Chapter 63 - Escaping the Dungeon

Cloudhawk couldn’t be bothered to guess at Hydra’s motives. After using the sword of holy light, the Bloodsoaked Queen had no more energy to spare for fighting. They couldn’t exactly rely on Cloudhawk alone to cut a path to back from where they had just fled, right? There were no better options. They had to take this risk. Cloudhawk helped the Queen along as the two of them disappeared into the darkness of the ruined sewers.

Hydra paid them no mind. His attention was fixed on Leonine.

The slaver turned and sprinted down another pipe.

He hadn’t been in the Greenland Outpost long, so he didn’t know much about Hydra. However, he had to assume that if the cyclops led the outpost he would be a problem to face in combat. Wastelanders only respected strength. He wouldn’t rule this place if he wasn’t the strongest and most skilled.

Hydra had shown what he was capable of in his bout against the demonhunter. Leonine was definitely no match for him!

Flee! Find the demon’s lieutenants! They could definitely handle Hydra!

Hydra grinned a dark, sadistic grin, like a cat watching a mouse struggle moments before death.

Leonine tore down the narrow pipe, but footsteps rang off the metal hall like a hurricane from behind. Hydra caught up faster than Leonine could have believed. Despair filled him.

In a matter of moments Hydra had gone from stationary to fifty or sixty kilometers an hour. Even in these twisting narrow quarters he wasn’t slowed down at all. He charged, like a raging bull, right for the despairing slaver.

Turn! Leonine suddenly flung himself through an opening on his left. Hydra was going too fast, maybe he wouldn’t be able to turn in time.

But as Leonine pushed himself as fast as he could go, Hydra’s silhouette appeared in the opening. His steel boots clanged against the ancient pipes as he ran along the wall at a ninety-degree angle to the floor for four or five paces. Every pounding step left fissures and fractures in their wake.

He launched himself through the air, drawing his sword. The tell-tale sound of steel on leather filled the air as Hydra’s blade reached for Leonine.

The slaver lifted his hefty saber to block the blow and sparks lit up the darkness. He didn’t wait around to keep up the fight, changing directions again after deflecting Hydra’s deadly attack. Now he was running blindly through a pathway completely void of light.

His enemy was strong, but if he couldn’t see his target he couldn’t use that strength.

“Heh heh heh… you’re a sly one. Good reaction times.” Hydra reached up and pulled off the patch hiding his right eye. The orb wasn’t useless, but mutated – the pupil was slit like a snake’s or lizard’s and glowed with red light. “But it’s nothing more than someone struggling on his deathbed.”

His eye wasn’t just mutated, he’d also cultivated its abilities. The eye was sensitive to light and couldn’t be relied on during the day, so he hid it behind the patch. In the darkness, however, the eye sensed heat. Even in darkness Leonine was too weak, too slow.

How could he get away?

A smear of fresh red blood splattered down the hall.

Leonine yelled and fell to the ground, clutching a deep wound. Hydra’s slice cut through two layers of protective clothing and left a nasty gash behind. The snake-eyed hunter didn’t pause and lashed out again like lightning. His lithe blade was like the poisoned fang of a cobra.

Leonine’s mind went blank as death loomed over him. Only one thought screamed through his brain – what happens to them if I die?

“W-wait! Don’t kill me!”

Leonine knelt upon the ground in defeat. Was this rugged and majestic veteran groveling on his knees? Hydra hadn’t taken Leonine for the sort!

When Leonine didn’t feel the kiss of Hydra’s blade he spoke again. “I got no interest in fightin’ ya. My daughter’s sick… real sick. I had to do this! If you promise to look after my girl then my life is yours. I’ll be your dog, anything you ask. Killin’ me ain’t gonna earn you nothin’!”

Leonine’s daughter?

The slaver’s plea touched him, albeit only a little. Leonine was new to the outpost but it was clear he was useful, a man of skill. Hydra had heard tell of the slaver’s story before. Reputedly, it was his family that brought him to the Greenland Outpost in the first place. He’d been skeptical of the story, for who cared about kin like that in this day and age?

Leonine, as strong and dignified as he looked, prostrated himself before Hydra and pressed his head to the ground. “I’ll do whatever you ask, just save my girl! I’m beggin’ ya, I can’t die now!”

How interesting… Hydra slowly returned his sword to its scabbard.

His Greenland Outpost was strong, stronger than the Blackflag Outpost had been. Yet though it was much stronger in total, Greenland Outpost only had roughly ten people with skills comparable to Leonine. Blackflag Outpost, though small, had five or so. Wastelanders who lived long enough to get this skilled were prideful and difficult to control. Leonine was particularly able and yet he had a clear soft spot. He was precisely the kind of person Hydra could use.

 “Very well, I accept your life.” His right eye shimmered with a dangerous red light, like the eye of a demon. He sized up the slaver kneeling before him. “If you betray me in any way I’ll make you regret having ever lived. You know who I am, and here in the outpost no one can protect you from me.”

Leonine didn’t have to imagine how much influence Hydra held.

He was afraid of the demon’s henchmen, but here in the outpost if there was someone Hydra wanted dead, there was no stopping him. Leonine put the fate of himself and his family in Hydra’s hands – no different than selling his soul. It was the only way to keep breathing.


***


Cloudhawk helped the Bloodsoaked Queen along as they followed the path laid out by Hydra.

It was so dark they couldn’t see an inch in front of their noses. With what little energy was left to her the Queen summoned a miniscule phoenix that followed them. The fiery bird’s luminescence lit their path and allowed them to examine their situation.

The Queen’s condition had been improving but the battle for their life had weakened her once again. Her willpower was like steel – were she anyone else the tribulations she’d suffered would have put her in the ground – however she was still finding it difficult to push on. Fighting was out of the question.

Suddenly the sounds of screams ran through the pitch-black cavern.

 Anxiety was clear in Cloudhawk’s voice. “You go first!”

The road to freedom was like wandering through a dark mist. Burning motes of red were interspersed within it and closing in.

Cloudhawk swung his staff at one, striking it and sending whatever the creature was smashing into a wall. He saw it clearly then, a winged thing about half a meter long with sharp talons and scarlet eyes.

Mutant bats!

When the tide of mutant beasts had attacked the Blackflag Outpost he’d seen what a swarm of these monsters could do. He hadn’t thought he’d encounter them here, beneath the Greenland Outpost.

That horrid night was still fresh in his mind, when the fiends of the wastelands came looking for blood. These creatures were smaller but there were dozens of them. More than Cloudhawk could handle on his own.

He heard the Queen’s rasping voice in front of him. “I see an exit!”

Two hundred meters away a shaft of moonlight pierced the darkness. Cloudhawk felt a surge of vitality, Hydra had told them the truth after all.

“Go ahead, I’ll hold them off!”

He gripped the exorcist staff tight in his right hand, waving it to fend off bats that got too close. He pointing the handgun in his left hand and, firing randomly into the darkness, managed to hit several of the bats. They kept coming but the smell of blood sent the other bats into a frenzy. In a blink the mutants fell upon their own and tore them to shreds like a pack of starving devils.

They were unthinkably ferocious, bloodthirsty! It was appalling to behold.

It didn’t take long for Cloudhawk to run out of bullets, and though he managed to kill a few, more bats were coming all the time. Their numbers continued to swell. Several got passed him and headed right for the Queen, for she was bleeding and the scent fomented their ravenous hunger.

She sent the phoenix of fire at one and set it alight, but there were four or five more closing in.

Cloudhawk called the power of his cloak and suddenly air and gravity ceased to restrain him. He leapt forward at full speed like a blast of wind, lashing out with his staff upon reaching the Queen and knocking away two more bats. He didn’t stop to deal with the rest and instead dragged her toward the exit.

Finally, they’d escaped!

It was night and the bats poured out of the cavern like a lethal cloud, circling overhead ominously. Their sudden and violent appearance startled Greenland personnel and several shots could be heard as they fired into the flock.

Meanwhile Cloudhawk continued to draw on the cloak’s power, making them faster. He frantically searched for somewhere safe where they could hide.

“I found them!”

An errant sweeper team combing the area had picked them out. There were more than ten of them armed with axes and crossbows. Like a swarm of bees they descended on the two demonhunters.

Cloudhawk glowered at them and the situation they faced. “Mother fucker! These twisted pieces of shit are everywhere!”

Experienced killers with close and long ranged weapons encircled them leaving Cloudhawk no way to escape or fight back. Their only option was to find cover.

The sweepers were dark shapes in the moonlight, deadly shadows that surrounded their prey and started closing in.

However they were so fixated on their victims that they missed the unassuming figure behind them. Like the specter of death it soundlessly approached, the glint of a dagger in hand.

Without so much as a whisper the silhouette buried its dagger in a sweeper’s spine. The hunter crumpled to the ground, having lost all ability to move. Before he could scream a calloused hand clamped his mouth shut and cold steel opened his throat.

Ruthless, swift, and efficient. The figure carefully slid the corpse onto the ground.

A second and then a third were silenced by the dagger-wielding shadow – dead without a sound. Whoever the murderous shadow was they appeared and vanished through the night, each corpse left behind slain by a different method.

Eventually the sweepers knew something was wrong when they heard fewer footsteps. The ones in front looked behind and saw five of their brethren dead, throats cut and bubbling blood.

They stared in horrified shock. There were only corpses and no killers. Who was the culprit? Five of their companions were dead without warning and in a matter of seconds!

One of the sweepers stumbled backwards a few steps. “Look out!”

The sting of a dagger severed his spine and no more words were spoken. 

“Over here!”

Sweepers spotted the assassin and almost by instinct fired their weapons. The killer used the body of their dead comrade as a meat shield to absorb the bullets and arrows, leaving this mysterious shadow unscathed. A pair of daggers whistled through the night.

Ahh!”

Ugh!

Two shouts. Two more sweepers collapsed.

What was left of the sweeper team raced forward, equal parts surprised, afraid and enraged. But by the time they got to the corpse the assassin had used for cover, they were gone.

Sssshhhht!

Another fell clutching an open throat. And another, with a dagger in its neck.

Fear descended on the sweepers, filling them with terror. Their assailant was death incarnate come to take them in the night. Scared witless they ran to look for help.

Cloudhawk was hiding behind a boulder. He saw the whole scene unfold.

A silhouette emerged from the darkness, not large or particularly imposing, to stand before him. He was Asian, dressed in ragged clothing and pale of face. His expression was a mask of indifference, though the scent of death hung over him like a cloud. Moonlight glinted off his dagger.

Cloudhawk looked back, eyes wide with shock. “Mantis, is that you? What are you doing here?!”

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