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Lighthouse Point had been reduced to rubble. Skycloud soldiers, their resplendent armor covered in gore and their weapons dripping blood, stalked the smoldering carnage. The sick smell of blood and rot filled the air. The soil was all stained red.

The massacre continued for a long time. When it was finished, there were nearly a thousand corpses lying in pools of blood. It was like a vision of the cruelty hell promised.

Although more than a thousand wastelanders were dead, the slaughter didn’t produce the expected result. The holy warriors had suspected there was little chance it would work, but they still performed the task with extreme prejudice. It didn’t matter that the cost was innumerable innocent lives.

Captain Bolte stared at the heinous scene. There was no pity in his eyes. He simply shook his head and muttered. “We’ve failed. Let’s go.”

The representatives of the gods left, leaving only flame and slaughter in their wake. The fires continued for hours, and then there was only ash.

Around midnight a sandstorm swept through. Wild winds brought an ocean of grit, enough to blot out the sky for most of the night. By the time the sun rose the next morning, most of Lighthouse Point was gone. The corpses of its unfortunate residents disappeared beneath the dunes and only the crumbling spire of its central lighthouse remained – the only indication that something that been there at all. No one would know what happened to the doomed outpost.

In this age, where balance had been shattered, power determined who led. Power determined who lived and who died. There were no rules, no obligations, for those only existed among classes of equal rank. When the scales of power tipped, there were no more rules to govern the masses. There were only sheep and lions. The sheep bleated for fair treatment, and the lions ignored them.

Those born in the realm of the gods were the chosen, a cut above the rest. Wastelanders were heathens fated to suffer. Killing them was no different than eradicating insects.

It was how they were taught. Even from a young age the idea was reinforced, so deeply ingrained it was impossible to separate from their identity.

A thousand miles away an intense battle raged.

Bodies of wasteland monsters rose like mountains, together with the mangled bodies of holy soldiers. A horde of snarling beasts gathered nearby, more than a thousand.

“Gods above! What sort of demons have these blasphemers released upon the world!”

The Skycloud general’s armor was broken in multiple spots. He stared at the host of enemies with hard eyes. He’d never seen so many creatures together, all different sorts, fighting together. They seemed to be controlled by several figures who stood in the center of the crowd, staring back at the hundreds of bloodied soldiers. In addition to their ferocity and power, these monstrous wasteland beasts were also no less clever than humans.

One of his commanders stumbled over, clearly having taken a beating himself. “General, it’s no use. The more of these creatures we kill, the more come to their aid. If we continue they’ll wipe us out. We should return home with this information!”[/ref]

The Skycloud general looked over what remained of his troops, only about half of what they’d come with. He weighed his options for a few moments. Then, gritting his teeth against the bitter realization, he gave the order. “Withdraw!”

Skycloud’s forces began to retreat. When the wasteland creatures saw them falling back the earth shook with their triumphant roars. Like a victory cry. It made the humans’ hairs stand on end.

Hyena’s body slowly reverted to its human form. He watched the warriors go through narrowed eyes. They’d been discovered, the holy lands would know all about them soon enough. This time the elysians hadn’t been prepared for his people’s attack, but next time would be different. Their luck wouldn’t last.

Hyena bellowed a roar, a sign for them to fall back. The horde retreated like the tide.

They couldn’t remain here, Hyena realized. If his people were to survive they had to find somewhere safe that could accommodate them. Now that they were discovered these self-righteous killers and their almighty gods would not suffer their existence on this earth.

But where? They had no home. The roving horde stopped when night fell over the wastelands. Anxious and hungry the creatures collapsed upon the ground to rest. Amidst a chorus of whines and growls they weakly licked their wounds.

Hyena pondered their troubles, searching for any solution. His meditations were interrupted by a warning growl. Had the enemy returned? Where they being chased?

He sprang up, almost immediately in his beastly form once again. Charging toward the growls, he gathered a group of his intelligent shape-shifting kin. Wendigo, they called themselves.  When they saw what was causing the commotion, they were understandably surprised. The intruder had come alone. They hovered three feet above the ground, suspended in midair as though they were somehow separate from reality. A pair of burning red eyes peered at them from a pitch-black, hideous silhouette darker than the night that hugged it. Its gaze felt capable of piercing to the depths of one’s soul.

The beasts surrounded it, growling threateningly though none dared draw near. Though they did not have the intelligence of the Wendigo, instinct told them this was a monster they should fear.

Hyena faced the outsider with a dignified and guarded expression. Baring his fangs, saliva dripping from his maw, he spoke in a low growl, “You are the one the humans call the ‘demon’?”

“Who I am is not important.”

The Caliph of the Sand’s body swayed ever so slightly. Hyena felt a gust of wind and suddenly the demon was standing before him. Even with his highly evolved senses he was unable to follow the Caliph’s movements. He staggered back a few steps, a gripping fear filling his chest. Hyena knew there was nothing he could do if the demon wanted him dead.

The Caliph appeared to have recently survived a great battle. Strange cracks ran along his body, but none seemed serious.

“Roste was a genius, the likes of which only comes about less than once in a hundred years. Even I must praise his accomplishments.” The Caliph’s voice echoed around them, raspy like flesh on gravel. It was both gruesome and terrifying, like a chill that settled in the darkest parts of one’s heart. “You and your people are exposed out here. If you do not find shelter, you will die. I can show you the way, help you to survive, even flourish.”

Hyena was not so easily charmed. “How does that benefit you? What’s your goal?”

“Do not worry. I bear no malice. We live in a cruel and lifeless world; I simply like to see some more vitality brought to it. You and your people have great potential. You make me… optimistic.”

Were the demons not merely as the legends described? Only concerned with war and calamity? If this were true, Hyena’s race was a grand investment.

“Go!” The Caliph of the Sands granted Hyena the knowledge of where he could go to save his people. Then, he slowly lifted into the night sky leaving only his slithering voice hanging in the air. “Seek your liberation. Prosper!”

“I leave you with a final piece of advice. You might want to consider choosing a new name for yourself.”

That night felt particularly long, especially for the soldiers marching away from their failure.

Skycloud’s forces trudged back toward their home, fatigued and downtrodden. They had planned to join with another contingent, but as the dawn rose over their planned meeting place they were met with an unexpected scene.

Several ships lay in pieces like enormous jade statues, surrounded by the signs of battle. Soldiers’ bodies lay all around, together with the corpses of countless sweepers. Desolation, as far as they could see. Something terrible had happened here.

But what?

This battalion had been sent to hunt down any trace of the evil research that created those intelligent monsters. These had to be the men Lord Augustus Cloude was commanding personally, so how could this be? The Skycloud general pushed through the crowd, and that was when he found the first demonhunter’s body, followed by the second, then the third.

He found it hard to imagine that their best warriors could have fallen into a trap. They wouldn’t have suffered such a terrible defeat, even against several times their number of sweepers – and even then, never such a crushing loss as this.

“Lord Augustus!”

The general scrambled over a nearby hillside toward a body on the other side. This body was located at the center of a massive crater, with the hill behind him looking as though it had been sheared off by a massive sword that was hundreds of feet long. It only added the shock and confusion about what occurred here.

The Skycloud commander swayed unsteadily, on the verge of collapse. Lord Augustus was a demonhunter who was famous for his skill, yet here he lay. It was unthinkable.

Lord Augustus was not yet dead, but every breath was a mighty struggle. “Go back. Go back! Leave this place!”

The general’s mind was blank. He couldn’t even fathom what happened here. He only knew the fear that seized his heart was making it difficult to breathe. The carnage that stretched before him would affect the holy city for decades to come. They had never suffered such a calamitous loss, even without accounting for the loss of their master demonhunter. This would surely cause great change in Skycloud, but what sort of change?

Something was going to happen. Something big was going to happen!

A shudder ran through the general’s body. He didn’t know what sort of impact this would make, nor did he know what sort of impact it would cause back home. It was beyond estimation, but whatever the case they had to get back as quickly as possible.

At last the dawn came. Light dispelled the shadows that had claimed the vast landscape.

Two figures tread over the dunes, their shadows spread out far behind them over the vast and featureless desert. Thirsty, starving, they stumbled forward with a weak but determined gait, like a pair of insignificant insects.

They fought for every step, each one more likely than not to see them collapse. Yes, they looked insignificant. But still they forged ahead in defiance, firm against the unforgiving wastelands.

1. A name I’ve given them for ease of reference. HDW called them ‘orcs’, but they have a very specific look here. I chose wendigo due to their bestial, humanoid appearance and proclivity to eat humans. They’re also local folklore for North America where this story is reputed to take place.

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