Chapter 97 - Heedless Ruin

Cloudhawk couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that he’d somehow become an enemy of the wasteland – a sinner in the eyes of the innocent. His actions had brought untold unrest and suffering to a people who were already awash in trauma.

This mountain of corpses… created by my hand?

Cloudhawk stared at the carnage in the midst of Bleakfire Outpost with wide eyes. The scene dug its accusing fangs deep into his soul.

He never pretended to be a good man – there was no such thing as a good man in the wastelands. However he hoped to never have to see what unfolded before him now. These rivers of blood, these twisted faces, these broken and entangled bodies, these stinking corpses which would become a nightmare of pestilence all were seared into the depths of his heart. Cloudhawk knew these images would haunt him in the darkness of the night when things were quietest.

But even if he had to do it again, it would be difficult to change the result.

Cloudhawk didn’t know if his actions were right or wrong, good or bad. He was just a normal kid, he couldn’t see the big picture. Nor was he one to give up his life for this poisoned world, all he pursued was his own dream.

Maybe it was just like what the old man said. We could rail against the fact, but in the end everyone under the stars was nothing more than a speck of dust. It didn’t matter how hard you tried, the only thing you had control over was yourself.

“What’s wrong with you?” Bleakfire Outpost’s leader saw the discomfort in Cloudhawk’s face. “Night’s falling, now that you’re here you might as well stay the night. I’m afraid we’re in poor shape, as you can see. We have nothing in the way of entertainment.”

“No need!” Cloudhawk didn’t want to stay here a moment longer. “Depp, let’s go.”

Depp figured Cloudhawk might be a demonhunter, but he was also familiar with the kid’s abilities. He wasn’t strong enough to defeat the Caliph of the Sands. He figured it was the Bloodsoaked Queen who’d defeated the demon.

“It’ll be dark soon. If we leave now we’re spending the night in the wastelands.”

“So let’s not waste time talkin’ shit. Move it!”

Cloudhawk payed no mind to Depp’s helpful suggestion, he would rather spend the night out there than sleep under the accusing eyes of these corpses. Every second he spent here felt like torture, a sensation no one else would understand.

Just then a piercing sound rang out through the dusk! It was the outpost’s alarm!

“The sweepers are back!”

Bleakfire’s leader was preparing to press Cloudhawk about his strange behavior when the alarms rose. Shocked by their suddenness and what they meant, he and his soldiers blanched. They ran toward the alarm, Cloudhawk in tow, and when they got to the site they saw a host of several hundred figures dotting the horizon.

Sweepers. They were back, and their numbers seemed endless.

The Bleakfire Outpost’s soldiers, numbering near a thousand, nervously fingered their weapons. They couldn’t understand why the sweepers would be back so soon after their last raid.

What could they benefit from hitting them again?

Bleakfire’s infrastructure was in tatters, and any supplies they’d had were pillaged two days ago. Attacking the outpost again didn’t seem to be worth the cost. Were they just here to murder the hapless people?

All of a sudden the atmosphere within the outpost was grave. In its fragile state the outpost would be totally wiped out if they were attacked again. Thousands would be displaced, most would lose their lives.

From the looks of them the sweepers numbers around four hundred, not a lot but all were vicious fighters. There were various kinds of them, but all were at least six feet tall, covered in muscle and thirsty for blood. There were also a dozen or so monsters ten feet tall – maneaters. They were among the strongest of the sweeper forces, more than a match for any outpost guard.

This mixture of crack sweeper soldiers had to be a remnant from the Caliph’s army!

The demon and his lieutenants were dead, leaving the sweepers with no one strong enough to unite them. The mutant killers fractured into smaller groups, unable to threaten the bigger outposts like Greenland but more than menacing enough to raid the smaller settlements. 

This was why the poor souls of Bleakfire Outpost hated the demonhunters so much!

Greenland Outpost was rich in supplies and could single-handedly supply the sweepers with most of their needs. Now that they could no longer rely on Greenland as a source of sustenance, the thousands of sweepers were forced to split up and spread across the wastelands to take what they needed.

“Must you force us to perish with you?!” Bleakfire’s leader stood before his people, shouting bitterly at the host of sweepers. “Very well! If we’re to die then we’ll take as many of you fiends as we can with us!”

Most sweepers had lost all ability to reason. They were little more than beasts who relied on instinct. However, in each group there were a handful that had some measure of intelligence left who served as leaders. This group was no different.

Several individuals stepped out from the crowd, men who could almost pass for normal humans. The one in the center stood out furthest, likely their chieftan. His face was covered, hiding any detail, but his skin was covered in mutated tissue that made him look like a man in the throes of late stage skin disease. “We’re not here for you today. We want the demonhunter.”

The faces of the outpost’s people sank. Demonhunter? Where was there a demonhunter in their ruined home?

“There’s no use pretending, we already know.” The sweeper leader glared at them, his growling voice angry and threatening. “The demonhunter who killed our master left Greenland Outpost two days ago with ten men. He’s there among you. If you continue to hide him we’ll be forced to slaughter every last one of you!”

Greenland Outpost? Demonhunter? Ten outpost soldiers…!

The outpost leader’s face first betrayed confusion, then surprise, and at last anger. His face darkened as suddenly he turned to his people. “Grab the travelers from Greenland Outpost!”

Cloudhawk had mounted his lizard the moment he felt things were going south, and was leading his men from the outpost. But he was a few second too late, and the outpost soldiers were already closing in.

“That’s them!”

“These are the fucking Greenland bastards!”

“There’s a demonhunter with them. Don’t let them go!”

All of Bleakfire’s people glared at them with eyes that burned with hatred!

As much as they despised the sweepers, these unfortunates hated the demonhunters even more! These bastards looked down on the wastelands from their holy palaces, seeing the people as little more than weeds. They’d destroyed the balance in the name of their precious honor. They deserved to be forever cursed by the wastelands and its people!

If looks could kill, Cloudhawk would have been murdered a thousand times.

Incensed with rage, a handful of Bleakfire soldiers charged at them with wild abandon. The sound of twanging bowstrings thrummed all around them followed by soldiers flailing weapons.

“Ah!”

One of Greenland’s soldiers hit the ground with an arrow in them, screaming. He was beset by the soldiers in an instant and disappeared beneath their blows. The unfortunate soldier was literally torn apart.

The Bleakfire leader snatched a gun from one of his subordinates and leveled it at Cloudhawk. He pulled the trigger and a powerful flat-headed slug came tearing through the air. Even Cloudhawk couldn’t dodge it, and he felt the bullet strike him.

A bullet this size would blow a fist-sized hole in a normal man, but it first had to encounter Cloudhawk’s cloak and then the bear-hide armor beneath. It left a dent but little more, for the dire bear armor was incredibly tenacious. It was sturdy enough to stop bullets, but even so this shot was a mean one.

To Cloudhawk it felt like someone struck him with a sledgehammer. It was almost enough to knock him off his mount.

Meanwhile another Greenland soldier fell. He was quickly surrounded by the mob and viciously murdered! By now more of Bleakfire’s soldiers had blocked their escape and there was nowhere for Cloudhawk and his people to go. As anger fueled him the young warrior channeled his psychic energy through the Gospel of Sand tucked away in his coat. Immediately the sandy ground rose up to create a wall.

Out here in the desert, the demon’s Gospel had many uses.

Cloudhawk thrust out his palm and the towering wall reacted by rushing forward. Although he wasn’t strong enough to kill his foes with the relic, he could at least block off his attackers and prevent them from shooting his people.

“Cut your way through!”

Depp pulled back his bow and impaled two people with a single shot.

“Kill ‘em!”

The seven remaining Greenland Outpost fighters brandished their weapons while all together their lizard mounts heaved powerful legs. Several of the mob blocking their path were knocked aside, and a lizard tore into one with its bloody maw. Riders swung their weapons as they passed to cut down anyone who got too close, and before long there was a dozen corpses in their wake.

Bleakfire’s leader was mad with rage. “Kill them! Kill them!!

Depp reached back and pulled out a special-purpose iron arrow. He pulled back on the string and let loose. His shot tore through the sandy cover toward its target. After the battle the day before yesterday, Bleakfire’s leader was exhausted and slow. By the time he saw his death coming it was too late to get out of the way.

Depp’s special arrow was incredibly powerful.

First it struck the leader’s gun and smashed it into shards of metal. Once it buried itself in his chest the outpost leader stumbled backward. He stared at the iron shaft jutting from his body in shock as blood trickled from his mouth. Finally, with his face twisted in an expression of defiance, he collapsed to the ground.

Bleakfire’s leader was ended by the arrow. The outpost was flung into turmoil, which gave the Greenland party the opportunity it needed to escape.

Cloudhawk was free, but his heart was conflicted. He hadn’t killed any of Bleakfire’s people personally, but to them he was worse than the demon. He was especially saddened by the fate of their leader. He could tell that the man was a rare specimen, intelligent and kind. Under different circumstances Cloudhawk would have been pleased to meet him.

Now he was dead. Cloudhawk hadn’t been the one to kill him, but he was the reason the old man was dead. How was this any different than if Cloudhawk had done it himself?

It wasn’t that Cloudhawk cared what others thought. No, he felt like a pawn, like fate was playing with him. The feeling stuck with him as he and the eight remaining Greenland warriors raced off into the wastelands.

They had to get away from this place as quickly as possible!

But would getting to safety be so easy?

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