Book 2, Chapter 55 - Deterrence

Profound stillness. Stifling gloom.

This was a small section of the tunnels, about three hundred square meters housing a couple hundred people. Lamps were set in distant corners but they didn’t do much to dispel the darkness. Like all the other tools of Skycloud, so long as they were in the city they could be used indefinitely. A few boxes were scattered around with essentials like food and water, but there weren’t many and they were quickly emptying.

A man thin as withered weeds, with hair to his shoulders, sat cross-legged on the floor. He was covered in grime from head to foot and I gathered in the craggy lines of his face. A scar ran down his face and over one of his eyes that gave him an even more savage appearance. His back, shoulder and chest were covered in wounds. Lily hovered over him doing what she could. “We don’t have any medicine, I can’t do much.”

Majjhima’s voice remained low and steady. “This old man’s got tough bones, none of this is worth worrying over.”

This group had survived down here the last few days thanks to Majjhima’s contacts, who he had deliver much-needed supplies. But their good luck couldn’t last forever. Skycloud’s hounds were closing in and the ways were sealed. For all of Majjhima’s clout and contacts it proved not so easy to slip out of the military’s noose. 

His organization was four hundred members strong before supplies grew too strained. A group wanted to take it all for themselves and fighting broke out. By the end over a hundred people had died. Their corpses were littered among the tunnels, and were already beginning to smell.

It was ironic. Majjhima brought them all here, hid them from attackers in the tunnels, drew on his network to give them supplies only for greed to trump it all. Was their small pile of food and water really worth it?

Those jackasses were too dense to realize that Skycloud’s blockades would lighten up eventually. If they wanted to live their best bet was to rely on the resources Majjhima could provide. If something happened to him any hope of getting stuff from the outside died with him.

No.

In fact everyone knew it well. And they figured it was better to nab what he had before someone else did it. At least they could live longer than the other guy.

And after that, what then? Fuck it! Every man for himself, live moment by moment.

Of the two hundred or so people who still listened to him, a hundred were from Bloomnettle company. They never breathed a word of revolt, and he honored his promise to look after them. 

“Boss, bad news! They’re coming again!”

A dozen shapes starting moving in through the darkness of the tunnels. The one who led them was a whip-thin man clad all in black, his limbs no thicker than a bamboo branch. His hair was a disheveled mop atop his head like wing on a skeleton. Everything about him oozed malice and made one’s skin crawl.

This one was unique. Raputin was put in jail after raping and murdering a dozen young women. His violent and ruthless style could handle ten soldiers at a time. Today he had a pair of swords, patchwork weapons made from disassembled military weaponry.

All at once a palpable fear spread through Majjhima’s followers.

This skeletal man’s weapons had tasted a lot of blood, much of which they witnessed firsthand. A tenth of the bodies that were rotting in the darkness where put there by him. Fear of him was, in no small part, the reason so many went to his side.

Majjhima stood up and walked over toward the man, staring at him eye to eye. “Escaping’s going to be hard enough without us trading bodies.”

“Cut the shit, I gave you a chance. You keep half your stuff…” The skinny man’s snake-like eyes slithered through the crowd until he found what he was looking for. “… and we get them.”

Lilly’s face twitched. Twelve young women shivered while the rest of Bloomnettle company shuffled with fear.

The men Rasputin took with him eyed them like hungry wolves. All of them were violent offenders – strong, violent and evil.

“We’re locked down here and we don’t know when or if we’ll ever get out. I’d like to enjoy a woman’s unique… flavor before I die.” Dripping with foul intent Rasputin’s eyes raked over the girls. They lingered a little longer on the doctor, Lily. That full chest, tight ass, and pretty cheeks. He felt it like a fire in his stomach awakening a beast inside him. A dark red tongue darted as he licked his lips. “Anyone who wants to join my side, I promise you get a piece.”

Majjhima scowled. It was plain as day Rasputin was deluding them, but times like these brought out the worst in people. Their most small and petty selves emerged, and he knew some were ready to accept it.

“Half of what we have, but no one goes with you.” Majjhima stood firm, all coolness and restraint. “Cloudhawk made me responsible for them. You saw what he could do, what do you think he’ll do to you if you mess with his people?”

“What, come after me? Hahaha!” There was a tinge of madness in his laugh. “Skycloud had people closing in as we speak. Who knows if we’ll even make it to tomorrow? Do you think I care if I upset that little shit? Hell if he could really do what he said, how’d he get caught in the first place? I’m dying down her anyway, let him kill me.”

“You’re right!” Someone in the crowd stepped forward and looked at the young girls. “They don’t contribute but they eat all our food and drink the water. For what? Cloudhawk’s already been captured, probably. He’s not coming down here!”

Someone joined them, then another. Then another.

“When food and water is so scarce you have to trade what you can. You either fight or you pay with your body. Otherwise what are you doing to earn your keep? Keep the women and kill the kids and old people, that’s what I say. It’s only fair!”

“That’s right!”

“Why should we share with them?”

The Bloomnettle company was a big group, and most of them weren’t fighters. Majjhima didn’t stop anyone and just let them go and the pressure broke. He watched twenty or thirty people betray him.

Even the people who were loyal to him tried to convince Majjhima that they were just a burden. That even if Cloudhawk did come down here it was unlikely he’d even find them. He had enough on his plate already without having to handle the garbage, too.

“If you’re going to be stuck in your ways then I’m going to have to take them myself.” Rasputin had just taken a fourth of his people and dealt a staggering blow to their morale. Now was the right time to take what he wanted. “You see that one there? Big tits, nice ass, pale skin… fine Skycloud goods right there. I heard she was a doctor, too. You fellas want some of that?”

Lily felt a dozen rotten stares crawl over her as she pressed herself back against the wall, covered in sweat. In the city doctors were respected. Lily wasn’t gorgeous but she was pretty and full figured. She had a lot of feminine charm and to these men, who’d been locked up in the dark for years, found it difficult to control themselves.

 “Kill them!”

Rasputin knew he’d aroused their dark appetite. “Whoever brings me the old man’s head gets first dibs on her!”

The men around them became to hoot and whistle. And just as they were ready to pounce a cold light flashed from the tunnels.

A simple-looking black-gold sword lashed out from the shadows. Like slicing tofu, cut through Rasputin’s left shoulder and out through his right abdomen. Impossibly sharp and completely soundless.

Then the blade turned and was swiped from his left abdomen and punching through his right shoulder. And once more across his right arm, tearing through rib and lung and heart, and exiting through the left arm. So fast, in a blink the three attacks swept through him.

All without a noise.

The others came to their senses as they watched Rasputin fall down in neat chunks. Someone knocked him over like an angry child through building blocks. Blood seeped out in gallons, spreading out along the floor in a gruesome bloom.

 A man stood above the pile of meat, wearing a mask and a grey cloak and a sword as silent as death in his hand. He stood still as the sanguine petals grew beneath his feet. Finally his eyes rose to sweet over the others, and in a voice like the rasp of the grave asked them a question. “Bad things happen to those who are ungrateful. Someone want to prove me wrong?”  

When Lily saw who it was tears fell down her cheeks like a waterfall. All the people of Bloomnettle began to cry.

Only one man cut Rasputin apart like he was nothing, It filled them with confidence.

No one had seen Cloudhawk arrive. They didn’t even see what he did. Many people still had no idea, to them Rasputin just fell to pieces. In fact several men were fixated on their goal and lunged forward before they noticed. He lazily stretched out his hand and, amidst the sound of rasping gravel, an arrow of sand shot out. It fired through all three of them. They screamed and died.

The crowd start to share uncomfortable looks. People began to try and back away.

Rasputin was no weakling, and in a straight fight it wasn’t sure Cloudhawk could take him. But with the help of the chaos and his invisibility cloak he was able to get in close for a surprise attack. With the addition of Quiet Carnage’s powers he cut the man to pieces before he knew what happened. 

Cloudhawk knew some of the angry men out there were dangerous murderers who could fight as well as Rasputin. Majjhima’s people were weak even with Cloudhawk on their side, and if they chose now to charge things would get back in a hurry.

But the opposite happened.

His sudden arrival and ruthless style made him mysterious, and all residents of Skycloud had a sense of fear and worship for demonhunters. Terror kept them locked in place.

One of them scrambled to their feet. “This was all Rasputin’s idea, none of us wanted to do it! Spare us!”

He drew his eyes back and forth over the crowd, letting the moment linger. “Do not let me see you. Ever again. Now - fuck off.”

Granted forgiveness, they turned and fled into the dark tunnels.

Cloudhawk knew they weren’t going anywhere. Dawn Polaris was not far behind and they were headed right for her. They had more of a chance against Cloudhawk and soon that she-devil was going to prove it to them. But by then it’d be too late.

Leading them into her hands was like handing her victory.

There were a lot of people who fled from the prisons, but the crux of them were here. If she snatched them up that was most of the more dangerous criminals right there, leaving little for Atlas and Frost to squabble over and more than enough for her to prove she was the winner.

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RWX's Thoughts

Now here's a clever little ploy.  Kills two birds with one stone.  Nicely done, Cloudhawk.