The rat king, despite its power, hadn’t been able to wipe the mercenaries out. This was outside of the black-garbed man’s expectations. The mercenaries truly were more powerful than he had expected. Still, it didn’t matter. Things were still manageable. How much of a threat could these battered, injured, and broken-down mercenaries pose?
The mission had been a scheme from the very start. It was a scheme aimed against the Blackflag Outpost and against the Bloodsoaked Queen. They had already begun to prepare for a full assault against the outpost!
The elite guards of Blackflag Outpost had already suffered heavy losses. The Tartarus mercenaries had been backstabbed and half-destroyed. The Bloodsoaked Queen’s injuries had yet to be healed.
The situation was far grimmer than anyone in the outpost knew. Blackflag Outpost was facing the end days.
Right at this moment, a few dozen figures appeared in the area around them. These warriors were all dressed in classic wastelander ‘outfits’. They wore rough helmets made from a mishmash of leather and metal, and their faces were half-covered by protective visors which helped block out the sand. They were primarily armed with firearms and longbows. This was a superbly outfitted wastelander squad, and they had all come from the airship. That meant they were the man in black’s subordinates.
The man in black said in a very sincere and gentle manner, “How would you prefer to die?”
“Cut the bullshit!” Slyfox lifted his pistol up and fired off a shot at the man in black! The powerful recoil from the shot caused Slyfox to stagger a few steps back, but a thumb-sized hole appeared in the man’s chest. “You can die first!”
The shot had hit! Was the man dead? The mercenaries could hardly believe it.
The shot had been at point-blank range, and Slyfox had used one of his most powerful bullets. The shot had struck the man in his vitals and left a huge exit wound. By all rights, no human should be able to survive a shot like that.
All of these factors combined should’ve meant that there would be no questions about the results… but they were in the wastelands. In the damnable wastelands, nothing was impossible. Nothing was absolute. Common sense was often in short supply here; otherwise, how could a freak like the rat king have arisen?
The man in black didn’t fall. He didn’t scream. He didn’t shake in pain. He didn’t seem to even notice that he had been shot… and not a single drop of blood emerged from his wounds. He just stood there, continuing to stare at the mercenaries.
A strange chill crawled up the spines of the mercenaries. It was like Slyfox had shot an immobile block of wood that felt no pain at all.
“Are you surprised?” That hoarse voice rang out from behind the man’s strange breathing apparatus. He slowly pulled the black glove off his left hand, revealing something that did not look like a human hand at all. Several black tentacles squirmed out of his ‘arm’, flexing and tensing like whips. At the end of each tentacle was a sharp, knife-like bone.
This was no normal human. This was a freak, a monster!
Mad Dog drew his machete and charged straight forwards. “Let’s see if you are still so cocky after I chop your ass into pieces!”
The man in black swept out with his left arm, the five tentacles coiling around each other as their bone-blades launched attacks from different directions. Mad Dog frantically had to hack right and left in order to defend.
Slash! A wound appeared on Mad Dog’s right shoulder. Slash! Another wound appeared on his upper thigh. Slash! Mad Dog was nearly disemboweled!
“Stop fighting and run like hell!” Slyfox bellowed as he hurriedly fired off two more shots at the man in black. One bullet struck the man in the chest, while the other hit the man in the head. The second shot shattered half of the man’s mask, piercing through his skull and sending him staggering backwards. The man in black pressed a hand to his head, letting out a low growl. Clearly, this freak was only vulnerable in the head… but even a perfect head-shot hadn’t been enough to immediately kill him.
The wastelander warriors were beginning to close in on them. If this fight continued, they would quickly end up surrounded. All of their foes were armed with long-distance weapons. If the mercenaries let themselves be surrounded and shot at from afar, there was no question that they would all die.
Cloudhawk and the mercenaries hurriedly ran over to support the badly-injured Mad Dog, then frantically began to flee. By now, the man in black had managed to once more rise to his feet, a bullet in the palm of his hand. The wound in his head was slowly healing, and his flesh and blood were visibly regrowing across his face.
No wonder this freak wasn’t afraid of bullets! He was a terrifyingly strong recovery metahuman. You had to kill him instantly; otherwise, his wounds would recuperate within an extremely short period of time. The sweeper leader who had led the previous assault against Blackflag Outpost had been a control metahuman who was freakishly strong… but today, they encountered an even greater freak.
How many subordinates like them did this ‘demon’ have? Cloudhawk had no idea! What about the Bloodsoaked Queen? Would she be able to survive this fight?
Still, this wasn’t the time to be worrying about the Bloodsoaked Queen. If the Tartarus mercenaries were fully staffed and in top physical condition, they might be able to give this freak a good fight. Now, however, they had no chance at all… and the man in black had a few dozen fully armed warriors coming to reinforce him!
Cloudhawk ran up ahead while helping to hold Mad Dog up. Slyfox was in the middle, while three of the mercenaries served as the rearguard. The mercenaries frantically ran up a slope, unable to see what was on the other side. It seemed like there was an extremely sharp cliff up ahead, but there was nowhere for them to run.
As the man in black chased after them, he suddenly slung out his right tentacle-hand out towards them. It tore through the skies like a blurred shadow, reaching towards the mercenaries.
The sharp attack came with incredible speed, forcing two of the mercenaries to come to a halt, pull out their weapons, then turn around and defend. However, they were each only able to block two or three attacks before the tentacles managed to pierce past their defenses, leaving giant gaping wounds in their neck as the bone-blades severed their windpipes and arteries.
The two mercenaries collapsed on the hilly terrain, unable to let out as much as a final scream. They pressed their hands to their necks, unable to staunch the spurting blood. After struggling for a few moments, they stopped moving.
The man in black didn’t move that quickly, but given the shape the mercenaries were in, it was going to be virtually impossible for them to shake him.
“That’s a cliff up ahead!” Mad Dog howled angrily, shaking off the supporting hands of Cloudhawk and the other mercenary next to him. He was completely covered in wounds, and the one to his chest was especially deep. His innards were visible to the naked eye. “Run! All of you, run! I’ll stop them!”
Mad Dog knew that his wounds were too heavy. He chose to die in combat, fighting to his last breath!
“We’ll help out!” Three of the surviving mercenaries came to a halt, looks of determination on their faces as they said to Slyfox, “Slyfox, Boss, run!”
The man in black was simply too strong, and he had numerous reinforcements. It was impossible for all of them to escape; if they tried, they’d simply die one by one!
What they had to do was sacrifice a few to buy the others some extra time. The strongest close combat mercenary was Mad Dog, but he was in such a sorry shape that there was no way he could stop the man in black all by himself. The three who had chosen to join him in his final stand were all some of the most talented mercenaries in the Tartarus company; if they all worked together, they should be able to survive for a minute or two.
Everyone knew that there was no chance of victory here. In choosing to stay, they had chosen death.
“I fucked up everything else in my life, but the best decision I ever made was to become friends with you, fatass. During the past twenty years, we built up this company and tore through the wastelands. We drank, we killed, we fucked women… I enjoyed the hell out of it all!” Mad Dog stared at the wastelanders closing in on them, but a look of peace was on his ugly, savage, blood-soaked black face. Ignoring his wounds, he lifted up his machetes and charged towards the enemies: “This life was worth it! I’ll meet you in the next!”
“Being part of the Tartarus company has been the greatest honor of our lives!” The other three mercenaries followed right behind Mad Dog. “Mad Dog! Let’s die together and party together in the afterlife!”
They weren’t as legendarily strong as Mad Dog, nor were they as skilled and talented as Slyfox. However, they had loved being able to be led by a pair of such illustrious wastelanders. They had fought together, they had adventured together… and today, they would die together. What was there to regret? If they could choose to redo their lives, they would still choose to join!
The enemy wastelanders began to fire upon them from afar. The man in black struck out with his five bladed tentacle-fingers, attacking all four of them at once. However, this naturally reduced the pressure on each of them individually. Mad Dog was able to dodge several lethal strikes in a row. Screened by the others, he charged forwards and delivered a furious blow with his machete.
The man in black used his right arm to block the strike.
Mad Dog was more than twice as strong as Cooke. The tremendous power behind his blow completely destroyed the enemy’s right glove… but the right hand was different from the left hand. The right hand was humanoid in nature, but it was extremely thick and covered with what looked like an outer layer of bones. The bones were nearly as tough as steel… but when faced with Mad Dog’s machete-strike, the bones began to crack and shatter. This was a testament to how mighty Mad Dog was!
The man in black was strong as well. After blocking Mad Dog’s strike with his right arm, he seized the moment to deliver three consecutive strikes from his left arm with his tentacles. Mad Dog’s chest, abdomen, and back were all stabbed.
The mercenaries howled with rage, “MAD DOG!”
Blood was pouring from Mad Dog’s lips. He summoned one final burst of energy, delivering a machete-blow to the man in black’s head and plunging it halfway inside.
Mad Dog was completely, thoroughly spent. If he was at his normal level of strength, he probably would have severed the man’s head. No amount of regenerative power would’ve allowed the man in black to recover from that!
But… in the wastelands, there were no ‘ifs’.
Mad Dog had already done everything he could. Four shots rang out from afar, and all three of the mercenaries were hit. By now, their bodies had been reduced to a parody of blood and gore, but they continued to fight with complete fearlessness, plunging their knives and swords into the body of the man in black.
For a moment, time itself seemed to freeze. The four mercenaries had battled to the very end, until the very moment that life left their bodies!
When Cloudhawk turned to look back, all he saw was Mad Dog’s corpse be torn apart into multiple pieces by those bone-blades. Blood and gore splattered the yellow earth, and the other three mercenaries had fallen into that pool of blood, never to rise again.
“Mad Dog, I’m coming too! Wait for me!”
Slyfox knew what had happened. He knew that his friend of twenty years had just reached the end of the line.
Twenty years. Twenty years of friendship! They had been together for so long, had faced the brutal wastelands together. In this age of darkness, truly trustworthy friends were as rare as unicorns… but their friendship had lasted for twenty years!
No grief or pain was visible on Slyfox’s face. Grief and pain were emotions for weaker, lesser beings. The wastelands had no room for the weak. It was the destiny of every mercenary to die; Mad Dog had simply died a bit earlier than they had planned.
What waited for them on the other side of this hill? Sand dunes? A cliff? Life? Death? The mercenaries would never have the chance to find out.
The man in black and his wastelanders were in hot pursuit, and their bullets and arrows filled the air around the remaining mercenaries. The hill in front of them was a hundred meters away, but there wasn’t enough time. Time was a commodity, and they had used it all up.
Slyfox shouted at Cloudhawk, “Kid, run like hell and don’t turn back. Just jump down!”
“Escape! That’s an order! And stay alive, that’s another order!” Slyfox gradually began to slow down as he continued to shout at Cloudhawk. “You need t’become stronger an’ tougher than anyone else. Find the fuckers behind this and then take revenge for us, got it? GO!”
Slyfox came to a halt, as did the final surviving mercenaries. They had already decided to fight to the death.
Cloudhawk’s mind was completely blank as he continued his headlong rush. He heard the sound of gunfire from behind him, as well as the angry howls of the mercenaries as they charged into certain death. These sounds flayed his soul like knives, the most horrifying curses he had ever heard.
Run! Live! Vengeance!
Ignoring all else, Cloudhawk clambered up the hill, a sense of despair and wooziness in his mind. There really was a cliff at the end of the hill, and it was massive. It was like a gaping chasm that was hundreds of meters deep and at a perfect ninety degree angle. There was nothing which could slow his descent, and at the bottom was rubble.
Had there been no hope at all from the very beginning? They had fought and struggled… but in the end, they had already reached the end of the line.
Cloudhawk crouched by himself at the edge of the cliff, like a wounded animal that had been driven into a corner. He turned his head, only to see that all of the mercenaries had fallen. Slyfox was slumped over a boulder. He had taken at least ten shots, and his eyes were open and staring fixedly at Cloudhawk. No life was in those eyes.
Cloudhawk never would’ve imagined that Slyfox would’ve given the only chance at survival to him, a rookie who had joined them just two months ago. He never would’ve imagined that this fat and selfish man and his brutal mercenary comrades would sacrifice their own lives for the sake of giving him a chance.
Cloudhawk rose to his feet, raising his head towards the skies and letting out a primal scream. Wind howled past him, kicking up a storm of yellow sand. He was a tiny speck in the wilderness, an inconsequential pinprick… and yet his voice travelled very, very far, and it was filled with stunning power!
It was a primal cry of resistance, of stubbornness, of rage! He was cursing both the skies and the earth. Most of all, he cursed the wastelands!
He was nothing more than an ant, but an ant who dared scream into the face of the uncaring heavens. He was small and weak, not worthy of concern or fear, but even at the very end he refused to bow his head in the face of destiny.
Cloudhawk jumped into the air… and tumbled straight down the cliff.
By the time the dozens of wastelander warriors arrived at the edges of the cliff, they saw nothing more than a few mutated black crows. The youth had long ago disappeared.
Had he fallen to his death? The cliff was hundreds of meters high; anybody who fell from such great heights would die!
The only way Cloudhawk could’ve survived was if he grew wings like an actual hawk and soared into the skies. Otherwise, no amount of miracles could’ve kept him alive!