Book 2, Chapter 90 - The Cryptic Call

Natessa kept the pressure on Wolfblade. Her cyan whip whistled through the air, so fast all one could see were after-images – a hundred vicious vipers vying for the first bite. As the blows continued to rain down on him, Wolfblade deflected each one with his sword. Their stalemate continued.

The special properties of wind were speed and translucency.

She was a battle-hardened demonhunter, specialized in the wind element, stronger even than Dawn Polaris. Her mystical whip switched seamlessly from long to short, hard to soft, making every attack different. Her approach was different every time, indeterminable. 

Wolfblade, on the other hand, was a meticulous tactician more precise than a computer. He could ascertain the most perfect result from even the crudest data. His electric photon sword crackled around him like a protective snake, while the particle blade cut apart the very atoms in the air.

The other two instructors charged toward the compound’s breach, assistants in tow.

Of course, the Dark Atom invaders weren’t going to stand idly by. The large man with the minigun, who had moments before tried to shoot several dozen holes in Natessa, changed targets. Suddenly a stream of hundreds of thousands of bullets came tearing through the air, toward the encroaching elysian soldiers. The sight almost made Cloudhawk’s head bulge out of his skull. Looking at the press of soldiers on either side, he cursed under his breath. There was nowhere to go.

What a fuckin’ joke! All the rest of these assholes had shields, or at the very least thick armor.

Cloudhawk? He had a paper thin beggar’s uniform. He looked like a fool charging in with nothing but a crossbow between him and a wall of bullets. He stuck out from the crowd like a sore thumb, without any sort of protection, the very definition of cannon fodder. They were sending him to his death!

The flood of gunfire came pouring down, and in that moment Oddball stuck its fluffy head out of Cloudhawk’s clothes.

He knew that high-level control metahumans were capable of using all sorts of weapons, which was especially evident with long-range tools. Hellflower had been the best example of that he’d seen, a real weapon master. The guy Cloudhawk was blindly charging at now was at least her equal, maybe even a little better. Even though his gun was spitting out bullets faster than he could spit out foul words, each was exactly placed. Not a single one was wasted.

The veterans dropped their heads and raised their shields, but elysian steel couldn’t protect every inch of them. Tenacious as their armor was, it couldn’t survive more than three bullets. They started to drop like flies.

Cloudhawk slowed down until he was at the back of the group. Sadly, the gunner was eager to share his deadly gifts evenly. Any target that stuck its head out had a bullet or six aimed their way. They were faster than shots from a handgun, so Cloudhawk’s keen eyes couldn’t tell exactly where they were going. He had to rely on his danger sense to guide him.

His one blessing was the crowd of soldiers standing between him and the bullets.

With such a large target, the gunner’s fire wasn’t especially concentrated. Cloudhawk was thankful for the fact, because otherwise he wouldn’t have survived more than a few seconds. It sure was no picnic, though, because the Dark Atom was more than just the one crazy shooter. There were maybe twenty more marksmen of all sorts, each one a far sight more dangerous than any wasteland sniper.

One of them was a grimy-looking old man with a slingshot-type weapon. He used it to fling several vials of green chemicals toward them. However, these veterans were not your typical grunts. They fired back with their crossbows and shot the vails out of the air.

Then, the unexpected happened.

As the vials burst their contents were released, bursting into flame as they came into contact with the air. Instead of the red and orange one might expect, whatever foul concoction this was burned with a ghastly green. The ethereal flames tumbled down from on high.

A ball of fire caught one of the veterans in the face. Nerves that survived any number of grievous wounds shut down as his skin melted off the bone. He clutched at his ruined face and fell, screaming as the fires spread. Even when he was burned black they kept burning.

Whatever was in this hellish stuff was a mystery, but all it had to do was touch skin and that was enough. No conventional methods put these fires out, and that terrified them. But the others soldiers kept their head and kept themselves hidden behind shield and armor. So long as the flames didn’t touch skin they were fine, they extinguished quickly against inorganic material. Most of the soldiers only had their faces to worry about, but not Cloudhawk. He danced through the rain of fire like a half-wit.

Dumont was the top of the suicidal spear and attracted most of the gunfire. The gunner pummeled him, but bullets that could punch through steel and iron didn’t even leave a mark on the walking fortress.

Nearby, one of the Dark Atom soldiers fired a cannon in their direction.

Dumont took the blast head-on, and to everyone’s amazement neither the cannon shot nor the explosion it caused even slowed him down. His armor was unyielding, none of their attacks even made him bat an eye.

Instructor Cutter was right behind him like a shadow, mimicking his every move. Dumont soaked up the gunfire until they close enough for him to leap out from behind. He planted his legs on his fellow instructor and jumped, sword flashing. He came crashing down on the enemy like a tidal wave.

A flash of silver. Two metal arms raised to ward off Cutter’s blow.

He stopped dead in his tracks with his sword caught between the golem’s arms. The freak’s hands stretched out, one toward Cutter and the other facing Dumont. Crackling blue light gathered in his palms while the two men took defensive postures.

Boom-boom! Two bursts, one after the other. Both men staggered backward half a step.

The metal golem was a mystery, no one knew how it was controlled. There didn’t seem to be any angles in its construction, leaving no room for flame or water to slip through much less a sword. Fast, strong… maybe even more than both the instructors together could handle.

Cutter shouted another order to his troops. “Leave this fucknut to us! Press the attack!”

The Dark Atom invaders and Hell’s Army clashed in all-out war. Cloudhawk pointed his heavy crossbow toward the enemy and pulled the trigger. A spray of bolts and the hiss of compressed air followed. Shoo-shoo-shoo-shoo-shoo! One of them caught an unsuspecting Dark Atom agent.

It was the first time Cloudhawk was using a weapon like this, but he was managing to control it well. It wasn’t hard for him to figure out how it worked.

Military-issue crossbows like these had just as much stopping power as firearms he was used to. They used compressed air to fire bolts at high speed and a precision quiver that fed bolts into the firing mechanism automatically. A standard quiver held fifty arrows, enough for a minute of continuous fire. Its wasteland equivalents were either hand loaded or semi-automatic, so they couldn’t compare with even this sort of standard elysian equipment. What’s more, they were quiet when fired unlike a gun and could accommodate different sorts of bolts. These bolts could be switched out for others more suitable to a particular enemy, making the crossbow a versatile choice.

No wonder elysians looked down on wastelander firearms. Weapons like the big man’s minigun were few and far between.

The three commanders kept the enemy’s strongest busy, meanwhile their assistants were each as capable as any Dark Atom elite. Man for man both sides were about matched, although the soldiers of Hell’s Army were superior to the terrorist grunts. They had a clear advantage now that they were fighting face to face.

Cloudhawk didn’t hurry to sing their praises. 

Suddenly, a shadow crept over him. He lifted his head and a bitter grin spread across his face. How could he forget? The lumbering black bodies of the Dark Atom’s airships hung above them. Each one was laden with machine gun turrets and missile launchers. One of them even had a pulse cannon, technology modern man couldn’t even begin to grasp.

BOOM!

A piercing column of blue light split the sky. A dozen or more elysian soldiers were splattered against the walls like gruesome paint. What wasn’t instantly disintegrated smoldered on the ground in piles of slag.

Cloudhawk had never witnessed such a weapon of mass destruction before. He recognized that it was similar to the shots from the golem’s hands, but on a much larger scale. Maybe they were dug up from the same pit. Cloudhawk noted that since the start of the fight, it’d only been used a couple times. This proved that it couldn’t be fired continuously or often. Hopefully there was enough of a cooldown for him to get the fuck outta dodge.

“Alright, team one. We’ll keep you covered while you get into the compound!”

Several of the higher ranking soldiers had already gotten the doors open. Most of the several hundred soldiers in Hell’s Army were busy with the Dark Atom, leaving only a few dozen left to deal with the compound’s interior. Cloudhawk was one them. He wasn’t eager to foil their nefarious plot, of course, he just figured most of the fighting was going on outside. Not to mention, those damn airships were just waiting to pick him off. It sure seemed like being inside the compound was the safer option.

Then he stepped inside, and froze.

He felt it like a cold knife running along his spine, something wasn’t right. A faint sound from somewhere to the side, wriggling through space and time, from someplace unknown. It was calling him. The phase stone burned against his chest.

What… what was it? There were secrets hidden here, secrets that somehow involved Cloudhawk – or more specifically, the stone that hung around his neck.

If that was true, he had to find out what it was. No matter the risk.

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