Chapter 70 - Sudden Changes

Ten years in the Wastelands had tempered Hydra. He had risen from being a useless scavenger to becoming an outpost ruler, but it was a long road. To make it this far he’d needed more than brute strength and luck. He had relied on his ambition, intelligence and keen awareness of the dangers around every corner.

On the cusp of entering the ruins Hydra hesitated. His intuition was warning him.

Danger lived in every corner of these dilapidated ruins. It came from deadly plants and animals, but now there was something else. It would be wise to wait for a moment and see what may be lying in wait.

“Brother!” Snaketooth made his way to Hydra and spoke anxiously with him. “What are you waiting for? Leonine and our troops have almost surrounded the sweepers, they’re completely absorbed with finding the demonhunters. Now is the best time to launch our sneak attack, if we wait any longer it’s going to cost us.”

Now was not the time for indecision. If Hydra was too slow to act the demonhunters and his most trusted men would be left on their own. They were capable fighters, but not capable enough to fend off nearly three hundred savage sweepers.

The bow was drawn, the arrow knocked – it was too late to call it off now.

Once the fight started it would serve nothing for Hydra to hide. Being overly cautious was more risky than charging ahead with everything they had. He had the advantage in numbers, and his men were among the best – he didn’t see how they could lose!

“Listen up!” Hydra cast aside his distracting thoughts, hopping up onto a boulder and addressing his warriors. “This fight is integral to the survival of our outpost. If we win, our home will finally belong to us. We will drown in food, water, and women. But if we lose we die together, to the last man, do you hear me? Losing is not an option!”

“Yeah!” Several shouts of agreement rose from the crowd.

“Onward!”

Hydra lead Snaketooth, Leonine, and his crack troops into the ruins, following a safe path laid out by his brother that would lead them to the rear of the sweeper company. With every step closer to their target the thirst for blood increased.

They could hardly be called human. They were more like a wolf pack with the scent of blood in their noses, hunting down their prey.

Hydra pushed everything else to the back of his mind. His every thought was consumed with destroying the sweepers, and the mutant bastards that led them!

Then a scene he hadn’t expected was unveiled before his eyes!

They came around a bend in the ruins leading to the ambush site, but instead of seeing what they expected they were met with the image of three hundred sweepers aiming guns their way. They looked to have been waiting.

Hydra felt his heart seize. “Snaketooth, what’s going on?”

There was no answer.

Crack!

A sense of impending danger flooded Hydra’s body as a sniper’s bullet whistled through the air from hundreds of meters away. Though he’d known something was off and his reactions were fast he still couldn’t avoid it entirely. He dodged to one side and the shot tore through his armor to embed itself in his abdomen.

A sniper!

Hydra’s face was painted with absolute shock, and deep in his eyes was incredulous disbelief. The sweepers didn’t have snipers, they could only have come from the outpost. The fifteen snipers had been chosen by his own brother who he trusted explicitly.

Then it was obvious. It must mean…

As Hydra dodged the assassin’s bullet Snaketooth pulled an envenomed blue dagger from its sheath. Like a bolt of lightning he lashed out, his dagger – toxic as his namesake – aimed at Hydra’s chest. 

“Snaketooth! You treacherous fuck!”

Anyone in the outpost could have betrayed him and Hydra would not have been surprised. Anyone except Snaketooth, his own brother.

How many times had they shared tragedy? Helped themselves through life and death situations? How many times had they escaped calamity together? 

Why? Why?!

Hydra’s first reaction wasn’t despair, but pain. He couldn’t believe it, or maybe he refused to believe it. The proof was before him; Snaketooth’s surprise attack was bearing down, his murderous intent revealed. There was no question about it, as his brother’s deadly weapon affirmed. A single nick from the envenomed dagger and he wasn’t leaving here alive.

“Snaketooth! Why?”

With a mad roar he ripped his saber free and knocked aside Snaketooth’s attack. As he hesitated to counterattack another stifling sense of jeopardy washed over him. A terrible breeze came up from behind that made him shudder.

Hydra felt the shadow falling over him before he saw it.

Leonine’s two-handed sword came from behind, with all of the slaver’s force behind it. The attack came from the side, chopping toward his waist in attempts to cut Hydra in half.

First the sniper, then Snaketooth in front and Leonine from behind. One sneak attack after the other, all in order to cut him down!

But Hydra was no simple man. He fended off Snaketooth’s deadly onslaught and was still able to swing his sword around to ward off Leonine’s strike. But in his haste he couldn’t get a tight grip on his weapon and the shock of the slaver’s blow tore the skin of his hands. He was hit so hard that he was knocked backward and hit the ground with bone-jarring force. Already Hydra was sorely wounded.

Everything happened in the space of a breath. Hydra’s crack troops were cast into turmoil, shocked by the sudden coup. Even these elite warriors were at a complete loss.

“You two…”

Leonine had betrayed him as well? Bastard! When?!

Hydra’s leverage over Leonine only worked because he knew the slaver had a weakness, a soft spot he could exploit. He thought he had Leonine well in hand, how could he even think of betrayal? Did he not care what happened to his wife and children?!

“Surprised? You were so sure you could manipulate people through their weaknesses, but you never imagined someone would use the same method on you.” Snaketooth’s sinister features broke into a smirk when he looked at Leonine. “It looks like your slave trader trusts me more in the end. After all once you’re gone, I will rule the Greenland Outpost and I will treat its people better than you ever did.”

“That’s why you betrayed me? So you could lead?”

Hydra, always so fierce and brutal, was like a child who’s last toy had been thrown away. He still couldn’t fathom if any of this was real. Why would his brother do this? Why would he?

“Think of it like this: Greenland Outpost is a jewel in the Wastelands, and any jewel comes at a price.” Fiery passion burned in Snaketooth’s dark eyes. “I swore my allegiance to the master years ago. I love you, brother… I really do. But your greed and ambition impede the master’s plan. The only option left is to bring you the death you deserve!”

His brother had been bought by that fucking demon coward! When did he steal my family from me!?

“What the fuck are you assholes gaping at?” Hydra roared. “Kill them! Kill all of them!”

Yet none of his warriors hurried to Hydra’s aid. Suddenly plumes of sand were kicked up from the ground, and amidst a tumultuous wind an enormous black silhouette emerged from behind one of the ruined buildings. 

It was an airship, black as night.

As it came around and pointed its broadside toward them the sound of its heavy guns whirring filled the air. It spat fire and bullets like an apocalyptic monsoon that swept over the tight-knight formation of warriors. In the blink of an eye dozens fell to the ground, screaming as hot led ripped through them.

The rest fled for cover and started to fire wildly.

“Kill them!”

Three hundred sweepers opened fire. Greenland Outpost’s greatest warriors were mowed down ruthlessly.

Crack!

Snipers began to fire again. Hydra pitched and rolled to avoid their bullets, but traded one danger for another.

From his left and right Snaketooth and Leonine caught him in a pincer attack. Leonine brought his sword down toward Hydra’s skull which Hydra knocked away one-handed. But the dual daggers of a treacherous snake were coming his way.

Hydra was forced to stagger backward.

Leonine came at him again with his enormous sword. Clang! The outpost leader was knocked several meters away.

Individually Snaketooth and Hydra were quite strong, and the two of them together were almost more than Hydra could handle. What’s more, snipers had him in their sights. All of the outpost’s snipers were control metahumans, masterful sharpshooters, so Hydra knew it was only a matter of time before one of them got him.

“So this is how you plan to kill me?” Hydra pulled the patch off of his head. His demon-like gleaming red eye fixed the two men with a glare. “You’re digging your own graves!”

Leonine scowled, brows knit tight. 

“Don’t worry.” Snaketooth knew his brother. “His right eye has night vision and can track bullets. But it doesn’t do well in the light.”

Hydra’s eye was not dissimilar to a snake’s or lizard’s. He could pick his prey out of pitch darkness and follow the fastest objects. These were Hydra’s greatest capabilities and he could rely on them to help him dodge the hail of bullets and track attacks so they would do the least damage possible.

Crack! Bang!

 Two more sniper shots, but Hydra nimbly dodged them both. He raised his sword then came at them like a force of evil.

“Close your eyes!”

Snaketooth pulled something out of his pocket and threw it. Leonine had just enough time to cover his face before whatever it was exploded in mid-air. A dazzling light like fireworks lit the area, so bright that it felt like a dagger in Hydra’s snake eye. He let out a shrill scream.

This was their chance!

Snaketooth, seizing the moment, rushed forward with his daggers aimed for his brother. Although Hydra was blinded he dodged out of instinct. One of the daggers missed his throat, but the other left a jagged wound along his chest.

Instantaneously Hydra felt his body start to numb. He knew his brother was a master of poisons – his despicable toxins were in his blood.

“Snaketooth!” He screamed all of his rage and sorrow. Hysterical he shouted, “You fucking disappointment! Die!”

Too fast! A steak of cold light – Hydra threw his sword and Snaketooth was too slow to get out of the way. It buried itself in the traitor’s chest, bursting out from his back and pinning him to the ground.

Crack!

Another sniper bullet tore into Hydra’s abdomen and burst out the other side – through and through. Hydra could feel the cold hand of death groping for him, closer by the moment. His plan was a complete failure. Without even thinking he turned and ran.

Leonine rushed to Snaketooth’s side to help him up, but the moment he saw the man’s wounds he knew he was beyond saving. 

Fuck! Leonine’s face darkened. He dropped Snaketooth and gave chase. 

Snaketooth’s eyes stared blankly at the ground while blood pooled beneath him. He hadn’t expected he’d be the one to lose. A bone-deep cold started from his limbs and crawled deeper in, and his mind grew hazy. All of a sudden it was like he was a boy again, hiding in a hole in the ground with his brother trying to escape the cold.

Ten years as a scavenger. Ten years of hardships and tragedy which the two of them faced together.

Misery, darkness, misfortune, cruelty… these plagues covered every corner of the Wastelands. They suffered all manner of torture and humiliation as they built their lives, promising to change everything.

The two brothers were tenacious, clinging to life and making themselves stronger. Over time they earned a reputation, earned status. They wielded power.

The elder brother had always been the stronger of the two. He was more driven and energetic, but also more cruel. As his power grew he lost more and more of his humanity and his mind became twisted. He never sensed him and his brother drifting apart.

Their nature had always been different. After Hydra lived through their hardships he was determined to revisit the torment on the wilds ten times over – a hundred times! He tortured slaves and did unthinkable things. He was a man mad with vengeance. Snaketooth wanted revenge, too. But what he wanted was to wipe out the things that made life hard, not add to them. The mysterious stranger saw that in him, that was why he approached Snaketooth in secret five years ago.

He adored the master’s strength and wisdom, subscribed to his ideals. In all the wastelands there was only one person who could change everything, and that was the master! This putrid world they’d inherited needed someone like the master to save it.

That’s why Snaketooth was determined to do whatever he was asked. He had no interest in leading the Outpost, a fact his poor brother would never understand. 

As death claimed Snaketooth he did not regret his actions. Only his failure.

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