A few days later, Cloudhawk was able to get his stitches removed. In another four or five days, he would probably be completely recovered.
These days spent convalescing were some of the most comfortable days in his life. Not only did Cloudhawk not need to serve as a human punching bag, he was allowed to lay back and relax each day while enjoying three meals of meat. In just a few short days, he had grown considerably more muscular. It was getting to the point where Cloudhawk was actually hoping that his wounds would heal a bit more slowly.
After waking up from his heavy injuries, he improved quite a bit in every single area. The thing was, Cloudhawk didn’t feel as though he had improved dramatically in any particular area. Perhaps that dream really was nothing more than a dream. Cloudhawk didn’t really pay it too much heed, and he cast that memory to the back of his mind.
By the fifth day, Cloudhawk was more or less recovered. Mantis immediately called Cloudhawk over and ordered Cloudhawk to assist him. The tables in Mantis’ workshop were filled with preservative jars that were marked with all kinds of script, as well as many test tubes that were filled with all sorts of strange liquid experiments. The workshop had all sorts of crude, ungainly tools within it as well, but by now Cloudhawk was used to all of them.
Cloudhawk dragged a freshly arrived corpse over and placed it on the dissection table. This was the corpse of a young woman who had probably died recently. Judging from her emaciated frame, she had most likely died of starvation. Similar corpses could be seen everywhere.
“Mantis, what are you going to analyze today?” Cloudhawk picked up his pincers and his scalpel, preparing to go to work. “Heart? Lungs? Liver? Something else?” Although he hadn’t completely healed, he had recovered enough to do some work.
Mantis withdrew his blood-covered hands from the chest of a dissected corpse. If Cloudhawk was a new arrival, he probably wouldn’t be used to this sight, but over the course of the past month he himself had carried out multiple such dissections, and so he didn’t feel as though anything was off.
The Tartarus mercenary company had three captains, and Mantis was the most inscrutable of the three. He seemed extremely cultured and knowledgeable, and was able to extract strange liquids from random mutated plants which he would mix together into restorative poultices and healing solutions. The reason why Cloudhawk had been able to recover from his injuries so quickly was completely thanks to Mantis, and so Cloudhawk admired the man very much.
Cloudhawk had never seen Mantis in combat before. However, Mantis’ skills as a physician alone ensured that he would never go hungry in this era.
“Hang it up high.”
Cloudhawk was slightly startled upon hearing Mantis’ instructions. Was the strange fellow planning some sort of odd experiment yet again? Still, Cloudhawk didn’t waste time asking questions. He immediately tied a rope around the corpse’s waist, then lifted it into the air.
Mantis calmly pulled out a silver revolver, then tossed it onto the table. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but gawk at that revolver. Cloudhawk had taken it from Rednose’s inn, but later on Cloudhawk had passed out from blood loss. By the time he had woken up, the revolver had disappeared. He had felt certain that Mad Dog had confiscated it, as guns were quite valuable; for a rookie like Cloudhawk to possess one really was a waste.
“Shit, isn’t that my gun? So you were the one who took it!” Cloudhawk had been given all sorts of grunt work in the mercenary base, and part of his job had been to help maintain their firearms. As a result, he was quite familiar with how firearms worked.
Mantis then fished out an orange-colored bullet and placed it on the table. The hell? Cloudhawk was starting to feel rather stunned. Mantis adjusted his glasses, which flashed with a cold light as he did so, making it impossible for Cloudhawk to see the look in Mantis’ eyes. Mantis reached out and pointed one finger at the hanging corpse, then said in his customarily cold voice, “Shoot it as fast as you can.”
“Is that really a good idea?” Cloudhawk naturally wasn’t worried about being disrespectful to the dead; that would be just laughable. His concern was that shooting a corpse was a waste of bullets!
“Just do it!”
Cloudhawk had no idea as to what Mantis was scheming, but there was nothing he could do. The stone-faced man never changed his mind and did what he said. Plus… Cloudhawk had wanted to experience firing a gun for quite some time now.
Cloudhawk picked up the gun, unlatched the cylinder, loaded the bullet, then spun the cylinder back into its proper locked position. Cloudhawk had no experience in gunnery, but for some reason it all felt very natural to him. Just as he was about to raise the gun and then pull the trigger…
Snick! A streak of cold light suddenly flashed through the air and sliced past his face. Clink!
It was a slender, icy-cold surgical scalpel. The scalpel plunged into the corpse’s forehead with perfect precision. Even if you used to most accurate of rulers to measure it, you would find that the scalpel was exactly dead center in the corpse’s forehead, without being even slightly to the left or to the right. In addition, the scalpel blade had sunk completely into the forehead.
Cloudhawk felt as though he had lost control over his jaw muscles as his mouth swung open. He stared, wide-eyed, at the incomprehensible sight in front of him.
“You spent a total of four seconds in drawing the gun, loading the bullet, and then firing. I would’ve been able to cut your throat in a third of a second.”
This was the first time Cloudhawk had seen Mantis launching an ‘attack’. He never would’ve imagined that Mantis was as incredible as this!
“Remember. The more complicated, high-tech, and high-level a weapon is, the more dangerous it is to its own wielder. If you end up relying too heavily on those high-tech weapons, death will be quick to arrive for you. The best weapons are the ones that appear everywhere. They are easy to deploy and easy to use. For a truly talented assassin, even grass and twigs can be used to take another’s life.”
They had known each other for a full month, but Mantis had always been very taciturn, seemingly treasuring his words as if they were gold. He had never said so many things at once, and Cloudhawk felt as though he was getting to know the man all over again.
He was a superlatively talented physician, a strange scientist who liked to dissect corpses and organs in search of mutations. He was also an incredible apothecary who was able to extract fluids from various mutated plants and use them to create medicinal salves… but it seemed as though all of these things were just his secondary professions!
Slyfox was a gunner, Mad Dog was a warrior, while Mantis was an assassin.
Perhaps Mantis’ evolutionary metapowers weren’t as high-class as those of Slyfox or Mad Dog, but assassins didn’t necessarily need to be the strongest individuals around; they were, however, the most dangerous! Cloudhawk would rather piss off a madman like Mad Dog or a crafty bastard like Slyfox than a viper like Mantis!
Cloudhawk unconsciously mimicked the scalpel-tossing motion. “What type of training do I need to do if I want to reach your level?”
“Your task for today is completed. Leave.” Mantis began to put away his tools without even looking at Cloudhawk. “And take your gun!”
Cloudhawk had been feeling rather irritated, but upon hearing the last few words he nearly leapt for joy. Mantis might seem like an icy fellow, but he was actually quite warm-hearted. Not only had he kept Cloudhawk’s weapon safe for quite a few days and then returned it to him, he had also taught Cloudhawk a lesson.
In the wastelands, firearms and bullets were used as a common currency for barter. You would always be able to use them to trade for food. Afraid that Mantis might change his mind, Cloudhawk immediately grabbed his gun and left.
As for Mantis, he continued to focus on dissecting and handling his corpses. From start to finish, his facial expressions had not changed a single time.
Upon returning to his room, Cloudhawk pulled out his gun and excitedly rubbed his hands across its surface repeatedly, almost as if he was stroking the hands of a lover. He had never felt as excited as he currently did.
Cloudhawk knew very well that bullets were actually even more valuable than firearms. The reason why the majority of the mercenaries did not use firearms was because bullets were too expensive. A pound of mutabeast meat could only buy you ten or so pistol bullets. Aside from elite marksmen like Slyfox, using guns was a completely impractical and un-economical decision for most mercenaries.
But despite all that, this was still the first valuable possession which Cloudhawk had ever had. Cloudhawk lay there in his bed, his gun by his side. Even though it only held a single bullet, he felt a sense of safety and security with it nearby. Everything was turning for the better.
Cloudhawk let out a long, contented sigh. Just as he was about to blow out the candle and go to sleep, he suddenly heard several loud, clear sounds echo in the skies above the outpost.
CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!
The sounds completely shattered the stillness of the night. Cloudhawk had never heard this noise before. It sounded almost like a large gong being struck, with each sound both loud and long-lasting. The sudden clanging noises brought a sense of unease to all who heard them.
Cloudhawk had no idea what was going on. However, he had been living here in the outpost for more than a month; he was no longer the clueless and rash kid he once was. He carefully pushed open his door to stare at what was happening outside, rather than foolishly charging outside in a blind panic.
Blackflag Outpost was a bedlam of commotion. Many men holding torches were running around, and countless cries and startled shouts filled the air. Cloudhawk was able to vaguely make out one particularly horrified, high-pitched scream.
“A beast wave! A beast wave is upon us!”
Cloudhawk had been in the outpost for more than a month; he knew exactly what a beast wave represented. A cold chill instantly filled his entire body, and an uncontrollable terror quickly rooted itself in his heart. This was terrible!
BANG! His wooden door was suddenly kicked in, and three outpost soldiers charged in and grabbed him unceremoniously.
“What the hell are you guys doing?!”
“A beast wave is attacking. All men are required to take part in the defense. Those who shirk from battle will die!”
The entire outpost was in a state of chaos. The outpost guards were running around everywhere, grabbing everyone they could. All of the men were corralled like a herd of ducks, then split up into numerous temporary squads.
Cloudhawk wasn’t even given a chance to explain, nor would any explanations have mattered. The Tartarus mercenary company was an important part of the outpost’s combat forces; they would undoubtedly be sent to a place even more dangerous than this place. And so, Cloudhawk just allowed himself to be conscripted into a squad of roughly two hundred people.
A series of clanking sounds rang out as a guard dressed in a full set of steel armor walked over towards them. He was dressed in at least two or three layers of leather armor underneath the steel, and he wore a half-mask that served as a breathing apparatus. The other guards all stood by his side, with this young elite guard who was dressed in a perfect set of armor clearly being their leader. “I’m Lain, the captain of this squad and a member of the elite guards of Blackflag Outpost. I’ll be responsible for commanding your group in defending against the attack.”
Captain Lain spoke with great difficulty, as though every single word was extremely taxing for him to say. It was almost as though someone had thrown a lever into his mouth, making it difficult for him to speak. There was an extremely deep scar on the side of his neck; most likely, the wound that had caused that scar had impacted his vocal chords.
“Right now, a large number of mutabeasts are launching an attack against our outpost! All of you, pick up your weapons and protect our home. Fight them to the bitter end!” Captain Lain’s hoarse voice rang out like the cry of an owl in the night, causing the listeners to shiver with fear.