Chapter 87 - Vanquished

The Bloodsoaked Queen didn’t let up her attack. She swept through like a deadly wind, never in one place for more than a moment. Cutting blades of sand continuously shot at her, and though the demonhunter’s reactions had slowed she was able to dodge out of the path of danger and keep herself safe.

The Queen ran her left hand along the blade of her weapon. In its passage the burning angels sizzled, saturating the metal with energy and causing it to glow red hot. The air around it warped from the heat.

Blazing light hung in the air where the blade passed. It whipped around, following the movement of her body.

Her blade plunged into the sand colossus’ shoulder and she whipped around in a spiral. In no more time than it took to gasp, the beast’s thick arm was severed from its body and crashed onto the ground. The wound that was left behind was a scalding red and the sand had fused together.

This attack had finally done some damage. The sand colossus couldn’t recover its limb as quickly from a melted gash, giving the humans a little bit of breathing room.

By now the Queen’s sword had cooled and the damage to it became apparent. The metal was coarse and blackened from the burning angels. Her relic could infuse a blade with more lethal properties but clearly came at a cost.

She couldn’t keep up the fight!

She leapt through the air like a sparrow in elegant freefall. From a hundred feet or so high the fall wouldn’t kill her, but if she hit the ground without any sort of support she could be gravely wounded.

She continued to somersault through the air.

Moments before the hard ground came up to meet her, the Queen planted her sword into the wall of the fort to break her fall. It curtailed her momentum and she landed safely within the fort. Meanwhile the hundreds of soldiers who had arrived to help defend gaped at her dramatic and agile display.

The demonhunters certainly earned their reputations! Even without a weapon she was a whole other class from Hydra. The Queen really was a one-of-a-kind warrior!

Grains of sand continued to gather, the colossus’ arm began to repair itself. The Bloodsoaked Queen watched with knitted brows.

Fighting this giant thing was draining her psychic energy. She’d approached the monster with the intent to use only a moderate amount of her abilities, so that she could face her real enemy with the bulk of her strength. But so far it seemed her efforts were in vain.

Her chest rose and fell with gentle gasps – combat at this level was exhausting. If this kept up she wouldn’t have enough energy to spare for the demon. Her powers were running out.

Behind her a dozen of soldiers were pushing the fort’s ballista into place. Under Artemis’ direction it was placed behind a gap in the fort’s walls.

Cloudhawk was among the soldiers. He called out to the Queen when he spotted her. “The monster’s being powered by a relic, your attacks aren’t doing anything. We have to find its weak point!”

Meanwhile Artemis was loading the ballista with a seven-foot long spear made entirely from iron. “Wind it up!” She ordered.

A soldier answered her in a desperate voice. “Boss, the winch is broken!”

The ballista’s spring was reinforced wasteland wyrm tendon, no ordinary man could stretch it alone. The winch was designed to do the work for them, but whether from disuse or mishandling they discovered this integral piece wasn’t functioning.

“This fuckin’ piece of junk. Move!” Artemis shoved the two people in front of her to the side and gripped the tendon with her own two hands. The coarse material of the wyrm tendons tore the skin on her hands, but with the veins of her forehead bulging she kept struggling. Inch by inch, she pulled the string in place.

The Queen failed to see how the ballista could do anything. “How is that shoddy thing going to help?”

Cloudhawk aimed the cross-shaped ballista, staring down the shaft of the black bolt toward the sand colossus. “I can feel the relic. It’s hidden in the monster’s chest – that’s how we kill it. Help me!”

The consolidated granules that made up the colossus’ body made for an effective defense. If he wanted to strike true he needed the Queen’s help.

She thought for a moment, then shouted back. “Alright!”

By now the sand colossus’ arm and head had reformed. Silently it lifted its giant fist, gathering even more of its strength in preparation for a fatal blow. Nearby soldiers quailed at the knowledge that this beast was planning to tear down the fort with its bare hands!

Just as the colossus was reeling back for the blow, a column of fire belched from a fissure in the fort’s walls. The flames danced through the air like it had a life of its own, until eventually it coalesced into the form of ten-foot long phoenix.

The sand colossus had some measure of intelligence, or at least was being controlled by someone who did. When the phoenix appeared it held back its assault.

The phoenix screeched at it, a loud and resounding cry of challenge! It’s mighty and grandiose appearance awed and frightened every eye.

The bird spread its fiery wings wide and streaked across the air like an asteroid. In preparation for the impact the sand colossus began to gather sand toward its chest, thickening it and sharply improving its defense.

Under the Queen’s control the phoenix began to corkscrew through the air as it charged at the colossus, ultimately ramming into the beast like a flaming drill. Despite its enormous size the torrent of fire forced the beast back, overwhelmed by the energy brought to bear against it by the phoenix. A pit was carved out through its thick chest.

Cloudhawk grit his teeth, narrowed his eyes and made some last-minute adjustments to his aim. He strained against the heavy war machine until the black barbed head of the arrow was right where he wanted it. Hitting the creature anywhere but this one small target was useless – worse than a needle in a haystack, he had to hit a relic in a sandstorm.

He needed perfect control, precision and calculation! And this was his first time using a ballista!

The phoenix was releasing more and more of its energy as it drilled deeper into the monster’s chest. It was almost completely buried in it now from head to tail. Instead of detonating as before this time it just kept trying to push itself deeper through the creature, fighting for every inch. Unfortunately it simply wasn’t strong enough, and although the scorched cavity it made was deep it didn’t reach the monster’s core.

Sand from all around rasped as it began to fill in the hole. Cloudhawk knew this was his only chance – if he missed his target all of the Queen’s efforts were wasted.

But he couldn’t see where to aim!

Cloudhawk had impressive control, but manipulating a ballista with such precision was no easy thing. He didn’t know the weapon’s speed, range, damage, or his enemy’s reaction speed. What hope did he have of confidently hitting his mark from hundreds of feet away?

“Do it!”

His eyes weren’t helping, so Cloudhawk shut them, locking out distractions. Without the chaos of vision he could feel every hissing grain of sand within the colossus. They danced to the flows of energy that pulsed around them. It formed a sort of tide, a force field that created the monster’s figure.

The sand was simply attracted into the shape desired, so attacking the shell of the monster was useless – like swiping at the fragments of metal gathered by a magnet. Although you might temporarily clear away the shards, the magnetic field remained. It would only gather them up again.

So the goal had to be to destroy the magnet!

Once he shut his eyes Cloudhawk could feel the fount of the colossus’ energy more clearly. It contributed energy to the monster like a torch contributed light, spreading it all throughout the colossus’ body. Just like a torch, the light was brightest at the source.

This was it. This is the place!

Cloudhawk screwed all of his concentration together and focused on that single point. That single flickering point of torchlight got brighter and brighter. And then he fired.

The bowstring let loose!

The seven-foot long spear cut through the air with a harsh whistle. Straight and true the bolt buried itself into the hole carved out by the phoenix with a thud.

The sand colossus stopped, frozen still. 

The humans stared at it with baited breath.

Eventually cracks began to appear along its sandy surface, and like a nightmare lost to the sands of time it began to crumble apart. Grains of sand were swept away on the wind and vanished altogether.

They did it! The monster was defeated!

A raucous cheer went up among the outpost defenders. The monster was completely destroyed!

“Cloudhawk, we got the mother fucker!” Artemis shouted at him, full of joy and relief. “One hell of a shot! How the hell did you do it?”

Cloudhawk could no longer feel the suffocating energy of the monster. The beast was no more, and tumbled away before them. But if he listened closely, the young wastelander could still hear something in the piles of sand.

His eyes grew hard. “Don’t celebrate yet!”

Artemis and the other soldiers stopped their jubilations and followed Cloudhawk’s eyes to the sand piles. At first all they could see was the sand shuffle and slowly dissolve…

…and then a dark figure appeared before their eyes.

The figure held the ballista arrow between two fingers. They pinched, and like a bolt cutter his fingers sliced through the several-inch thick metal like butter. The bolt clattered to the ground in two pieces.

The shadowy figure slowly raised its head, completely unscathed. He paid no mind to Artemis, Cloudhawk or the others, and immediately brought his attention to the Bloodsoaked Queen. When he spoke his voice was strange and unsettling.

“You’re weak, even compared to your father.”

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