Artemis was strong, there was no denying that. Cloudhawk had no interest in fighting her. What’s more, every second they delayed the danger grew. Once the demon caught up with them there was no chance of escape.
He hadn’t spent a lot of time with this woman, but compared to the Bloodsoaked Queen they shared similar outlooks and values. They’d spoken about many things he could never discuss with the Queen, shared ideas she wouldn’t understand. Their chats had brought him and Artemis closer, and at least Cloudhawk had no desire for it to come to this. In all the world Cloudhawk didn’t have many friends, he considered Artemis one of them.
He continued to try and talk her down. “This world is big, I refuse to believe Greenland Outpost is the only place for us. I know that together we have the ability to find somewhere better. Why would you agree to be on that fucker’s leash? Artemis, we can’t waste time – come with us, quickly!”
The outpost soldiers that’d come with her brandished their weapons, ready to join the fight.
“Hold your ground! This kid is mine!” She wasn’t going to take this from him. She allowed her hammer to slip from her shoulder and thud onto the ground as she glared his way. “You’ve been here so long and you and I haven’t wrangled yet. You and me, one on one!”
“Does it have to be this way?”
“Cut the shit! Today one of us is dying!”
Artemis face was a mask of rage as she heaved up her hammer and charged at Cloudhawk. She bore down on him with deadly ferocity and every attack was intended to kill. If he was half a step late his bones would be crushed to powder. He didn’t want it to be a fight to the death, but Artemis’ attacks held nothing back. He couldn’t just sit by and wait for death.
“Why don’t you ever fuckin’ listen!”
Anger swelled up in Cloudhawk as well. He thought Artemis might be different, but in the end she was willing to kill him to save her own life and keep leadership of the outpost. “Fine. If you wanna fight, then I’ll give you a fuckin’ fight!”
Artemis’ hammer came crashing down, like a meteorite from the heavens. If it hit Cloudhawk there would be nothing recognizable left. As power surged through his exorcist staff he brought it up to meet her hammer, and in the moment they collided that power was released to buffer her blow.
He was knocked back fifteen feet and a nasty pain radiated from his wrist. He thought using the staff was more than suitable, but he was wrong. However there were only a few in the outpost – maybe even the wastelands – who could face down one of Artemis’ attacks and live.
This wasn’t how he was gonna die!
Cloudhawk’s improvements were evident, but he wasn’t going to survive this situation against Artemis on his own. Beyond her there were also scores of outpost soldiers closing in, and sooner rather than later that demon would return. If he didn’t find a way to get out now his chances of escaping were practically zero.
Thus with a plan to escape in mind Cloudhawk channeled his psyche through his cloak. Like a leaf floating on the breeze he dashed through the throng of outpost soldiers. Under orders from Artemis to hold their attacks, they weren’t sure what do.
Cloudhawk swung his staff and it whistled through the air so fast it left ripples in its wake. A handful of warriors were caught off guard and were smacked to the ground. With the Queen on his shoulder Cloudhawk leapt over them toward freedom.
“He’s getting away!” The soldiers were ready to give chase. “Get him!”
“Hold your fucking ground!” She stalked toward the pile of soldiers like a lioness. “I said he’s mine, and if any of you pieces of shit try to join in I’ll crush your fuckin’ brain pan!”
Artemis was a well-known name in the outpost. Her temper was famous, and they knew that once she was angry it didn’t matter if you were friend or kin, you stayed out of her way. The soldiers all exchanged quiet, nervous glances but none of them dared disobey. If she wanted to smash every one of them into pulp she would, and she’d do it easily.
Cloudhawk’s strength was surprising, but he wasn’t a match for Artemis. She could easily deal with him herself!
The outpost warriors were left alone, dumbfounded and unsure what to do while Artemis and Cloudhawk disappeared.
With the help of his cloak Cloudhawk was fast, but he was also carrying someone and that affected his speed. Artemis wasn’t a speed-focused metahuman, but her powerful legs helped her bound over terrain with impressive momentum. Soon she caught up.
Goddamnit! Is this woman really dead-set on fighting?
Cloudhawk stopped and spun around again, furious. Artemis was bearing down on him with her hammer raised while she threw something at him in her left hand. He thought it was some sort of weapon and made to dodge, but she’d thrown it slowly. As it came his way he saw that it wasn’t a weapon, it was a syringe.
“Panacea?” Cloudhawk caught it instinctively. It was the last injection from Hydra’s stash they hadn’t used. “Artemis, this –“
She stared at him with hard eyes. “What the fuck is your dopey ass standing around for? Run!”
Suddenly he understood her intention. She’d been acting, there were too many soldiers around for her to simply let him go. If she’d tried the soldiers definitely wouldn’t have let it happen. Artemis was helping him escape.
Only she was a shit actress!
Yes, she couldn’t fake it so her attacks had to be real. Each attack would have turned his guts to soup, but they had to in order to keep her heart’s desire secret. No one suspected anything, so when she went racing after him no one thought twice.
Cloudhawk heaved a sigh of relief then promptly injected the Queen with the panacea. “Next time give me some sorta hint, would ya? I coulda been hurt!”
“You dipshit,” she spat. “You belong to me, you think I’m gonna kill what’s mine?”
Who would have thought that would be her answer!
If Cloudhawk had been even a little bit slower, a little bit weaker, he’d have been straight up murdered. She hadn’t held back one bit!
The Bloodsoaked Queen started to recover immediately after the injection, but their foe had done a number on her. He didn’t think she’d be up for a fight any time soon. But even if she could, what would that accomplish? After such a brutal beating would she be ready for a second round?
Cloudhawk blurted out. “Artemis, why are you helping me?”
“I told you – you belong to me. If I don’t help you, then who?” As they ran for safety she rolled her eyes at his silly questions. “Of course there’s another reason. The demon doesn’t know how that freak in black died, but once he figures it out you think he’ll go easy on me? I’m no idiot! I have to get the fuck outta here too!”
Truth be told that was probably the main reason!
Cloudhawk thought back to their fight with the black-clad mutant. Artemis’ surprise attack was what slowed the freak down, and without her intervention Cloudhawk absolutely would have been killed. The mutant was one of the demon’s seven henchmen, first among them. His status probably didn’t indicate ability but instead likely meant he was the first one the demon recruited. He had probably been the demon’s longest serving subordinate.
Once the demon found out his most important disciple had been killed by Artemis she could forget about breathing.
Right now even the demonhunter was up shit creek without a paddle, canoe or nose plugs. Greenland Outpost had no hope of being free. Unlike Salamander, Artemis hadn’t spent most of her life in the outpost, but it was where she’d spent her most formative years. She was unwilling to leave, but there was no other choice.
At least she still had Cloudhawk, that cute little morsel.
When she thought about adventures with Cloudhawk she thought it wasn’t such a bad life. As for the demonhunter that couldn’t seem to do anything right, now that they saved her life they could tell her to fuck off!
Of course Cloudhawk didn’t know Artemis’ plans. The injection continued to work its way through the Queen’s battered body, helping her heal. He knew she’d recovered consciousness already but until now she was mute as a log.
He didn’t even need to think about it to know what was up. This time she’d suffered quite the blow.
Ever since coming to the wasteland the Bloodsoaked Queen had been practically invincible. The only people to get the drop on her had to use dirty tricks, traps or full-on sieges. Even back in the elysian lands she’d been the most talented among her peers! A demonhunter at eleven, an elite demonhunter at fourteen.
She was a singular talent the likes of which had never been seen, truly amazing. One after the other she broke every demonhunter record in the elysian lands. She was the only hunter with a chance to become a Master before thirty years old.
This was her history, and today she was pummeled into the dirt. A failure.
Her failure was so straightforward, so brutal. So absolute!
She’d given up her honor and her future to waste a year scouring the wastelands. In the end it was all a cruel joke. She couldn’t even accomplish dying with the demon.
The Queen was too young, she’d never even participated in a proper demon hunt. Without that experience she didn’t know what to expect, or how strong a demon was. If she were a little more sensible she’d remember that these monsters used to war with the gods themselves. They’d lost, but they were a race that could stand toe to toe against the most powerful being in the universe. Was that not enough to explain her problems?
Cloudhawk tried to comfort her. “Don’t feel bad, it wasn’t a complete loss. At least now we know how strong that fucker is. We’ll find somewhere to hide, train for a few years then try again!”
The Bloodsoaked Queen shut her eyes, drained of all strength.
Before them stretched the oasis, barring the way to freedom.
Cloudhawk sighed at the sight, but no sooner did he allow himself to relax than all of his nerves went taught. His whole body shook, for he felt the waves of a relic’s power permeating the air.
“Watch out above!”
He barely had time to shout before the cloud darkened from a hail of countless sandy arrows. They fell from the heavens like a plague of locusts, a deadly rain. And they were caught in the middle.
How strong was this monster? The scale of this attack was staggering!