Dawn. Finally, the long-awaited mercenaries came looking for him.
“Motherfucker, what’s he doing here? That’s Skinner! I was just drinking with him the other week! Skinner’s the owner of a butcher shop. Hm… his store was probably running low again, so he came out last night to try and find a few piggies to butcher to replenish his stock.” Mad Dog eyed the corpse on the ground. Although they were old acquaintances, Mad Dog didn’t show the slightest bit of grief or pity at all. It was as though he was looking at a dead rat that had invaded his property. “Your luck sure is shit, kid. Who would’ve thought something like this would happen to you on your first day? By my count, at least eighty little piggies like you have ended up dead by Skinner’s hands.”
The owner of a butcher shop? So this was one of those detestable meat merchants! Cloudhawk had thought them to only exist in the wastelands. Who would’ve thought that they would exist in the outposts as well!
“Then again, I have to say… the fucker might’ve been useless, but not so useless as to end up like this!” Mad Dog glanced at Cloudhawk in a very puzzled manner. “Why aren’t you dead instead of him?”
And what the fuck was that supposed to mean? Is he suggesting that I shouldn’t be alive? Although Cloudhawk was enraged by Mad Dog’s attitude, he didn’t dare reveal the truth behind what happened the previous night, and so he just gave a rather vague explanation for what had happened.
“You pretended to be asleep, then suddenly shanked the fucker in the heart?” Mad Dog thought it through carefully, then decided that it was plausible. The corpse on the ground had probably just underestimated the kid too much. “Next time, hang a bell on the door or set up a simple trap. Shit like this happens every night at Blackflag Outpost. You were lucky this time, but you might not be so lucky next time.”
As soon as Mad Dog finished speaking, he turned and prepared to leave.
“Wait a sec!” Cloudhawk didn’t understand why all of this had happened. “What should I do with the corpse?"
“Your spoils of war. You decide. You can either sell it to the black market or use it yourself. I recommend you nail the head outside your door. Skinner’s head will probably scare a few people off, making it easier for you to fall asleep at night. As for the rest of his body… well, y’know, he spent most of his life skinning others and selling their meat. It’s now his own turn to be skinned eaten by someone else.”
The ugly, swarthy bastard spoke in a very matter-of-fact manner. Cloudhawk, however, revealed a look of revulsion upon hearing it.
“You really are a damn rookie!” Mad Dog spat disdainfully. “Check out that horrified look on your face! You probably wouldn’t even have the balls to taste human meat. Just send the corpse to Mantis or give it to Woola. They like this type of present! Enough of this crap. Next time some small-time shit like this happens, deal with it yourself instead of bothering me about it. Fuck me, what a waste of time.”
Mad Dog continued to curse and insult Cloudhawk as he left the room. At the doorway, he suddenly turned his head and said, “Come to the training area at noon. You have work to do!”
Cloudhawk silently swore Mad Dog up and down at least ten times before calming down! Still… he still had a job to carry out. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but shiver when he thought of how Woola slavered and drooled while staring at him, and so he decided it was best to send the corpse to Mantis instead. Of the three mercenary captains, Mantis seemed to be the only one who seemed normal.
First, Cloudhawk stripped the corpse of its clothes and weapons. They might be of use in the future, after all. Cloudhawk then dragged the corpse out of his room. No one on the streets reacted to him dragging a corpse around; in fact, no one even glanced a second time at him. Faced with utter indifference, Cloudhawk was actually able to relax a little bit.
Mantis resided within a large, stand-alone house which was virtually the largest building the mercenaries had. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but feel quite curious. It seemed as though Mantis never went out on missions. Why, then, did he hold such a high status amongst the mercenaries?
When the puzzled Cloudhawk entered Mantis’ residence, his eyes damn near popped out. When he saw what was happening before him, for a moment he felt certain that he had to have entered the wrong place. This was no residence… it was a slaughterhouse!
Five or six corpses lay sprawled in various locations. Some had their hands lopped off, some had missing legs, and some had their skulls split open. As for Mantis, he wore a pair of gloves on his hands and was busy carving open the chest and the abdomen of one of the corpses, using a pair of sharp surgical scalpels with precision. In just a few brief moments, he drew out a bloody organ from within the chest cavity.
This sight made Cloudhawk’s hair stand on end. No wonder this guy was named ‘Mantis’! He suppressed his nervousness and called out, “C-C-Captain!”
No response. Mantis continued to carefully inspect the organ in his hands. When he found the unusual mutations he was searching for, he used his scalpels to cut them off bit by bit, then stored them into a small glass jar.
The surrounding area was actually filled with large jars, and the jars in turn were filled with many human organs held in preservative fluids. Others were filled with strange plant rooms, and there was also a single strange eyeball that was absolutely chilling to behold.
What was Cloudhawk supposed to do? Neither leaving nor staying seemed appropriate, but he really didn’t want to stay here for a second longer than necessary.
“A fresh one?” After finishing his work on the mutated parts, Mantis turned to give the new corpse a cold glance. He had yet to so much as look at Cloudhawk himself. “Put it here,” he said, clearing away a table.
Cloudhawk hurriedly lifted the corpse onto the table. “Can I leave now?”
Mantis ignored him as he briefly scanned the corpse. His experience in human anatomy told him right away that this was an agility metahuman. Agility metahumans had higher synaptic response times, giving them higher reaction speeds and greater agility than others. It also gave them a certain degree of physical strength. Humans like him would be able to move very quickly, respond very quickly, and unleash sudden bursts of power.
Mantis himself was an extremely high-class agility metahuman. The corpse before him wasn’t nearly as high-class, but there was no way an ordinary human being would’ve been able to handle it.
Mantis raised his head to glance at Cloudhawk, who was standing nearby like a block of wood. Mantis asked coldly, “You killed him?”
“Uh, yeah, I killed him…” Cloudhawk felt goosebumps when Mantis stared at him like this. He immediately repeated to Mantis the story he had told Mad Dog earlier. “I guess I was lucky. That’s why I made it out alive.”
“Is that so?” Mantis’ cold gaze seemed to see straight through Cloudhawk. Of the three captains of Tartarus, Cloudhawk felt that Mantis was the most unfathomable of them all.
Cloudhawk swallowed some saliva. “Uh… if there’s nothing else, I’m going to leave.” But Mantis had another idea. “Stop right there.” Mantis remained as taciturn as always, unwilling to say a single unnecessary word. He handed a scalpel over to Cloudhawk, then said, “Dissect him.”
Cloudhawk thought that he might be hearing things. He had grown up in the wastes and so didn’t fear corpses, but to personally dissect one was still a bit too much. What the hell was wrong with Mantis? What was the point of dissecting so many corpses?
As Cloudhawk hesitated, a cold, murderous intent began to radiate outwards from Mantis. Cloudhawk felt a powerful sense of danger, a sensation so strong as to make it hard for him to even breathe. This feeling was completely different from the feeling he had last night; the feeling Mantis gave him was that there was absolutely no chance he would be able to beat Mantis.
Cloudhawk had the strange feeling that if he rejected this request, Mantis would be able to instantly slit his throat using that scalpel without even giving him a chance to say a single word.
“Alright!” Cloudhawk forced himself to pick up that scalpel and other instruments, such as tweezers. He cut into the corpse in accordance with Mantis’ instructions. Mantis just stood there like a frozen statue, issuing clipped and succinct orders to tell Cloudhawk what to do. Cloudhawk actually began to understand how the human body was constructed. Most likely, Mantis was training him to be able to help out better in the future.
A few hours later, Cloudhawk was finally permitted to leave, and he fled from Mantis’ workroom as though his life depended on it. This morning had been an absolute nightmare!
Fuck. That freak. That pervert! That skin-peeling, flesh-cutting… urgh! Cloudhawk had a strong feeling of nausea. Several minutes passed before he was able to recover. Now… he finally understood that none of the three captains were ‘normal’.
Uh oh. He suddenly realized that he had almost forgotten the orders which Mad Dog had given him. Mad Dog was a brutally bad-tempered man. If Cloudhawk pissed him off, he’d snap Cloudhawk’s legs without even blinking. Cloudhawk wouldn’t dare to ignore his orders, and so he immediately ran towards the training area. This was the place where the Tartarus mercenaries spent their time training, and as soon as Cloudhawk entered he heard Woola’s frenzied baying.
The ‘mutt’ had been tied to the entrance way, and his ugly, savage gaze was once more fixed upon Cloudhawk. Bloody spots could be seen surrounding his jaws, as though he had just enjoyed a ‘feast’ not too long ago.
“What the hell took you so long?” Mad Dog had a seriously pissed off look in his eyes, but he turned and snapped to the training mercenaries, “Enough! Get over here. Your sparring partner has just arrived!”
Sparring partner? What the hell did that mean?
“Listen up! This kid is a recovery meta, but he’s a fairly crappy one. Don’t hit him too hard and don’t cripple him!” Mad Dog didn’t give Cloudhawk any explanations at all as he pointed to one of the mercenaries. “Cook, you go first!”
The mercenary named Cook was a man that looked as muscular as a grizzly bear. He immediately walked out with an excited look on his face as he eyed Cloudhawk with a judging gaze. “Boss, you guys are absolutely brilliant. You knew how bored we were hitting sandbags, so you found us a meat-bag to hit instead. Hitting someone who can dodge and scream is a helluva lot more fun!”
Cloudhawk was starting to have a bad feeling about this. But before he could say anything, Mad Dog just said impatiently, “Cut the fucking crap and start already!”
Just as Cloudhawk was about to protest, Cook charged towards him while delivering an elbow strike that knocked Cloudhawk to the ground. Cloudhawk instantly felt dazed, and his body felt like a glass bottle that had just shattered into a thousand pieces.
“Oh, fuck me!” Mad Dog began to curse loudly as his ugly, scar-covered face twisted with rage. Spittle flew from his mouth as he howled, “Can you BE any more fucking useless? Stand up!”
“Stand up! Stand up!” All the other mercenaries chanted these words towards him as well!
Finally, Cloudhawk knew what being a ‘meat-bag’ meant, and he also finally realized the real reason behind Slyfox’s decision to recruit him into their base. Once again, that despicable fatso had deceived him!
Right at this moment, Cook delivered a furious kick right towards him. This time, Cloudhawk slanted his body sideways and managed to dodge. Mad Dog narrowed his eyes upon seeing this. Huh. That was odd. Since when did the kid’s reaction time improve that much?
Cloudhawk himself had also realized that after what had happened the previous night, his reaction speed and his strength both had seemed to improved. This was probably something caused by that stone, and it wasn’t the right time to let others know about his improvement. When Cook attacked with a blow from his knee, Cloudhawk elected not to dodge and instead used his hands to block it. Bang! He was sent flying into the air as though he really was nothing more than a sand bag.
Mad Dog spat on the ground, then shook his head disdainfully as he watched Cook beat down on Cloudhawk for ten full minutes. Cloudhawk didn’t launch so much as a single counter-attack; instead, he just used his arms to protect his vital areas. The mercenaries were actually all quite surprised. The kid looked scrawny and weak, but his body was pretty tough. No matter how hard Cook hit him, he was still able to crawl back up.
“Cook, you move too slow and your blows aren’t concentrated enough. You are a strength meta, but you hit like a little bitch! You really are fucking useless!” Mad Dog cursed him out, then snapped, “Just fuck off. NEXT!”
Cook couldn’t help but mumble unhappily to himself. Although he wasn’t as freakishly strong as Mad Dog, he was still able to easily snap an opponent’s bones with a single punch. He didn’t use his full strength because he wasn’t supposed to break the newbie, right?
Cloudhawk ended up being utterly and ruthlessly dominated for an entire afternoon. Hours passed before the mercenary training finally came to an end.
Cloudhawk went forward, claiming his ration of bread for the day. When Slyfox saw Cloudhawk’s black eyes and bruised face, he roared with laughter and patted Cloudhawk on the shoulders. “Not bad, kid! You didn’t disappoint me after all. Your body is pretty tough and can take a beating. Here, have an extra half-piece of bread. Keep up the good work tomorrow! Oh, right – later tonight, I’ll teach you how to repair our car and how to maintain our weapons. Feeding Woola is part of your job as well. In the future, you will be responsible for all of these tasks.”
Cloudhawk was really starting to regret coming here. This fat bastard, Slyfox, really had chosen the perfect nickname for himself. He swindled others without even blinking or blushing! He had first chosen for Cloudhawk to serve as live bait; now, he was using Cloudhawk as a human punching bag. Was there no low to which this bastard wouldn’t stoop? If Cloudhawk had known that life in the outpost would be like this, he would’ve chosen to continue foraging for survival in the ruins instead.
“That look in your eyes suggests that you are quite unhappy.” Slyfox took a puff on his cigarette, then put on a worldly air as he said, “Listen, young man. Learning how to take a punch is training, y’know? All metas have to continuously improve and grow stronger. Strength metas need to train in strength, agility metas need to train their agility, control metas will train in control, and recovery metas like you have to train your recovery abilities, right? Me having them beat the piss out of you is my way of showing how much I care. This ‘torture’ you are going through is just training. Value this opportunity. When the time comes, I promise I’ll take you out on a mission with us!”
You still think I’ll trust you in the future? Just fuck off and die already! Cloudhawk really wanted to punch the man in his fat face. Go out on missions? Fuck that! Cloudhawk had nearly died due to Slyfox’s machinations on the last mission. Even if Slyfox really did take him out on a mission, there was no way it would be with anything even resembling good intentions!
Cloudhawk just grabbed the bread, then turned and left without saying a word. Slyfox just grinned as he watched Coudhawk leave, continuing to puff on his cigarette. “Kid’s got a bit of an attitude after all. Ahahaha!”
When night descended, Cloudhawk’s entire body was drenched in machine oil as well as a claw-mark left behind by Woola. Finally, he made it back to his own residence. Only then did he realize that none of the blood had been washed off, and it had all congealed on the ground, filling the air in the room with a breathtaking stench.
Cloudhawk was both tired and hungry. He was in no mood to do any cleaning, and so he just fell onto his bed and immediately passed out.