Cloudhawk engorged himself on food and drink, using the nutrients to help his wounds recover faster. At the current rate he figured he’d be back to normal in three days. While the panacea certainly helped, his rapid recovery was mostly due to his own regenerative abilities.
In the midst of his meal Cloudhawk could hear boots approaching.
A lithe and beautiful woman appeared, short of hair and stature but very well proportioned. She wore no armor and her chest was concealed by nothing more than a tube top that left her enticing abdomen bare to the eye. The ample protrusions in front caught many eyes, as did her leather-wrapped rump. Her pants were skin tight and outlined every curve of her powerful legs – not long, not short, but well sculpted.
Artemis wasn’t as beautiful of face as the Bloodsoaked Queen, but the demonhunter had been born in the elysian lands. Her family was respected and affluent, and she had been given the best growing up. Artemis, on the other hand, was a wild woman from a wild place. She was a wastelander, through and through. The two ladies had led very different lives, and from the eyes of a wastelander Artemis was a rare and incredible specimen.
“Well, well… I didn’t think little brother was going to make it – or that he could eat like this. No wonder I have an eye for you, eh?”
She wrapped him in a hug.
One might expect a hug from a beautiful woman to be a pleasant experience, but she snatched him up with all the force of a grizzly bear. Far from appreciative, Cloudhawk’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull and his neck nearly snapped. He slapped her arms, entreating mercy. “Let go. Lemme go!”
“Sorry, sorry – I got excited. You alright?” Her words were apologetic but her face told a different story. She released Cloudhawk and pressed a hand to his cheek. “I want to tell you some good news. From now on I’m the leader of this outpost!”
The news surprised him. “What about Hydra?”
She rolled her eyes at his stupid question. If Hydra was alive, how could she lead? Speaking of Hydra, she was reminded of something the Bloodsoaked Queen had ordered. “Are you full? Come with me, we’re taking a visit to the dungeon. We’ve got to let someone out.”
As they traversed the fort – and in fact the whole outpost – Cloudhawk could hear the sounds of battle. Everything seemed chaotic, and neither the Queen nor Mantis were anywhere to be found. Presumably they were out dealing with those rebelling against Hydra’s replacement.
Artemis wobbled unsteadily as they walked the streets, favoring her bandaged leg and shoulder. She couldn’t help clean up the rioters in her condition. Instead they made their way to the dungeons and stopped in front of one of the cages therein.
When Cloudhawk saw who it was he was both perplexed and curious. They gradually gave way to astonishment. “This is Leonine? What the hell happened?”
The last time he’d seen him the slaver was a bearded, stalwart veteran, deadly as a lion. The man before him now was completely different. His eyes were sunken and dull, his hair had all gone white. He sat there like a husk, with no spirit to speak of. He seemed to have aged forty years overnight, and the man in the cage looked like a walking corpse waiting to rot away.
That tenacious, stout warrior had completely disappeared. The person he was now was all-but a lifeless corpse.
Artemis approached him and unlocked his shackles. “Sorry, I guess I forgot you were in here. I’m sure you already heard that the demonhunter killed Hydra. So, you’re free – off you go!”
Leonine’s legs were mostly useless. Hydra had severed his tendons, turning him into a cripple. But even if he was completely healthy, all reason for him to live had been taken away. That made him no different from a complete cripple. He lifted his withered face and stared at the two of them as though through a haze. A hoarse voice croaked through his mouth. “My wife? My children?”
Thirty minutes later…
Three grave mounds had appeared in front of the outpost. They’d been made with dirt and stone, humble resting places no one would recognize. But they were the product of Leonine’s own hands, and the effort turned his already mangled appendages into bloody messes. He didn’t seem to feel pain – or feel anything at all. His face never changed all throughout the process.
Three unrecognizable bodies were interred within.
Cloudhawk remembered a passage about funerals from the ancient books. He found three candles and placed one before each body. Their tiny flames flickered valiantly in defiance of death. Their tiny rebellion was touching.
Leonine knelt before the graves, staring dumbly at the lights.
The candlelight fought off the encroaching darkness, like a border between life and death. In their dim light Leonine thought he could see familiar figures, hear familiar voices.
“Daddy, you said that I’m a man. I have to protect my mom and my sister!”
“Brother and mommy are always being bullied by bad men. You have to stay, daddy.”
“I don’t feel bad. Honest I don’t…”
“It doesn’t matter what happens… I believe in you!”
Leonine’s face twisted into strange expressions, somewhere between wanting to cry and laugh. He muttered to himself, face covered in tears, unable to separate the real from the imagined. He’d lost his mind.
“Look at that poor bastard. He’s gone nuts.” She could hardly look at him, and though she made no effort to keep her voice low Leonine didn’t seem to hear. “He helped make me leader. We should help.”
Cloudhawk knew what she meant. He thrust out with the sharp end of his exorcist staff and pushed it through the back of Leonine’s neck. The drill point slipped out from the base of his throat on the other side and his steaming blood spilled out over the graves. Their spray extinguished the three tiny candles.
A few minutes later a fourth grave had been dug.
It was situated in front of the other three, like a staunch protector against the wind and rain. Leonine would protect them in death as he tried to do in life. Cloudhawk and Artemis had left, leaving the graves alone with no markings or tombstones. No one would remember them or the torture they’d suffered.
Leonine had been the definition of a wastelander. Countless graves marking countless stories like his were strewn across the blasted lands. The world was like a callous and indifferent bystander, watching the tragedy that was life and humanity play out its sad stories.
Artemis hobbled back toward the fort and asked, “Do you think people need faith?”
“Of course!” Cloudhawk answered her with a serious expression. He looked at her. “Everyone has faith. I do, the Queen does, even the sweepers. It was the same for Leonine and Hydra. It’s how we know we’re alive, you can’t survive without it.”
“So what do you believe in?” She asked. “Can you tell me?”
Cloudhawk had nothing to hide. “I have faith I’ll leave the wastelands. I want to see the rest of the world, find a place where there isn’t any killing or pain. I want to find a paradise somewhere without schemes.”
Artemis clicked her tongue. “Is there such a place? Quit fuckin’ dreaming! I never had my head in the clouds, is that living? People like you are just senseless, you need to get over yourself.”
Cloudhawk was in a sour mood. He didn’t bother with her anymore.
Three days of recovery passed. By now Cloudhawk’s wounds were mostly healed and he could get around without any pain or impediment. The young scavenger thought about his near-death experience, the power he’d found within the stone that was funneled into him.
Unless he was mistaken, he should be stronger than ever now.
He began by practicing the postures of the demonhunters that the Queen had taught him. He’d managed to get to number twelve before having to stop. This confirmed his guess that the stone hadn’t improved him physically, only mentally. The next question was how much had his psychic energy developed?
Cloudhawk covered himself in his invisibility cloak and channeled his psychic energy through it. Almost immediately he resonated with it, summoning its powers. A vibration thrummed and spread out through the area, causing the light to warp. Then he disappeared.
It was different! Completely different!
Using the cloak now didn’t feel draining to him at all, even after maintaining it for more than ten seconds. He also sensed immediately that he was faster and more buoyant.
Extrapolating by what he’d experienced, Cloudhawk figured he’d been using twenty percent of what the cloak could do before. Now maybe it was closer to forty percent. Whereas before the longest he could stay hidden was twelve seconds, now he could maintain the relic for several minutes.
Judging from how the Queen used relics – especially the phoenix gourd – one could understand how a relic worked. Specifically, they relied on the power of the bearer. The more psychic energy the Queen poured into the gourd, the more powerful was the phoenix she summoned. When she was weakened the phoenix was correspondingly weaker.
That was the relationship between demonhunters and their relics.
In the hands of the legendary demonhunters even the simplest relics could summon earth-shaking power. Give a rookie demonhunter the mightiest relic in the world and he wouldn’t be able to use it. He’d be better off with an exorcist staff.
Cloudhawk could see that his psychic powers had improved considerably.Previous Chapter Next Chapter