Chapter 89 - The Showdown

The demon was too strong for the Bloodsoaked Queen. Cloudhawk’s best option was to create as much distance between them as they could. He considered submitting before making his decision, though. He thought maybe he could beg for his life – he was no hero, no powerful warrior. He was just a scavenger who wanted to live.

But then a series of faces marched across his memory; Slyfox, Mad Dog, Woola, Cooke, and all the rest of the Tartarus mercenaries.

Mad Dog had given his life so they would have a chance.

Slyfox made Cloudhawk promise to avenge them moments before his death.

But now the one who was responsible stood before him – could Cloudhawk gain that vengeance? The answer was clear: No, he could not!

Ten Cloudhawks, a hundred Cloudhawks together wouldn’t be enough to defeat this demon. But he couldn’t bring himself to bend his knees and ask for mercy. He couldn’t watch the demon murder the Bloodsoaked Queen before his eyes.

Artemis wouldn’t understand his thinking. It was what made him different from every other wastelander – he couldn’t ignore what was in his heart. He’d rather risk his life to save the Queen than sell his soul. He would have his revenge. The Queen couldn’t die! 

Cloudhawk poured all of his psychic energy into the invisibility cloak, which in turn boosted his speed so that he could try and flee the demon’s grasp. Only, as Cloudhawk ran he could feel a sinister gale whip around him. Suddenly a dark figure blocked his path. The young man paled as he rushed headlong towards the monster’s groping hand.

The demon was too fast. Cloudhawk couldn’t get out of the way.

Cloudhawk could feel the power pulsing from the creature before him. It washed over the boy and permeated every corner of his body, threatening to change every fiber of his being into grains of sand.

This power was several orders of magnitude stronger than the Queen’s, Cloudhawk couldn’t resist. Yet just as he was about to succumb something the demon did not expect occurred – a strange vacuum force was revealed within the wastelander’s body.

“Hm?” Confusion flit across the demon’s eyes as he explored what seemed like a black hole drawing in his power from within the child. It began to turn just as he was on the verge of transforming the child into a pillar of silt and drank deeply of the demon’s power, even drawing from the demon’s body himself.

A demon’s eyes could see through clothing, so those hideous red orbs picked out the stone against Cloudhawk’s chest through his armor. The once-ordinary stone was now bursting with blinding light as it neutralized enough power to kill Cloudhawk ten times over.

Cloudhawk himself was drenched in a cold sweat. It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, though. He’d felt the specter of death when he saved the Bloodsoaked Queen. In the darkness of his shack she’d nearly burnt him to a cinder with her burning angels. The stone had saved his life that night.

Cloudhawk didn’t have time to sit there like an idiot and think of the past. Holding the Queen over his back with one hand he thrust his staff at the demon’s chest with the other. The demon was of course more than capable of deflecting the boy’s feeble attack… and yet, he seemed frozen in place, dumbfounded.

Bang! Cloudhawk put all his strength into the thrust, driving it into the demon’s chest. In that instant his exorcist rod belched its power and sent the monster flying backward dozens of feet. However, despite the ragged appearance of the cloak that protected the demon, Cloudhawk’s attack didn’t seem to displace even a single thread.

That hit would have put any normal wastelander out of commission, but it didn’t even wrinkle the demon’s clothes. Unbelievable. Yet more surprising was that this child, with only minimal ability, was able to knock the demon back even when the mighty Bloodsoaked Queen couldn’t land a single blow. The scene was nothing short of bewildering.

While the onlookers were shocked, Cloudhawk himself knew he had no hope to defeat the demon. After creating some space between him and the monster he fled without thinking.

“How interesting…”

The demon slowly got back to his feet. There was a sinister glimmer in his scarlet eyes, but no one could fathom what was going through his mind. Ever so slightly he turned up his right hand to which the nearby piles of sand began to react. They gathered together to form a long half-moon shaped khopesh sword. Though made of sand it was sturdy enough to cut a slab of metal the size of a man in two.

The hellspawn brought his arm back, ready to throw the weapon when suddenly a bullet the length of a finger came tearing his way.

Crack!

The bullet struck the demon in the center of his chest. It didn’t hit him with the same force as Cloudhawk’s staff, so he only staggered backward a couple of paces. However, it was fast, sharp and compact, and fired from an upgraded sniper rifle that made it even deadlier.

Cloudhawk’s exorcist rod hadn’t done any damage, but this sniper bullet managed to insert two-thirds of itself into the monster – or, more accurately, into the shell-like armor that covered him. A cold and lethal light crept into the demon’s eyes, but before he could react the second bullet was already on its way. 

“Do you think these piddling human trinkets can harm me?” The demon reached out, and with his dark red nails plucked the bullet from the air. He stared toward where the attack had come from. His supernatural vision cut through the ruins to fix on a tall and slim figure who bore a lengthy rifle. After the second shot he was up and running.

With as much concern as one might remove a mosquito the demon pinched the bullet buried in his chest and pulled it free. It left behind a small indentation, but otherwise there was no indication it’d done any damage.

The wind began to violently blow. The demon rose into the air amidst the gusting winds, preparing to chase after the sniper. However he paused as he floated by Artemis. Without looking at her, he spoke. “You are the outpost’s new leader?”

Artemis was overwhelmed by the menacing, ice-cold demeanor of the monster as he drew near. She could feel droplets of nervous sweat trace lines down her cheeks. Any thought of confronting the demon was gone from her mind, and in fact all she could manage was a meek response. “I… I am.”

“You shall have a chance to live.” His words were cold as the grave. “The other two have not yet escaped. Find them, bring them to me. Whether you live or die depends on the success of this mission.”

Artemis’ eyebrows knit tight as she scowled. She was more than happy to kill the demonhunter, but Cloudhawk… her hesitation was evident.

At last the demon turned his head and looked at her. As its evil gaze fixed upon her, the hesitation fled from her heart like smoke in a tempest. She went from a fierce leopardess to a frightened kitten. All uncertainty and resistance vanished: “I will!” She waved her hands at the soldiers gathered nearby. “Let’s go, find them!”

The demon said nothing more, rising into the air to pursue the figure that had fled into the darkness.

After taking two shots at the demon Mantis made for the relative safety of the night. As he fled he felt a strong breeze rise up from behind. He couldn’t see what was coming from behind him, but Mantis knew the speed and power of his foe. He’d captured the attention of this monster. There was little chance of escape.

Mantis stopped and slowly turned around. His expression never changed, even as he saw the savage figure and his murderous red eyes approach. He looked back, perfectly calm.

The demon stopped a few feet away. For several seconds he looked the assassin up and down searchingly. They simply stared at each other this way for a time while a strange sense hung in the air.

At last the demon spoke, breaking the silence. “It really is you.”

Mantis pushed his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. “It’s been a long time.”

Discontent was thick in the demon’s voice. “You’ve known for quite some time, I imagine?”

He was silent for a moment. “So then... what are you planning to do?”

***

Cloudhawk ran with wild abandon towards the outpost’s exit. When he got there he saw it was thick with figures barring the path. He skidded to a halt and it was then he heard the footsteps catching up from behind. Artemis, hammer raised, was almost on them.

Cloudhawk stared at the predatory wasteland woman, glaring at her with a dark expression. “Artemis, do you have to kill us?”

She looked fiercely back at him. “You fuckin' liar! You said you wanted to stay, that you’d help me lead this place! You broke that promise when you decided to save the demonhunter’s life.”

Cloudhawk was speechless.

He couldn’t remember agreeing to anything. He said he’d think about it!

“This is different. What’s between me and the demon is personal. I can’t just surrender.” Cloudhawk shook his head. “It has nothing to do with you. Let me go!”

He ventured a step toward the exit, but the warriors that had surrounded them raised their weapons.

Artemis heaved her hammer high and rushed toward him. “The demon told me to bring you back. If you escape he’s gonna kill me! I can’t hold back this time, watch out!”

Cloudhawk leapt back and Artemis’ hammer slammed into a nearby wall. The stone collapsed under the force. Half a second later she was back on the attack and swept her massive hammer toward him. He staggered to the side to avoid her.

“Then come with us!” Cloudhawk’s face was grim. She wasn’t playing. “The demon had this place now. You’d be nothing but a puppet, don’t you understand? Is it better to live here under his rule than to come with us? We can find somewhere safe and start again!”

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RWX's Thoughts

Thought I'd leave y'all on this cliffhanger instead.  Who is Mantis, really... and why can he treat with demons?  And what is the Caliph of the Sands talking about?