The maids screamed and scattered in all directions.
Artemis stared dumbly at the blackened remains of what had been Hydra, whose limbs were frozen in a defensive posture. Tendrils of white smoke slithered from his wide open eye sockets and distended mouth. She couldn’t believe this was the way the tyrant of the outpost was fated to die.
Mantis frowned at the Queen. “Why?”
Her breathing was slightly rapid as she responded. “You don’t understand what it feels like to lose someone close. What he did disgusted me.”
“So you killed him for that?” Artemis wasn’t sure she’d heard correctly. Outside she’d mocked the slaver, then moments later she watched the Queen burn Hydra to a crisp. The contrast was a slap to the face. “Do you have any idea how important he was? Now that he’s dead there’ll be anarchy in the outpost. Who’s going to organize the forces when the enemy comes?”
The Bloodsoaked Queen didn’t think too deeply on it. Hydra had some skill, but one more or less of him wasn’t going to make any sort of difference. He’d lost his worth when she saw his hateful acts. So she killed him.
“The outpost has a new leader.”
“A new leader? The only people with the prestige and abilities to lead were Hydra and Snaketooth, and both of them are dead. Who the hell will lead?”
In one sentence the Queen shut Artemis up. She gaped at the demonhunter in disbelief. Artemis was probably one of the top three strongest in the outpost, but being a woman put her at a disadvantage. Only a woman with the overwhelming power of someone like the Queen would be able to overawe and tame a group of unruly wastelanders.
However, the situation right now was rather special. Hydra was dead, as was his brother and most of their best fighters. The ones that remained hadn’t been trusted by the brothers or were too weak. It seemed like maybe there really was a possibility for Artemis to assume leadership.
Artemis was at a loss. Everything was so sudden.
She voiced her doubts. “Won’t there be a problem if a woman leads? I’m not sure of my chances. Let’s forget about it!”
The Queen didn’t bother to argue with her. Artemis didn’t seem to quite realize the reality of the situation – she was going to do it, whether because she wanted to or because she had to. Artemis had quite the reputation here, and with the demonhunter’s backing anyone who challenged her would die. Why was she hesitating?
It was decided – no more discussion needed. The Queen required the power of the outpost to help her against the demon. He surely would come, but she didn’t know when. For now they had to get everything ready.
Mantis found three more panacea syringes in what used to be Hydra’s living quarters and gave one each to the Queen and Cloudhawk. Her wounds weren’t too serious and would be gone in a matter of days. For the boy, it was up to luck. Both his injuries were life threatening, and in fact he was only still alive because of his recovery abilities.
Panacea was a powerful regenerative agent, and Cloudhawk’s own capabilities were decent. The two effects together would compound and give him the best shot, so maybe there was hope. Whether or not he made it would be decided by fate.
Cloudhawk felt like he was falling through a dark abyss. He tumbled for what felt like an eternity, never reaching the bottom. Was this what death felt like? He felt his mind grow hazy, become more muddled by the second. He knew that when he lost consciousness he would never wake up again.
I can’t die! Not here, not now! There’s still so much I want to do!
He hadn’t taken revenge on the one who ordered his friends’ death. Mad Dog and Slyfox’s killer still roamed free. He hadn’t achieved his dream of leaving the wastelands, either. How could he die now? He was filled with defiance, an anger that burned away the confusion that threatened to consume his mind.
When his eyes shot open Cloudhawk found himself lying in pitch darkness. Eventually the haze cleared from his eyes and he looked out over a vast dark sea.
He tumbled into the water. Suddenly, an endless pressure closed in on him from all sides. It was so intense he was afraid he’d be crushed into pulp, both suffocating and excruciatingly painful.
Cloudhawk struggled, trying not to drown.
Suddenly a powerful consciousness appeared from the recesses of his mind. “Please focus your will!”
Cloudhawk felt like something wasn’t right. For some reason this place seemed familiar, like he’d been here before in a dream. He recalled meeting someone here, a mysterious stranger who claimed to be the previous owner of the stone Cloudhawk wore around his neck.
Of course he couldn’t forget it. Ever since then he’d been able to recognize and call on the resonance of relics. He’d been a typical scavenger who somehow was able to survive until now because of this power. Without that strange experience he’d have been ignored by the Queen – he’d likely be dead.
The profound and mysterious consciousness continued to speak through his mind. “Please focus your will!”
He didn’t understand what the voice was trying to say. All he could focus on was the intense pain, both from the crushing waters and the suffocating pressure. Together they threatened to shatter his psyche.
“Please focus your will!”
For the third time the voice pleaded with him. He couldn’t grasp what it meant when faced with this situation, so he did the only thing he could. He relaxed his whole body and calmed his mind.
A sense of ease came over him. The pressure and sensation of drowning melted away.
Cloudhawk then felt the waters infiltrating his body; through his eye sockets, his ears and every pore in his body. Things began to change, sensation running through his body that were familiar – just like last time.
But there was something different. Before the mysterious figure had injected him with the power directly, while this time Cloudhawk’s body drank it in of its own accord. Judging by the scope of his absorption it was a far greater volume now.
This was some kind of power transfer! Cloudhawk could feel it empowering his psychic energy, making it surge!
The mysterious stranger locked his consciousness in the stone and Cloudhawk was able to resonate with it. Because of this he was able to inherit the stranger’s power – only, there was far too much of it. It felt vast as an ocean, endlessly stretching in every direction. It proved that when he was alive this stranger had to have been even stronger than the Bloodsoaked Queen!
Someone this strong had to have been a famous figure. What was his background?
Cloudhawk could sense that whoever he was considered himself a failure and wanted Cloudhawk to finish what he started. But Cloudhawk found the thought curious. If someone as strong as this mysterious man had failed, what made him think a kid like Cloudhawk could succeed?
It was all too convoluted, too strange, too mysterious.
Cloudhawk pushed these distracting thoughts from his mind. His body was consumed with a sudden tearing pain which he knew meant he’d reached his limit.
The vast sea disappeared. His consciousness returned.
The first thing he felt when he opened his eyes was intense pain. It was an anguish that wracked his whole body, and just below it a maddening itch that wouldn’t go away. Cloudhawk pulled up his clothes to survey the damage and found his wounds were stitched. He could tell by the sutures Mantis had done it.
They’d won. Fuckin’ a!
The pain and itching both came from his healing injuries. Pain was obvious, since there wasn’t much in the Wastelands that acted like an anesthetic. If you got hurt out here you gritted your teeth and bore it.
As for the itching, it was a reaction from the panacea. It increased healing by more than a factor of ten – a wound that would likely take ten days to heal was fully recovered in one. The intense itch was from skin, muscle and bone knitting back together at break-neck speed. Altogether it was worse than agonizing.
Panacea wasn’t perfect and was intended to be used with antipruritics and nutrient supplements. These days, however, supplies were limited. Such impressive medicines were gone, so having the panacea alone was the best they could do.
There were two primary side effects.
The first was the itching, which could get so bad it drove some sufferers insane. In the old days anti-itch medications were a requirements because most normal people couldn’t stand it.
The second was the strain it put on the victim’s body. Panacea itself didn’t have any regenerative benefits; in fact, it was just a powerful steroid hormone. Agents within it stirred the latent potential of every cell to instigate recovery. Using too much of it was like trying to squeeze the last bit of water from a dry sponge. The victim drew too much from their own body and it ultimately reduced life expectancy. To prevent this it used to be paired with nutrient supplements.
Cloudhawk didn’t know any of this. He was focused on the intense hunger and the sound of his angry bowels, probably due to the strain put on his body’s healing factor. He struggled mightily to get out of bed, then hunted down one of the maidservants and told her to prepare a large table of food. Whatever they had, everything the outpost could offer. He thought he deserved a big meal, to help him recover quickly.Previous Chapter Next Chapter