Nightfall. Training had concluded for the day, and the mercenaries had split off into small groups in search of entertainment.
Cloudhawk, however, was stealthily creeping towards Mantis’ workshop. He wanted to seize advantage of this period of time, when there was no one around, to rifle through Mantis’ stash and pilfer a few jars of medicine. He remembered how Mantis had mixed the various restoratives and medicinal fluids, and he was sure he could do the same. Freaking Mantis. He keeps on ordering me around all the time. He can just consider this stuff my salary!
Cloudhawk wasn’t a saint who had come to save the masses, nor was he a gentleman who followed a code of chivalry. Blackflag Outpost was about to face a powerful enemy! This was what Cloudhawk was really concerned about. The stronger the Queen was, the safer the outpost would be… and the safer the outpost would be, the safer Cloudhawk would be. Besides, befriending the Queen was a form of investment that might pay off in the future. He might be able to learn a few things from her.
All done! Cloudhawk smugly cradled the two jars of medicine and prepared to leave. Right as he turned, he suddenly saw a tall, skinny figure standing directly behind him. The man stood there like a wraith, making no sound at all and covered in the darkness of dusky night. He had a silent, sinister aura about him, but no expressions could be seen on his face. His spectacles, however, gleamed with cold light.
Cloudhawk nearly jumped into the air with fright. “Are you a freaking ghost?!” When had this guy appeared? Why hadn’t Cloudhawk noticed anything at all?
Mantis turned his gaze to the jars of medicine Cloudhawk was holding. Cloudhawk had been caught red-handed, and there was no place for him to hide. All he could do was come up with a frantic, far-fetched excuse: “I feel like I’m still not completely healed yet, so I thought I’d grab a bit more medicine. Don’t be so stingy, alright?”
Mantis’ face remained blank and impassive, like an ever-frozen piece of ice. There was no way to tell whether he was angry or not.
Swoosh! Mantis took a single step forwards, and as he did an ice-cold scalpel suddenly flew out from between his fingers. Cloudhawk’s eyes widened. Holy shit. It’s just some medicine! Are you seriously gonna kill me over it?
Mantis stalked forwards, as agile and as silent as a cat, his movements ghostly and unfathomable. The icy scalpel kissed Cloudhawk’s ears as it flew past his head… and then Mantis walked straight past Cloudhawk, not even glancing at the boy as he returned to his usual work station. Mantis put on his gloves, picked up his tools, lit a lamp, then began to carry out his normal work with his usual unflappability.
Cloudhawk’s clothes were completely matted with cold sweat. For those few seconds, he felt as though he had been facing a viper, as though he had attracted the attention of a death god. After he recovered from his fear, a surge of anger filled him. “What the hell, man? Are you trying to scare me to death?”
All three of the captains were bastards. Slyfox was insidiously vicious, Mad Dog was brutal and violent, while Mantis was completely unfathomable.
However, Mantis’ next words caused Cloudhawk’s rage to completely vanish. Cloudhawk stood there, a stupefied look on his face. Mantis’ voice was calm and cool, as though he was discussing nothing more than the most minor of matters, but his words were like a bolt of thunder.
“Her world is not meant for you. We were born into the darkness of the wastes, and to the darkness and the wastes we shall forever belong.”
“What are you talking about?”
Mantis split open the corpse before him with precision using his scalpel, then said in his customarily emotionless voice, “Just remember what I said. You can leave now.”
The stunned Cloudhawk stood there for five full seconds. Mantis didn’t turn to look at Cloudhawk, nor did he say anything further; he seemed completely absorbed in his research.
By now, Cloudhawk was fairly familiar with Mantis’ temperament. The man valued his words like gold, but he never spoke nonsense. Did this mysterious, secretive man know something? Cloudhawk wanted to ask, but in the end he swallowed his words.
If Mantis didn’t want to talk, there was no way Cloudhawk could pry any words out of him. Besides, this really didn’t matter right now. The most important thing for the moment was to go find the Queen. He had no time to waste here, and so he immediately hugged the jars of medicine to him as he fled from Mantis’ workshop.
There was a large apartment compound at the very center of Blackflag Outpost. Not only was this structure large, it was also extremely sturdy; in the wastelands, it could absolutely be considered a luxurious mansion.
Cloudhawk wanted to learn more about the world outside the wastelands, as well as the skills and techniques from that world. He grew more and more excited just thinking about it. He rubbed the stone hanging around his neck. Perhaps if he became a demonhunter, he would learn how to unleash the true power of this stone. This was why he insisted on learning demonhunter techniques from the Bloodsoaked Queen. Although he didn’t know where the stone came from, he felt certain that it was extraordinary.
But just as Cloudhawk was about to enter the Bloodsoaked Queen’s private residence… swish! A feathered arrow suddenly flew past Cloudhawk’s nose and plunged into the boulder right next to him. A quarter of the arrow had been buried into the stone, and the feather was quivering. If it had been just a few centimeters to the right, it would’ve blown a hole straight through Cloudhawk’s head.
“This place is off limits for you. Fuck off!”
An enormous man walked over, a number of elite guards by his side. Cloudhawk had seen this man before and recognized him; he was the (now only) captain of the elite guards, Grizzly! He was an elite expert who was on par with the three captains of the Tartarus mercenaries. Cloudhawk wouldn’t be able to beat any of the elite guards, much less Grizzly himself.
“Why are you stopping me?” Cloudhawk stared straight at Grizzly, neither obsequious nor overbearing in his manner. “The Bloodsoaked Queen has summoned me!”
“Go piss in a pool and take a good look at yourself.”
“Do you really think the Queen would summon a brat like you?”
The elite guards began to mock and jeer at him.
“So a rookie of the Tartarus mercenaries has come to my turf to cause trouble, eh?” Grizzly walked towards Cloudhawk, and it was like a mountain moving towards him. He stared at the brat before him, his bestial, hungry eyes glowing with anger. “Not even Slyfox would dare to cause trouble here. You need to fuck off before I start to get seriously pissed.”
Cloudhawk wasn’t frightened by Grizzly’s intimidating words at all. He glared right back at the mountain-sized man.
“You little shit.” Grizzly was infuriated by this. Just as he was about to strike, a hoarse voice suddenly rang out from inside the residence. “Let him in!” The voice sounded like the hissing of a hundred serpents, and it was absolutely hair-raising.
Grizzly came to a halt, a dazed look on his face. “My Queen…”
The Bloodsoaked Queen’s hoarse voice rang out a second time. “Do you have any objections?”
“N-none at all!” Grizzly hurriedly stepped backwards in a respectful manner. He was a legendary warrior of Blackflag Outpost, the first captain of the elite guards… yet he didn’t even dare to breathe too loudly in the Queen’s presence!
Cloudhawk truly had to admire the Queen for this. There was no way someone like Grizzly could be easily tamed. Take Slyfox or Mad Dog as examples; although they feared the Bloodsoaked Queen’s power, there was no way they would truly be willing to whole-heartedly submit to her!
Grizzly watched as Cloudhawk sauntered straight into the Queen’s private residence, a flicker of jealousy deep within his eyes. He had followed the Queen for nearly a year, but had never had a chance to enter her private residence. How had this piece of refuse which the Tartarus mercenaries had picked up from who-knows-where managed to worm his way into the Queen’s good graces? How? HOW?!
Several of the elite guards began to let out unhappy mutters.
“The Queen went missing for a few days. What’s going on with her?”
“Not even our boss Grizzly has been permitted to enter her private residence. Why the hell was the kid allowed inside?”
Grizzly barked, “Shut it!” The guards exchanged a few glances, all of them falling silent.
Why was the Bloodsoaked Queen’s rule over Blackflag Outpost such a stable one? Her overwhelming power was one reason, but another very important reason was that she had the unswerving support of the elite guards.
Grizzly was the leader of the elite guards. Why was it that he was so loyal to the Queen? This might be a mystery to others, but everyone in the elite guards knew the true reason. Alas, the Bloodsoaked Queen was cruel and proud; she viewed all wastelanders as ants for the crushing or wheat for the scything. She never viewed them as equals! All of the brothers of the elite guards felt bad for Grizzly; they felt it wasn’t worth it.
A complex look was in Grizzly’s eyes. When the Bloodsoaked Queen had first come to Blackflag Outpost, Grizzly had, completely by accident and happenstance, managed to see her true face. It could be said that he was the very first person in the entire outpost to see her true visage. Although he had only caught a glimpse, her beauty was something out of this world and nothing which the wastelands could produce… and it was burned into his mind like a searing hot iron.
Grizzly had no idea where the Bloodsoaked Queen came from. He didn’t know what she had experienced or what her goal was. He knew nothing about her at all… and none of that mattered. Ever since he had seen her true face, Grizzly had felt as though he had found a pure, sacred oasis within the dark brutality of the world.
This wasn’t just the love and adoration which the weak felt towards the strong; it was a type of faith, a type of conviction which every single person had.
Grizzly believed that he had discovered the most beautiful thing in the world. She was the most flawless of jewels, the flame of faith which lit the darkness around him. From that day forth, he decided to completely dedicate everything he had to protecting her. He might be a crude, despicable man who wasn’t worthy of holding this divine treasure in his hands, but he absolutely would not allow anything or anyone else to violate it. Not even the slightest stain was acceptable!
Grizzy’s large, iron-hard fists couldn’t help but clench. He felt nauseous, as though he had just been forced to swallow a few dozen maggots! That dirty, low-down scavenger… how the hell had he found himself in the Queen’s favor? Why the hell was he being allowed into the Queen’s residence?
“Grizzly, what say I grab a few of our brothers and…” One of the elite guards scanned the area, then carefully made a chopping gesture with his hand.
Grizzly hesitated a moment. “Be careful of the Tartarus mercenary. Slyfox is extremely protective of his people.”
The elite guard chuckled. “Don’t worry, boss. We’ll kill him nice and clean. No one will suspect us at all.”
Grizzly couldn’t help but think of Wulf. If Wulf hadn’t died, the elite squad wouldn’t need to fear the Tartarus mercenaries at all. He had already lost his most loyal friend; there was no way he could allow the most sacred being in his world to be befouled and besmirched by a rat. She was the final thing keeping him alive in the dark world of the wastelands!
That poor bastard, Cloudhawk, would have never imagined in his wildest dreams that Grizzly was so completely infatuated with the Bloodsoaked Queen… and he definitely would’ve never imagined that he had completely and thoroughly offended the entire elite guard squad of Blackflag Outpost because of this visit.
“I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
The Bloodsoaked Queen’s raven-black hair spilled across her shoulders as she walked towards him. She wasn’t dressed in her usual cape or leather armor, just a long robe. Her snowy white neck was long and graceful, making her look like a proud, noble swan. The slight hint of cleavage she was showing was enough to drive almost any man mad with lust, and her long, slender pale legs were just barely visible. Her legs were like the most perfect work of art, and they added to her cold, regal dignity and beauty.
The only unpleasant thing about her was that hideous demon’s mask.
Cloudhawk was still too young and ignorant to be dazzled by her beauty, and his attention was drawn to something else. The bathroom had an entire tub of clean water that seemed to have been used, as it was slowly disappearing into the pipes.
“Were you taking a bath, just now?” Cloudhawk’s eyes were so round they threatened to pop out of his head. “You used an entire tub’s worth of clean water, just to take a bath?”