Cloudhawk lay there in Mantis’ workshop, completely wrapped up in bandages. Mad Dog, Slyfox, and the other mercenaries were watching to one side as Mantis did his job, and Slyfox was already beginning to frown. “What’s the situation?”
Mantis replied, “He lost too much blood. He needs a blood transfusion.” The ruins didn’t have access to blood transfusion technology, but Mantis was the most talented physician in both the Tartarus company as well as the entire Blackflag Outpost. He not only had the ability to test blood phenotypes, he had even developed his own blood transfusion apparatus. Despite that, given the sanitary conditions in Blackflag Outpost, actually using that equipment posed an enormous risk to everyone involved.
Slyfox didn’t give a damn. “Then what are you waiting for? Hurry up and give him the blood he needs! I don’t care what you have to do; you need to save his life and bring him back to us. If he dies, that’ll mean I pissed off Grizzly for absolutely nothing. That would be an abso-fucking-lutely stupid travesty!”
Mad Dog just said, “It’s just blood, right? Use mine!”
“You can use mine as well!”
“Shit, I got plenty of blood. Take as much as you need!”
“No way we can let the kid die like this.”
“Yeah, life would be much more boring without’m.”
More than ten of the mercenaries spoke up to offer their blood. Cloudhawk had only joined the Tartarus company recently, but during this past month his tenacious personality and his hard-working habits had caused everyone to take a liking to him. He was a bit weak, but they had already acknowledged him as a member of the group.
If Cloudhawk was still awake, he would probably be so shocked that he wouldn’t be able to shut his mouth. Normally, the mercenaries treated him like absolute dirt… and yet, today they were all fighting for the chance to help save him by offering their own blood.
As for Mantis, his features remained as blank and emotionless as ever. Without saying a single word, he ran a few blood phenotype tests, then selected the mercenaries who fit his criteria. He withdrew some blood from every single one of them, then used it to fill his blood transfusion bag and began to transfer it into Cloudhawk’s body.
In the end, their greatest fears were realized. Although Cloudhawk’s condition was temporarily stabilized after the infusion of blood, it once again worsened at around midnight. His entire body was beet-red, and his skin was so hot it was as though he was being burnt by coals. His mind was a blur, and he repeatedly slurred random words.
There was nothing Mantis could do. The medical conditions and equipment were simply too poor. Whenever an injured party suffered a severe infection like this, he would have a less than ten percent chance of surviving. Things were in the hands of the gods, now. All they could do was hope that the kid’s destiny was not to die here!
Cloudhawk found himself in a foggy, hazy state. He felt incredibly hot, so hot that he could barely breathe. It was as though he was sleeping inside a giant burning cauldron. When Cloudhawk tried to trace the heat to its source, he ended up discovering that it was all coming from that stone which was hanging around his neck.
The stone seemed to have been linked up with his body in a strange manner, connecting with his bones and his flesh to become a part of him. It was unleashing some sort of strange energy that was capable of impacting Cloudhawk’s entire body.
In his dazed state, Cloudhawk was actually able to make out the voice of the stone more clearly than ever before. It sounded like the furious waves of the ocean, like the sky, like the earth, like something hidden within the depths of the sea, like the lightless dark of the night, like a behemoth so vast that it could silently swallow a hundred enormous whales without causing any stir.
This was a sea! A sea of willpower, a sea of mental strength, a sea of energy! Was he able to better commune with the stone when he was in his current, trance-like state?
Not only could Cloudhawk sense the ebbs and flows of that sea of mental energy inside the stone, he could even hear a hoarse voice whispering to him from a hidden location at the very bottom of the sea.
“Truth springs forth from the mind. Your thoughts shall determine all, and what you shall imagine is what you shall see!” Although the voice was soft, it was filled with an astonishing presence and was as stately as the voice of a king. “Awaken, heir to my legacy!”
Cloudhawk felt as though someone had just poured a bucket of icewater over his face. He suddenly woke up from his stupor, only to realize that he hadn’t actually returned to the real world. He was located within a very strange region, with his two feet standing on a pitch-black sea that was as smooth and clear as a mirror.
This wasn’t the real world. This was a dream-world created by that will within the stone!
“W-who is talking?!” Cloudhawk frantically scanned his surroundings. He knew that this was a dream, but he found himself unable to escape it. He had never experienced something as strange as this before, and it was completely outside the bounds of what he could understand.
The endless black mist in front of him began to condense together and form into a tall, savage-looking figure. The figure didn’t seem to be human, but Cloudhawk wasn’t able to see what it looked like. He could only see a pair of red, ape-like eyes glowing within that dark silhouette, as well as a jewel that was glowing in front of the figure’s chest.
Was that jewel the one Cloudhawk had found the other day? Was it originally an adornment upon that suit of unique, peculiar armor? As for the mysterious fellow standing before Cloudhawk, he had to be the jewel’s previous master. He must’ve been able to store his will and his mind into the jewel through some unknown method, and the reason why Cloudhawk had nearly gone mad with berserk rage was due to this man’s influence. As for the strange dream Cloudhawk had fallen into after suffering such heavy injuries, they were also caused by this man.
Cloudhawk stared at the man through the blurry mist that separated the two of them. “Who exactly are you?”
A majestic yet hoarse voice once more rang out from that black silhouette. “A failure who has been forgotten. Who I am no longer matters. What matters is for you to know who you are.”
“Who I am? I’m me!” Cloudhawk was rather confused now. What was this guy talking about? He shouted out rather nervously, “Fuck, man, what’s going on here? Why are you in my dreams?”
“No need to be afraid. I won’t harm you. In fact, I died long ago. What remains is nothing more than a part of my will which I left inside this stone. Only when certain criteria are fulfilled and when a person with certain potential emerges shall this stone be activated. For now, you can neither see nor sense my entire will, just a fragment which I set up long ago.” The speaker was saying such confused, baffling things that Cloudhawk understood none of it at all.
“It has been many years. I have stubbornly remained here, all for the sake of awaiting your arrival. Ever since you picked up that jewel, you have assumed a destiny that you cannot shake off.” The black silhouette looked at Cloudhawk, then said slowly, “The world has been bewildered by lies and deceptions. Since the cycle has begun anew, I hope that you shall continue the path which I started but was unable to finish. Bring an end to all these things.”
Cloudhawk really had no idea what the man was talking about, but he felt an inexplicable sense of irritation and rejection towards it. “What sort of gibberish are you babbling about? I don’t understand a word that you are saying. Let me out!”
“Don’t be impatient, young man. I don’t have much time left.” A hint of aged sorrow appeared within the black silhouette’s voice. “I can sense what you are thinking. Do you wish to leave the wastelands?”
Cloudhawk suddenly trembled. “Can you help me?”
“I can’t help you leave, not directly… but I can give you what you need more than anything else right now.”
The black silhouette said slowly, “I can give to you what little power I have left!”
Cloudhawk instantly felt excited. Power. Wasn’t this exactly what he needed more than anything else right now? He was still far, far too weak, which was why everyone continued to bully him. If he was as strong as Slyfox or Mad Dog, he would be able to do whatever he wanted in Blackflag Outpost! This mysterious figure had to be at least as powerful as Mad Dog, right?
The black sea beneath his feet suddenly began to stir, and Cloudhawk had the feeling that he was about to be dragged within the waves. A large amount of an ice-cold substance flowed into his body, causing him to feel a sensation of agonizing pain.
“Unfortunately, at present you are still far too weak. I can only bestow a part of my psionic energy unto you for now.” The black silhouette’s voice began to fade in and out as it grew more and more indistinct. “Please keep the stone safe. It is the key to both space and time, and is the most important talisman of my race…”
Cloudhawk was like a drowning man at sea. The sense of breathlessness and pressure was absolutely stifling, and he could neither open his mouth nor cry out for rescue. That icy feeling filled every inch of his body, pouring in from every single direction and into every single pore. Cloudhawk frantically tried to reach out and grab something, but was unable to find anything to grip. His consciousness instantly began to fade once again.
Right at this moment, he suddenly felt a hand reach down and grab him, bringing him up from the surface of the water.
“AHHH!” Cloudhawk let out a scream as he woke up.
It was noon. Cloudhawk’s entire body was covered with bandages that had strange medicinal smells to them, and every single wound on his body had been neatly stitched shut. Fiery pain radiated through his entire body, as though his skin had been torn open and he had been placed atop a cooking rack. The various strange medicinal pastes that had been smeared across his body made his wounds burn, almost as though they contained salt or spices within them.
Cloudhawk’s right elbow was hanging in front of his chest. Right now, he was so weak that he felt as though he had just been chased by a wild beast for ten kilometers nonstop. However, for some reason his mind was incredibly clear and alert, and the surrounding world itself seemed to be more in focus than it had been in the past. He could even hear the mercenaries outside laughing and chatting with each other.
This had to be the mercenary base. Cloudhawk thought back to what had just happened, especially the conversation he had with that strange man in his dreams. Was it nothing more than an odd nightmare? Cloudhawk shook his head. Ignoring the pain, he got off the bed, walked towards the door, then pushed it open with his one good arm.
The twenty mercenaries that were just about to start eating all came to a sudden halt, their gazes focusing upon Cloudhawk. For a moment, things were completely silent. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous; were these guys planning on picking a fight with him for having caused them trouble?
But in the next instant… everyone exploded with roars of laughter and cheers!
“HAH! Woke up, kiddo?”
“You really do heal pretty damn fast.”
“Man, you got the shit beat out of you, didn’t you?”
“How could you let a dumb fuck like Rednose kick you around like that? You really are good for nothing, you know?”
Usually, the mercenaries loved to mock Cloudhawk and laugh at him. However, after his sudden display of power in the inn and his near brush with death, they started to have more positive feelings about this kid that they once loved to hate.
Whap! A fat, meaty hand clapped Cloudhawk on his shoulders. Cloudhawk leapt up like a startled hair, nearly screaming from the pain. You did that on purpose, you motherfucker! The clap had landed directly on one of his stitched-up wounds.
Slyfox completely ignored the glowering, twisted look on Cloudhawk’s face as he delivered yet another heavy clap with his meaty hand. “You’ve certainly been making a name for yourself, ya sonufabitch. Not only did you go out and cause trouble, you got the shit beat out of you. You’ve dishonored the entire damn Tartarus company, y’know?”
“That HURTS!” Cold sweat appeared on Cloudhawk’s forehead. He really wanted to plant a punch right into that fat face, but he also knew that was something best reserved for his dreams. “It won’t happen next time, alright?”
“Next time? Kill them all, next time. Learn to wipe your own ass and solve your own problems. Got it?” After Slyfox finished lecturing him, he tossed a metal plate onto the table in front of them with a clattering sound. “In the future, you’ll eat with us, train with us, and go out on missions with us.”
The plate held a chunk of blackened mutabeast jerky, and a few pieces of something that looked like potatoes but which had been all but burnt to a crisp. Slyfox gave the awestruck Cloudhawk a hard glare. “What, food’s not to yer likin’?”
“N-Not at all!” Cloudhawk sat down without even thinking, then began to chew at the food. Although he had no idea what type of mutabeast this meat came from, it tasted far better than any type of meat he had ever eaten before.
Before this, he had only been given two pieces of bread each day. Now, he was able to enjoy wine and meat alongside the other mercenaries, and would enjoy three set meals each day! It was like a poor beggar suddenly coming into an enormous inheritance. This blissful sense of manna falling from the heavens instantly filled Cloudhawk with content and joy.
Cloudhawk never would’ve imagined that rather than castigate him for having caused troubles in the inn, the other mercenaries would actually view them as having formally joined their ranks. His long month of humiliation and labor… had he finally overcome it all?