Chapter 94 - Determined to Depart

Concealed in the silent night, several large men gathered in a bar conspiring with each other. One of them was relatively smaller than the others, but made up for it with a particularly cruel face. There was a flash of metal, a thud, and suddenly a nasty looking dagger was lodged in the table between them.

“Brothers! It’s a fine opportunity!” His malicious, wolf-like eyes swept over the others. “Hydra is dead and so is that woman. There isn’t anyone left to lead, so chaos is soon to follow. It’s finally our time!”

Excitement gleamed in the other men’s faces. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, for with Hydra and his henchmen dead who was left to oppose them?

One of the men seemed less than convinced. “Ratscratch, boss, aren’t you forgetting the demonhunters? They killed a damn demon!”

“Demonhunters? Pah!” Disdain dripped from Ratscratch’s response. “Demonhunters won’t be here much longer. Now that the Caliph of the Sands is gone I suspect they’ll be leaving the outpost sooner rather than later.”

He wasn’t wrong. The demonhunters wouldn’t chose to live here, after all.

Ratscratch’s beady eyes glinted with an ominous light. “But there’s no time to waste. We gotta take control of the fort as quick as possible. I got eyes in the fort that tell me the demonhunters are wounded, so now’s our best chance to sneak in and put ‘em down.”

The others stared at him, shocked. Attack the demonhunters? He was crazy! Demonhunters were immeasurably stronger than Hydra had been. It was suicide!

Another one of Ratscratch’s subordinates chimed in. “We’ve all seen what the demonhunter can do. If she’s still got even a tenth of that power left she can easily handle all of us. It’s too dangerous.”

“Fuckwit! Why would we attack head on? Poison, ambush, traps… we already gathered some toxic spores and made a powder. All we gotta do is to find a way to sneak into where they live and slip it in their water. Poison doesn’t give a shit how strong you are.” Ratscratch’s face twisted into a nasty expression. “We got hundreds of brothers and the fort’s in ruins. They don’t got enough people to keep it locked down. All we gotta do is kill two people, and the whole outpost is ours! Relax, it’s under control. Once our people do their job we’re on the move.”

The others were uncertain, even fearful, but it was hard to conceal their greed. When Ratscratch’s eyes swept over them they were filled with awe.

Ratscratch was a well-known figure in the outpost. Now that Hydra, Artemis and Salamander were gone there was almost no one to stand in his way. As for the demonhunter and – what, her apprentice? They were outsiders, they didn’t have any clout here. What did it matter if they were strong? Sometimes in the wastelands it was better to know how to fight dirty than be strong.

“Alright!”

“We’re gonna beat the shit out of ‘em!”

 “I’m with you, boss!”

Like gamblers they were all in.

If they could take the fort it didn’t even matter if they couldn’t hold the whole outpost. If the territory split they would at the very least be the major influence. Women, food, drinkable water – who would be there to stop them from carving it up for themselves?

Ratscratch nodded his head in satisfaction and picked up his glass. “Relax, brothers. Win or lose we do this together!”

The simple cups clinched together in a toast, sending alcohol splashing.

Now that the decision was made Ratscratch began his preparations. None of his ambitious men were going to back away from an opportunity like this. Besides Ratscratch was getting on in years, he didn’t want to throw away this precious moment. It was probably his last chance to turn things in his favor.

If there was one thing the wastelands didn’t lack it was scoundrels. Ratscratch wasn’t the only one with spies keeping an eye on Greenland leadership. If he wanted to take it for himself he had to be faster than them. The earlier he moved, the better.

“Number two, get fifty men together and set ‘em up to ambush the fort. Number Three, fifty men with crossbows to give ‘em cover. The rest of you are under my command, once we get the signal we’re on the move.”

“You got it!”

Everything rested on this operation!

After deploying his lieutenants Ratscratch started making arrangements. He was practically buzzing with fervor and excitement, like he was in his twenties again. He was already fantasizing about life as leader of the outpost!

But then an intense sense of disquiet filled him.

Ratscratch was near the bottom of the barrel when it came to the outpost’s elite, but he was a veteran of the wilderness. This experience had developed the instinct of a wild animal, a nose for danger!

He didn’t know where the danger was coming from but a sound from somewhere tipped him off. He flung himself to the side.

But it was too late!

A bullet shattered a nearby window and half a moment later a hole appeared in the back of Ratscratch’s head. It drilled through his right eye, leaving a ragged tunnel as it exploded out and buried itself in the wall behind him.

Ratscratch hit the ground rigid as a board. Just a moment ago he had been filled with spirit and gusto. One second later he was dead, the victim of a shooting.

“Sniper!”

Ratscratch’s men were all old hats around the outpost, so when their leader was shot down they didn’t panic, or get enraged or afraid. The first thing they did was hit the deck to protect themselves from becoming the next victim.

Six hundred feet away from the bar, nestled in a pile of inconspicuous rubble, the sniper pulled back the rifle’s bolt which kicked out the spent casing. The shooter slowly readjusted his aim. The rifle was a special wastelands rifle, every component of it handmade and crude. Its bullets were high caliber. It lacked a scope and the shooter was guided only by the iron sights fixed to the end of the barrel. A gun like this definitely required a skilled marksman to use properly for it lacked anything to help with aim or control, much less hit a target hundreds of feet away.

One bullet, one target down.

The shooter didn’t rush to leave. The sights moved toward the front door.

One of Ratscratch’s men slowly rose to his feet and cautiously opened the door, preparing to make a run for it. But the sniper was fast as a bolt of lightning, and the moment the door opened just a crack he pulled the trigger.

The sharp report of the rifle rang out once more.

This bullet ripped through the wall and into the common room where it buried itself in the man standing by the door. As it ripped through his waist the man toppled to the ground and began to scream. He clearly wasn’t going to make it.

The rat pack only had three rodents left.

Now they knew where the sniper was. When the second shot fired they leapt out of the window, abandoning cover and racing toward where the sniper was hiding.

It didn’t take them long to reach the spot where he’d been hiding, where they found a blanket he must have been using to remain in cover. A shadow caught their eye from the ruins.

“Get him!”

The three men lifted their weapons and gave chase. They spread out, looking for any trace of the sniper. One of them suddenly felt a hand clamp down on his mouth, and then the cold kiss of steel as a dagger opened his throat.

The other two sensed something was wrong and whipped around toward their dead comrade.

Their compatriot had collapsed, eyes wide and mouth gasping for breath like a fish out of water. Only his attacker had vanished back into the shadows. The last two men standing immediately stood back to back and stared with wide-eyed fear and surprise at the darkness.

Whoosh!

A black figure swept by.

In his passage a dagger whipped out and planted itself in one’s throat. The unfortunate soul clutched his neck and hit the ground. When the shadowy assassin’s feet hit the ground he swung around and lunged at the final thug with a staff that had a three-edged spike at the end.

“Die!”

Ratscratch’s last henchmen was as shocked as he was infuriated. He heaved his weapon and flung himself forward. Their weapons met in the darkness three or four times with neither taking the upper hand. Then, just as the warrior was preparing to go on the offensive he heard the assassin’s weapon whir.

His weapon was ripped apart like it was made of paper! The last thing he felt was a vicious energy tear through his chest.

That was how Ratscratch’s fledgling rebellion was ended.

Cloudhawk wiped the blood clean from the tip of his exorcist spear, then turned to look at the person behind him. “What do you think?”

A tall, thin figure was half hidden in the shadows. He seemed almost like a part of the darkness, and if he remained still it would be almost impossible to know he was there. Mantis slowly emerged, surveyed the corpses, then offered his evaluation.

“Very average.”

Cloudhawk shrugged.

Over the last several days Cloudhawk’s injuries had recovered well. He’d wanted to learn a few new skills before setting out again, so he took the Queen and Mantis as his teachers. From one he learned the basics of close-quarters combat, and from the latter the skills of the assassins and surgeons.

The situation in Greenland Outpost was growing more unstable by the day. Several groups had started to instigate the turmoil for their own gain.

Mantis used his skills to locate these troublemakers then arranged for Cloudhawk to deal with them as a means of training. Although he wasn’t even half the assassin Mantis was, his skills at murder had improved impressively over the last few days.

Cloudhawk swung his arms, loosening the muscles. “Seems like the outpost has been mostly cleared of thugs, and my wounds are about healed. I think it’s about time I got out of here.”

Mantis looked at Cloudhawk, who was wearing the Queen’s mask. “Are you sure you want to go to the elysian lands?”

He nodded. “Definitely.”

“It isn’t the flawless place you think it is.” Mantis’ voice was flat as ever. “I suggest you remain in the wastelands, but some lessons require that we experience them first hand in order to learn them more deeply.”

“This fuckin’ guy, always so cryptic. Can you talk straight for once?”

Cloudhawk didn’t get where Mantis was coming from. Now that he’d made up his mind to go no one was gonna stand in his way. Greenland Outpost was left to Mantis, because weird as he was the assassin was at least reliable. So long as he was in charge things wouldn’t fall apart.

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