Cloudhawk could feel that the battle was raging around him, white hot. The pulse of it beat faster. Even hidden in this building, he could feel the ground quiver beneath his feet as soldiers took each other’s lives just a few feet away. Dust which had been dislodged from the quaking filtered through the light, and in this moment Cloudhawk rejoiced. The mightiest soldiers of both sides were busily killing each other outside, meaning it was ultimately safer in here.
He lifted his head, and viewed the devastation of the compound from the light seeping from the fissure in its roof.
The building wasn’t large in scale yet was marked by the luxury of all things elysian. However, as a military installation it had a severe sort of grandeur. Dignified and unassailable. The doors and windows were framed in rhomboid engravings in white stone. Crystal, agate pebbles and morganite flecks were inlaid in the jadeite walls to create beautiful floral murals. Alcoves set between vaulted arches within the walls were home to a number of godly icons.
This was an advance military outpost. Did they usually spend so much effort to make even their military bases this beautiful?
Elysians were an impossibly stuffy breed.
The towering ceiling had been cleaved open by Wolfblade’s earlier assault. The hundred-meter long gash went beyond opening the roof and even managed to slice clean through several floors of the compound. Everything in the beam’s path had been cut clean, whether it was thick columns or the smooth stone floor.
The edges of the fissure radiated an intense heat that had yet to dissipate. Cloudhawk could imagine the sort of power such an attack would have, to be capable of cutting a building open like this. With such capabilities in hand, no wonder the Dark Atom thought they were worthy of attacking Hell’s Valley.
Cloudhawk followed the other soldiers as they ran down the hall. Magic lamps sparked to life in their passage until the wide passage was bathed in their gentle, beautiful glow… but of course, that was now marred by the giant gash in the walls.
The leader of their small team was the same fiend who forced Cloudhawk to join the campaign in the first place. He spoke to the others in a low voice. “The item we need to protect is up ahead. Remember, this thing is extremely important. We cannot, under any circumstances, let the heathens get their hands on it.”
One of the soldiers couldn’t hold back their curiosity. “What is it? Is it worth all this trouble the Dark Atom put themselves in?”
The assistant shook his head. “Only the three instructors know what it is, but I hear it’s an ancient artifact from the time of the great war. Something cursed, put here for the time being for protection before it’s destroyed. They didn’t think it would bring the blasphemers knocking down our door.”
Cloudhawk kept to the back of the group, but heard their exchange. So that was the reason the Dark Atom crept out from under their rock, it looked like Hell’s Valley had something serious hidden here. He was sure it was the same thing he sensed when he first walked in. He wanted to know more, but even in top condition with all his relics he wouldn’t be able to contend with all these soldiers.
Enticing as this mysterious item was, it wasn’t more important than trying to think up a way to survive this encounter. After all, whatever this thing might be worth, it wasn’t worth more than his life.
“We’re almost there!”
The hall began to slant downward until it ultimately ended at an ancient bronze door. Whatever it was the Dark Atom was after was on the other side. It was strange, though. They’d gotten here much earlier than Hell’s Army, yet there were no signs the Dark Atom had reached this door. They hadn’t encountered a single soul.
It was a fact Cloudhawk found unsettling. Their team leader also seemed nervous. Everyone started looking around, on alert for a sneak attack.
Perched on his shoulder, Oddball chirped softly drawing Cloudhawk’s attention. His eyes caught something strange behind the legs of one of the statues set against the wall. It looked like a stone had been removed and something placed inside, then hastily covered again.
Cloudhawk pointed. “What is that?”
One of the soldiers hustled over and pulled the stone away. What he revealed was a strange contraption, with a dozen or so multicolored test tubes strapped together. A complicated mess of circuits was wrapped around it in crude wasteland style. A tiny light blinked on its surface with a steady rhythm.
A creeping dread came over Cloudhawk as he looked further down the hall. There were at least another dozen or so such devices hidden in the walls, surrounding them. The frightening prospect came clawing through his mind, these were –
The instant Cloudhawk voiced the curse, those blinking lights sped up. Whatever was in those test tubes started to mix together and begun their chain reaction. Heat and light poured from them.
For a moment, time seemed to stand still.
Cloudhawk’s pupils contracted as ten simultaneous sparks flared to life. It wasn’t an explosion, more like flood gates bursting. Waves of gum-like fire swallowed them up from every angle. The world descending into burning madness, like hell had come to claim them.
There was nowhere to hide. It was a trap!
Everyone hit the ground, pressing themselves to the cold stone while the fires roared above them. The masterful statues of the gods crumbled into rubble and came crashing down like the world was coming apart. A number of soldiers were crushed beneath the debris.
Cloudhawk was blown back half a dozen meters and slammed into the door. He hit the ground, dazed. A deluge of fractured stone followed to bury him beneath their crushing weight, and then what happened afterward was lost. Everything went dark.
A few minutes later…
Cloudhawk regained consciousness. His ashen face sputtered up from the rubble, blood leaking from his burst ear drums. He couldn’t hear much of anything. His clothes were cinders and scorch marks were all over him, the flames had even burnt away most of his hair.
That trap was like a nightmare!
Cloudhawk blinked through his double vision at the ruin that was left. Everything was on fire and an acrid smoke turned the air to poison. The blow to his head made Cloudhawk dizzy, and he felt like throwing up. He hurt all over like he’d been flayed, dipped in oil then deep fried.
Yet, to everyone’s great surprise, most of the soldiers were clambering their way out from beneath the rubble.
Although they each sported a number of wounds, the soldiers stumbled to their feet with weapons in hand. They were still ready to fight and die, even after surviving a cataclysm of fire. Cloudhawk decided it was time to get up, and so tried to push off a chunk of rubble off of him. He discovered it was much heavier than expected and his legs were pinned. He was too weak to get out from under it.
The team leader prowled the rubble wide-eyed with his ax in hand. His helmet had been blown away somewhere and blood dropped from several wounds in his skull. Figures could be faintly seen through the smog when suddenly there came a series of blasts. Bang, bang! The assistant jerked as eight or nine bullets slammed into him. One caught him in the head.
The tough elysian armor deflected the other bullets. As for the bullet to his skull, it glanced off and left him with a nasty gash but nothing more. A tempered veteran like him had bones like iron. Ordinary weapons weren’t going to put him down. The series of gunshots knocked him back several paces, and in the space between their attackers jumped in to finish them off.
They whipped around the team leader, throwing iron hooks which caught on his armor. Round and round they went until thick chains held him fast.
He flexed his muscles against the bindings and they snapped, sending shrapnel in all directions. The instructor assistant then held high his ax and charged at his foes. The first swipe split one’s skull. A second cut most of the way through a second man’s waist.
Cloudhawk watched in shock and alarm. This guy had more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
Cloudhawk suspected it when he’d almost knocked him silly with the cudgel, but seeing him stand valiantly against the Dark Atom proved he was much stronger than Cloudhawk figured. He hoped it would be enough to keep the attackers off him.
But another target presented itself in the midst of their struggle.
The veteran was in a berserker rage, and he gave no thought before lashing out at his enemies. He heaved his battleaxe as easily as a dagger toward the next foe, but it was stopped by a mechanical arm. It was some sort of prosthetic, four times thicker than any normal limb and attached to the man at his shoulder. He engaged some mechanism and a shield popped out from the false limb.
The screech of metal on metal rang through the hall. This was the first enemy they’d faced who could stand against the team leader’s ax.
The arm was more complicated even than that, however, for as he deflected the veteran’s ax a gun barrel jutted from his palm. The veteran hastily put his ax between himself and the stream of gunfire that followed. Still, four or five struck him in the chest, fracturing his armor and knocking him backwards.
A particularly quick shadow raced through the smoke and fire. Keen eyes glinted in the harsh light, and through brief glimpses Cloudhawk could see a hook-shaped nose. He reached for the team leader with claw-like fingers, fast as a tempest, fierce as a thunderbolt. While the veteran was busy he swept past and opened his throat from ear to ear. A deluge of hot, dark blood poured forth.
He swayed on unsteady feet and tried to talk, but could only manage strained gurgles. Still he brandished his battleaxe as to keep up the fight, but the one with the mechanical arm followed up with another burst of gunfire. Every one of them hit him in the end, until one exploded through his eyeball and into his brain.
This doughty warrior’s war against the Dark Atom ended here. The others kept up the struggle, but the bomb had done considerable damage. Strong as they were, they couldn’t stand against the tide of enemies.
The battle had taken a turn toward disaster.
Cloudhawk watched in helpless fear, when a stalwart figure emerged from the smoke. He had to be two meters tall and big enough to fit four Cloudhawks. One fist was bigger than his whole head. His dark skin was tough as leather, and bony protrusions jutted out along his arms and shoulders. Obviously this one was a mutant.
The Dark Atom had quite a lot of formidable mutants like this one.
Cloudhawk watched the man walk toward him with wide eyes. He raised the crossbow he’d somehow managed to hold on to, ready to fire a volley on bolts into the freak’s guts. He pulled the trigger and a stream of arrows belched at his foe. But the mutant didn’t even give them a passing thought. He raised his enormous fist, ready to smash Cloudhawk into paste.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Anyone else curious as to just what this item is?