The rain of arrows fell all around them.
These arrows were thrown, and so they posed no threat of puncturing anything important. They hardly had enough force to break skin, and against a constitution like Drake Thane it was laughable. He could stand in the middle of the field and at worst he might get a pinprick.
But these weren’t normal arrows!
One of the soldiers was overconfident and didn’t run when he was told. One or two arrows wouldn’t kill him. An arrow caught him in the back, digging the cone-shaped black arrowhead into his flesh. The head was actually a mutant fang, filled with poison. So the instant it struck the soldier, toxins were injected into his bloodstream. In an instant poison pumped throughout his whole body.
Poison tooth arrows! Weapons unique to the Blight-tooth sweeper clan.
The poison was strong and quick, but short acting. Because of this they didn’t use it in traps like others, but for direct attacks. The arrows were only made just now before the assault when the poisons were strongest. Still the soldier was sturdy – perhaps not to the point where he could deflect steel with his muscles, but certainly tough enough that a few arrows weren’t a concern. His false self-confidence cost him, for as the poison touched his skin it immediately took effect. The potent substance could rot through iron plate, so one could imagine what it did to flesh.
The soldier screamed and hit the ground. Instantly the skin around the wound had ulcerated and giant pustules bubbled onto the surface.  They burst, spewing fetid black blood in all directions.
The first arrow was followed by a second, then a third, and a forth. More and more of these evil toothed shafts were buried in his body until the screaming soldier was a half-rotten corpse.
Drake was horrified by what the natives’ weapons were capable of. A wound like that wasn’t something you survived. There was no way of telling how many of them were out there, but judging by the sheer number of arrows there had be at least a few hundred. Seven people wasn’t enough, they had to get out of here.
“Tigris, Wolfe. Run!”
Drake shouted for his companions, compelling them to give up their counter-attack against Cloudhawk.
All six remaining trainees looked for a way to break out of the encirclement. While they were thirsty for each other’s blood only moments before, the current circumstances turned them into unwitting allies. After all, to elysians all wastelanders and mutants were mortal enemies. At least for the moment, they had to put aside their shared enmity.
The hail of poison arrows ceased. The ground was covered in traces of corrosion and whisps of grey smoke rose like a mist.
The arrows didn’t just kill whatever they touched. They desecrated an area, turning it into a toxic deathtrap!
Enemies began to appear in abundance. They were fast, firing arrows as they raced through the forest. Between the mist and the poison fog, the trainees couldn’t tell where their attackers were coming from nor how many there were.
All they could see were more arrows coming at them.
One was headed right for Claudia’s chest.
With a scowl Cloudhawk reacted, throwing his arm in front of her. The arrow struck him and instantly delivered its poison. Right away the flesh turned black and putrid. Smoke rose from the wound like it was burning.
Claudia could hardly believe what she saw. Why… why did he save her? He poisoned himself!
Cloudhawk didn’t seem to care much about the damage. His reasons for saving Claudia were simple – she was a hateful woman but she knew how to fight. With enemies all around, they were facing extermination.  Cloudhawk understood that.
“Cover your nose and mouth. We have to get out of here as fast as possible.”
No one was idle, but while they could hear where the attacks were coming from, dodging them was something else entirely. The arrows came in numbers they couldn’t fathom, and these were from bows so they were a threat beyond just the poison. They were fast as bullets, and far more lethal.
It was the sheer number that was the greatest threat! Completely avoiding them was almost impossible.
The arrows that missed their targets were still a threat. Toxic fog poured out of the teeth, so potent that a normal person would be killed by a single lung full. Claudia and the others were stronger, but even so two or three breaths was all it would take for it to claim them, too. Only Cloudhawk was different.
Claudia covered her face with the coarse training robe. It gave temporary relief, but it couldn’t protect her from everything. Her eyes were especially vulnerable, and the fog was like pouring hot water into her sockets. The pain was so intense she could hardly keep her eyes open. How could she fight when she couldn’t see?
Drake’s mind raced as he assessed their situation. He could tell where the enemies were thickest by the density of arrows coming from that direction, so he used that information to plan their escape. “They’re coming in from that side! Quick!”
Another one of his followers started to follow, but let out a piercing scream and fell as an arrow caught him in the thigh.  It took no time at all for the poison to rot all the flesh around it, causing bits of skin to putrefy and melt off. Suddenly unable to keep up, he fell behind the rest of the group.
Drake reached out for him.
Another barrage of arrows whistled from the forest and his face fell. He had no way to fend them off, and the instant the velocity of the arrows changed all the poison inside was released. Once that happened they would be in the middle of a toxic cloud, and besides several of those arrows would find his legs as well. Drake had no choice but to abandon his man.
In this moment a figure emerged from the mist. When Drake saw him, his face slackened in surprise. It looked like one of those lizards they used in the wasteland, but different. Wasteland lizards ran on all fours and were relatively slow, whereas whatever this was ran on two. Its forelegs were stubby, but tipped with razor-sharp claws two or three meters long. Their haunches rose about one meter and they had to weigh thirty or forty pounds. Light, but very fast.
These were called stalkers. They had long heads with a nose and mouth that pointed slightly upwards. They lengthy jaws had twenty six to twenty eight serrated teeth, leaving no doubt that they were predatory.
Tigris struggled back onto his feet – a herculean effort since the poison had already eaten his leg down to the bone. It had spread and splashed over more of him and large parts of his body had already started to turn black. The stink of decay hung over him, there was no saving this man. He knew it, and so with the last moments of his life Tigris decided to try and give the others more time.
He proved himself a soldier in that moment. Wounded and hopeless, his bravery was unparalleled. He punched off one of the riders that got close, and then stuffed his hands in the stalker mount’s mouth and ripped the top of its head off.
Other riders closed in, firing their bows. Tigris’ screams rang through the forest as he was peppered with several more arrows.
Drake watched the whole thing. Raged filled him with such intensity it seemed his red eyes might burst. But Cloudhawk pulled him along, delivering a sharp slap to his face. “Your friend died so you could get away. What the fuck are you still gaping at? Run!”
Cloudhawk’s slap snapped him out of it. Acting recklessly now would get him killed.
As they fled one of the natives stepped out from the group. This one was bigger than the rest, about the size of an average human man. He looked young, and in the elysian-forged armor that covered him from head to toe he looked almost regal.
“You twisted wastelander freak! I hope you fuckin’ suffer before you die!”
Half a dozen arrows jutted from Tigris skin. Their poison had already begun dissolving his organs, but he kept his eyes fixed on the enemy. This one had to be their leader, he figured, and so without a second thought he flung his failing body at him.
The chief wore a helmet that hid his features, but anyone could feel the taunting sneer on his face. With incredible speed he knocked and pulled back a bow twice the size of his companions, firing an arrow too fast to track. This one was a normal arrow that shot through Tigris and became lodged in a distant tree.
He went rigid.
The stalker mount lurched forward and snapped its jaws around the soldier. As Tigris struggle to take his final breaths, the leader pranced his mount around with the soldier caught in its mouth. He slung the bow over his back and drew forth a wide-bladed hatchet. Then, before the elysians and all his men, he cut Tigris' head from its body.
The men who’d followed Drake weren’t family, but they were soldiers like him. Young, talented men – comrades in arms. The connection that bound them went deeper than blood. They were also Drake’s closest friends, normal men like him. Competing against demonhunters was difficult, but they relished the opportunity. For this reason they’d joined forces, only for him to witness two of them die in this cursed forest. He felt their deaths sharply.
There was nothing he could do. Eyes red, voice angry, he growled at the others. “Let’s go!”
Cloudhawk cast a glance toward the sweeper in elysian armor. It was strange, he thought… He’d encountered a few of the sweepers already, and besides their traps they weren’t much of a threat. They were an irritation more than anything, easily put down. A mob without tactics.
This group was different. They planned their attack. Their tactics weren’t to the same level as an army, but it was far superior to any of the groups he’d seen so far. Cloudhawk had to wonder where this guy came from.
Bitch-slap! The most effective way to wake someone up.