Cloudhawk peered through dusk, through the dark press of trees. Nests for these hideous spiders graced the crown of nearly every tree and the victims they didn’t eat hung from branches and cracks in the bark. They were used as fleshy sacks for their young to grow in. Like gloomy and gruesome fruit they swayed in a stuffy breeze.
The trees were their homes but also hunting grounds. Thick ropes of acidic webbing stretched across them creating a network the spiders used to get around and communicate. Through their network of webs they could race from one tree to another and never had to touch the ground.
Besides being everywhere, the webbing was exceedingly sticky and tough as steel. Getting caught by one wasn’t an option, because even a knife couldn’t cut you free.
But every tree was home to at least one spider nest. There were too many of them!
The spiders used their webs as the main means of attack. They skittered along the tendrils to quickly descend upon unwitting victims from overhead. Corrosive spidersilk spit coated their prey, then they moved in to seal the kill with a poisoned bite.
Cloudhawk continued to move forward with the rest of their team. But rustling sounds were coming from the trees around them.
Three or four of the spiders traveled amongst the trees along their network of spider webs. The thick trees sometimes hid them, and sometimes their beady eyes appeared glinting in the darkness. Every time they reappeared the spiders were a little closer.
Fighters began to fire arrows into the forest. In front of them, one of the spiders took a shaft to the head but didn’t die. Instead it pounced at the humans with a hiss and its eight legs outstretched.
Leonine heaved his saber, carving a deadly arc through the air. By the time it finished its trek the spider was on the ground in two pieces, jerking erratically. Purplish-red blood, thick with poison, flowed out of its mangled body like sludge.
The rest of the spiders charged at them from the left and right.
Globs of corrosive spit flew at the star-crossed travelers and they dodged best they could. One of the beefier fighters swung his war hammer and knocked a spider to the ground, to which Cloudhawk answered by jabbing the sharp end of his staff into its brain repeatedly. The mutated insect screeched and struggled to flee while its wounds hemorrhaged violet filth. Wounds like these were difficult to recover from, even for creatures that healed quickly. Even if Cloudhawk’s vicious strikes didn’t kill the thing, it was at least out of the fight.
Several more spiders took its place, more were coming with every passing moment.
It didn’t take a genius to know the spiders outnumbered the humans, a fact Cloudhawk was intimately aware of. If they got surrounded the chances of getting out alive were slim to none.
“With me!” Leonine cut away some webbing and cleared a path out over the corpses of several spiders. “This way!”
Before them spread an area carpeted in spotlessly bright eggs. Each one was roughly the size of a fist and as Cloudhawk stomped through them the fluid that burst out was sticky as glue. It caught his feet while a gut-wrenching stench permeated the air. This had to be the spider spawning ground, where their eggs were gathered and hatched. Crunching beneath their feet were some new eggs and some long-split shells. The spots between, earth and shrubs, and all along the trees was a writhing mass of brown. Everything was covered in palm-sized spiders.
“Mother fucker! It’s all spiders!”
Cloudhawk’s legs, head, and back were covered in spiders large as his hands. Young though they were, it didn’t make them any less fierce. They charged at the intruders without fear, ready to kill.
“It bit me!”
“Ah fuck me! This is a spider nest!”
As the crew stumbled through the egg fields it took no more than fifty meters for them to be covered with spiders from head to toe. Cloudhawk thought he had to have a dozen spider bites along his arms and neck. Blessedly, young spiders had weaker poison and their hunting skills had not yet developed. Though the sites of the bites had swollen sizably they wouldn’t be life threatening.
They waded into a sea of spiders; in front, behind and on either side. Twenty to thirty more fully matured spiders were catching up. Desperate, hopeless, these were the only way to describe how they felt - but pure survival instinct urged them on. Eventually, just as the large spiders were catching up, they left the nest and into what was beyond.
Cloudhawk plucked a particularly hateful spider from his neck and smashed it against the ground. It sprang back up and tried to run, but Cloudhawk brought his foot down on it and smashed the bug into paste.
The young demonhunter was in a pitiful state. His neck and face were swollen, his hands were inflated to twice their normal size. The rest of the crew certainly wasn’t much better, except for the Bloodsoaked Queen who looked completely free of bites.
The trees above rustled as suddenly a large spider emerged. Rays of silk fired at them like arrows, trying to pin them down as they fled but falling short. Acid sizzled against the ground releasing caustic white smoke.
These goddamn things are still chasing us?!
These unpleasant surprises continued to waylay them. The spiders didn’t let up, spitting corrosive silk at them from up to twenty or thirty meters away. Each shot was like it was fired from a gun, so the humans couldn’t slow even a little. They ran headfirst as fast as they could through the oasis.
Spiders kept on them, until…
Two cracks rang out from the darkness around trees, like a pair of muffled gunshots. The arachnids in pursuit hit the ground, dead. Cloudhawk fought through his surprise – judging from the sound the shots had to have come from far away. Was there anyone who could make a shot like that, from so far and through a forest?
“Snipers from the Greenland Outpost!”
“We made it!”
Another salvo rang out. Each crack of a gun being fired meant another spider was dead. Cloudhawk noted that more than being far, each shot was deadly. They entered the head and shot straight through the whole monster leaving a large hole behind.
Finally they broke off and disappeared into the brush. A short distance later Leonine was shouting out his identity to the marksmen.
Several men appeared. They sprang up from nowhere, covered in leaves and their faces smeared with camouflage to make them blend in expertly. More appeared from behind rocks and dropped from the trees above, equipped to tackle the forest and bearing sizeable guns.
In skill they were no less impressive than Blackflag Outpost’s elite squad, yet hundreds of times better equipped. There were only a handful of places in what was left of the world with the power to raise a force like this.
Greenland Outpost had power.
“Not a bad harvest this time, Leonine.” One of the jungle rangers, who appeared to be the leader, looked over those who had survived the forest. “Alright, let ‘em in.”
Clouhdawk didn’t understand. ‘Not a bad harvest’? What did he mean! Leonine had come across the wastes with nothing but them, twenty-odd foreigners.
Two of the jungle soldiers flanked their group with weapons half raised. They spoke harshly. “What the fuck are you dopes gaping about? In!”
For the first time Cloudhawk saw the large walls, choked with vines. The wall itself was the remnant from some ancient architecture, tall and thick like some kind of fortification. It kept most of the oasis terrors at bay.
When the Outpost spread out before him, Cloudhawk was absolutely floored by what he saw.
The center of the outpost was an ancient metropolis, its grace lost to time but still useful. Most of the buildings were still standing, though badly rusted, and were covered in moss and vines. In the gloomy evening the buildings cut out dark shapes against the sky, dense and somehow otherworldly. Through the darkness they could faintly see people bustling along the streets.
This outpost was built on the ruins of a bygone city. They used its foundations as their own to make a new settlement.
In terms of scale it was huge, at a minimum several times the size of Blackflag Outpost. Eighty percent of the place was arranged around the city where most of the population lived. A fifty or sixty meter tall building, with a four or five thousand square meter base, towered over the smaller structures like a titan.
Lights flickered inside, and it was a tower large enough that the whole Blackflag Outpost could fit inside.
It was called Greenland Fort and was situated in the center of the settlement with several other structures scattered around. A conservative estimate revealed there were perhaps forty to fifty thousand residents altogether.
“Hurry up, mutants!”
They were lead to a dig site in full operation, where a dozen or so burly mutants were combing through the remains. Occasionally they picked out some ancient tool or useful material.
Mutants lived in the Greenland Outpost? Most deformities made them quick to anger. Keeping them here was like living with ticking time bombs.
The Bloodsoaked Queen gave Cloudhawk a sharp slap. She had a strange look in her eye as she extended a finger. He followed where she was pointing to spy then stopped like he’d been struck by lightning. His eyes went wide as saucers, and a cold sweat sprang up all over his body.
A large, wasteland-style airship was moored to one side of Greenbelt Fort.
It was Cloudhawk’s fourth time seeing this vehicle.
The first time was after his first mission with the mercenaries, when they finished their task. The second was when these benefactors betrayed his former colleagues. Third was when Blackflag Outpost was overrun. The black-clad freak’s airship was here, before his eyes, and yet none of the Outpost’s people seemed bothered by it. What did this mean?
Did they brazenly walk into a trap? Did they slip the noose around their own necks?
Whatever else, if the airship was here then it meant there were sweepers nearby as well. But more importantly, they couldn’t ignore the possibility that their three mutant lieutenants could be around the next corner!
Cloudhawk spoke to her in a whisper. “It’s too dangerous here. We have to slip out fast as we can.”
As Cloudhawk was preparing to lead the Queen away a crowd of outpost soldiers rushed their way. Populated with humans and mutants, they quickly surrounded the group.
“Tie ‘em up!”
The twenty newcomers did not resist, even as iron shackles were fixed to their wrists.
“”This is a quality crop,” Leonine said to the leader. “Among the best survivors from out in the wasteland. The price –“
The guard leader cut him off with a grunt. His manner was gruff and abusive. “You don’t set the price. Bring ‘em inside first!”
“What are you doing?”
“Leonine, you fuck, are you selling me?!”
The wastelanders shouted in anger and disbelief. Suddenly Cloudhawk and the Bloodsoaked Queen understood why the grizzled old man would take such risks while apparently empty handed. His goods were with him all along – it was them!
This piece of shit was a slave trader!
Bang! One of the guards brought his fist down on a particularly vocal wastelander. “Don’t get outta line! Starting now you all are the property of Greenland Outpost. Slaves. If you start trouble I’ll personally waste your ass.”
Guns from the outpost guards were trained on the twenty freshly sold captives.
They were livid, horrified. After surviving the devil forest they were all exhausted, and couldn’t fight back even if they wanted to. These soldiers were well trained and even better equipped, leaving them no hope for escape!
“Take ‘em away, lock ‘em all up!”
With their shackles affixed the slaves were forced to waddle like ducks after their captors.
Cloudhawk and the Queen surveyed their situation with tightly knit brows. This outpost was much larger than the one they’d come from, so it was safe to assume skillful fighters were as common as clouds. If they tried to get away with no plan they weren’t going to get anywhere. Yet if they didn’t try to flee they would be slaves in a place that had some connection to the demon. Staying here was clearly very dangerous.
Run? Even if they could get away from their jailors where would they go? They hadn’t forgotten the terrors of the oasis all around them!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Here's the second chapter of today. Now we have a chapter for both of the past few days.