Towering ruins were brought down by the unbridled rampage of the giant lizard, like building blocks knocked away by an angry toddler. The area was plunged into chaos, punctuated by the crash of buildings that sounded like erupting volcanoes. In a tsunami of debris the remains of the ruins covered everything.
Cloudhawk whipped his head around but could tell up from down. Nearby, another building several stories high came crashing down like an avalanche overhead.
"Son of a bitch!"
Cloudhawk ran like his life depended on it.
Blocks of concrete weighing hundreds of pounds smashed the ground on either side as he fled. Everything shook and the sound of crumbling stone was deafening. Every passing second was an eternity while Cloudhawk feared the next block could flatten him into a meat patty.
But Cloudhawk was lucky. Before the bulk of the building collapsed he found cover, though a rolling boulder caught him in the back and sent him sprawling. It struck with such force he saw stars and it felt like he'd broken several bones. He lay there, pinned beneath it.
Meanwhile the lizards were gone. The young scavenger was filled with pride and determination - at least the danger had been rewarded.
The titanic lizard awakened by Cloudhawk's ploy lumbered closer. The sweepers fled, hoping to avoid destruction themselves. Thankfully the invisibility offered by Cloudhawk's relic cloak was far-reaching, concealing both his heat and any sense of his presence. Without him in the monster's sights, the sweepers became his scapegoats.
You fuckin' freaks, Cloudhawk cursed to himself, let's see how nasty your deaths are!
Stranger Black stared at the iguanlike monstrosities. "It's a wasteland wyrm!"
The full name of these creatures was 'eight-legged tyrant lizards', but the people of the wastelands usually just called them wasteland wyrms.
Wasteland wyrms were some of the most ferocious creatures in all the wastelands, living and feeding off what remained of the old world. Their hide was thick and unyielding like rock, and they were strong enough to uproot mountains. Through brute force alone they tunneled their way through the ruins and ripped apart anything in their path. They accounted for the honeycomb of tunnels that were often found through the remnants of cities.
These thick-skinned behemoths were more than difficult to contend with. With so many together they were nothing short of terrifyingly deadly - even the savage sweepers were powerless.
One of the relatively smaller wyrms was fastest and led the charge.
It was over twenty feet long, and though it looked like a lizard it was covered in bulging muscle. Spikes ran along the length of its spine like sword blades, waggling as four pairs of thick and powerful legs quickly conveyed it across the terrain. Its head was lizard like, its maw as terrifying as a crocodile's, and its worm-shaped body swayed like a cumbersome machine as it gave chase. So far it had to be moving at over thirty miles per hour and rising.
Longhorn stepped forward to face it.
Although he faced a creature several times his size Longhorn wasn't fazed in the least. He charged ahead, each step leaving deep trenches as powerful legs propelled him forward. Like a goliath from the ancient tales he bore down on the beast, indomitable and defiant, terrifying anything that dared bar his path.
No fancy tricks, no flashy moves - Longhorn plowed into the wyrm head-on!
The two disproportionately-sized but equally resolute foes crashed into one another so hard their surroundings exploded into dust and shards of rock. Neither was knocked aside, and they struggled mightily while not giving ground.
The wasteland wyrm roared and swiped at Longhorn with its claws. He blocked with his left arm and the force kicked up more debris. The monster responded by spreading its toothy mouth wide and lunging for a bite. Longhorn, in turn, punched it in the face!
Crrrack! A dozen of the wyrm's teeth splintered and the impact knocked it several paces away!
Longhorn didn't let up, rushing forward to reengage. His fists were like cannonballs - two punches, three - each blow landing with unparalleled force. Every punch was like a blast of lightning, cracking open the beast's skull and drawing blood.
Cloudhawk, watching nearby, was absolutely stunned!
Not only did the mutant hit with the terrifying force, he seemed to be made out of reinforced iron! His punches were like strikes from Artemis' hammer.
He could hardly be considered human! He was a monster!
Even one of the wyrm's larger brethren couldn't survive an onslaught like this. In the midst of the brutal thrashing it tried to turn and flee but Longhorn grabbed it by the tail. The monster had to be seven or eight tons, but no matter how much its legs churned it couldn't wrench itself free from his grip.
By now a second wyrm had caught up. Longhorn was suddenly faced with two of them.
Muscles all over Longhorn's body bulged and a burst of stupefying energy filled him. Dragging the monster by the tail he whipped it around in a circle and threw it right into its companion. The two collided and crashed into the ground in a tangled heap.
Forget Cloudhawk, even the sweepers gaped at the scene, all color drained from their faces!
Panther and the others inwardly rejoiced that they were on the same side. Judging by the display they'd just witnessed one punch from this man would turn them into paste. Who among them could stand against power like that?
Longhorn's chest heaved as he fought for breath. A fight like this was exhausting, and he feared spending too much energy here. After all, there was a dangerous demonhunter still to face.
But the Wasteland wyrms did not flee.
The larger of the two monsters fought back to its feet and slowly approached, much to Longhorn's dismay. He was capable of handling several smaller wyrms if he had to, but this one was at least twice as large as the first. Even so, one on one he might've been fine… but against two?
Kill him… kill him! If these things can kill even one of the demon's henchmen that'd be fantastic! It'd take a lot of the pressure off the Queen and really improve our chances.
Yet the heavens did not hear Cloudhawk's desperate pleas. Just as his heart was filling with dark expectation and equally dark figure appeared on the horizon. The sweeper's airship drifted into view moments before the whir of a chain gun filled the air. Bullets rained down on the wyrms and they exploded into chunks of blood and flesh.
Even stony flesh could not withstand the airship's weapons. They could be made of steel and the chain gun would still rip them apart. What hope did mere skin have? The remaining monsters were peppered with a few of the bullets and fled into the ruins to hide. One of them was headed right for Cloudhawk while he was still laying prone on the ground. One well-placed step and he'd been crushed flat.
Time to go!
Stranger Black was watching the creature run. Out of the corner of his eye he spied the boulder that pinned Cloudhawk move, and saw the young man clambering with some difficulty toward the safety of the ruins. He was so infuriated he saw red - this was the little shit that'd almost killed him at Blackflag Outpost. How could Stranger Black deny the rage and resentment in his heart?
"Stop! Come with me, kill this irritating whelp!"
Vulture sprang into the air and began circling the area to hunt Cloudhawk down while the others bore down on where they saw him last. Cloudhawk hid in a dead-end, trying to hide from the birdman's keen eyes. He was too weak - if they found him he was a dead man!
A dozen sweepers spread out and were headed his way. Nearby the airship had descended and dropped a rope, conveying several more sweepers to ground to help with the search. More and more enemies flooded the area and soon he would be found. Cloudhawk's demise seemed certain, and soon after him the others would be caught as well.
How far could his invisibility cloak get him?
Several sweepers came upon Cloudhawk's hiding place and spotted him. They hurriedly reached for their weapons, crying out for the others and attacking
"Sons of bitches!"
Cloudhawk had no choice but to brandish his exorcist staff and charge ahead. He swung at one of them and met their hefty sword with a loud clang. Cloudhawk was stronger than ever but he was facing a group of hardened sweeper warriors. He wasn't going to get the upper hand here.
Another sweeper came in from the side brandishing an iron cudgel. Cloudhawk lunged to the side just in time, the displaced air from the attack whipped his clothes.
Two more sweepers nearby saw him and leveled their crossbows his way. Powerful arrows were ready to skewer him, but before they could a nimble figure leapt from the ruins nearby. The shadow skittered by so fast it seemed to defy gravity, surprising the two archers.
A flash of metal and throats opened like fountains of blood.
Had the Bloodsoaked Queen come to save him? But that would be stupid! Coming here was like putting the noose around her own neck!
The airship saw the Queen and started to bring around its broadside. The chilling, tell-tale sound of its chain gun started to whir and moments later the area was carpeted with gunfire. Strong as the Queen was she couldn't ignore the hail of lead and ducked back into the ruins to use them to cover her escape.
The Queen knew she couldn't save Cloudhawk.
However she was the demon's main target, and her reappearance would get the attention of her hunters. If she could lead most of them away Cloudhawk would have a chance, but it would ultimately be up to him.
"Second Brother, Third Brother, take the troops and get after the demonhunter!" Stranger Black shouted out his commands, but he himself looked in Cloudhawk's direction. "I'll join you after I wring the life out of this brat."
The sweeper army split into two groups. Longhorn and Vulture gathered the three outpost assassins, ten sweepers and the airship to chase down the Queen. Stranger Black and the rest of the sweepers closed in on Cloudhawk's position.
"Form up, surround the area! No matter what I'm not letting them get away this time!"
More sweepers were arriving after mopping up what was left of Hydra's resistance and spread out across the sector. All paths leading away were sealed off. Though uncharted the area wasn't large, and the sweepers had both air support and superior numbers.
Cloudhawk and the others were caught in a deathtrap! There was nowhere to go!
No matter or won or lost, the long hunt across the wastelands ended here!
Cloudhawk understood this. There was no escaping this time, so he wasted no time thinking about it. It was time to fight these damn sweepers to the end!