The Blight-tooth warriors knocked their bows and drew back strings, ready to fire another wave of arrows. However, even before they could pull the strings ready, the ethereal woman across the clearing was responding. With ease and grace she waved the whip clutched in her hand, which released a burst of cyan energy through the forest. I swept horizontal to the ground and out toward her enemies, like a blade of wind.
A fifty-meter cone splayed out like a fan before her. Everything from natives and beasts, to trees and even stone were split in two as the light swept by. All of it seemed as substantial as bean curd before a sharp knife. All of it was neatly cleaved in half.
Cloudhawk watched as a terrifying cold crept up his spine. Subconsciously he touched his waist, thankfully discovering that it all still seemed in once piece. Even his clothes were unscathed. He stared at the unfathomable demonhunter with deep respect. Her relic was not only fierce and quick, it could be gentle as well in a moment’s notice. What uncanny power!
Instructor Cutter took a drag on the cigarette lazily smoldering between his lips. He pulled out his sword, a massive thing that was crimson red from hilt to tip and had to weigh at least several hundred pounds. Its blade edge looked incomparably sharp while the back was a line of jagged spikes. The hilt was in the shape of a coiling python. Waves of threatening power poured from the instructor as he brandished his weapon and squinted at Cloudhawk. “You. You’re not dead.”
This earned a deep sigh from the wastelander. “No, more or less though.”
Cutter snorted. “If you can’t even survive this test, what right do you have to enter Hell’s Valley? Get behind us and see how it’s done.”
The valley’s head instructors varied wildly in demeanor. Cutter was a typical warrior. Although his sword was something to behold, it wasn’t a relic. The other two were undoubtedly demonhunters. The layers of metal armor the other one wore was his relic.
How was Cloudhawk so sure? He could feel the resonance coming from it. Even before the female instructor made her move, the armored man had called on his power. It all gathered around his fortress-like figure, causing glowing lines to appear throughout the metal. They joined to create elaborate glimmering patterns, ultimately revealing an archaic design.
The entire suit of armor blazed with light and heat, like iron in a casting oven.
In sharp contrast to the lumbering suit of metal, the armored instructor exploded forward with incomparable speed. Like a ball of light he charged through the forest, leveling everything in his path. One of the natives had the wherewithal to try and block, but erupted into a dozen mangled pieces when the instructor hit him.
Anything in the streaking light’s path – whether it was wood or stone or flesh - was smashed to pieces as easily as rotted furniture. In its wake was a trough four or five meters deep. The instructor was a man-shaped meat grinder.
Cloudhawk had met several skilled fighters in his life; Selene, Dawn, Atlas, Frost… Each of them had their own unique strengths and fighting styles.
With the exception of the Caliph of the Sands or Lord Arcturus, Cloudhawk had never seen an attack that shook him so deeply. The armored instructor’s methods were wild and brutal, bulldozing through his enemies under the protection of his impenetrable armor. His indomitable passage turned all enemies into meat paste.
An attack like that obliterated the enemy’s body and morale.
Cutter heaved his domineering weapon. “Leave some for me!”
His words hung in the air as Instructor Cutter leapt forward. Charging into the fray, deep indentations were left where his feet feel. His sword crashed into the enemy forces like a tsunami, whirled like a tornado, kicking up a tempest of blood and flesh. As far as speed and strength, he was the most tyrannical fighter Cloudhawk had ever witnessed.
The soldiers of Hell’s Valley discharged their crossbows, then switched them out for close-range weapons. In that space of time Cutter had already cut eight or nine of their enemies to pieces.
A dozen of the assistants rushed in to join the fight. A hundred more elite veterans followed behind.
Blight-tooth Clan had erupted into chaos, forsaking their freedom to exact revenge on Cloudhawk. While they had an advantage in numbers, their fighting strength could not match up to the valley’s warriors. How could they stand against an assault like this? Every one of those soldiers was a veteran of a hundred battles, and the assistants were the cream of that crop.
Meanwhile, Blight-tooth’s soldiers hardly outnumbers them two to one. It didn’t even give the humans pause. Their opening charge forced the sweepers five hundred meters back and killed a fourth of them. The second push gained another three hundred meters, leaving more than half the natives’ forces dead. By the third assault there was almost nothing left.
Cloudhawk had been impressed by Skycloud’s normal army forces. Seeing the veterans at work, he final understood just how inferior the wastelands were at waging war. These veterans were nothing short of terrifying, and could easily sweep through any outpost in the wastelands without concern.
As Blackfang watched the enemy route his forces, the last light of hope died in his chest. With deep regret he wondered why he’d ignored Gorefang’s orders. Why chase after this lone assassin with all his men? If they’d let him go, maybe they might have stood a chance. The forces of Hell’s Valley couldn’t stray too far from their home.
Now, though… it was all too late. Blackfang shrieked at his warriors in their strange tongue.
Cloudhawk didn’t understand their language, but he didn’t need to in order to understand it was a call for retreat. The difference was too great. How could the natives survive against most of the valley’s power?
Only a handful of stalker riders managed to survive.
Blackfang led a few dozen warriors into the forest, toward the borderlands. If the valley’s soldiers were all here, it meant their defenses at the forest’s edge were weak. There was a chance what remained of his clan could slip through, out into the safety of the wastelands.
But the bloodcurdling scream that followed dashed their hopes, as the scarred instructor came charging at them with sword raised high. He was even faster than the mounts they rode, and so quickly caught up to the fleeing natives. With a single sweep of his sword he cleaved a rider and his mount in half.
“We were going to leave a few of you alive so you could recover your clan, survive out here in the forest. Now that you’ve chosen annihilation, I’ll make sure you get what you deserve.”
From the first word to the last – no more than a few seconds – eight more sweepers were slain. Each one was cut down without a struggle.
Blackfang understood the language of his oppressors. Survive? Recover? What a joke! Could that sort of life be called surviving? What purpose would recovering serve?
In the eyes of the elysians, his people were treated worse than livestock! From the beginning Blight-tooth Clan kept to itself and lives in harmony with their surroundings. They had no interest in ever leaving the forest, but the elysians gave them no chance at a quiet life of freedom. They came and destroyed the paradise they’d built for themselves.
It was them who invaded their land. Them who imprisoned and enslaved his people. Over a decade of living in squalor, a fate worse than death. Was this the benevolence of the elysians?
Even as he bemoaned their fate, Blackfang watched the valley’s soldiers closing in. Only a handful of his people were still breathing.
But ahead… ahead there was light. The world beyond Deadwood Forest – a place even the devils who chased him wouldn’t dare follow.
Blackfang knew he wasn’t strong enough to stand against the sword-wielding instructor. Much less break free from the elysians once he was surrounded. There it was, the road of freedom stretching out before his eyes… but it may as well have been as untouchable as the sky.
He turned his head toward the sound, a group of his clansmen. If they were still alive it meant they had to be what remained of his most elite warriors. He could see in their eyes that they knew what fate had in store. There was no fear in them, just faith and determination.
Blackfang said nothing. He read the meaning in their eyes.
The remaining riders stopped suddenly by pulling hard on their mounts’ reigns. They turned, facing the soldiers coming hot on their heels. With weapons raised high, they shouted at their foes at the top of their lungs.
“Blight-tooth forever! Freedom forever!”
Wild shouts rang out at the riders charged into the overwhelming enemy forces. They were quickly buried beneath the tide of steel and iron.
Hot tears burned paths down Blackfang’s face. It was the last opportunity, gifted to him by the last of his people. The chance at freedom.
The hazy light of the wastelands inched closer.
A shadow swept up beside him, too fast for Blackfang to react. A ruthless slice caught him at the waist and cut him all the way through. Like a butterfly without its wings he tumbled through the air until the ground came up to meet him. Still he didn’t stop. Without a mount he would run, without legs he could crawl. Inch by inch he clawed his way out of the forest.
He felt the scorching hot sun on his back, and with fumbling hands drew out the fangs he’d taken from his chief. Blackfang thrust them into the dirt, then rolled himself over. He took deep, greedy breaths – his first breaths of free air – and stared at the endless expanse of blue sky above. Fifteen years he’d lived, each one in darkness, never leaving the gloomy canopy of Deadwood Forest. He never imagined the sky would look so beautiful.
And then he died.
As Cloudhawk walked through the corpse-strewn paths of the forest he came across the upper half of Blight-tooth clan’s last leader. The last vestiges of this intelligent sweeper colony had been wiped out.
They’d been the victims from the beginning, fighting against cruel captivity. All they wanted was freedom, but time and fate conspired to keep them from it. Fighting against destiny in today’s day and age was an act of self-absorbed defiance that could only end one way.
These pitiful natives were no threat to the elysians, so why did they have to be obliterated? Was it merely the will of their gods? Just because they said that elysians and wastelanders could not coexist? What sort of god would demand such a thing?
Cloudhawk felt pity for these resentful souls. He felt not even a shadow of respect for the gods who did this to them.
This was how it was, this is how it is, and this is how it will be. Whatever miracles they provided, whatever nourishment they produced, however many faithful they delude, however strong they may be… Cloudhawk’s hatred for these beings and his doubt for their motives ran deep. Down in his soul he knew the gods were not here to save the world. They gathered up the ones they thought were worthy and created this pocket of plenty, this so-called ‘domain’. Wasn’t it just another sort of captivity? Cloudhawk didn’t know the whole story, but he was convinced that only humanity had the capacity to save itself. And the only way to do that was through strength.
Instructor Cutter shouted out his orders. “Send out teams to sweep the forest. Don’t let a single little minnow slip the net.”
No sooner did he make the call than a loud explosion erupted from the distant valley. Faces immediately darkened. What was happening? More explosions followed on the heels of the first, several in a row like bombs being dropped. The distinct pop of firearms followed.
Dark Atom’s assault on Hell’s Valley had begun.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
The vanguard has finished playing. Now it's time for the big dawgs.