Oddball disappeared into the mist. Blight-tooth warriors paid no attention to the tiny thing, the bird was not important.
But they did not know how keen the bird’s eyes were. Oddball’s vision pierced the fog, sharing what it learned with Cloudhawk about their situation.
The Blight-tooth’s bone horn kept blasting its note. Before long, a thousand warriors had gathered – their youngest and fiercest fighters. However, what was shocking was the fact that these natives were better equipped than outpost soldiers. There were over a hundred riders, tied to their vicious mounts.
Every warrior was protected by leather armor, with long bows in their hands and a quiver of poison arrows on their backs. Countless close-combat fighters hefted their bone spear, swords and shields. Some even had firearms. While the pygmy sweepers were not strong of body, with this gear they could wipe out the veteran outpost if they caught the humans off guard.
It was simply unheard of. This wasn’t some native tribe – they were an army!
To Cloudhawk, these mutants were strange and twisted things. He did not know anything about their lives, what they inherited or how they grew. Did they have ‘parents’ the way humans knew them? Did they gather into ‘tribes’? They were so physically different that they surely had a much different pattern of community and maturity.
That isn’t to say there weren’t more stable groups, but they were few and far between. Most didn’t join forces and were easily destroyed in the harsh environment of the wastelands. A force like the Blight-tooth Clan was completely foreign to Cloudhawk. Looking through Oddball’s eyes, seeing his enemies stretch out through the forests, he felt an icy cold in his heart.
“There are too many of them out there. We’re completely surrounded. We won’t last five minutes, even holed up in this cave for protection.” Cloudhawk’s face was stricken as he spoke to the others. “I have an idea, but I’m going to need everyone’s help.”
Claudia turned her eyes toward Cloudhawk and saw the nasty wound in his chest. It was already improving. He was the only one of their group who didn’t seem to fear their enemy’s poison. She’d watched him survive what killed soldiers twice as strong as him.
Strange… this bastard seemed resistant to poison.
Inwardly Claudia sneered at him. Surely it was because wastelanders spent so much time supping on spiders and cockroaches that they developed an immunity. His blood was probably even more toxic than the poison they were trying to use on him.
“We’re going to die anyway,” Drake said. He was ready to take any risk. “Whatever it is, let’s do it.”
“Only way to kill a snake is to cut off its head. If we deal with their leader it’ll be chaos, that’s when we make a break for it. And even if that doesn’t work, at least we killed that son of a bitch.”
“Well, even before we consider how strong the leader might be, the question is how we get to him…” But no sooner had Drake voiced the thought then understanding dawned on him. Cloudhawk was able to use his powers to slip through things. He needed the rest of them to provide cover, because he was the only one who could pull it off. He gave his support before Cloudhawk could respond. “I understand! Let’s do it!”
Outside, the Blight-tooth Clan kept sending soldiers at the cave. Their last assault cost them eight or nine of their clansmen, a fact that only made them more furious.
One of the soldiers who seemed to hold some authority shouted at the others. “Form up! Attack!”
The roar of a landslade came from the cave as Drake’s stalwart body burst forth from the rubble. He had a bone sword in each hand, which he used to remove the heads of several clansmen before they even knew what was happening.
“They’re trying to escape!” The sweeper commander screeched his warning and a few natives with bone shields shuffled over to block their path. Several dozen others leveled their poison arrows. “Kill them!”
A volley of arrows followed.
Drake spun, whipping his bone swords around like a windmill. He moved so fast it seemed even a droplet of water couldn’t pass through, much less the arrows shot his way. The poison fog they released still injured him, but Drake paid it no mind. He was a beast, berserk and out of control. The first shield-bearer he encountered was hacked into half a dozen pieces in an instant.
Several more figures emerged from the cave, joining the fray.
Drake shouted over his shoulder, covered from head to toe in blood. “Three minutes! That’s all you got!”
“Understood!” Oddball had already helped Cloudhawk narrow down his target’s location. He charged from the group, right toward the center of the sweepers. The ground darkened as arrows plot out the sky, intermingled with deadly gunfire.
It was a terrifying display. Just what he was looking for. The leader had to be around there.
Cloudhawk’s feet dug into the ground and he exploded forward. Every step left a pit in its wake. When he reached peak speed Cloudhawk leapt once again into the air, galvanizing the power of the phase stone. Those below watched as he soared toward the wall of poison arrows and hot lead.
Was he insane? It was suicide. The sweepers stared in shock.
The humans were sure to die, but this one seemed in a particular rush. Such a courageous acceptance of death was not often seen. Yet, just as the sweepers were sure Cloudhawk was about to be riddled with arrows, what happened next shocked them even further.
Every arrow and bullet slipped through the crazy human like he wasn’t there. None left a mark nor drew blood, as though trying to pierce a spirit. A few of them that failed to kill Cloudhawk peppered their own front line and killed a number of tribesmen.
What sorcery was this?!
Momentum sent Cloudhawk soaring tens of meters over the bloodthirsty horde, toward their heart. Several sweepers charged at him when he came close, but their spears went right through him and into their companions rushing in from behind. A group of stalker beasts crashed into a mess of limbs as they tried to run him down, but Cloudhawk simply floated through them all.
“What sort of creature is he?!”
This was like nothing the natives had ever seen before. Surprise caused them to temporarily break off their attacks, which Cloudhawk took advantage of to drop the stone’s power. A disadvantage to the phase stone was how it cut his speed to almost nothing, so he had to drop its protective shell long enough to take a few more steps. When he got moving again the stone’s power was reawakened.
He was without the stone’s protection for less than two seconds, but long enough for two arrows to find their mark. Both had struck him in the back. Cloudhawk’s danger sense was keen, but it was better suited for smaller skirmishes. He was surrounded by enemies who wanted him dead, so it felt as though danger was coming from everywhere. His special perception didn’t help him here.
But it didn’t matter. The effects of the poison didn’t concern him much.
Disregarding his wounds, Cloudhawk charged through the lines of enemies. Every inch brought him closer to his target, yet his psychic energy was waning. Unsure of whether he could keep the stone’s power active he continued anyway. Hesitation meant certain death.
The press of sweepers grew thicker the closer Cloudhawk came. Behind them all, the man he intended to kill.
Gorefang was confident in his men. Hell Valley couldn’t have gathered their forces yet and the thousand-strong clan was poised to break right through the borderlands’ defenses. Once they were out of this cursed forest, he and his people would at last be free.
He’d waited so long for this moment.
Blight-tooth Clan’s vigor and reproductive abilities were never in doubt. Freed from their shackles, Gorefang knew they would multiply and spread all across the wastelands. He had been preparing for this the day he inherited the Gorefang title from his father, and here it was.
Blackfang scurried to his side. “We have a thousand warriors gathered already, the soldiers of Hell Valley must already have the news. We can’t stay here, now’s our chance.”
Gorefang’s lieutenant was interrupted by the sound of combat from behind. He scowled. “What’s going on there? What’s all this noise?”
Blackfang answered. “We have those elysians surrounded in a cave. They are fighting back.”
Anger flashed across Gorefang’s face. His soldiers couldn’t even handle a few trainees? Was there really such a glaring difference between wasteland warriors and elysian soldiers? But besides the anger there was a deeply unsettling sensation creeping into his chest. He looked around and spotted a round yellow bird circling overhead. Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary.
“Your orders, chief?”
“The fight to break through the borderland’s defenses will be a fierce one. If something happens to me, you are the next Gorefang. Do you understand?”
“Enough. You must make sure our clan wins their freedom!”
Blackfang clenched his fists, took a step back, and bowed respectfully. He struck his chest twice with his right hand in a sign of respect. Yet as he raised his head to speak, his voice caught in his throat. The tribe's second in command gaped like he was staring at a ghost. “Careful!”
Gorefang was confused for he sensed no danger, but when he turned his head he saw a figure descend on him, covered in wounds. The human passed straight through one of his bodyguards on a singular mission – right for Gorefang. A bone spear was slowly coming his way.
“You come seeking death!”
Gorefang couldn’t fathom how the human had gotten so close, but now wasn’t the time to ask. This idiot had signed his death warrant and Gorefang – as leader and mightiest warrior of the Blight-tooth – was here to serve it.
His foe’s comically slow attack was beneath contempt.
Gorefang withdrew his longsword and hacked it at the elysian, so fast the wind whistled in protest. It ripped through his neck at subsonic speed. The human could be made of solid iron and the strike would cut him down.
As the blade slipped through Cloudhawk’s neck, Gorefang knew something was off. It was the way it felt. As he stood there in shock the bone spear entered his chest. He immediately tensed the muscles of his chest for protection, although he was sure the ponderous attack was no threat. But he was wrong again. The spear met no resistance and slipped right in, through and through.
A cold sweat broke out over his body, but Gorefang quickly found there was no pain. No blood. Was this some sort of illusion? Gorefang knew that there were humans called demonhunters who possessed special powers. They were often found in Hell Valley, and they were known for their mysterious tricks.
An illusion! Yes, just a mirage!
Gorefang sighed in relief, but an instant later his whole body seized. All of the skin, muscle, and bone around the spear split apart. Including his heart. Gorefang’s pupils constricted into tiny black dots, set in an expression of disbelief.
The spear was real…! It was there, stuck in his chest.
It wasn’t a piercing attack, not in the typical sense. Piercing attacks could be defended. It was an assault from a different slice of reality – a dimensional fissure where two things tried to occupy the same space. In the end reality’s dominance was absolute, and no defense could stand before it. Gorefang’s death was assured.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Tele-slash for the win!