The Bloodsoaked Queen had two divine relics. One was the ‘Burning Angel’, while the other was the sacred crossblade of light. Both were relics from her clan, with the Burning Angel being the glove she wore on her hand.
Legends claimed that if the demonhunter was powerful enough, a touch from the burning angels could set anything ablaze. Wood, stone, even iron – a caress was enough to make it belch fire. Flammable or not, the power of the relic consumed all.
Though the Bloodsoaked Queen was not as powerful as the legends described, she could incinerate any flesh and blood obstacle within her reach. No amount of luck could protect her victim once she laid hands on them.
However, when her strike landed it didn’t feel like hitting flesh. It felt like metal. The horned man was wreathed in flame but they did not reach any vital part of him. The mutant rolled around in the sand for a moment to quench the fires, and it was revealed the only result was a scorched mark on his chest. Certainly nothing to threaten his life.
The man in black hissed a mocking laugh. “Second brother has the strongest defenses. Even for a young demonhunter you are weak. Did you honestly believe you were strong enough to face our master? So naïve!”
“What I didn’t expect,” the Queen said through her mask, “was that your ‘master’ would be so fond of raising stupid mutts.”
None of them were offended or enraged by her insult – for they agreed. Each of them were proud to be loyal servants of the master, vicious dogs in his service. They would tear the throats out of whoever he told them to without ever questioning who or why.
“Are you demonhunters any different? Dogs as well, with gods who hold your tether. We’re no different, you and I!”
“You refuse to accept reality, and harass us because of your dogmatic assumptions. What gives you the right to be so self-righteous? Do you think you understand the wastelands at all? What right do you have to pass judgment on us?”
The black-clad mutant waved his hand. The sweepers raised their weapons, ready to put her down for good.
The Bloodsoaked Queen bolted from her hiding place like a bat out of hell. The thud of bullets and crossbow bolts followed her, buried in the sand inches from her heels. She was shadowed by the winged mutant who descended from on high. He held his machetes reversed in his grip but cut with such speed and ferocity it seemed there were dozens of strikes raining down.
The Queen thrust out her hands, fingers curled in like a tiger’s claw. With staggering accuracy she caught the winged man’s blurred machetes out of the air and poured the power coalesced in her palms right through them. They immediately began to glow with white hot heat.
With a yelp the winged man’s hands went slack and he was blasted away. The black-garbed man and his horned companion charged in for another attempt.
The man in black attacked first, lashing out with five viper-like tentacles. With startling accuracy they splayed out toward specific targets; her face, throat, chest and other vital parts. They hissed through the air like arrows from a hundred archers, seeking her heart with a shrill whistling cadence.
The horned man’s attacks weren’t flashy or even terribly skilled. He relied on overwhelming strength, and so intense was the punch that its effects were felt even before they landed. Punch after punch, propelled by pure force mighty enough to level mountains.
The Bloodsoaked Queen was knocked back, and the assault slowed her escape. It was only a little, but enough. One of the bullets found its mark and buried itself in her thigh. She lost her balance.
The Bloodsoaked Queen bit back her pain. She focused more energy into her hands, gripping tight to the machetes wrenched from the winged man. They glowed red, and when she threw them they became disks of molten steel. Both of them erupted in midair and set searing shrapnel flying out in every direction. The pained whines and howls of sweepers answered.
The Queen stumbled, rolled, and shot back to her feet. The wound in her leg was deep and bright fresh blood oozed freely from it, but she didn’t have time to examine the injury now. The five tentacles of the black-garbed monster were on her, and the horned behemoth was bearing down on her position.
She managed to dodge the tentacles, but in doing so left herself open to the horned beast’s fists. As his blow landed she was thrown through the ruined buildings of the outpost like a marionette with its strings severed. He was monstrous, a single successful hit nearly broke her in half.
The sweepers raised their weapons, trained them on the Queen. Gnarled finger applied pressure to hair triggers when suddenly shouts rang up that caught their attention. A group of outpost warriors who had rallied together were charging at the twisted beasts. Caught unprepared, they were quickly cut down.
The Bloodsoaked Queen took this opportunity to flee. She struggled to move as quickly as she could, despite her grievous wounds.
“We can’t defend the outpost!”
“Queen, we must retreat!”
Grizzly put his fist through one of the sweeper’s heads like it was an overripe melon. He was covered in blood, some his but mostly others, as he hurried to the Queen’s side. When he saw that she had not suffered any life threatening wounds he breathed a sigh of relief. However her injuries were anything but slight, and that filled him with an indescribably fury.
These fucking bastards! They dared harm my Queen?!
Grizzly had managed to assemble ten elite fighters and twenty to thirty conscripts. They weren’t a strong unit by any means, but they would serve in an emergency. At the very least they could pin down a sizeable group of sweepers.
The Bloodsoaked Queen knew that now was not the time to tarry and fight war. With Cloudhawk’s help she’d recovered from her wounds, but not completely. She was only capable of commanding a little more than sixty percent of her full strength. Besides being less than at her peak she’d also suffered wounds to her shoulder and leg. The punch that horned bastard had landed also caused considerable internal damage. Keeping up the fight was ill-advised.
Grizzly screamed at her with all the force of his namesake. “Go!”
Sinister, snake-like laughter hissed through the air. “You think you can get away?”
The winged youth skimmed low over the ground and snapped up a long knife from the ground. A group of soldiers moved to stop him but were viciously cut down. The man in black and the horned titan moved in for the kill. Despite the efforts of the soldiers sweepers were closing in on all sides.
Warriors started dropping like flies. Their circle of defiance was quickly shrinking.
Grizzly punched one of the wastelanders so hard his chest caved. He swung around to face his next foe, and found himself face to face with an enormous specimen. He was pitch black, and two enormous horns rose from its skull.
“Get the fuck outta my way!”
Grizzly didn’t give a damn who his enemy was. He snapped a jab with his iron-clad hand aimed for the horned mutant’s chest. His foe didn’t dodge or block. The punch connected and the horned man staggered back several steps. A small rivulet of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, but otherwise the beast was unfazed.
Grizzly looked at the mutant, dumbfounded. He was one of the strongest fighters in the outpost, matched only by Tartarus’ captain, Mad Dog. The horned man didn’t seem to care though. He didn’t block or move, just took the punch like it was nothing.
The titan wiped the blood from his mouth. He glared at Grizzly with dark, murderous eyes. “You’ve got some strength. But not enough!”
He punctuated his words with a full-armed punch.
Grizzly paid his words no mind. When he saw the fist he answered by throwing one of his own. They met mid-air with such force that it sounded like thunder. It was followed by the sound of splintering bone and Grizzly’s earsplitting cries.
He crumbled to the ground, cradling what remained of his hand. The iron glove was dented and inside his fingers were a mangled mess. His arm had become an amorphous ruin of bone flecks and tenderized meat. Jagged bits of bone jutted out in several places.
The gasps came from members of the elite squad. They rushed forward to drag their wounded leader out of danger.
Grizzly was no less a powerhouse than the captains of Tartarus company. None of them expected he would be so badly maimed going fist for fist. His whole right arm had been practically destroyed. Even if he survived, Grizzly would be forever crippled!
At least he could take heart in the fact that the horned man was also bleeding. Except, this copper-skinned, iron-boned monstrosity had just scraped his knuckles.
The Bloodsoaked Queen looked upon Grizzly as he wailed and cradled what was left of his hand. She looked on as one after the other of her elite soldiers were cut down like weeds. Each death fanned the flames of rage in her eyes. Was she not a prideful person? She had come from faraway lands to hunt and kill demons, but she hadn’t even managed to catch a glimpse of her prey. Now here she was, with men she found base and filthy dying to protect her!
She reached up to curl her fingers around the cross hanging from her neck.
Using her holy sword to eliminate a few mutants shouldn’t be too much to expect.
She knew, however, that summoning the blade would overtax her abilities. It meant she wouldn’t have any strength left over to protect herself against whatever foes may follow – not to mention the bastard still hidden somewhere in the shadows!
The circle of protection was shrinking. She saw her warriors dying by the moment and knew now was not the time for indecision. She gripped the necklace tight and prepared to yank it free.
The man in black spotted this minute detail. “Careful. She’s getting desperate…”
He didn’t finish his sentence. A scene completely outside of their expectations emerged, heralded by a roar that shook the heavens!
A vehicle came barreling through the fog of sand like a hellish lizard scrambling across the dunes. Destructive as a bulldozer, it ripped a path straight toward Blackflag Outpost, knocking countless sweepers or grinding them beneath its wheels. And it was headed right for the freak in black.
Cloudhawk roared within the driver’s seat, his crimson eyes fixed on his target. With utter disregard for everything he stomped hard on the accelerator. Before the freak could react it was plowed down and caught in the tread of several tires. No small number of sweepers were also reduced to roadkill as the iron lizard ripped through their ranks.
Cloudhawk lost control. The iron lizard pitched hard to its side and ripped itself apart against the unforgiving ground. This didn’t stop its forward motion, however, and several pieces went barreling toward the horned mutant, standing stunned not far away.
The bull-like beast roared a challenge and flung his arms up defensively. But he was no match for several tons of twisted metal. He was caught in the tide of detritus that only came to a stop when it pulverized itself against a cluster of buildings. It wasn’t clear whether the mutant survived.
Wide eyed and slack jawed, the winged man and the remaining sweepers gaped at what they’d just witnessed.
What in the hell?!
A bloody hand clawed out of the cabin. A young man in dingy ash-black fur armor clambered from the wreckage. He’d lived, but the gash in his head and the blood that covered him said he didn’t escape without a price.
Cloudhawk shook his head to try and clear away his blurred vision. The first thing he saw was something pinned beneath the wheels of the iron lizard. It was the masked man.
“Goddamn- you still aren’t dead? You still aren’t dead?!”
He wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t far off, either. His lower body had badly mangled by the vehicle’s tires. His incredible healing was the only thing that kept him breathing.
“It’s… it’s you!”
The man in black pushed his body up with his right arm and glared at the child. He couldn’t believe this mercenary punk had survived!
Cloudhawk stared back with eyes painted the color of blood. He pulled his exorcist staff free and began to drag himself forward. Step by step he lurched toward the man in black. He stared at the young man as he came closer, inch by agonizing inch. And as he did a sensation filled him, one that made the hairs on his neck stand on end. He had faced some of the fiercest creatures of the wasteland, but he’d never felt it until now.