Cloudhawk attacked without hesitation, sweeping quiet carnage and lashing out with a streak of energy from the blade. It reached for Red-Face in an upward arc – if the sand could be seen as an ocean, then Cloudhawk’s blade swipe was like a shark’s fine closing in. Sand parted as it screamed past, leaving a trough in its wake.
Red-Face swung his hammers up to protect himself. The impact knocked him backward.
After shoving the bandit some distance, Cloudhawk reached down to check on Barb. He fished an elysian medicinal pellet from a pouch and pushed it into her mouth. “I didn’t think you had it in you. Where did that come from? Remind me never to piss you off.”
Barb was a little embarrassed. She coughed weakly, too beaten to be any use in a fight. With a face full of shame she looked up at him. “I’m sorry. I’m useless, this is all my fault. But you still came to help me.”
“Oh shut up. This is a good scrap! No trouble at all.” Cloudhawk straightened up. “You made a good breakthrough. Now leave the rest to me. I needed a little exercise anyway.”
This young stranger was able to knock Red-Face back with a half-hearted swing of his arm. He couldn’t be any normal wastelander. From the way he showed up, to his powerful fighting style, he had to be a demonhunter.
But what really impressed the audience was Barb’s last-ditch attack. The onlookers couldn’t help but put themselves in that fight. If it’d been them having to stand against her terrifying attack, could they have survived? In short, most of them couldn’t. If it didn’t kill them outright, they wouldn’t be walking away unscathed.
They didn’t envy Red-Face. With what she they witnessed, that woman was a terror no one was eager to scuffle with.
As they watched, the other hotel patrons were making calculations in the back of their mind. It was always best to deal with threats early, but this girl and her friend were a mystery they didn’t know anything about.
Red-Face wasn’t going to take any chances. He backed off another ten meters, his body shaking, and stared venomously at Cloudhawk. “This was a fair fight, your excellence is interrupting. You show up at the tail end to take advantage after I’m spent. I’m not about to fight those bullshit odds. Elysians can’t fight their own battles it seems, eh? Is this how demonhunters act?”
“Say whatever you like.” Cloudhawk pulled his sword back, resting it on his shoulder. He stood unguarded like they were having a nice afternoon stroll. He was different from elysians, that much was certain, and didn’t share their same stilted sense of propriety. Nothing the bandit said was going to get under his skin. If Red-Face was aiming to throw him off with insults he was going to be disappointed. Cloudhawk answered with an almost lazy air. “I’m not unreasonable, but reason is a thing you do with other people. You see a rabid dog causing shit, you shut it up with the point of a knife. You can try and reason with a mutt till your blue in the face, but it isn’t gonna do you any good.”
Cloudhawk’s insulting words made veins bulge at the sides of Red-Face’s head. “What an arrogant elysian fuck. Underestimating a wastelander’s power will cost you.”
“Don’t talk like you’re hot shit. You don’t represent the wastelands.” Cloudhawk was becoming impatient. “Alright, my time is precious. Come at me if you think you can, but if you keep fuckin’ around I won’t go easy on you.”
Red-Face swallowed the injustice. A fight was a fight. If it was to be two fights, then so be it. This guy looked pretty young, so how strong could he be really? But to be safe, the bandit leader motioned to his men along the wall. Half a dozen or them drew their weapon and dropped down to join Red-Face in the fight.
Cloudhawk looked at them dispassionately. “Calling some friends? Is that all you got left?”
“You broke the rules first. Don’t blame me for taking a page from your book!” Red-Face grinned, then ordered his men to attack. Him and the rest of his gang moved in to attack. With his hammers raised high, Red-Face charged. “I’ll show you just how strong the Ghost Pack is!”
The men he had with him were his crew’s best. Pick any one of them at random and they were a considerable threat for wastelanders. After their time pillaging on the road they had goos synergy. And with their leader at the fore, they were a force to reckon with.
The marksman of the group was the first to get off a shot. His pair of handguns fired off eight shots in quick succession, making sure Cloudhawk couldn’t flee to either side. Instead of backing off, Cloudhawk pressed forward, his sword flashing. The bullets ricocheted from him like they were trying to pierce an iron curtain, and the Warden slipped between without trouble. Whoosh! In a blink he was in their midst.
Cloudhawk wasn’t a large or intimidating guy, but nonetheless his footprint dug deep into the sand as he charged ahead. Even the air seemed to heat up around him, causing it to shimmer and warp. An army and its fortress couldn’t stand in his way.
Quick as fire and strong as iron, he came crashing down on them with a thousand pounds of pressure and a thunderous blast.
In the instant before the two sides met, Cloudhawk swung his sword. It seemed to cut the sky in two. Onlookers could clearly see the friction of its passage coughing out sparks. The relic was also humming with a purple aura, thus increasing its scope and power.
Strong. So strong!
It was incredible that he could gather so much strength in such a short period. What they saw from Barb was incredible, but composed. This guy’s headlong charge seemed like it could route an army. A few in the crowd recognized it for what it was. Spearhead!
Spearhead was a martial technique taught to members of the elysian army. Typically, only their most capable officers were able to learn its secret. It was used to penetrate the enemy’s first line and route their defenses. That’s how it earned the name spearhead.
Did that mean this young man was a soldier? He had to be, otherwise how could he know how to do a move like this?
Red-Face thought he had things under control, until he saw the unexpected scene emerge. This young demonhunter was far stronger than he’d given him credit for. Cloudhawk tore through the group, smashing into one of them and blasted them into pieces. Cloudhawk and his deadly black sword kept going, right toward Red-Face.
He had no choice but to hide behind his hammers again. A tremendous BANG arose.
Red-Face cleverly used what techniques he knew to deflect most of the blow. He timed it to leverage Cloudhawk’s own force to knock him safely out of the way. Meanwhile the remaining bandits scrambled to surrounding him. After using up all his strength, it was the perfect opportunity to gang up.
Cloudhawk paid them no mind, he was fixed entirely on their leader. As Red-Face was retreating, Cloudhawk planted his feet on the ground, kicking up a wave of sand. The series of attacks had begun to wear on him, but the Warden didn’t stop. With another sudden surge of power he rocketed forward toward Red-Face.
Spearhead? Again?! How?!
The bandit crew boss knew a little about spearhead, at least enough to know what kind of strain it put on the body. It was supposed to be intense, exhausting. A one-and-done sort of attack to overwhelm the enemy. As far as anyone knew, you couldn’t do it again until you recovered. It was one of the important drawbacks about using the technique.
But Cloudhawk had launched into a second spearhead only moments after using the first. It was unheard of!
Quiet carnage was closing in, arcing threateningly through the air!
The second charge was even stronger than the first. The impact knocked Red-Face’s hammers from his hands.
The bandit’s arms couldn’t bear the load and he felt a stabbing pain rise through both. The impact must have cracked his bones. The pain and surprise forced a cry from his throat, and in a shrill voice he called for mercy. “Stop! I give!”
“I’m not interested in surrender.”
Cloudhawk rushed forward with a third spearhead. Even the air around him could hardly stand it and almost seemed to boil. His third swipe from the sword unleashed every ounce of power in his body at all once, resonating with the aura of his relic. The subsequent stroke of power cut Red-Face in half like he was made of paper.
“I want your goddamn life.”
Red-Face tumbled to the ground in two pieces, severed at the waist. In the moment before blood loss took him, he stared wide-eyed and disbelieving at the mess of meat and organs where his abdomen used to be. He never stood a chance! Completely annihilated!
Against Barb, Red-Face was able to use his superior agility to protect himself from her heavy blows. That didn’t work against this man. Though young, he was an expert, his body a weapon. He hadn’t found a single flaw in his series of attacks.
So young, so strong, so potent… who the hell was this kid?
Cloudhawk was sweating and breathing heavily after the successive blows. He’d learned spearhead from Drake, and Instructor Skinner had taught him the specifics of how to summon his body’s true strength. A lot of his three years in Hell’s Valley had been spent mastering just this skill. Performing spearhead this way was weaker than usual, but a lot more versatile.
After all, Cloudhawk wasn’t fighting armies. He didn’t need to burst through ranks of soldiers, he was only after one man. Agility was more important than brute force. Each following use of spearhead after the first also borrowed momentum, making the next one stronger and faster. It left his target with no way to fight back.
Until finally he cut him clean in half.
Incredible. Red-Face was a name men feared in the northern barrens, a bandit who – for better or for worse – was well known out here. Yet despite his reputation, so no-name outsider squashed him as easily as an insect.
Spectators found it hard to accept. Red-Face might have used a fair amount of energy in his first fight, but he didn’t even last three rounds in the second. The gulf between the two men was obviously too large for the bandit to handle. Simply unbelievable.
The remainder of Red-Face’s crew knew it was hopeless and fled. They didn’t even look back, afraid to catch the man’s attention.
Of course Cloudhawk couldn’t care less about these small fries. He walked back over to Barb and helped her stand. She looked at him with stars in her eyes, ready to fall to her knees before him in worship. She knew Cloudhawk was capable of amazing things, but now she saw the extent of it for herself and it was far beyond what she expected.
Barb opened her mouth to say something, but before she could the sound of a gunshot blast echoed from the wall.
He just managed to raise his sword and knock the bullet away. The surprise made him stumble back a step. With hard eyes and a pursed brow, he glared toward the wall which was thick with spectators. They all looked back at him with abject terror.
From among the crowd a voice arose. “This guy’s good, but if we just let him walk away without a scratch it’s like spitting in every wastelander’s face! Red-Face wasn’t going to stand for it, and neither will we!”
This instigator was obviously trying to band everyone together to get Cloudhawk out of the picture.
“Do you assholes have no shame?” Barb shouted back.
No sooner had she answered then another group of men dropped from the wall, weapons drawn. Suddenly the strip of land outside Dust Bowl Lodge was a killing field as opportunistic thugs positioned themselves for a fight. In an unexpected turn of events, the inevitable conflict for the right to enter Fishmonger’s Borough was coming early.
“Fine! If we’re doin’ it anyway then it might as well be today!” Cloudhawk recognized that there was no hiding this time. But as his enemies were arranging themselves before him, the Warden’s eyes rose to an inconspicuous figure on the wall. It was the drunkard. “Hey old man. What about you?”
“Oh, I’m not interested in joining the fun.” The grungy lush picked at his earwax with one finger in a show of disinterest. Obviously he was just here for the drama. “But since you bought me a few drinks, I’ll promise to look after your lady friends when you’re dead. You don’t need to worry about that.”
Cloudhawk responded with a string of choice curses.