Cloudhawk's exorcist staff was constructed so that its sharpened end was a vicious three-edged point. The wounds it caused were large and difficult to heal. Salamander was caught off guard, resulting in the staff drilling four inches into his body . Once it had buried itself in deep Cloudhawk twisted his wrist, tearing open the wound even further.
A typical person would not survive trauma like this. Even if it missed critical organs the victim would bleed out and die. Cloudhawk heaved, trying to shove the staff in deeper and open the wound wider.
Salamander's left hand gripped the shaft of the weapon while his right hand flung poison darts toward the left side of Cloudhawk's neck. The young scavenger jerked his staff free and dodged out of the way. Fresh blood spilled over the ground.
"So this is… the power of a demonhunter!"
Raspy breaths hissed through Salamander's mask. He pressed his hands to the wound to try and stem the bleeding, all the while staring dementedly at his foe. He could hardly believe this young punk had the talent of a demonhunter.
Cloudhawk lamented that he hadn't killed him with his opening strike, but he figured the masked man had to be half-dead at least. Not only was the wound deep, but it was ragged and grave.
He soon discovered he was wrong.
The ugly wound bled for ten seconds before the flow stopped. By the time Salamander withdrew his hands from the area it had almost completely closed up. What incredible healing ability!
His talents weren't in strength, agility, constitution or control. Instead, he had a level of regenerative ability that was rarely seen. While it wasn't to the level of that undead nightmare, the freak in black, Cloudhawk had never seen a normal human with this level of healing talent. It was at least several times superior to Cloudhawk's!
He knocked away the darts that were aimed his way. Salamander rushed ahead in their wake, throwing more darts with his left hand while his right gripped a glowing green dagger. The dart exploded in a hissing cloud of smoke right in front of Cloudhawk's face, mere moments before a deadly shadow fell over him.
Salamander's fighting style was insidious and relied on poison. Artemis had discovered that the hard way, but Cloudhawk was prepared after seeing what had become of her. The moment the cloud of poison spread he disappeared once more. It gave him cover to retreat.
Salamander lunged into the spreading mist of poison. His mask protected him from its ill effects so he could move through the toxic area freely. His target was gone, and he had no way to know where he'd vanished to. Worse, the power of the relic cloak made it so that Cloudhawk was too fast for Salamander to keep up.
However, so long as Salamander remained in the embrace of his poison, Cloudhawk couldn't reach him either.
The booming footsteps of maneaters shook the area as they neared.
The veteran wastelander felt like victory was in his grasp. This young demonhunter's invisibility was troublesome but not insurmountable. Salamander slowly lifted his left hand, aimed a deadly dart toward where Artemis lay helpless, and let fly.
No! Cloudhawk scowled. This old fucker was crafty!
He'd remained invisible, looking for an opening to launch his next attack on the man. He hadn't expected Salamander would turn on Artemis, who was unable to defend herself. He was forced to reveal himself.
Cloudhawk was far away from the dart, he couldn't get to it in time to deflect the hateful thing. His hand went to his waist, gripped the handle of his revolver, and pulled it free. With all his psychic energy focused on the dart it seemed to slow in mid-air.
His bullet knocked the dart off its trajectory.
Dread crept into Salamander's heart. He witnessed the dart being shot out of the air, which meant his foe had superior control and reaction skills. The only other people with those talents in the outpost were their elite marksmen. In addition to this the kid could vanish which only made him more deadly.
Hiding in the poison mist was no longer safe.
Without hesitation Salamander jumped, followed by the second crack of the pistol. Had he been half a second later Cloudhawk's shot would have hit him but instead it missed. He landed back on the ground but in his rush he couldn't get his legs stable under him. Taking advantage of the moment Cloudhawk charged toward him whipping his exorcist staff around. With no way to dodge Salamander pulled out a dart and lifted his left arm to block the strike.
The force of the blow made Salamander's arm go numb. In the instant the staff was knocked away he brought his sickly green dagger around to cut into Cloudhawk's flesh. But he didn't feel the expected rending of skin. Instead, his dagger rasped harmlessly against the kid's cloak. Whatever it was made of, his dagger couldn't punch through! It was thin enough that he lacerated the skin, but the poison couldn't be delivered.
Cloudhawk called on the power of his exorcist staff!
His psychic energy was mightier than it ever had been and calling the power of the staff no longer required him to focus so intensely. His staff came alive in an instant, unleashing unparalleled impact and tearing force so overwhelming it broke Salamander's dart to splinters. It continued to press down until the staff was stopped by the veteran's left arm.
Salamander screamed in agony as his arm was smashed clean off!
Cloudhawk followed up immediately after with another lunge at his enemy's chest.
The exorcist staff struck him so hard that Salamander's armor was demolished. Vibrations from the impact shuddered through him and broke every one of his ribs and scrambled his organs. He was thrown fifteen feet away, hit the ground and rolled away like a discarded ragdoll. He was covered in blood, his flesh a mangled ruin. Even Salamander's impressive healing abilities couldn't save him anymore. At best it would force him to linger on in pain until death finally took him.
Cloudhawk approached, ready to deliver the killing blow.
"Why are you so intent on destroying our paradise?" Salamander's helmet and mask had been ruined, revealing a head of white hair and a gaunt, wrinkled face. Blood trickled from the corner of his lips in thick rivulets. With what strength remained he hacked out his words. "Devils… you're all… just devils!"
Cloudhawk looked down at the old, broken man beneath him. Another aged face swam up at him through his memories.
It was a humble face; ordinary, undistinguished and old. He'd kept Cloudhawk by his side ever since he was a child, teaching him to read, how to live. Cloudhawk was already forgetting what he looked like, just his snow-white hair and wrinkled face. He thought the old man always looked like one who'd suffered the world's ills yet still mourned the state of humanity. He was always staring out into the wastelands with eyes full of longing. In the end he'd died, never escaping the life of a scavenger.
In this instant Cloudhawk saw the two old men as one. He couldn't bring himself to use his staff. Inwardly his heart clenched.
What have I done?
With eyes full of hate Salamander glared at him. "You demonhunters are all hypocrites! May the wastelands curse you, may you all languish in suffering - may you rot in hell for eternity!"
He groped for his dagger with a quivering arm, lifting it from the ground.
He used it to open his own throat.
"Get your head out of your ass!" Artemis was screaming at him from behind. "The sweepers are coming. We've gotta go!"
Her pleas reached deaf ears. Cloudhawk didn't feel any sense of victory or accomplishment after cutting down this old man. On the contrary his heart sank. He just stared at the bloody corpse for a few moments, then sank to his knees and closed its dim, glaring eyes. "I'm sorry. Go in peace," he whispered.
Two maneaters burst into view.
Cloudhawk's head snapped up and he glared at the beasts with blood-red eyes. He vanished, only to appear a moment later bearing his exorcist staff high. With the force of a hurricane he plowed the staff right into a maneater's chest.
The pure force of his rage caved the beast's armor. Even the maneater's sturdy body couldn't stop the impact from scrambling its organs.
Cloudhawk leapt into the air, summoning another tempest of power which he brought crashing down on the maneater's head. Its helmet cracked and fell away in pieces while the bone below was split. Its brains were splattered everywhere.
He turned, once more summoning the might of his psychic power. Holding his staff with a white-knuckle grip he brought it around to meet the second maneater's cudgel!
Like two tornadoes meeting the area was buffeted with the force of their collision. Dirt and stone choked the air. Both the hulking monstrosity and Cloudhawk were knocked back a single pace. The young human quickly regained his footing, though, and with eyes the color of murder he charged again. Incensed with an insanity to match the maneater he thrust his staff forward like an arrow. It planted itself in the sweeper's chest more effective than a drill and chewed through its armor, its leathery flesh, and exploded from its back through a hole the size of a soup bowl.
The maneater crumbled to the ground with a wail.
Cloudhawk stood amidst the carnage, gasping for breath. He was soaked with blood from head to toe.
Artemis stared with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. The kid had slain two maneaters by himself - it was simply inconceivable. That meant he was almost as strong as she was!
When did this kid become so tough?
To Cloudhawk, the scope of his improvement was clear. In the past, he would have only been able to use his staff twice in a short period of time. From the start of this fight to its bloody end he'd used it four times. Each strike was stronger than before, and he could use it twice as much.
Cloudhawk's berserker rage had exhausted the agitation and sadness in his heart. He hurried over to Artemis, lifted her onto his back and set off as fast as he could for the outpost. The maneaters were strong but not that fast. Escaping the rest of them was not difficult.
After they returned, Mantis looked over the new outpost leader. He quickly diagnosed the poison Salamander had used and concocted an antidote. Once he injected it into her she quickly began to recover.
When the Queen heard the news she hurried back to the fort. She was furious. Their little excursion had almost been fatal. "Did I not make it perfectly clear that you weren't to go off on a whim?! What were you thinking? Were you thinking at all?"
Artemis was in no mood, and in the face of the Queen's rebuke she shouted back. "That's enough! I'm not gonna sit here while you order me around. Who the fuck do you think I am? Your goddamn toy?!"
The Queen's fist was coiled tight, ready to strike. A boiling heat flooded the area.
Artemis felt it but was undeterred. "What? Are you gonna kill me? Go on, show us how little our lives mean to you!"
Cloudhawk stepped between the two women. "Alright that's enough. It wasn't pointless, we managed to find sweepers hiding near the outpost. That was important."
"Hmph, what are you worried about?" Artemis cast Cloudhawk a withering glare. "Our self-righteous demonhunter won't kill me. I'm still useful. Aren't I?"
How prideful was the Bloodsoaked Queen? This wastelander's insubordination was a naked insult.With every passing moment the threat of murder burned brighter in her eyes.
From the start these two women had not liked each other, and now their conflict was coming to a head. Eventually, Cloudhawk managed to diffuse the situation once more… but the bad blood was there, and it was only getting worse.
1. Depending on the location and one's BMI, typical chest wall thickness is about two inches.