A faint, cloying smell emanated from the wax paper, assaulting his nostrils with its fragrance. It was an intoxicating feeling that would make a man feel as though he was dreaming.
Two pieces of tough black bread, and a bottle of lightly contaminated water. The scavengers had never even seen such high-quality food before, and every single scavenger was lost in a state of incredible bliss.
Cloudhawk’s hands were shaking as he slowly unwrapped the waxy paper, looking almost like a devout pilgrim who was opening up a sacred object. Just like that, the two pieces of hard bread appeared before his eyes. Their fragrance grew even stronger than before, causing his mouth to almost immediately water. Bread. This was bread!
He had seen pictures of this before in books. He never would’ve imagined that such a legendary delicacy would appear in his very own hands. In the ruins, these two pieces of bread would be worth a man’s life. No. They would be worth the lives of ten men!
Cloudhawk carefully, gingerly broke off a small piece of bread, then put it into his mouth. He closed his eyes, carefully savoring the taste. He first allowed his saliva to slowly soften the tough bread, allowing its unique flavors to spread across the tip of his tongue. This felt so wonderful that it seemed almost unreal, and he felt completely intoxicated. It was as though this was all a dream.
However, this wonderful dream was rudely and abruptly interrupted.
A skinny but muscular figure was walking towards him, machete in hand. The man’s face was covered with a hideous knife scar. Who was this? It was the man who had led the others in stealing Cloudhawk’s meat just yesterday.
He had come to take part in this activity as well!
Cloudhawk picked up his shortsword, glaring at the scar-faced man with undisguised hostility in his eyes. He looked almost like an enraged young leopard. Yesterday, he had already eaten his fill and so there was no need for him to fight to the death. Today, things were different. If anyone dared to try and take his bread away from him, he’d plunge his shortsword through that person’s heart, even if it meant dying with him!
“I’m not interested in your food!”
“Then what do you want?”
The scar-faced man had a strange look in his eyes, which flickered with a chilling look. “See that over there? There are only three diggers, but that truck is filled with bread and water. All of us are armed. Why don’t we give it a shot?”
There were only three excavators guarding the truck, and none of the three were armed with firearms. It was highly likely that the excavators had brought them here to send them to their deaths. Rather than sit here and wait to die, why not join forces and kill the three instead? Food, weapons, water… these were the most important things the wastelands had to offer, and they would be able to obtain all three in one go!
When the scavengers thought back to how utterly delicious the bread had been, their eyes couldn’t help but turn bloodshot. A communal greed and desire to kill began to quickly rise within their breasts.
Kill them all! Chop them into mincemeat!
The scavengers all began to rise to their feet. The scar-faced man glared at the irresolute Cloudhawk. “You comin’ or not?”
All men had desires, and the desire for food and for life were amongst the most powerful desires there were. In fact, Cloudhawk wanted to join them, but… the experiences he had gone through while living in the ruins for so many years had made it impossible for him to trust the scar-faced man and the others. An underage, undersized youth… even if they did manage to seize all the bread and water, would the scar-faced man and the others really share it with him?
The answer was quite obvious.
There was no way the scar-faced man would give him so much as a single roll of bread. Instead, all the scavengers would join together to wipe out the weaklings of their group… because with each person they killed, each survivor would gain a correspondingly greater amount of resources.
And… would the scavengers even be able to succeed?
This seemed like an idiotic question. Twenty against three? The answer was obvious. But, for some reason, Cloudhawk had a very bad feeling about what was going to happen!
Cloudhawk snuck a glance at the black man. When he did, he couldn’t help but feel his scalp grow numb. It was as though a bucket of icewater had just been poured over his head.
The savage-looking black man was actually looking straight at the scavengers, as though he could hear what they were saying.
Their gazes met in midair.
Cloudhawk felt as though he had been struck by a thunderbolt. The pitifully limited vocabulary he possessed wasn’t even close to being enough to describe the feeling those eyes had given him!
That sharp, fierce glare contained an indescribable, awesome power within them. It didn’t feel like the gaze of a man; rather, it felt like the gaze of a terrifying mutabeast. There was a naked warning in that gaze: All of you are nothing more than a group of pitifully weak prey. You aren’t even worth worrying about!
Cloudhawk could sense every muscle in his body turning taut with fear. It was as though he was a juvenile animal who had just been paralyzed with terror. Although he knew he had no chance of surviving, his subconscious desire was to fight back!
“Don’t go.” Cloudhawk summoned every scrap of courage and strength he had to finally break their shared gaze, only to find that he had drenched himself in icy sweat. He whispered, “You are all gonna die!”
“You useless piece of crap!” The scar-faced man spat hard, then said to the other scavengers, “Let’s kill those diggers, then come back and deal with this piece of trash.”
The twenty-plus excavators began to move in unison, their eyes filled with silent grimness. Everyone who lived within the wastelands knew exactly what that grim look signified. The scavengers had transformed into a pack of wolves… or, to be precise, they had become a pack of hungry wolves stalking their prey.
Mad Dog was neither nervous nor impatient. He just continued to puff on his cigarette as though the pack of hungry human wolves in front of him didn’t even exist.
He did give a glance to the skinny youth who was silently squatting next to the wall, chewing on a piece of bread. That particular scav was a bit interesting. He was quite clever and sharp. The kid’s gaze had been almost bestial, filled with a certain stubborn wildness. He had actually managed to trade stares with Mad Dog for quite some time without breaking down.
Most importantly of all, the kid had a good nose for danger. Was that the reason why he had elected not to join the others in their suicidal actions? What an interesting kid!
“Whaddya doing?! You lookin’ to die?!”
“You overestimate yourselves, you cockroaches. All of you need to back the fuck up!”
By now, the other two mercenaries also noticed that the scavengers were beginning to move. They pulled out their weapons, menacing looks on their faces as they cursed angrily. The scavengers, however, didn’t respond to them at all as they continued to draw closer and closer.
“Eheheh. C’mon, guys. Why you gotta be like this?” Mad Dog let out a deep, hoarse chuckle that sounded like the hooting of an owl. When he smiled, the hideous scars across his face began to twist and turn like so many ugly centipedes. He casually tossed his cigarette to the ground, then used the tip of his boot to grind it into the mud. “Y’know, I was feeling pretty bored. Step aside, rookies.”
“Mad Dog, boss, don’t…”
The two mercenaries exchanged a glance with Mad Dog, then immediately shut their mouths. They silently stepped aside, looks of sympathy on their faces as they glanced at the foolish scavengers.
Mad Dog began to grin savagely as he slowly pulled out his two gleaming machetes. The machetes were shaped somewhat like kukris, except the ‘backs’ of the machetes were flat while the blades were curved. The blades were extremely wide and very top-heavy and would require tremendous wrist strength to use properly. The shocking thing was, after Mad Dog pulled them out he then casually tossed them to the ground, balling up his fists as he walked towards the scavengers.
Why did he throw his weapons away?
Why was he able to face more than twenty men without looking the slightest bit nervous?
Why was he walking straight towards a large group of armed scavengers by himself?
The scavengers had lost all rationality by now. They had bloodthirsty looks on their faces, and they were brimming with the desire to do murder. None of what Mad Dog was doing made any sense, but all such considerations had long ago fled their minds. The scar-faced man let out a loud roar: “Kill!” And just like that, the dozens of scavengers charged forwards like a pack of starving mongrels.
The scar-faced man lifted his machete up high, charging at the forefront of his pack. On his right was a scavenger who wielded a metal rod, while to his left was a scavenger who held an axe. These were the three strongest and most agile scavengers in this group, which was why they led the vanguard in this charge!
Split their heads open! Chop their arms off! Take everything which belonged to them!
This was what the scar-faced man was thinking, and that was exactly what he was going to do. Except… as soon as he lifted his machete up, his movements came to a sudden halt.
Mad Dog reached out lightning-fast with his right hand, his five fingers closing over his opponent’s wrist. Crack! The wrist was twisted in the opposite direction, twisted so hard that the bones could be seen poking out of the skin as blood poured out from the puncture wounds.
Next, Mad Dog followed up with a sweeping kick from his right leg. This kick landed upon the scar-faced man’s legs with the power of a steel whip, and the scar-faced man was suddenly ‘shortened’ as his legs suddenly bent to a terrifyingly unnatural degree. The bones within his legs had been cleanly snapped apart in multiple places.
Finally, there came a punch!
The scar-faced man’s chest was completely caved in by this punch. Eight of his ribs were shattered into tiny pieces, and he was sent flying backwards like a sandbag, instantly knocking flat several of the scavengers who were behind him.
Right at this moment, the metal rod came slamming down towards Mad Dog.
Mad Dog made it look as easy as picking flowers; a grab, a pull, a toss. He first grabbed the metal rod, pulled it away from the man with force, and then sent it back to him in a furious blow by slamming the rod straight through the man’s mouth. This forceful entry first shattered the man’s teeth into tiny bits, and then… crunch. A clear sound rang out as the metal rod exited through the back of the man’s skull. An enormous hole had appeared in his head!
The axe-wielding scavenger was so terrified by this sight that he immediately turned tail and started to flee.
But Mad Dog wasn’t going to let him off. He leaped into the air, bounding nearly two meters high as he lifted his right leg past the man’s head, then used it to deliver a crushing downwards blow towards the man’s skull.
The cervical vertebrae was cleanly severed!
As for the head itself, it was actually caved into the man’s chest by the terrifying force of Mad Dog’s strike. The inconceivable power of this strike actually drilled the scavenger’s legs into the ground, almost like a nail being hammered into the earth. He stood there, unable to fall down… and of course, he was deader than dead!
“Ahahah!” Mad Dog’s savage face was filled with berserk delight and a look of absolute intoxication. It was as though he had already lost complete control of his mind. “C’mon, keep it up! I haven’t had enough fun yet!”
The two mercenaries groaned mentally when they saw this. The boss had entered one of his berserk states, which was incredibly dangerous. This was the reason why his nickname was ‘Mad Dog’!
Neither of the two rookie mercenaries dared to move too close to him!
The scar-faced man lay there on the ground, somehow still alive and struggling to draw breath. Mad Dog stepped directly onto his face, completely caving it in and causing the white brain matter to explode forth from his face, almost as though it was sick of being in the man’s skull and impatient to move somewhere else. Mad Dog had crushed the man’s skull as easily as if he was stepping on a chicken egg.
This entire process had taken less than five seconds. Mad Dog, using utterly brutal and bloody methods, had instantly defeated and slain the three strongest scavengers. His attacks were so clean and measured that he had clearly perfected them over countless ‘practice’ sessions. His power was simply inhuman, and it was utterly bone-chilling!
He was no man. He was an absolute devil!
The scavengers were all terrified out of their wits, with the more cowardly ones peeing themselves on the spot. Cloudhawk stared wide-eyed at all of this. If he hadn’t seen it all happen in person, there’s no way he would’ve believed that any man could be as strong as this!
Mad Dog charged forwards towards the other scavengers, grabbing the machete out of the scar-faced man’s lifeless hands. Just as he was about to begin massacring the rest…
Boom! A rumbling sound could be heard as the porcupine-shaped vehicle came flying through the sand-swept air, having flown off the edge of one of the sand dunes just outside.
The fat man, cigar in mouth, was seated within the shaking vehicle. His left hand was controlling the steering wheel while his right hand was pulling his gun out of its holster. Both the vehicle and the fat man himself were in midair as the fat man acted. He drew his gun, then shot at Mad Dog without even aiming at all.
A bullet tore through the air, moving dozens of meters in a split second.
The machete in Mad Dog’s hands was struck head-on and shattered into two pieces.
Cloudhawk was stunned once again. The fat man didn’t seem to possess any skills at all, but he actually was a terrifyingly skilled marksman. His inconceivable accuracy was just as inhuman as Mad Dog’s strength had been!
The vehicle sped straight into their temporary base.
“Mad Dog, what the actual fuck are you doing?” The fat man stared at the three obliterated corpses on the ground. “Messing around and killing one or two of them is one thing, but are you planning to wipe out all of these fuckers?”
“I lost control for a second.” Mad Dog shook his head hard, seemingly back in control of himself again. “They are still alive, right? No big deal.”
The fat man knew of Mad Dog’s problem. Whenever the guy killed someone, he often entered a berserk state. Thank goodness he had managed to come back just in the nick of time.
“Slyfox, what’s the point of you even bringing these pieces of crap with you?” Mad Dog was now extremely irritable and impatient. “Way I see it, all you are doing is wasting our time!”
“How are you supposed to catch any fish without bait? Alright, stop yapping.” The fat man patted Mad Dog on his shoulders. “Our employers for this mission are quite extraordinary, and the mission rewards are quite incredible!”
Mad Dog said nothing further.
The fat man turned to glance at the remaining scavengers. “Enough. Now that all of us are here… listen up, you dirty scavs! I’ll give you half an hour to prepare!”
“I’m not going anywhere!” A terrified-looking scavenger suddenly cried out.
This was different from the jobs which the excavators usually had the scavengers do. These excavators were all freaks. If they followed these excavators, all of them would definitely die.
No one even saw the fat man pull the trigger.
The fat man had personally modified his gun, and the bullets were custom-manufactured as well. The enormous power of the slug actually caused the protesting scavenger’s head to completely blow apart. Moments later, the protestor slumped to the ground, white brain matter oozing out from his shattered skull onto the ground. His entire body was twitching involuntarily.
The other scavengers all felt a chill go through their spines.
As for Cloudhawk, he continued to sit there next to the wall, watching as he slowly popped the final piece of bread into his mouth. He then finished off his final mouthful of water.
The old-timer’s words echoed in his mind. A man can become either a chess player or a chess piece. Chess players could choose how they wish to play. Chess pieces cannot.
Every single person had the chance to become a chess player, but they had to be incredibly careful with each choice they made. Once they became chess pieces, their lives would no longer be under their own control. Anger, terror, resignation… none of it would matter. Once you became a chess piece, if you overestimated yourself and still thought yourself to be a player who had the power to choose his own fate, the result would be that you would end up like the scar-faced man and the others.
This was why Cloudhawk had already made up his mind on what he was going to do. He was going to be a good little chess piece… and wait for the right moment to jump off this board and become a player once more.