Book 2, Chapter 89 - Conscripted Cannon Fodder

What does the ebb and flow of the world have to do with me? The honor or disgrace of Skycloud domain is none of my business. To Cloudhawk there wasn’t much difference between the Dark Atom and Skycloud. Neither of them were worth shit in his opinion, they’d do the world a favor by destroying one another.

Cloudhawk was looking for a rock to hide in when a gruff and familiar voice shouted at him. “What the fuck are you doing over there hiding?!”

Cloudhawk cursed under his breath as he looked up. It was none other than the surly assistant who threatened to make him intimately familiar with his club. Right now he was suited up like a soldier, encased from head to toe with elysian armor. He’d traded his cudgel for a large ax and stood towering like an immovable wall.

Cloudhawk’s reaction was to clutch his chest and flop dramatically to one side. With eyes half-lidded he moaned to his abuser. “I’m all messed up. They shot me with a bunch of arrows and cut me with swords, I’m sure there’s some organ damage. I think I’m dying. I’d just hold you all back. But even though I can’t kill these dogs together with you, you have my emotional support.”

“You dipshit coward!” The training assistant yanked Cloudhawk back up onto his feet, like a bear effortlessly plucking up a chimp. “It’s all hands, scrub. If you’re gonna die, you’ll do it on the front lines. You’re with my team.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna work for me.”

“You take one more step away and I’ll cut you down as a deserter!”

He flung a vial of medicine and a crossbow at the scrawny wastelander. Cloudhawk bemoaned his rotten luck. How was any of this his goddamn problem? He wasn’t a soldier or a demonhunter. Wasn’t his relationship with the Dark Atom shitty enough as it was? If he killed more of them now, they’d hunt him to the ends of the earth.

But this guy wasn’t screwin’ around.

Making a run for it didn’t seem like a viable option. Even if the assistant didn’t just cut his head off for being a deserter, he’d probably be captured and brought back to Skycloud to face trial as a deserter and blasphemer. A trial would mean only one of two things for him. If he refused to admit guilt, they’d burn him as a blasphemer. If he admitted wrongdoing, they’d burn him as punishment.

He was screwed either way.

When fate choses to screw with you, even a fart would curse you with anal fissures. Cloudhawk was sure that no matter how bad the valley was, it couldn’t be worse than living in the wastelands. Then came Butcher, and Gabriel, and Drake, and Claudia. Then the Blight-tooth clan. How much more shit could he step in?

Above all else, staying alive was his priority. But it is what it is, he thought – there was no time for self-pity.

He bitterly pulled the cork from the vial of medicine and downed its contents. It was one of those refined brews from the elysian lands, quick and effective. It also served as a stimulant to keep warriors on their feet, so Cloudhawk suddenly felt the exhaustion drain from him and vitality return. Even his mental energies recovered a little.

All at once Cloudhawk found himself in the uncomfortable position of being conscripted into a defense force. The battle lines had engaged, and both sides were locked in fierce combat.

All the while the three giants of Hell’s Valley were at war with Wolfblade. Spectacular and terrifying were the only words that could define their clash. In a flash it became a fierce test of skill and strength, where their stalemate could break at any moment.

Cloudhawk hefted the weighty crossbow and trudged after his team to join the fight.

This fight was going to be a nasty one – an all-out confrontation.

Instructor Cutter dragged his eyes over the devastated battlefield. Little by little his scarred face darkened into a scowl, making it all the more terrible to behold. “These fuckin’ rats, scurrying around in the shadows! Well now they skulk out into the open, they’ve gotta be bored of livin’!”

Wolfblade had carefully planned this operation. It was simple, but simple had its benefits. Where he failed was in considering all angles. Of course, he couldn’t know Cloudhawk would kill the Blight-tooth leader and send them into disarray. Without leadership, the huge disparity in strength between the natives and Hell’s Army only grew worse. The elysians were able to quickly mop up and head back, far faster than Wolfblade anticipated.

But that didn’t matter. Nothing ever went exactly to plan.

Wolfblade and his people had already managed to punch through the valley’s defenses. They’d also robbed them of their warships. Even with the three instructors on the battlefield, victory wasn’t out of reach.

“Natessa Windham, Dumont Cenhelm, and Eckard Cutter.” [1] Wolfblade’s scratchy, uncomfortable voice hissed from behind the bandages. Speaking with him was not like facing a man, but a mummy. “The three ‘giants’ of this tiny outpost surpass my expectations. You know, I hear that your Master Arcturus is nearly invincible. I’m curious to learn the truth of that for myself.”

Natessa remained as cool and aloof as the clouds above. “You aren’t even worthy of speaking his name.”

Where there is light, there was always shadow. There was no more insidious and powerful secret organization hiding in Skycloud domain than the Dark Atom.

There were limits to that power, of course. From inception to present day the Dark Atom had existed for seventy years. In that time they went through many leaders. Their history and the past that brought them to this point was extraordinary, but they never had the might required to face the elysians directly. This was especially true once Arcturus Cloude took the reigns.

Over the years, the worst the Dark Atom could manage were small-scale terrorist attacks. Attacks on infrastructure, hit squads and so forth. Attacking the root cause of their hatred was never an option.

Be that as it may, the hearts of its members ever beat for the day they could overthrow Skycloud.

Much to the consternation of the elysians, they were never able to completely eradicate these terrorists. Like weeds, you could cut them down and they would just sprout up somewhere else. Their structure was secretive and far reaching, and whatever methods the elysians used – including undercover agents – was foiled. They’d never been able to strike a decisive blow at the heart of the organization.

Wolfblade was Dark Atom’s third leader. He’d maintained control over its forces for over a decade already. No one had ever seen his true face, which led many to suspect that ‘Wolfblade’ was just a title. ‘He’ might, in fact, be ‘they’. A group sharing the same name. Still others thought that Wolfblade wasn’t a real person at all, just a figurehead the organization propped up to keep their enemies guessing. 

For the first time, Wolfblade appeared in person on the battlefield.

Although the leaders of Hell’s Army had never seen Wolfblade, there was a fair amount of intelligence on his lieutenants. Most of them were here, along with the vast majority of the Dark Atom’s forces. Who but Wolfblade could lead such a large force? 

For the first time, the Dark Atom’s leader had shown what passed for his face. It was an important moment!

If he was slain here, not only would the valley’s failed defense be forgiven, they may even get commendations from the Temple. Who’s to say the gods themselves wouldn’t shower them with blessings? Who wouldn’t want to pursue such glory?

The female instructor, Natessa Windham, looked out across the battle. “Remember, their target is the compound.”

The armored instructor, Dumont Cenhelm, and the scarred masochist Eckard Cutter, felt their hearts beating wildly in their chest. They, too, looked out over the besieged outpost and saw the enormous cleft their enemies had caused. Their commander was right, the Dark Atom had taken an incredible risk in order to take this place.

That meant they were ultimately after… this was bad!

All three of the instructors scowled menacingly.

It was one of the most well-kept secrets of Hell’s Valley, sealed here for safe keeping and stricken from any record. How did the Dark Atom know? But that didn’t matter now, they were here and they couldn’t be allowed to get their hands on it!

Natessa called upon her psychic energies and let them spread. Her windblade boomerang sprang back into action, infused with even more power than before. The cyan-hued blades sprouting from it were thicker and sturdier. Spinning rapidly through the air, their keen edges were almost palpable from a distance – in fact it was lethal up to five meters in diameter from the center. If it tore through an army battalion, the resulting carnage was unsettling to imagine. Nothing would be left but mangled bodies.

“Go!”

Natessa urged her relic weapon toward Wolfblade. It spun wildly, changing direction and trajectory from one instant to the next. What’s more, the blades split: one became two, two became four. Attacks came from all sides, never in a straight line, like four bloodthirsty swallows. They swirled around Wolfblade, penning him in with deadly cyclones.

As they closed in, Wolfblade could already feel their cutting energy rip at his clothes. Without a hint of conern, he reached up to unbandage the strip of cloth covering his eyes. The left eye was revealed, no different from a normal person’s but for the dangerous glint that shone within.

All at once, the erratic movement of the spinning blades became perfectly clear to him.

Wolfblade’s eye couldn’t see in the traditional sense. Instead, it gathered all manner of information like speed and trajectory, and conveyed it to his brain. It allowed him to instantly see through feints, and determine all the facts of an attack coming his way. Using split-second planning and all the data collected, he was able to formulate the perfect counter.

The floating sword of electric light began to move. It cut an opening through the spinning boomerangs.

Meanwhile the metal guardian also went on the offensive. He spread his arms and a shockwave erupted from each palm. When it clashed with the cyclones of wind energy, Natessa’s whirling prison was weakened. Wolfblade jumped up, swinging his particle blade and catching out of the windblades in its center. The gathered psychic energy shattered like it was made from glass.

The muscled man with the minigun Natessa had tried to kill stepped forward. “Demonhunter bitch! Come see what grandpas’ gun can do!”

The man’s multi-barreled weapon was handcrafted by the Dark Atom. It took over a year to complete, and each bullet was specially made with unique gunpowder and casings. They were about the size of a finger, and anywhere they hit was turned into a mutilated cavity.

Natessa couldn’t avoid them all, nor could she survive a direct hit. The large man’s intention was to distract her from the attack on Wolfblade, but she would not play his game. She continued to manipulate her relic, aimed at the Dark Atom’s leader. She stamped her foot, and the air below her erupted like a geyser, shooting her into the air and above the man’s gunfire.

“Charge! Kill them all!” Cutter howled over the din. “Cut your way into the compound, don’t let them in!”

Two of the instructors, their assistants, and a few hundred soldiers answered with a raucous cry and thunderous footsteps.


1. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all given names that fit so perfectly with our future selves? Did Cutter’s parents know he was gonna be a knife freak, or did they have to breed it into him? Should I call my first child Doctorperson Moneybags to seal their destiny?

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RWX's Thoughts

I guess this makes Cloudhawk... Doomed to be Cannon Fodder.

The three people have interesting names.  Eckard Cutter was 刀千刃 , 'knife thousand edges'.  We chose Eckard because it's a German name that means 'edge'.  Dumont Cenhelm was named 甲半山 , which literally translates into 'armor half mountain'.  Cenhelm is an old English name which means 'bold helmet', while Dumont is obviously a mountain-type name.  Finally, Natessa Windham - her name was 风轻舞 - 'wind light dance'.  Windham obviously reflects the 'wind' in her Chinese name, while Natessa is a bit special; while 'Natesa' is an Indian name which means 'Lord of the Dance', but we went with the more-common North American variant that has two s's.  I'm not completely sold on this one... what do you guys think?  I was also considering 'Grace'.

As Xiao Lai notes, these are very descriptive and appropriate names.