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Chapter 23 – Crushed

Four hundred fully equipped sweepers was a force capable of roaming through the wastelands with impunity, easily capable of crushing any foolish opponent who dared to stand before them. Blackflag Outpost’s situation was far more dire than it had been just a night ago when it had faced a beast wave.

In comparison, the outpost warriors were individually inferior to the mutant sweepers in every single aspect, and they were exhausted besides. Many of the outpost warriors were wounded as well. How were they supposed to win this fight?

But what Cloudhawk feared wasn’t the sweepers. In the entire outpost, he was the only person who knew for a fact that the earlier sandstorm did not arise by coincidence. It was created by someone or something using a unique weapon.

Cloudhawk couldn’t imagine, wouldn’t dare imagine, what type of object would possess such incredible, supernatural power. Humans always felt fear in the face of the inexplicable and the unknown, and Cloudhawk was no exception. He felt certain that the sweepers definitely had an unfathomably powerful backer standing behind them.

The two sides faced off against each other from a distance of one or two hundred meters. The sweepers didn’t seem to be in a hurry to attack.

A figure completely wrapped in a ragged, tattered cloak suddenly emerged from one of the sweeper vehicles. A large hood covered his entire head, making it impossible to see what it looked like. However, when compared to the bloodthirsty, violent, and restless mutants this man seemed almost strangely still, so still that his chest didn’t seem to rise and fall as he breathed. If he just stood there without walking, everyone would’ve taken to be a cloak-clad statue!

Cloudhawk noticed something quite interesting. Even the savage and terrifyingly strong maneaters nudged backwards as this mysterious man walked past them, voluntarily clearing the way for him. It was as though they were afraid they would get in his way.

These giant creatures had long ago lost virtually all of their reason and intellect. Despite that, they could still tell the strong from the weak and tell who was a worthy, powerful leader. Above all else, they knew exactly what sort of a price they would pay if they tried to rebel against their leader.

Their minds had already been imprinted with memories of what punishments awaited rebels… and the imprinting had been done in the most simple, direct, and brutal way possible. This was why they almost instinctively shied away from the man!

The battle had come to a sudden halt, as though everything had fallen into a quagmire. Things were incredibly tense, and everyone was on tenterhooks. The outpost warriors were very careful not to even breathe too loudly, for fear that the slightest of stimuli would disrupt this fragile, delicate balance.

The cloaked figure slowly advanced towards the front, step by step. As he did, Cloudhawk stared unblinkingly at this man, trying to figure out what made him so different. And yet, no matter how hard he tried Cloudhawk was still unable to discern any of those strange ripples emanating from the man. It wasn’t him!

This was an army of sweepers that was outfitted with metal armor, heavy machinery, machetes and war-axes, bows and firearms, and even vehicles. They literally were armed to the teeth. There was no way an army like this would’ve just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Why was it that they had never heard of such an organization in the past?

The two captains of the elite outpost guards were all extremely puzzled. Why hadn’t the sweepers pressed the attack after they had breached the outer perimeter? They were just standing there, giving the beleaguered defenders time to catch their breaths. Why did they do this? Did they feel overwhelming confident in their superiority? Were they waiting for something? Or were they worried about something?

The bows were all nocked. The guns were all loaded. It didn’t matter what the sweepers were planning ;the outpost warriors had once more reformed a strong defensive perimeter. However, they all knew that the outpost held no advantages at all in this battle. If they truly did begin to fight, the majority of the humans would be wiped out at the very least, even if they won. In a worst-case scenario, the entire outpost would be baptized in blood!

Morale was so heavy that everyone found it hard to even breathe. As for the cloaked, statue-like figure, he moved slightly, raising his head and revealing the paper-white face beneath the hood. His skin looked as lifeless as an alabaster statue’s, but his eyes were as black as the endless depths of the night. When he ‘blinked’, his eyelids didn’t actually move; rather, some sort of dark-red nictitating membrane rapidly closed over his eyeballs. It was extremely bizarre to behold.

The mysterious man extended his hand and pointed at the outpost. “This outpost belongs to us now.” His words were very calm and casual, as though he had come to a fairly simple decision. It was like he was proclaiming that he was going to eat a piece of bread, or perhaps pluck a flower from the roadside. His voice was shrill and dark, carrying a strange, mutated, sinister cadence to it.

The outpost defenders all had rather ugly looks on their faces when they heard his proclamation. The mysterious man continued: “Surrender!”

A strange look appeared on Cloudhawk’s face as well. Weren’t sweepers supposed to be nothing more than thuggish butchers who swept across the wastelands like locusts? Why did this sweepers desire to take over this outpost? This was too weird!

But of course, there was no way anyone would accede to this request. Those enormous maneaters would be able to eat an entire human being with each meal. They wouldn’t even spare the bones. Not even the greatest of fools would volunteer to become food for sweepers!

Faced with this obvious provocation, a skinny youth rose to his feet and stepped forwards. It was the second captain of the elite squad, the man known as Wulf. His eyes were spitting fire as he said, “You want it? Come and take it, if you have any balls!” The other outpost guards supported him with a chorus of jeers and curses.

They weren’t actually angered by the fellow’s arrogant demeanor. Rather, this was the only method they had to bolster the cratering morale of their fellow warriors.

“Then I guess there’s nothing else for it.” The cloaked figure gently raised his hand, his every movement seeming extremely casual. It was like he was waving and saying good morning to a neighbor… but before making the final decision, he swept a glance at the surrounding area, almost as though he was waiting for something.

The mysterious man scanned the area, then hesitated for a few seconds as though something he was waiting for had yet to show itself. A look of disappointment flickered through his eyes, and his voice echoed clearly in the ears of every man present like ice, filled with a cold promise of death. “Fine then. We’ll just wipe you all out!”

Such a casual statement. Such a direct statement. It didn’t even sound like he viewed this as a particularly onerous task; he said these words as though he was telling someone to drink a cup of water. It was a simple order, but one which was completely uncontestable. Perhaps to this mysterious sweeper, these outpost warriors were nothing more than bugs which he could crush with a wave of his hands!

“RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” The sweepers had been waiting impatiently for just this command!

The ten-plus maneaters began to advance at a jog, while the hundred-plus thugs immediately followed right behind them. The crude, ugly, yet extremely thick armor they wore emitted clanking, grating sounds. They were like one of those ancient, rusting trains from the Old Times. With each step they took, they caused the ground in front of them to tremble. They were both tenacious and strong, and any men who stood in front of them were destined to be smashed to bits of blood and gore.

The warriors of Blackflag Outpost had shocked and horrified looks on their faces. The battle had started, just like that? They had thought the face-off would last a bit longer, giving them enough time to replenish their arrows and their ammunition. Who would’ve thought that the damnable sweeper battalion would launch an immediate attack without even brooking the slightest delay?

Grizzly roared loudly, “Archers and gunners, fire!” The warriors of the outpost began to fire their guns and shoot with their bows, but their formation was so chaotic that there was no way for them to concentrate their firepower.

The ten-plus enormous maneaters lifted up their arms, using their bracers to protect their eyes. The thick steel cuirasses covering their body was more than enough to protect their vitals, making it impossible for these ordinary arrows and bullets to deal any lethal wounds to them.

“Careful! They are coming!”

The enormous freaks barreled straight into the defenders with absolutely astonishing momentum. Each of the maneaters wielded enormous greathammers that weighed several hundred kilograms, but whirled them with such ease it was as though they were playing with wooden sticks. They raised those ponderous warhammers up high, then sent them smashing downwards towards the humans with enough power to pulverize a herd of bulls.

CRUNCH! Two men were struck head-on, and their bodies disintegrated as if they were made out of glass, sending blood and gore everywhere!

When a few of the strikes missed and slammed into the ground, they seemed to cause the earth itself to quaver. Some of the more distant men felt their legs wobble along with the earth, while entire groups of nearby defenders were actually knocked to the ground by the overwhelmingly powerful shockwaves generated by the strikes. The still-standing outpost warriors tried to stab the maneaters with their spears, but even when they were able to strike through the chinks in the armor they were unable to pierce through that tough maneater skin.

With every swipe from a maneater warhammer, multiple humans were blasted off into the distance like tennis balls. One, two, three, four… the enormous monstrosities continued their berserk advance, their thick steel armor rendering them impervious to almost all attacks. Their whirling warhammers smashed every single human they came in contact with into a pile of pulped meat.

Next to every single massive maneater was an entire group of axe-wielding thugs, who ringed the maneaters with walls of iron shields. Although these thugs didn’t have the astonishing size and power of the maneaters, they were still some of the most elite warriors the sweepers had to offer. All of them were nearly two meters tall and were twice as muscular as ordinary humans. With their left hands they held iron shields that seemed capable of stopping any attacks, and with their right hands they wielded war-axes that chopped through human bodies like vegetables.

Behind the thugs were the groups of bow and gun-wielding moderately mutated sweepers. These mutants didn’t have the close combat power of the first two, but they were much more intelligent and so were responsible for using firearms to kill from a distance as well as screening their allies. They were responsible for killing particular dangerous targets with their firearms.

Sweeper bows were custom-designed and specially made. Every single shot carried enormous amounts of power, and they were terrifyingly accurate. They were able to completely pierce through a man’s skull, virtually guaranteeing that almost no one hit by them would survive.

As for the lizard riders, the bikers, and the other riders, they wielded sickles and other long weapons and were responsible for keeping the flanks secure.

This was an extremely powerful and extremely well-organized formation. A sweeper battalion like this was unquestionably powerful, and would guarantee that they would overwhelmingly dominate almost any opponent. These outpost warriors stood no chance at all!

The outpost warriors let out screams as they died, and their screams intermingled with the sounds of their bones being shattered and their bodies being crushed, as well as the twanging of bowstrings and the cracks of firearms. These sounds all mixed together, coming together to form a strange, horrifying melody which none of the people present would ever be able to forget. This was a sea of terror that could drown the hearts of even the stoutest warriors, causing their courage to crumble and disappear.

By now, Cloudhawk had seen death and misery up close on many occasions. He could tell that the difference in power between the two sides was simply enormous; even if all of the outpost warriors fought to the bitter end, it still wouldn’t be enough. For them, resistance was completely futile and meaningless.

The sweepers continued to attack without mercy, crushing all hope and bringing despair in their wake. These two forces were on completely different levels of skill and power, and this battle was ten times more calamitous than the previous one against the beast wave had been!

As for the cloaked, mysterious man, he just watched silently as the slaughter proceeded in front of him. It was like he was watching a piece of performance art after a fine meal, and he didn’t seem inclined to take part in this battle at all.

Cloudhawk had the strange feeling that this fellow was more dangerous than ten maneaters combined. Even experts like Mad Dog and Slyfox were far from being a match for someone like him. The only reason this mysterious man wasn’t taking part in the battle was simply because there was no need.

How was this battle going to end? What should Blackflag Outpost’s response be? Cloudhawk didn’t know the answers to this question, but he was once more reminded that this was the sad lot of the weak. Faced with this nightmare, there wasn’t a single thing he could do.

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