Skycloud’s four battalions marched indomitably forward in square formation, moving with impressive speed while also firing arrows toward their foes. Wave after wave of glimmering arrows peppered the battlefield, a torrent of deadly fire.
Each movement was precise, showing that the holy warriors had practiced this thousands of times. Two thousand warriors drew their bows and fired in perfect unison so that their arrows peppered the distant enemy all at once. Faced with this terrifying assault the wastelanders broke ranks and scattered.
Over the course of a few minutes the swamp became a miserable tract of corpses, bleeding into the fetid waters. Everywhere one looked was struggle and pain. Countless shafts of holy light traced the path of Skycloud arrows as they buried themselves in the flesh of Blackwater’s defenders. Resplendent though they looked, each one was a wastelander’s ticket to hell. They could not run, only die.
All the while the two armies drew closer and closer, but Blackwater’s soldiers had long since ceased to fight back. Waves of arrows had collapsed their organization as well as their morale. Those that remained were only concerned with fleeing to save their lives with no thought to fighting off the invaders.
Augustus Cloude’s face split into a contemptuous smirk. He motioned to his left and right with a wave, then spoke in an almost flippant tone. “Kill them!”
Skycloud’s soldiers stopped, shifting from their long-range formation to a charge configuration. Even their bows underwent a miraculous change as bowstrings retracted of their own volition. The curved, carved jade bows bend at an angle and their sharp ends jutted out another half a foot. In seconds the bows transformed into six foot long melee weapons with blades on each end. The soldiers held them from the middle.
In fact these weapons had four unique forms. The first was the long-ranged bow, and second was the double-ended glaive. In addition it could also be detached at the center to be dual wielded, or affixed side by side as a double-headed broadsword.
These were works of art, masterfully crafted weapons of destruction. They were perfect for any situation; long ranged, glaives for charging, powerful two-handers. It put the holy warriors’ skill and ingenuity on display.
Skycloud’s army began their charge!
Two thousand soldiers arranged themselves in charge formation and as they raced ahead either side swept around to the defenders’ flanks. The two battalions in the center went straight in and started the slaughter. More than their training, it was clear Skycloud’s soldiers were of a much higher quality than Blackwater’s, even before one considered equipment.
How could a band of wasteland rabble hope to stand against them?
One of the Skycloud officers brandished his glaive and broke through the enemy ranks. Holding his weapon in its center he spun like a deadly steel dervish, leaving blood and severed limbs in his path. He was a tempest and where he passed there were shouts of pain and misery. The rest of his battalion followed in his wake, easily destroying the wastelanders’ weapons and armor. Death’s own scythe would struggle to claim as many lives.
All told the battle lasted an hour. By the end the marsh was a graveyard, and the wastelanders’ weapons were discarded where they died like tomb markers. To the warriors of the elysian lands these crude tools were filthy and inferior.
One of the Skycloud officers trotted over to Augustus Cloude. “Milord, the blasphemers have been destroyed. We’ve suffered no losses.”
Augustus Cloude stood on the slope of a hill and surveyed the field. Behind him fourteen demonhunters clad in pure white stood in a line. None of them had reacted as the battle raged, for they were the champions of god, the greatest warriors of the elysian lands. In war they were deployed to handle particularly stubborn foes, thus their lack of participation showed just how easily Blackwater’s defenders were defeated.
Augustus Cloude fiddled with the cuff of his right arm. “Have you found the entrance?”
Respectfully, the officer replied, “We have sir, but the gates have been shut. Our men are searching for a way through.”
Blackwater Base’s defenses were designed around hydraulic systems. Forcing the doors would not be easy.
Augustus Cloude swept his eyes across the scene once more then signaled with his hand. The officer interpreted the motion and relayed the order. “Everyone stand your ground!”
Like robots Skycloud’s soldiers froze, not moving a muscle. Meanwhile Augustus Cloude made his way to the thick door that barred their passage. He merely had to place his hand upon the sturdy iron, and all of a sudden cracks began to appear from where he touched. Chunks weighing several tons split and fell away, creating an opening large enough for them to enter single file. The tunnel stretched all the way through the door, which was several feet thick, to the other side.
“Claudia Claudia, Raith Umbra. With me.”
From the fourteen demonhunters, the two youngest stepped forth. From the looks of it Augustus Cloude was going to use this as a training opportunity.
Part of the base’s defenses included a defensive post with a turret, manned by a single soldier. Once the door was breached he began flooding the hall with fire from the chain gun, and no normal person could withstand the pain it put out.
It was a choke point, and in theory one man could hold the gate against a whole slew of attackers.
Augustus Cloude came prepared, however. While the turret was too much for the junior demonhunters, he could hold out against it for a time. Before the turret gunner had time to react, Augustus Cloude let a small black metal orb slip from his sleeve. It was a relic, and as it floated into the air an invisible force field sprang to life. Bullets thick as carrots were met with a repulsive force that held them fast like they were caught in glue. Each bullet struck with hundreds of pounds of force, only to instantly stop. But while their forward momentum was cut off, they began to turn red and smolder from an intense heat.
In a brow-raising display, the bullets were arrested in mid-air to create a curtain of red-hot lead. They were so hot that they began to melt, but not a single one got close to the demonhunters.
How could this be? The turret gunner gaped in shock, for he had never seen a living creature able to survive his heavy weapon. Nor had he ever seen a power strange as this that could stop bullets.
The female demonhunter, Claudia, shut her eyes. She reached out with her will and used it to scan the area like a radar. After a moment she pointed toward a direction, and that was when her male counterpart reacted. Raith lifted a primitive-looking bow that was vastly different from the sort normal soldiers used. It was an unassuming weapon, but for the runes etched along its pitch-black length.
Without knocking an arrow he pointed the bow and pulled back the string. But an imposing gathering of energy coalesced before the weapon and an arrow appeared from the air.
His fingers relaxed. Twang!
The arrow effortlessly penetrated the turret gunner’s cover and lodged itself in his gun, culminating in a loud thud followed by an explosion. Shrapnel tore through his body, even blowing his eyes from his skull.
Augustus Cloude didn’t waste any time. Just as he had from the outside, the master demonhunter approached the inner door and placed his hand upon it, reducing it to rubble. The other demonhunters entered once the coast was clear. Fifteen figures in white lead the way into Blackwater Base.
Skycloud’s soldiers were close on their heels. They exploded through the base, leaving behind a desolate vision of blood and mangled flesh. Those from the elysian lands gave the wastlanders no quarter. The old, the young, and the sick were cut down without hesitation for anyone with the blood of the wilds in their veins was the spawn of evil. Killing them was no sin, on the contrary it was an act of faith and honor.
Blackwater Base knew they were coming, the most important materials were already gone. Their leader had also vanished, leaving no trace or body.
Augustus Cloude scowled. He ordered a hundred survivors spared, but this was worse than a death sentence for them. They were beaten, abused and tortured until they gave him the information he wanted.
Before very long an officer returned to Augustus and reported the situation.
“The base’s leader fled a day ago, taking the evil technology with them. Our interrogations revealed three separate escape routes, but we aren’t sure which they took. We also learned that this base had produced a batch of those intelligent monsters but released them into the wild several days ago. No one knows where they went.”
“Hmph. Even for blasphemers I would not have expected they would do something so despicable.” The young female demonhunter spat the words with disdain. “We can’t let those wicked experiments reproduce, or for that evil research to get out.”
Augustus Cloude nodded then spoke to the officer who gave him the report. “Any other information?”
“A few of them, well…”
“Out with it!”
“Yes sir. A few of those we interrogated claimed that a demonhunter had appeared in the camp. He helped the base’s current leader revolt and take over, he stayed for about twenty days. They claimed he left a few days ago.”
Astonishment appeared on the faces of the younger demonhunters. Their order had nothing but the most devout warriors, how could something like this be true? Was he some sort of turncoat? That would be a crisis for the entire demonhunter community!
“Our primary concern must be that research and those monsters they created. As for the demonhunter, from their description he is not very skilled – a novice at best.” Augustus Cloude absently played with a ring on his hand as he spoke to the two demonhunters beside him. “Claudia, Raith. I leave him to you. Can you handle it?”
“Yes, sir!” Both of the junior demonhunters perked up. The one called Claudia confirmed, “We will certainly complete the mission!”
“Take a hundred soldiers with you.” Augustus Cloude nodded as though the matter was settled. “This is your first mission in the wastelands on your own. Convey yourselves well, don’t disappoint me.”
Raith’s brows knit as he spoke. “Milord, the two of us should be more than enough for some piddling renegade. You should keep the men for chasing down blasphemers, we can do this without support.
“These evil lands are more dangerous than you think, and what’s more we know neither the identity nor true strength of this stranger. We must ensure that you remain safe throughout the assignment.” Clearly he had made up his mind. “Very well, you have your orders. You have seven days, bring that turncoat back here dead or alive.”
With their task made clear the two young demonhunters selected a hundred men and left in search of the traitor Cloudhawk.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Cloudhawk can't catch a break... and the elysians are pure badasses.
Working on the names with Xiao Lai is actually one of the most mentally challenging part of this novel. Having spoken to the author at length, it's clear that he wanted this to be a western setting with western characters, but for the most part he went with Chinese-style names primarily because that's what he's familiar with. So a lot of what I work on with Xiao Lai is making those surnames in particular sound 'proper' in English while retaining the flair the original Chinese had. This is particularly important because the novel often references later how elysians have 'proper names' compared to the barbarian names which wastelanders give themselves.
For example, Augustus Cloude was originally Xiyue Hong. Xiyue means 'cloud lover', while 'hong' means 'big' or 'grand'. The Cloude family plays a big big role in this novel and also has a strong connection to Skycloud itself, so we went with a modification of that.
Claudia Lunae and Raith Umbra. In Chinese they were Lingyun Yue and Ying Wuhen - directly translated, they would be Spiritcloud Moon and Shadow Traceless. But translating them in that way makes them sound just like wastelander names + clunky; no civilized Americans would have names like that! So for Moon Spiritcloud we went with Claudia Lunae (Lunae means Moon, while Claudia refers to high altitude clouds). Raith is a purposeful mispelling of wraith (something invisible/spectral) while Umbra means shade/shadow.
The thing is, none of these are 'throw away' names because unlike in many other novels, characters and clans will make lots of repeat appearances (the ones who survive, anyway!). We have to take good are of them.
So the author flipped things on us here. 'Claudia Lunae' was originally 'Luna Cirrus', but the author changed the order of the characters to her name and so we had to reorient things as well. Her personal name is now 云, Cloud, but we already have a Cloude clan, so we decided to go with a female name that sounds like it, Claudia.