continued to leak fresh blood. Droplets of bright crimson were left behind, leading right to him. To skilled hunters they were as clear as signposts but he had no time to try and hide them.
To summarize his failure, Cloudhawk had underestimated his foes.
He had refused to give in when his lizard proved useless, but his condition had been quickly deteriorating. When he found the spot where the tentacles haunted it was a good plan. Where he failed was in understanding just how good his enemies were at survival. The tentacles hadn't stopped them, instead it was Cloudhawk that had been hurt.
There were still several dozen mercenaries left.
What could he do?
Getting out of the marsh didn't seem possible. So what was he supposed to do? Die nursing his grudges? No! That was acceptable!
Reeds that lined the path in front of him sudden parted, and a dark figure darted out from within. The stranger had a machete aimed for his heart and Cloudhawk responded by lifting his staff in defense. The force of the impact knocked his staff away.
"You think you can make a clean escape after killing so many of our brothers?"
The mercenary idly slapped the flat of his machete against the palm of his hand. He looked at Cloudhawk with cruel eyes, like a hunter watching his prey struggle. But he never dropped his guard, for he could smell the danger coming off his target.
He was like a wild animal, and an animal was most dangerous when wounded and cornered.
Cloudhawk threw himself toward the reeds and rolled into cover. He was gone.
A disdainful grin split the mercenary's face. A flash of his blade and a large swath of foliage was cut away. But even though his chop cut away the kid's hiding place, the hunter was surprised to find that he was gone. He leaned over, looking for any trace.
Two streaks of cold light flit by. Two throwing daggers hit the mercenary; one in the chest and the other in his neck.
He stared in shock and horror as Cloudhawk reappeared, unable to understand what had happened. Indeed the young man had managed to recover a little of his mental energy but used it up again by employing the invisibility cloak. He snatched the dead mercenary's canteen of water and poured its contents down his dry throat. It was clean and refreshing, and he drank down half of it before he finished.
He continued to fish around in the corpse's pockets, look for anything he could use like bandages or astringents.
Before he could, though, things got noisy. Guns started to peek out of the reeds and aim his way.
The mercenaries stepped into the open, their faces twisted and angry. The kid had killed many of their companions, good men, but now he was surrounded. He'd run out of chances. One of the mercenaries called out to him. "He's got special powers. We should start by cutting off his arms and legs!"
None of them had met a demonhunter. None of them knew what unique abilities they possessed! If they cut off his limbs, though, it didn't matter what skills he had. He wouldn't be able to do shit.
Cloudhawk's hands curled into fists, a murderous glint swept across his eyes. If this was it he was gonna take a few of them with him. The mercenaries could feel it too, they sensed how dangerous he was. The kid looked scrawny, but the threatening sense that wafted from him was akin to a feral wasteland beast.
But so what? If they filled his limbs full of bullets they'd be useless, and it didn't matter how much willpower he had. Guns moved to aim at his arms and legs while Cloudhawk's tightly gripped hands shook. Death was staring him in the face.
"Hold your fire!"
A voice shouted at them from the mist.
The voice was gruff and unpleasant, like the growl of some beast whose vocal cords had been wounded. A group of shadows split from the mist, armed to the teeth - something rarely seen in the sparse wastelands. Most belongings, whether defensive or offensive, were cobbled together on one's own through their adventures. As such equipment differed in a thousand ways from person to person.
But these men, their equipment all looked of the same type. Each of them wore breathing masks that covered their faces and waterproof clothing. As opposed to many in the wastelands they looked slick. Each of them had the same weapon, too - a strange gun without a magazine. They were connected by tubes to an apparatus on their backs.
The one in front wore a large grey cloak. From the shadows of the hood was revealed half a man's face. It looked as though he'd been burned, something had left him covered in heinous scars. His slightly raised lips made him look feral.
The leader of the mercenary company was a large bald man. He fixed the newcomers with a cold glare. "Who the fuck do you think you are?"
"Who we are doesn't concern you. This one belongs to us." The mysterious stranger swept his eyes toward Cloudhawk. "Now you all fuck off!"
The mercenaries had suffered and labored for this, going through significant danger to capture Cloudhawk alive. Now this guy just shows up, and with a word expects them to leave? Ballsy! A company half their size wouldn't put up with bullshit like this, much less wasteland veterans like themselves. Did these scrubs think they were pushovers?
Those were fighting words!
But the mercenary leader's face was calm.
The others in his company slowly lifted their weapons but didn't fire. The mysterious group of men reacted first. Their guns come alive, but they didn't fire bullets. Instead they exploded with bolts of what looked like lightning - lethal streams of electricity that could fry a bull!
A dozen mercenaries hit the ground, wracked by convulsions. The others fell back, for though electric weapons were deadly they had limited range.
After a brief moment of surprise the bald mercenary leader regained his composure. "You're -"
The mysterious stranger cut him off by removing his hooded cloak and dropping it to the side, revealing his burned features. His strong and robust frame stood out against the mist. He remained at the head of his cryptic contingent, unmoving, only every pore on his body started to writhe. Coarse black hair slithered out from every inch of him, even his face underwent the astonishing change. Where half a moment before he'd been a normal man, now his canines extended into sharp fangs.
In the space of a horrified gasp the man became some sort of human-wolf hybrid. It wasn't only the mercenaries who gaped in surprised alarm, Cloudhawk also looked on wide-eyed and uncomprehending.
What the hell was this guy?!
Some sort of mutant? Impossible! They couldn't control their mutations, unlike this guy who seemed able to switch at will. This was completely outside of the realm of anything they thought possible.
But there was no time to think!
The wolfman leapt forward faster than anyone could have expected. The mercenaries had their weapons raised but the creature was on them before they could pull the trigger. In a single swipe of his sharp talons the first mercenary's weapon and armor were shredded. His chest was split apart by a series of deep gouges.
The second victim was set upon before he could blink. With an inhuman fury the beast man burst his head like an overripe watermelon.
He was too fast. Everywhere he went fountains of blood followed, and though he looked like a beast he clearly retained the intelligence of a man.
The bald man charged at the beast with ax in hand. He was no weakling, probably comparable in level to Panther or White Snake. However he only managed three or four quick exchanges with the beast man before his weapon was knocked away.
The creature grabbed the mercenary leader by the throat and lifted him off the ground. Inch by inch his sharp claws dug into the man's soft flesh as he taunted him through his half man, half beast face. "This is all you've got, and you think you can best me?"
The bald man was consumed by fear, having never encountered anyone - or anything - as strong as this creature. He fought to speak through his quickly closing windpipe. "Let me… go. I'll… leave!"
"I gave you a chance. You chose to ignore it."
With as much effort as though he were flicking away an insect he threw the mercenary aside. He flailed through the air for thirty feet then landed on his head. The sound was sickening, like every bone in his body broke at once. His head was a bloody, soggy mess as he lay in a heap on the floor, unconscious or dead.
Gradually the thick black hairs on the wolfman withered and disappeared. Once again his burned face became human, and he covered himself in that grey cloak. Glimmering eyes slowly slid sideways to where Cloudhawk watched, still as a board and eyes wide. "Will you come, or do I have to bring you myself?"
Cloudhawk veritably shook in terror. "I-I can walk."
If this guy wasn't stronger than Hydra they were at least close. Beyond that his mutation was incredibly strange and unique. Cloudhawk knew what he was capable of, and the only one he knew who was capable of defeating this monster was the Bloodsoaked Queen. He couldn't oppose the wolfman, so rather than inciting him Cloudhawk figured he'd behave.
"Who are you?"
"This valley belongs to us. We knew the moment you and the others crossed into our territory. Relax, we aren't interested in the bounty on your head. We're only interested in you." He spoke as they began to make their way through the marsh. "You can call me Hyena. As for who we are? The people of the wasteland like to call us Seekers."
They were Seekers?
Cloudhawk was dumbfounded. The first time he'd heard of them was from Cooke, back when he was with the Tartarus mercenaries. He'd learned that the Seekers were one of the most mysterious powers in the wastelands. They controlled technology and knowledge typical people didn't even know existed.
The panacea from Greenland Fort were treasures purchased from Seekers. What kind of lives did these mysterious people lead?