An intense feeling of danger woke Cloudhawk from his sleep. Something wasn’t right.
The discomfort was more intense than ever. It felt as though even his spirit trembled, like an instinctual fear of some ultimate predator. Cloudhawk felt like he could be swallowed up by the terror any moment.
Tonight was the night!
He snatched up his exorcist staff and leapt out of bed. In the same instant a thick energy hung over the whole outpost – like the seeds of a dandelion were blanketing the whole world, or musical strings invisible to the eye. From somewhere nearby the pulses of a powerful psyche rippled around him, each wave different.
The demon! He was here!
Cloudhawk was certain because it wasn’t the first time he’d sensed this presence. He felt it in the distance when the Blackflag Outpost had been attacked, just before the tornado of sand toppled its walls. He was back now, and close.
Cloudhawk could even sense his precise location. This meant the demon wasn’t watching from afar – had he final lost patience? Was he taking matters into his own hands?
Cloudhawk pulled open a window and was immediately blasted in the face by a gust of sandy wind. He winced against its intrusion, which confirmed his suspicions. The demon had to be in the camp. A dust storm like this came from the wastelands, they didn’t just appear here spontaneously. The demon had to have used some strange power to create it.
The abilities of demons and demonhunters were very similar. Both used relics of power to create supernatural phenomena. Cloudhawk had no way of knowing what this relic was, but he could speculate about how it was used.
Cloudhawk had traversed dimensions twice, and each time he could sense the essence of whatever reality he visited. Everything – from the water, wood, metal, stone – everything had a certain ‘vibration.’ Because this resonance was unique their manifestation in the physical world was different. The resonance organized atoms and molecules into specific shapes that appeared to them as water, wood, metal and so forth.
Thus a power that could affect resonance could alter that thing’s fundamental properties. Earth could become iron, gold could change to water. Anything could be realized by manipulating this power. Of course normal humans could not observe or access this power, and only through the miraculous effects of relics were able to manipulate resonance.
So this sand wasn’t natural, it didn’t come from the wastelands. The demon spread it through the air with his power, changing the constitution of the wind and reorganizing atoms  to create sand. Hence, seemingly from nowhere, the sandstorm arose. The level of power it required was nothing short of fantastic, and though Cloudhawk had never encountered the demon he could tell by his handiwork that he had to be even stronger than the Bloodsoaked Queen!
“Has the coward finally showed its face?” After Cloudhawk tracked down the Queen and let her know her eyes were filled with a terrifying cold. Her hands were curled into fists and suddenly it felt like the air was boiling. She’s been hunting this beast for a year; a whole year of waiting, of enmity, finally culminating in this moment. “I’m going to kill him!”
“Slow down!” Cloudhawk blocked her path and tried to calm her down. “You can’t just rush out, I can tell he’s no weakling. Just throwing yourself at him is too dangerous. We have to come up with a plan.”
The Queen stared at him through her hideous mask. “What is there to think about? None of you can help me in this task. Don’t get in my way!”
Artemis agreed, she felt it was time to act. “If we don’t act now the outpost could be destroyed.”
Blackflag Outpost’s bane and the murderer of Mad Dog and Slyfox had been difficult to flush from hiding. Cloudhawk also wanted him to pay for his crimes, but was a handful of humans enough?
Mantis, who until now had remained silent, added his quiet voice to the discussion. “He’s only one person, and no matter how strong everyone has their limits. We can keep sending people at him until he’s exhausted.”
Artemis reacted by stomping forward in a rage, grabbing him and lifting him off his feet. “Are you suggesting we just sacrifice the outpost’s people!?”
The assassin hung in her grip. His expression never changed, and delivered his words in detached and frigid tones. “That’s how we survive. Otherwise, nothing will stop him. Better them than you – is that not so?”
Artemis fell silent. Everyone was quiet. Mantis’ method was to throw lives at the demon. Logically it was the most effective course of action – force the demon to waste his psychic energy on lowly soldiers and once his abilities were exhausted the Queen could mop up. It was a reasonable strategy.
“The sweepers didn’t have much time to prepare. Unless my guess is wrong, there shouldn’t be too many of them.” Mantis continued in his deathly cold voice, “Otherwise they wouldn’t have hidden in the oasis for so long, trying to keep us in the dark. The outpost has an advantage in numbers. This is now a battle of attrition.”
Artemis considered his words and found that Mantis had a point. Although she didn’t agree with throwing lives at the demon, she also didn’t want them all to be destroyed by a single encounter with the fiend. She answered, “We’re gonna throw everyone we have at them!”
A piercing whistle arose from everywhere, alarms that announced sweepers were breaching the walls. Their locations meant the enemy wasn’t coming from one location but many, creeping through the sand and darkness to attack from all around. It was a tactic used to confound the defenders so that they could not know how many there were, or which direction the main force was attacking from.
Cloudhawk called out without any further thought, “The demon is to the east.”
Artemis nodded. “Alright, then we ignore the other alarms. Concentrate our forces to the east, I’ll lead them myself to deal with this so-called demon!”
Greenland Outpost’s regular troops numbered in the thousands, and if they conscripted everyone who could fight that number rose to almost ten thousand strong. Given enough time to prepare, no force in the wasteland could stop a legion like that no matter how strong this demon was.
But no sooner had Artemis made her decision than one of the outpost soldiers stumble into the room. “Shit’s gone off the rails, boss! The east flank’s getting crushed, we can’t stop ‘em!”
Artemis’ face darkened. “What are you saying? Where’s the enemy?”
The soldier stuttered through his report. “I-if they keep this p-pace up, they’ll b-be at the fort a-any minute.”
Her face fell. Artemis knew this mob of sweepers would be strong, but she didn’t expect them to be this overwhelming. She made a quick change to their strategy. “Shut the fort’s gates and call back the rest of the soldiers. We make our stand here!”
The night was doomed to chaos. Biting winds whipped through the outpost, and sand blotted out the sky like waves crashing on the settlement. Light from the moon and stars disappeared and all outpost’s braziers were extinguished. Everything was plunged into a darkness so complete no one could see their hands in front of their faces. But soldiers could see the inky shadows of the sweepers, darker than the night, moving their way.
“Fire! Now, fire!”
As the soldiers prepared a volley the sand-saturated wind was gathered together by some inexplicable power. All of a sudden the sand turned to spears and the wind cut sharp as blades, racing through the darkness. The soldiers had no way to know where they were coming from.
One of the sand-spears tore through a defender’s chest.
An intangible cutting wind opened another’s throat.
The soldier tried to scream but only managed to spray blood all around. One by one the doomed fighters fell to the ground, dead. The din of hundreds of footsteps closed in – the returning soldiers, who met the enemy and their leader head on while on their way to the fort.
The quality of the air changed. The countless granules floating in the wind became like flecks of iron gathered together by an invisible magnet. They coalesced into an enormous figure that began to take on a humanoid shape. A head, eyes, arms, legs, a body…
A giant of sand eighty feet tall appeared in less than twenty seconds. It was composed of yellow grit, covered by a cracked shell that covered it from head to toe. Sand issued from the fissures and spread out all around like a fine mist.
It was so large that the humans who stood before it were like insects!
Who among the soldiers had ever seen something as terrifying and fantastical as this? Though it was like facing a nightmare the defenders instinctively fired at it, to no avail. Arrows and bullets tore chunks out of the creature, but the sand was simply swallowed back up and the holes patched closed. It didn’t matter how much firepower they leveled at the titan, it made no difference.
The sand colossus’ eyes glowed scarlet red. Ever so slowly it raised its right hand then brought it down with earth-shuddering force. Spikes of sand jutted up from the ground and impaled dozens of the defenders, killing them instantly.
It was horrifying to behold! It was like the power of a god! How could any normal person defeat such a creature?
The outpost soldiers threw down their weapons and fled in all directions. The colossus paid them no mind as it trundled toward the fort’s entrance. Each footfall made the ground shake, and when it arrived the creature threw wide its arm and wrapped the fort in a crushing embrace. A terrifying scene emerged.
A strange power issued from within the sand titan that permeated the stones of the fort. The sturdy granite dissolved into sand and fell away. Everywhere the monster touched it was like the stone was being weathered by time and the elements, only instantly. Huge sections of wall crumbled apart and exploded into particles of sand once they hit the ground.
The humans looked on in shock and terror. The fort was Greenland Outpost’s oldest and staunchest structure. It had persisted for thousands of years, firm against the trials of time and weather. It had become a symbol of safety and the haven so many desperately dreamed of. Caught in the grip of this monster, through some power no man or woman could fathom, they were forced to watch as bit by bit it eroded to nothing. Bit by bit their dream was being destroyed.
1. The author originally wrote molecules, but he’s wrong. The molecular structure of sand is mainly composed of silicon dioxide. While you can get two molecules of oxygen from air, you can’t magic silicon – its own element – out of nothing. I’m no chemist but I imagine to do that you have to change the atomic composition of another molecule and restructure it into silicon by stealing electrons and reorganizing them. So I changed it to atoms.