Chapter 88 - Disastrous Defeat

When did he come to the wastelands?

Why did he come to this rotten place?

What was his real name?

How old was he?

These were all mysteries no one knew the answers to.

All they knew was that he held sway over an army of sweepers, and that he was one of the most powerful beings in all the wastelands. Everywhere he went sandstorms followed, so the people had come to call him Caliph of the Sands.

Since ancient times demons had been synonymous with chaos, war, turmoil and death. A thousand years ago they were locked in conflict with the gods and were defeated. However, although they were never able to recover, the forces of evil were never completely eradicated. They waited in the darkest corners of the earth, and where they emerged strife and disaster followed.

One of those legendary creatures stood before them now. It seemed so surreal. The demon’s voice was strange, and though they saw where he stood it was difficult to tell precisely where his voice was coming from. It echoed over itself like it was being folded over and over, as though calling at them from the depths of a quiet valley. It sounded as though it were coming from every direction at once.

He was a little over six feet tall with a typical humanoid silhouette; a body, head and four limbs. Only the surface of his body was savage, hideous and pitch black. Coarse threads of crimson were etched along his skin that seemed to glow and pulse like blood vessels. It was a grotesque and uncomfortable sight to behold.

The beast’s face was covered in a red mask – or, could it be called a mask? It wasn’t placed on his face but seemed to have grown naturally over it. Except for the eyes there were no holes or cracks in its smooth surface and the beast’s silvery hair framed it, lending a strange contrast. A cloak covered most of his body. Probably his most striking feature was a pair of scarlet eyes, for when they fixed upon you it felt like they pierced through your soul.

When Cloudhawk looked at him he didn’t feel like he was looking at a demon. It didn’t feel like this was a living thing at all, but a doorway to the old times from whence issued a frigid breeze – like a portal to the depths of hell. That sinister and desolate sensation made all the humans shiver.

No wonder the living feared these creatures so completely. Looking on it was like peering into one’s own nightmares.

The demon didn’t bear any visible relics, but Cloudhawk could feel the resonance of them radiating from him. They appeared to be coming from his body, something that was starkly different from the demonhunters. Perhaps demons were capable of empowering themselves in such a way that they didn’t need relics to wield supernatural power?

Anyway, that didn’t matter right now.

Now that the demon appeared before them it didn’t take someone with keen senses like Cloudhawk to know what they faced. Even Artemis, dull as her special senses were, could see how evident the monster’s strength was.

Hostility poured from the Bloodsoaked Queen. Countless days and nights have passed as she searched for him, and in the process she’d suffered many tribulations and hardships. Yet despite setbacks her determination had never wavered, instead growing day by day. 

She couldn’t remember how many times she fantasized about the moment she would find him. She’d imagined cutting him down with her holy sword again and again, and now here he was in front of her. He was stronger than she’d imagined but it was no excuse to back down.

She was a demonhunter! To her kind there was no greater glory than to sacrifice oneself to destroy evil!

When she left the elysian lands she never expected to return alive. Victory or defeat, battling this tyrant of the wastelands was her fate.

Hummmmmm! The Queen’s hands shook, and a sword of holy splendor emerged!

“Ah, a sacred crossblade of light. It brings back memories.” An expression of nostalgia crossed the demon’s eyes. He gazed upon the wrathful Queen, himself perfectly calm. “I can feel your hatred. But you are too weak, young demonhunter. Your father couldn’t defeat me, what do you expect to accomplish?”

Cloudhawk couldn’t see her expression behind the mask, but he could sense the surge of murderous intent that came from the Bloodsoaked Queen. It was stronger than he’d ever felt before, vast and boundless like a storm, potent as a thunderbolt.

The Queen made her move. A resplendent light burst forth from her hands, and her holy sword audibly tore through the air. As she chopped her weapon in a vicious attack toward the demon, its roaring passage left a trench in the ground as it passed.

Everything within thirty feet was swallowed up in blinding light. The force ejected by the sword was like a furious rolling wave that threatened to obliterate anything in its path.

Young as she was, the Queen was a high-class demonhunter. There were few creatures alive that could withstand this attack. However, the demon was calm in the face of her lightning-fast onslaught. He raised his right hand, where hundreds of thousands of sand granules had begun to gather into the shape of a dull gold sword. The weapon’s metal-like surface was covered in strange archaic symbols, and a cutting wind surrounded it.

Clang! The two swords met. In that moment there was an intense release of energy that burst out all around them. Their clash persisted for three seconds before the Queen’s sword was knocked into the sky and detonated. It fractured into countless twinkling lights like a sea of stars, or fireflies floating in the breeze.

Cloudhawk’s face darkened. Although he’d always known there was a significant power difference between the Queen and the Demon, it was worse than he’d thought.

The Demon knocked her attack away like it was some insignificant task. His red eyes swept over the remaining human forces quick as lightning and spoke to them in a calm and even cadence. “You have a choice. Submit, or be destroyed.”

Before his words could disappear on the wind the Queen was soaring through the air, wielding her dazzling sword anew. She swung it at her foe with unbelievable speed and power.

He stepped nimbly to the side like a specter and her dazzling sword of holy light struck nothing but air. The Queen swung her blade around and pummeled him with four or five more strikes that were almost too quick to follow, but the demon saw her every movement perfectly clear. Dual swords of sand and light met again and again, and each time they erupted in flares of pure energy and deafening blasts.

The spectators looked on in slack-jawed shock. Was this what it was like when the world's supreme powers battled each other? The wars of the wastelands were child’s play by comparison!

Swinging her holy sword with unbridled rage the Bloodsoaked Queen poured every ounce of strength she had into the attacks. Once again her sword was blocked, and as the blasts of energy cast the monster’s sand about they bit into the soldiers’ faces like windswept daggers.

The Queen was already fighting with everything she had, but the demon deflected her blitz with just his hand, easy and proficient. “If you’d trained for another five years, perhaps humanity would have a great young demonhunter. Alas, you are left wanting!”

No matter how hard she swung at him the Queen’s sword couldn’t break his defense. This creature’s grainy sword was as impenetrable as an iron curtain. It easily blocked and parried the Queen’s rage-filled assault.

When the monster spoke, his voice did not contain any enmity or anger. Instead, it almost sounded like pity. His tone did more than make the onlookers uneasy. The Bloodsoaked Queen was a demonhunter! What was a demonhunter? As the name implied, they were masters at eradicating these evil creatures. Could this unholy monster feel pity for one determined to kill him?

Not only had the Queen been hunting him for a year all across the wastelands, she’d also killed all seven of his disciples! In her ears his disparaging temperament was an affront! A latent power burst from within her and her sword gleamed ever brighter. It was a blaze of daylight that threatened to cleave the night in twain. Cracks began to appear upon the demon’s weapon. The Queen’s sword might cut through his at any moment!

Just then, the vein-like channels along the demon’s left arm flared with ominous light. Sand began to gather. As his sword threatened to give way he thrust his palm toward the Queen, and a dozen dagger-like shards were whipped together into a deadly tornado heading her way. It struck with enough force to blow her backwards while the cutting sands dug into her flesh, leaving a bloody fog in its path.

Thud!

By the time she hit the floor the Queen was a bloody mess. She didn’t even have strength to stand. The pure white cross necklace lay three feet from her, but all energy was gone from it. Inch by inch she groped for it, crawling piteously along the ground. 

The demon heaved a sigh. He’d spent more energy today than he’d anticipated. However, the Queen was now spent. She could no longer fight. She was so young and full of potential, but coming out here on her own was foolish. How was this any different from suicide?

The others watched in horror and alarm. Cloudhawk especially couldn’t imagine seeing the Queen so thoroughly beaten. In all the time they spent together no one had been able to stand in her way!

The demon brought his eyes around to the others once again. “What is your decision?”

“We surrender!”

“Don’t kill me!”

One by one the doughty outpost warriors dropped their weapons. Seeing the strength of their foe, Artemis had also lost any taste for conflict. She spoke almost before she could think. “I surrender. This wasn’t my decision – it was all the demonhunter’s plan! Isn’t that right, Cloudhawk…?”

There was no way the Bloodsoaked Queen could win. Other than surrender, what other option did they have?

Artemis turned to look for Cloudhawk’s answer, but was surprised to find he wasn’t there.

What was going on? He was just by her side, how could he just disappear?

Suddenly, something snatched up the bloodied Bloodsoaked Queen from the ground and ran with her. She was spirited away fast as the wind, and in a blink she’d been carried dozens of feet away.

“Another demonhunter? No… no that’s not right. This one is too weak.” The demon muttered to himself in bewilderment. What wastelander had the capability to use relics? As Cloudhawk fled the demon paid him little mind. There was no rush to follow, for with the monster’s capabilities he could catch up without effort.

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