There was nothing for a hundred miles north of Bleakfire Outpost that could hide them, nowhere for Cloudhawk and the others to hunker down while their pursuers swept by. As the party from Greenland fled, they were set upon quickly by a hail of arrows.
One of the Greenland soldiers shouted. “The sweepers are catching up!”
Aside from lizard mounts, sweepers also had a host of vehicles they also used to hunt down prey. Each one was strange and unique, patched together from various parts dug up from the wastelands. There were a couple of dune buggies that were a hodge-podge of mismatched metal, motorcycles with two or more wheels, and a few other kinds Cloudhawk had never seen before. Altogether there were about fifty on their tail, and though that wasn’t many they were all top fighters – especially the three ringleaders.
One was tall and thin and raced after them atop a fabricated motorcycle with six wheels. Affixed to the front was a bull skull with its two vicious horns pointed forward. Judging by his equipment this one was a marksman.
The second was a fat man, strong, who swung a flail overhead while he sat astride a wasteland lizard. His whole body was encased in steel armor as was his mount, and the wind whistled around them as he swung his weapon. It was a stick with a six foot chain attached, which ended with a nasty looking spiked ball. He wielded it with such ease Cloudhawk shuddered to think of the damage it would do to flesh and bone if it hit him.
The main leader of the group was covered in weeping sores and dead skin. The creature was certainly an odd sight, both for his weapon and his mode of transportation. He held a scythe the size of a man, with a serrated blade stretching out from a staff and curving into a vicious point. Instead of riding his transport, he had it strapped to his back.
It was a heavy and cumbersome device which whined like a jet engine. Four wheels were strapped to his feet like shoes and thus the thrust from his rocket pack sent him shooting forward. Black smoke belched from exhaust pipes, leaving a clear trail in his wake. All the sweeper needed to do was keep his balance and he was able to ski atop the sands like water.
This oddly equipped handful of sweepers were a perfect representation of a typical wasteland-style elite squad. Cloudhawk looked back and watched them gain on him.
“Deal with ‘em!”
Depp replied quickly, knocking an arrow and drawing back his wasteland wyrm bow. In less than a second he picked out a target, aimed, and with a twang his bowstring went slack. The scythe-wielder saw it coming and wrenched his hips to the side, which spun his wheeled feet off trajectory and carved an erratic trench in the sand. The arrow swept by and missed him, but shot through the tire of a buggy just behind.
The raggedy vehicle immediately lost control, pitched to its side then hit the ground. Like a boulder splashing into a lake huge plumes of sand were flung into the air while parts of the vehicle shot off in all directions. The sweepers nearby darted out of the way to avoid being crushed but never slowed down their pursuit.
In response the sweeper on the motorcycle leveled his crossbow and fired off a few bolts.
His weapon was a type rarely seen in the wastelands, a crossbow that was relatively weaker than others but capable of firing off several shots in close succession. It was especially suited for situations just like this. A couple of the Greenland fighters’ mounts were hit with arrows the sweeper had smeared with numbing poison. They were already slowing down.
“Catch up! Kill them! Vengeance for the master!”
The scythe-bearer snarled hideously, his companions whooped and roared like a pack of wild wolves. The sound of it made the humans shudder.
Cloudhawk pulled the rifle from his shoulder in preparation. The .50 caliber gun was a handmade product of Greenland Outpost, outwardly crude but packing an incredible punch. He tightened his legs against the lizard’s flanks, released the reigns and aimed his gun. “You die first.”
The sound of the rifle was just as striking as its power. It took him a second and a half to find his target, but the bullet his gun spat out was faster than any arrow. Still the sweeper chief was an enemy of uncommon skill, and just as Cloudhawk was pulling the trigger he moved. His wheels carved an arc through the sand, but didn’t take him far enough to miss the bullet.
Cloudhawk’s shot struck him in the back and ripped open a ravine through his skin.
The young wastelander yanked back the bolt to clear the bullet cartridge and clear the gun’s chamber just as his mount was racing toward a boulder. With no concern for what Cloudhawk was doing the lizard leapt up to avoid the obstacle, forcing his rider to nearly get pitched off. Luckily he was able to catch himself and retake the reigns.
The chief pressed ahead until he was by Cloudhawk’s side. He raised his scythe high then brought it down with a deadly whistle – enough strength to disembowel the human if not chop him in half!
Cloudhawk threw himself forward and the scythe swept by overhead, shaving off a fair bit of hair. His foe swiftly and deftly brought the scythe around and prepared for another swing. He was at least as capable as Mad Dog had been.
Releasing his gun, Cloudhawk reached for his exorcist staff instead to block the attack. The scythe was both knocked away and their impact took a chunk out of his weapon’s shaft. Seeing this the chief changed tack, and buried the head of his scythe in the back of Cloudhawk’s mount.
The wasteland lizard screamed in pain and bolted forward faster while the sweeper was pulled along. He yanked backward and tore open the beast’s back, driving it into a pained frenzy and making it impossible to control.
The chief came in for a second attack, but did not bother with Cloudhawk or his exorcist staff. Instead his scythe was aimed toward the lizard’s rear left leg. The beast suddenly lost balance as its limb was cut from beneath it and hit the ground, sending up a cloud of sand. Cloudhawk was thrown from its back and into the air. If he hit the ground going this fast he would break his neck, or at least a few ribs.
The other sweeper leader fired off a few more bolts.
None of them expected the young demonhunter to vanish in midair, but that’s what he did. As he tumbled haphazardly through the sky Cloudhawk focused his psychic energy into his cloak, and through its power he floated along like a feather. Nimble as a bird he shot forward thirty or so feet, enough time to get his body under control before hitting the ground. Sand was kicked up and he hit hard enough to roll two complete circles. His rifle was flung to the side, but luckily Cloudhawk hadn’t been hurt.
The scythe-wielding sweeper’s ugly face was twisted into a hateful snarl as he lashed out with incredible speed. Cloudhawk brought his staff up between him and the deadly blade. However, the chief cleverly heaved himself forward and brought his arms up, so that while the exorcist staff didn’t budge the scythe’s blade was brought down behind it. It swept down with such force that not even Cloudhawk’s dire bear armor could stop it from digging into his skin. The pain cut him to the core.
As the crude metal bit into him Cloudhawk’s face turn ferocious. Rage awakened the power within him and focused it into his staff, which he used to knock the sweeper leader back a few feet.
The wound in his shoulder was not a shallow one. Fresh blood stained his cloak.
In this moment the sweeper with the flail charged into the group. He whipped the spiked ball around on its long chain toward one of the Greenland soldiers. Luckily the fighter saw it coming and dodged with just enough space to avoid it, but his lizard mount was not as lucky. The iron ball crunched the side of the lizard’s skull. Immediately the beast’s brains were splattered and the warrior was thrown to the ground. He was slow to get up.
The flail swung around and connected with skull again, this time sending pieces of the Greenland warrior all around. His body collapsed while blood spewed like a fountain from his ruined head, right in front of Cloudhawk.
The rattling chain didn’t stop. This time it was headed toward Cloudhawk, while at the same time the chief’s scythe was slicing at him crosswise.
The wastelander found himself in a precarious position, forced to contend with two moderately strong sweepers. There didn’t seem to be any hope for survival. Although he was still invisible beneath the cloak his enemies knew precisely where he’d fallen.
Cloudhawk yelped the name then jumped up onto Depp’s lizard as it passed. With his right hand he slipped the exorcist staff back onto the loop on his waist, while with his left he whipped out his revolver. Meanwhile the crossbow sweeper didn’t give him time to shoot before firing off a bolt first. Depp answered by whipping out an arrow lightning fast and shooting back.
Both arrows met midair.
Cloudhawk glared through the sights of his revolver, focusing everything on the crossbow sweeper in the middle of the crosshairs. He pulled the trigger, and the full-metal jacket conveyed the bullet through the front of the motorcycle and into the sweeper’s chest where it left a massive hole.
The cries came from the other two leaders as they watched their brother die. The scythe wielder hacked his weapon and unceremoniously split one of the Greenland soldiers at the waist. The other leader’s flail caught a soldier in the back. Two more of Cloudhawk’s crew were dead.
Cloudhawks allies were growing fewer by the second. It was all going wrong. He looked desperately around until he spotted a spot of rugged terrain, and told Depp to head for it. It was clever – he and his people were mounted on beasts while the sweepers were using vehicles. They would have a hard time managing the uneven land with their machines.
Cloudhawk stretched out his gun and fired again, this time at the lizard mount beneath the burly flail sweeper.
Crack! The lizard hit the sand, flinging his rider off.
“Don’t fight ‘em,” Cloudhawk ordered. “Let’s get outta here!”
The sweepers could only watch as that hateful demonhunter and his friends fled out of reach. The chief’s hideous face grew ever more outraged and repulsive. “You can’t run! You’re an enemy of the wastelands, everyone from sweepers to scavengers have their eyes out for you. Every mercenary, bandit and hunter knows who you are! Wherever you go we’ll be right behind you! You’re dead!”
The sweeper’s words were like an icy grip on Cloudhawk’s heart. Had the whole wasteland been turned against him? He was a pariah, a criminal who would be hunted down and slaughtered at the first opportunity.
It all seemed so bizarre. Even if killing the demon had caused so much trouble, how could word have spread so far so quickly? If what the sweeper said was true, Cloudhawk’s journey had suddenly become a lot more difficult.Previous Chapter Next Chapter