Oddball was overhead, scouting their escape route.
On the ground, Claudia was using her own methods to help them along. Both had their advantages. For instance, Claudia could all by herself locate demonhunters who used stealth abilities. Although Oddball could also see through these tricks, it was unable to gauge the strength of those individuals. Claudia’s seeker torque told her the strength and mental psychic capabilities of anyone within range.
Drake’s melee superiority made him the perfect candidate to engage foes. He would charge in, while Gabriel would weave his threads through around the battlefield. Cloudhawk would stalk around their targets out of sight, then get behind them and knock them out. It was the first time these four were working in concert, but they made a seamless team. 
At present there were nearly three hundred villagers huddled close by.
“This is no good. The more people we save the bigger target we become. All the village exits are closed off by soldiers and we won’t bust their blockade with just us. We need a plan to get them out of here, otherwise it won’t matter how many we gather.”
Drake had a point. Saving lives meant getting them away from here.
Right now they were jumping from the frying pan and into the fire, no one was safe yet. There were a few hundred they rescued from a soldier’s bolt, but whether or not they would survive the day still wasn’t certain. It wouldn’t be until they escaped the village.
“I know a secret way.” A white-haired elder in their group of survivors spoke up. “Maybe we can use it to get out of here.”
This old man had lived seventy years in the village and knew more about it than most. The way he spoke about was an ancient aqueduct, small and unassuming, but only large enough for one person to pass through at a time. However, it was the best way for them to slip out of the village and escape the soldiers’ notice.
Claudia thought it was a feasible plan. “Where to then?”
Teal Ridge was situated against a mountain, and they were told about the cave system scattered throughout it. If they could get free of the village, the survivors could disappear into the woods and find shelter in those caves. It would be hard for the soldiers to track them down, then. Only, then the elysian lands would have another pack of refugees lurking in its underbelly. The whole realm would see it as a disaster, not a blessing, and the survivors were looking at long hard lives in exile.
But whatever was coming, it was better than being butchered by a soldier’s blade.
The old man lead them toward the escape route, and before long they all gathered round the entrance to a narrow aqueduct. This was how they were going to survive. The old man was relieved to know this wasn’t how he and his people would die. “Thank you for saving us,” he said to the young trainees.
“We don’t have time, elder.” Claudia was visibly anxious. “Go, quickly. If you stay here any longer it’ll be too late.”
Drake grabbed the bars of the gate that covered the aqueduct’s entrance. His muscled bulged, and the finger-width iron bars screeched in protest as they bent and snapped. Drake threw the shards of metal from his hands and they lodged into a wall like they were fired from a gun.
What strength! The survivors gaped at the burly man like he was a beast.
The old man expressed his heartfelt thanks once more, then turned to go.
However, just then Cloudhawk received a warning from Oddball.
“Wait! Come back!”
The old man was half a second too slow. The others watched in horror as something descended from above. It was a huge iron chain with a spiked ball attached to the end, too fast and too fierce for anyone to defend against. Everyone was forced to watch as, with a terrible thud, the old man was crushed into a pile of meat and broken bones. The iron ball hit with such intensity the survivors nearby were knocked off their feet, and the walls nearby cracked.
Drake and Claudia stared, wide-eyed.
Gabriel reacted quickly, trying to wrap up the spiked ball with his threads. But much to his surprise, the ball spun quick enough to throw them off. It slithered toward Cloudhawk next, dragging several tons of force behind it. The wastelander first shoved the people on either side of him away before lunging himself. Sadly, there were a handful of villagers who did not have his speed and were obliterated.
In the face of this enormous spiked ball, human bodies may as well have been made of glass.
Claudia clutched her staff and shouted in anger. “Who’s there! Show yourself, coward!”
“To the South-East,” Cloudhawk warned.
Claudia poured her psychic energy into the tempest flower and right away it began to bloom. A hundred petal spread out then fired off in a glittering display, like a sudden rainstorm. The wave of power shattered the cloak of shadow hiding their attackers. Ten figures appeared before them, most of them equipped like demonhunters. One of them had a shield, which they used to protect the others from Claudia’s attack. Three others pointed bows their way.
Drake recognized them at a glance. “Watch out, exorcist bows!”
Exorcist bows were relics, just like exorcist staffs. Their powers were straightforward, nothing extraordinary, yet still far outstripped typical weapons in stopping power. The demonhunters pulled back on the strings, though no arrows were nocked. They didn’t need any, what came from these bows was a blast of energy that had the force of ten shots.
Cloudhawk threw up his hand, and a curtain of sand rose from the ground between them and their attackers.
He could hardly follow their path!
Holes opened through Cloudhawk’s sand curtain, even though it was even stronger than a stone wall. The bolts of energy punched through and into the crowd. Cloudhawk raised his sword, Drake hefted his own, and Claudia brandished her staff. Each of them moved to intercept one of the bolts.
Gabriel’s fingers were wrapped with threads. He was ready to throw them out to help, but just then the enormous ball and chain rejoined the fight. Dripping with gore, it swung toward the crowd once again. All of a sudden the four trainees were caught between an enormous iron wrecking ball, and lethal bow shots.
Drake gritted his teeth, drew back his shoulders, and stepped forward to meet the threat.
Gabriel called out. “Get out of the way! These are relics, you can’t just stand in front of them!”
The burly man turned a deaf ear to the warning. He held his iron sword before him in his right hand, and placed his left against the blade itself. Planting his feet, squatting low, he set himself squarly in the path of danger. When the iron ball hit his sword Drake felt like he was being struck with a mountain, with all the force of the seas behind it. Yet instead of being knocked away Drake replied with a scream that sounded like it was thundering from the depths of the earth itself.
His whole body surged with strength. The ground all around him shuddered and cracked – but he was knocked but one step back.
They all saw it. Drake, with nothing but his own inner strength, had saved them from the blow. He was strong, no doubt, but not enough to stop that ball and chain. He called every ounce of potential, summoning strength from the deepest parts of himself to save their lives. His enormous sword was visibly dented from the exchange.
Who were these men? Where had this group of demonhunters suddenly come from?
Cloudhawk wall crumbled away and both sides were left staring at one another. The other side was comprised mostly of demonhunters, led by a large black man in thick armor. His features were unique and striking, for every inch of bared skin was anything but normal. Peaks and valleys, pits and protrusions, all different shades like he was a patchwork of tree bark. His hideous, toad-like flesh looked like it was slathered with mud and all different colors. The survivors shuddered and looked away, for he was like a demon who’d just climbed out from the pits of hell.
The enormous ball and chain slithered back toward this man like an iron python.
“The fateful anvil?” Gabriel recognized the relic, and the more he looked at the more the more he felt he knew him, too. Suddenly it came to him. “It’s you… you’re still alive!”
This ugly, inhuman thing was a man he knew – none other than the savage killer Frost recruited with Gabriel to kill Cloudhawk. The Butcher! But, hadn’t Naberius dealt with this man back in deadwood forest? He’d seen it with his own eyes, he’d been carved to little more than bone. How was it possible he was here now?
“Surprised?” The Butcher’s voice had changed dramatically. He words rattled through his throat like broken glass on flesh. “I live because it is the will of the gods. They spared me so that I can bring their wrath down upon you!” 
Gabriel couldn’t believe what he was looking at. After what Naberius did to him, he had survived? Yet when he thought about it, it was the sculptor’s custom to keep his pieces alive for as long as possible.
Gabriel had forced Naberius to go before his masterpiece was complete, so the Butcher kept breathing. His luck was almost supernatural, for after the others left and he was left pinned to that tree, no natives came to finish the job. He held on, one breath after the other, until a group of Hell’s Valley soldiers found him. He was rescued, brought back from the brink of death, then summarily expelled from training.
His incredible will to survive kept him going, and now he was an unrecognizable monster. No one knew who he was, and somehow through these trials he had become even stronger. Frost recognized his skill, his tenacious will, and his unassailable faith. This suited him, so instead of sending the madman back to prison, Frost chose to keep him by his side as a faithful dog.
But if the Butcher was here… what about Frost?
Forget about this man. His group was sizeable and dangerous, but what really frightened Cloudhawk and the others was Frost himself. With Cloudhawk in his trap and all the power of a master demonhunter, Frost could kill them all without breaking a sweat. It was no exaggeration to say the rebels were in deep shit.
Holy shit, the Butcher is back and he's uglier than ever.