Outside the Dust Bowl Lodge, amidst the dunes, the lust for blood was rising.
Out in this chaotic mess a fight came whether you wanted it or not, it wasn’t discussed. Sometimes it was over a little thing, sometimes it was for no reason whatsoever. It didn’t matter, bodies in the dirt and rivers of blood were a common sight once the world was destroyed.
Nothing to be done. This was the wastelands, after all.
Autumn didn’t know whether it was from the beating sun or the fear that gripped her, but she was drenched in sweat. Her fists were clenched at her sides, eyes glued to the scene below.
The sun was reflected off the yellow-white sands, forcing her to squint. Dozens of men had started to close in around Cloudhawk – alone in a sea of angry faces.
Autumn didn’t doubt Cloudhawk’s abilities… but would he be able to defend himself against so many at once?
The lame drunkard hobbled his way to Barb’s side. The hunched boozer supported himself with two hands on his walking stick, making him at least outwardly unthreatening. Barb seemed safe for the moment, but was she really? No one was sure whether the drunkard was a friend or foe. As for Autumn, she was within the hotel’s walls. For the time being, she was under Bonobo’s protection. But how long would that last?
The wastelanders looked at her with eyes like fire. Sooner or later, she was going to get burned.
Autumn was feeling more uneasy by the second.
In battle, everyone understood the concept; the mantis throws itself heedlessly at the cicada, unaware that the finch would close in at the first opportunity. Everyone wanted to be the finch, but that wasn’t how things worked. Someone had to make the first move.
Someone with a massive shield tried to bash him in the face. It was dented and scarred from many battles, but still serviceable. A stream of something dark had stained a part of it, and no amount of washing would make it go away. Blood, from someone who’s life the shield claimed.
They were finally making their move.
Alright. I haven’t had a good fight since I left Hell’s Valley.
Cloudhawk was a wastelander. It didn’t matter what he looked like on the outside, his heart was forged in conflict. This was going to be a fine chance for him to see how much he could really stretch.
Cloudhawk spun through the air, catching the shield with a dropkick.
The several-hundred kilometer shield was flung away.
A huge man, easily two and a half meters tall, stepped out from the crowd. His face was dull and sluggish, his eyes dim, clearly not a fellow known for his intelligence. But his skin looked as tough as a rhinoceros, and he was further protected by a set of extremely thick armor. His weapon was the massive shield Cloudhawk had just kicked away, as well as a giant maul.
Most of the crowd was made up of mutants and metahumans. Judging by the look of them, they were largely constitution-based.
Men like this had skin tough as animal hide. Boiling them and they didn’t blister, scorch them and they didn’t burn. Even in death their flesh was hard as iron. Ordinary weapons couldn’t do a thing, it was like they were forged from steel. Tough enough to punch through any enemy.
The brute snatched the man-sized shield from the air then brought it screaming down. For a moment Cloudhawk felt like there was an iron mountain coming straight for his head. He was sure that if it caught him, he’d been smashed flat.
Cloudhawk scrambled backward.
His enormous opponent didn’t rush to follow up. He knocked his hammer against the shield which rang like a gong. A stupid grin spread across his rigid face. The look on his face was proof enough that this guy wasn’t good for much more than fighting. Just then, a tiny handpopped up from behind his shoulder, and a dwarf with the body of a child no older than eleven or twelve scrambled onto his back. Small as he was, Cloudhawk put him at about middle-age, caught in a shriveled and tiny body like the world’s oldest prepubescent.
“You’re going to remember us, elysian. I am Elder Locust, and this is Little Rock.” The ugly dwarf seemed to have some intelligence, as opposed to the brute he rode. He clung to the big man’s back and shoulders like a baby monkey riding its mother. “That spearhead move was impressive. Although, I doubt it’s strong enough to break through my little brother’s shield!”
Cloudhawk chose to respond with his sword.
With a screech, the sword left a mark across the brute’s shield, albeit one that was not to odeep. Little Rock didn’t move one centimeter. Cloudhawk only needed this one test to know the big guy’s defenses were going to be a problem. Locust was probably right, spearhead might not even be enough to break through his shield.
The dwarf tittered sickeningly on his brother’s shoulders. “Hehehehe! You shouldn’t misjudge my brother. Your sword hardly left a scratch! Little Rock, show this asshole what you can do.”
Little Rock bounded forward. His enormous, shoeless feet pounded the soft earth as he charged at Cloudhawk like a feral beast.
Large as he was, Little Rock was anything but slow. With all the force he put behind it, his shield was a weapon of tremendous force. He could go head to head with a bull and the poor beast would have every bone in its body splinter. For someone like Cloudhawk, a full-on impact would turn him into paste.
So far, no one had been able to stand up to Little Rock and his brother. Both of them were sure Cloudhawk wouldn’t be an exception.
While the larger one charged, Locust wasn’t idle either. His tiny hands were flung in wide arcs, throwing poison-drenched concealed weapons before them like bread crumbs. It was clear from the way he fought that Locust made a good compliment to his brother. Where Little Rock was all strength and constitution, Locust was a metahuman whose talents were in control. His weapons were flung with incredible speed, coated with lethal poison that would take a life with a mere nick of the skin.
Cloudhawk suddenly found himself caught in a rain of poison steel.
Locust’s technique was flawless. His throws were aimed at the areas which might cause the most damage, and in addition were cast in such a way that it was almost impossible to read their trajectory. While they might look like they were coming right at you, suddenly they would dip toward the legs, or even swing around to the back. A fact that made avoiding them difficult.
Yet Cloudhawk faced the threat calmly. Without any trepidation he leapt into the air, right into their path. Unexpected – the Warden chose to plow right through the eye of the storm. Did he have a death wish, Locust thought.
The spectators watched with rapt attention.
Cloudhawk wasn’t moving quickly, especially compared to the spearhead moves he’d wowed everyone with a moment before. Instead he almost seemed to float through the air, light as a feather. With almost lazy impetus he volleyed across the battlefield toward the large man’s shield.
He was going to try and break through Little Rock’s defenses like that? Was this a joke?
Locust and his brother were poisoned to hit him with dual blows. Little rock would bash his dagger-riddled corpse to ground meat when he got close enough. But as they watched with eager grins, Locust’s hail of poison daggers slipped through Cloudhawk’s body without leaving a mark.
“Impossible!” Locust shrieked.
In spite of the dwarf’s incredulous cries, Cloudhawk appeared before them unscathed. Little Rock heaved his enormous shield with as much violence as he could muster, while Cloudhawk pushed his dark blade through the shield and into the big man’s chest almost gently.
The other brigands, closing in, stopped and stared with their mouths wide. How was it that easy? That shield was tougher than a castle wall. Behind it was a man with tougher hide than a rhino. None of that seemed to matter to the demonhunter, though. His sword passed through both like they were wind.
Little Rock reacted slowly. He didn’t feel the sword as it entered, but half a second later the keen kiss of it burned through his chest. It felt like his insides were tearing, and they were as quiet carnage went from ethereal to solid. It didn’t matter that he was protected by a massive shield, sturdy armor or thick skin. None of that was any use. Cloudhawk bypassed Little Rock’s defenses effortlessly.
Locust’s screams howled across the sands. “Little Rock!”
“One and done,” Cloudhawk boasted and he pulled the sword free. “Fuck off if you know what’s good for you.”
He kicked off Little Rocks’ shield, knocking the brute away like an avalanche. He hit the ground, gravely wounded and unable to continue the fight. Most shocked was Little Rock himself. Sprays of gunfire never scared him, not with his defenses. His shield was invincible, as far as he had found.
One blows. He was proven wrong with one blow. The demonhunter’s sword went right through shield, and armor, and skin.
Locust was not ready to surrender. His sturdy mount had been cut out from under him, but the dwarf still soared high. Like a peacock proudly spreading its tail, he released a wave of poisoned daggers in a deadly fan. They whipped out and then began to curve in, all aimed at a particular target.
He then began to spin like a windmill, a dagger in each hand as he spiraled back toward earth. The steel whistled threateningly as he closed in on Cloudhawk.
Without warning the ground heaved, and a wall of sand was spat skyward!
It curved over Cloudhawk like a shell. Shhtk, shtk, shhtk! Throwing daggers lodged into its surface but could not get through, followed by Locust himself. As the dwarf struck the wall, it broke apart and revealed Cloudhawk hiding inside. Whoosh! Desperate for blood, his dagger reached for their target. Again, they passed harmlessly through without finding purchase.
He’d attacked a phantom. With the power of his invisibility cloak, Cloudhawk had laid his trap. The illusion faded, leaving Locust without a target.
The others searched the area with wide eyes. How could he simply disappear? He had to have some way to hide his presence.
There was a flash of steel. One of the brigands outside the wall fell, his head rolling from his body.
Then another. Blood spread across the hot sand as a second corpse joined the first.
Faced with uneven odds, Cloudhawk chose to take the initiative with a staggering opening blow. They were caught off guard, and suddenly the crowd of thugs erupted into blood and body parts.
One. Two. Three. The corpses piled on top of one another. Cloudhawk was like an evil wind, an invisible Blackfiend come for their lives as he darted among them. Before anyone knew what was happening four men had died, and several more were screaming from serious injuries.
“This bastard! He’s toying with us! Everyone, all together! Find him and kill this fuck!”
The wastelanders were gripped with a fear they’d never known. This demonhunter’s methods were inexplicable, they couldn’t imagine how to fight back. Cloudhawk’s invisibility cloak alone was a great advantage, but with quiet carnage he was unstoppable. In full view of the terrified crowd he had become an angel of death. Every flash of his sword claimed another life.
You all are supposed to be dangerous? Well today we put that to the test!
A wild and chaotic battle ensued, drenching the sand with blood. People tried to flee, while others turned on their fellows to thin the herd before the path to Fishmonger’s Borough opened.
With nothing left for them they turned to the one chance they had to flush Cloudhawk from hiding. The girl – the one Red-Face had almost killed. Threatening her was sure to get his attention. Several of the thugs wordlessly reached an agreement then raced toward her.
“Fuck off old man! Give us the girl!”
The drunkard had been busily digging in his nose with a finger when they came his way. When he saw them coming, his face split into a crooked-toothed grin.
Alright. I got a few bottle of good wine, so I guess I owe you. It’s only fair.
The drunkard raised his walking staff.