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Leonine chased and fought Hydra through the oasis. Hydra had been shot twice by snipers and had tasted his brother's poisoned knife. He was weak, too weak to fight.

But he kept running.

Leonine kept chasing.

They kept it up for over an hour.

Leonine hacked at Hydra with his sword, fierce and angry. Hydra juked to the side and met the hysterical attack with his dagger. The two weapons collided and neither budged.

Hydra was in a sorry state. Half of his body was soaked in fresh blood, and the loss had turned him pale and weak. His breath was quick, haggard - he was in no condition to defend himself. He was only still standing because he was ten times stronger than a normal man.

The outpost leader was more ferocious than ever, and he glared at Leonine through his glowing red eye. Face twisted, he growled at him through gritted teeth. "You think you can kill me, you piece of garbage?"

 Leonine heaved his strength into his sword, slowly pressing it closer to Hydra's throat and worsening his wounds. He growled back. "Your plan is ruined, Hydra. The Outpost is finished. You are finished!"

"The outpost is mine! No one can take it from me. No one!" He was so filled with rage his whole body shook. The veins in his head and neck stood out red and throbbing like earthworms. He summoned a burst of strength and pushed Leonine away. "Fuck off!"

Leonine stumbled back and caught himself by burying his sword in the ground. He was shocked Hydra still had the strength to fight back! The outpost leader's wounds were beyond severe, and after an hour of racing through the oasis they'd only gotten worse. He'd lost a lot of blood. But Leonine underestimated Hydra, he had to be stronger than ten men. He wasn't going to fully recover from his injuries, but they weren't fatal yet. Snaketooth's poison was already starting to run its course so he was regaining some measure of strength.

Leonine grit his teeth and heaved his saber. It kicked up a cloud of soil as it was wrenched free of the earth that pummeled Hydra. He used it as cover to rush forward and hack at Hydra's head.

Too slow!

Hydra saw every grain of sand, every spot of soil and where it would land. Behind them he saw the nuances of Leonine's every movement and their weakest points. He took half a step to the side, enough to have the slaver's blade sweep harmlessly past his face. Meanwhile his dagger darted out and struck his broadsword in just the right spot. The metal rattled as Leonine's weapon was knocked aside. An opening in his form revealed itself to Hydra's snake-like eye.

Leonine was a battle-hardened veteran and used the rebound force of his sword striking a tree to bring it back around for another wild slice. Leaves and shrubs rustled in its passage.

Hydra's daggers rotated, flipping backward in his grip.

He deflected the blow while dashing forward, his daggers grinding against the sword and sending sparks flying everywhere as he advanced Hydra ducked, the slaver's sword passing by inches overhead.  He spun his daggers, completing a full rotation while springing back up. He gripped the hilts, bringing the daggers swift and fierce down against Leonine's chest. They cut through two thick layers of armor and embedded themselves in Leonine's body.

The slaver's broadsword hit the ground with a thud. 

Leonine's eyes were wide as saucers.  He couldn't believe what he saw. He clung to Hydra's wrists, too late to stop him from digging the daggers in deeper, inch by inch.

"Do you feel… despair? Terror? Rage?" Hydra was soaked in sweat, a twisted and insane grin on his face. "This isn't enough. Not nearly enough!"

Hydra yanked his daggers free, and as Leonine stumbled forward he swept around behind. One dagger severed both of his Achilles' tendons and sent Leonine to his knees.

"It's my custom to cut traitors apart, piece by piece. But I don't want to kill you today. Do you know why?" Hydra's chest heaved like a mad bull, he could hardly stand straight. In the midst of his madness he was never more like a demon. "Because that would be letting you off too easily. I want you to learn - what real pain is. What real despair is."

"No… no!"

 Leonine understood. He watched Hydra's hideous grinning face disappear into the jungles. His right leg was already useless and when he tried to pull himself by his sword the slaver collapsed back to the ground.

"Hydra, you motherfucker, get back here! Fight me!"

He wailed into the trees, a scream full of fury and anguish that echoed through the oasis like the cry of an impotent beast. He pulled himself step by agonizing step toward the outpost.

If he could choose, he would've chosen to die with Hydra. He would've chosen to end his own life rather than risk theirs. But now… now, there was nothing he could do! 

With the image of Hydra's psychotic face in his eyes, Leonine struggled for fifteen minutes before exhaustion overcame him. There was rustling from the undergrowth. Glossy green eyes stared at him.

These were dangerous wilds, where mutant leopards hunted. They had jutting fangs sharp as swords like saber-toothed tigers, and now they were circling a wounded prey waiting for the moment to pounce.

Suddenly a dagger whistled through the air and planted itself into one of the creatures' eyes. 

The other leopards roared in anger and threw themselves toward where the sneak attack had come from. When they plowed through the jungle they were met with an enormous melon-shaped hammer which smashed one of them into pulp. Suddenly their foe was too dangerous to bother with and the creatures bounded off into the distance.

The last four people he'd ever imagining seeing appeared before him.

Cloudhawk had fallen unconscious and was slung over Mantis' back. He had several obvious wounds on him that had already been sutured closed. Artemis staggered on a wounded left leg and carried her hammer in her left hand to favor an injured right shoulder. Both had only been bandaged. As for the Queen, she had broken one of her arms and several ribs. Although she could walk she was completely spent.

 Mantis was in the best condition.  However, towards the end he had to face over a dozen sweepers in close combat, which wasn't his forte; in fact, he wasn't even as capable as Leonine in this regard. Four or five patches of his body were clearly covered in blood.

They actually survived? This had to mean they'd beaten the sweepers!

Leonine couldn't understand how the mutants could have lost. Their appearance drained the last little bit of hope out of him. It meant they hadn't taken the outpost, that Hydra could return to his territory safely as the one and true ruler.

"What are you doing here?" Artemis gave him a queer look. "Where's Hydra!"

Leonine hurriedly cried out, "Take me back to the outpost. Bring me back there!"

The outpost's forces had suffered a huge blow by this struggle for power. Most of their best men and elite troops were dead. 

When its leader returned his first order of business was not to see to his wounds. Instead he pulled out three people and tortured them with every method he knew. In the end one large and two small savagely brutalized corpses were nailed to the outer wall, flaunting his handy work.

When they got back to the outpost and Leonine saw the scene, he let loose an unhuman wail. The slaver shoved off Artemis and flung himself at the base of the walls, holding out his ten mutilated fingers pleadingly like a beaten vagrant. He threw his head against the ground again and again until blood was flowing freely.

This stoic, powerful man completely lost his mind. Everything important to him, all of his hopes, his reason for living - they were pinned to that wall.

Artemis shook her head when she understood what had happened. "Poor bastard."

Suddenly a group of soldiers rushed out from the outpost and tried to drag him inside. He fought them off with the last of his strength and staggered back toward the others like a man grasping at his final straw.

"Help me kill him. Help me kill Hydra! HELP ME KILL THAT BASTARD!"

Half a dozen soldiers pulled him away. He flailed against them and his mangled fingers clawed trenches in the ground.  He clawed until there was little more than bone, screaming for help as they disappeared from sight. His voice rang through the air, insane and savage. "Help me kill Hydra!"

Mantis watched all this happen with his customarily impassive face.  Artemis, however, had a mocking smile on her face. "He really is an absolute dumbfuck."

The Queen was most conflicted. She raised her head and looked at the grizzly result of Hydra's anger. Her eyes watered as she looked at these bodies, tortured so badly they didn't even look human. "Gods," she whispered to herself. "Please forgive me!"

Hydra had injected himself with a syringe of panacea. His wounds were slowly healing. The outpost leader had been preparing to fight those sweeper bastards to the death so when the four people appeared before his eyes he could hardly believe it.

"Ah-hahaha!" He bounded over to them grinning broadly. "Never woulda thought. I never woulda thought you'd make it when it all went tits up. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know you killed those three assholes. Without them the demon's power throughout the wastelands takes a big hit. We're gonna kill that bastard!"

Hydra felt like he was walking with the blessings of the gods themselves. 

He survived betrayal from the one person he trusted most, then he took care of the slaver that tried to hunt him down. Then in this precarious moment he finds that the demonhunter - a gift from the elysian lands - had dealt with the sweepers. Indeed the outpost had suffered for it, but any cost was worth killing those three lapdogs.

"I imagine the bastard will hear the news soon. He'll definitely show up now, he has to. We've gotta prepare." Hydra clapped his hands and a group of handmaidens gingerly scampered in. "Look after your wounds.  Feel free to take whatever you need. Starting now we have to be battle ready."

This demonhunter was something else! With her by his side he couldn't lose!

Her cold voice rasped through the air. "I need two syringes of panacea."

He winced slightly when he heard her. "Why two?"

Her eyes looked toward Cloudhawk who was still unconscious, Hydra knew what she meant, but the kid was hardly worth his salt. Even if he lived to the final fight he wasn't any use.

So his voice turned distant as he answered, "He's too badly hurt. He's lost so much blood even panacea won't save him. We've only got two of the precious stuff left and it'd be better to save 'em for when they're needed most, right?"

The Bloodsoaked Queen tepidly responded, "Fine. Then I want something else from you."

Hydra had planned to give a little push back, but when he saw her abandon the request he relaxed. It looked like this kid wasn't all that important to her after all. "Anything for the mighty demon slayer! Say the word."

 Her hoarse and sinister voice crackled from the mask: "I want your life."

Before he could react she was in front of him with her hand on his chest. Frightened, he tried to shove her away but it was too late. He was filled with a wave of heat that swept through every inch of him like a burning train car of coal.


Hydra was turned into a statue of solid black carbon. The last thought running through his mind before it all burned away was why she'd want to kill him.

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