Book 3, Chapter 13 - Killing A Way Out

Autumn couldn’t believe her eyes. How could a soldier with these sorts of abilities exist? From shooting moving targets with perfect accuracy, to leaping from one raging ox to another, it all happened in seconds. In the time it would take to spit a curse, twenty bandits lay dead or broken.

‘Brilliant’ didn’t begin to describe what he did.

Not only were Cloudhawk’s attacks ruthlessly efficient, they were also clean. Like war was bred into his bones. He moved like it was instinct, killed like it was natural. 

In Autumn’s tribe, their strongest warrior had been her late father. However, at his strongest her father didn’t even come close to this young man. He was only a few years older than she. How had he even learned all of this? It was nothing short of incredible. What’s more, he had the powers of a demonhunter like her mother, and was capable of extraordinary feats. 

Incredible! Absolutely amazing!

Autumn felt a jolt run through her body. She knew he was no pushover, but the strength Cloudhawk put on display just now far outstripped her wildest expectations. If she could convince him to come back to her tribe, maybe he could save them.

Cloudhawk dragged the bandit leader into the cramped buggy, giving him a few sharp punches for good measure. The beating left the man bloody, but bandits were a tough breed. In fact the rugged man wasn’t cowed yet and tried to fight back. He wrenched an arm back and pulled a hunting knife from his belt, then tried to bury it in Cloudhawk’s abdomen.

The Warden’s reaction was to hack at each of the man’s shoulders. Both of the bandit’s arms were dislocated.

In the same moment, a hail of arrows and throwing axes were coming their way. Cloudhawk didn’t have the time to block them all, and one ax caught the buggy’s door. It shattered the metal and caused debris to fire out every which way. Another ax lodged into one of the buggy’s tires and got lost in the rubber, while an arrow pierced the gas tank. Precious fuel gushed from the hole like an open wound.

One of the arrows was aimed right for the back of Autumn’s head. Cloudhawk wrapped an arm around her slender waist and pulled.

She felt a burning sensation and something rubbed against her cheek. Before she knew what was happening, Autumn’s face was buried in Cloudhawk’s chest. She could hear his heart thudding in his chest. Pressed so close and draped over her, she felt safe.

“You’re dead meat!” The bandit leader’s face was a mess of dirt and blood. He glared at Cloudhawk in pain and savage defiance, and though his arms were useless he yelled arrogant taunts. “Blackfiend wants this one, and no one stands between Blackfiend and his prey. You’re gonna die, and be left out here to rot!”

The man was mad, and completely unafraid of what Cloudhawk would do.

He was a burly man, all knotted muscle and bulging veins. His one eye was hidden behind red eye patch, and a nest of unkempt red hair sat like a flame atop his head. With the insane expression twisting his face, the Highwaymen would not easily be forgotten.

But it wasn’t his expression that affected Cloudhawk. It was the eye patch – something about them called up an old memory. Three years ago! In the borderlands. Was this the same man that tried to rob the Bloomnettle company? He was still alive, out here terrorizing the borderlands all these years later.

Wait! That wasn’t right…

The Highwaymen were a savage gang, but they weren’t ignorant. The first time they met, the bandits had backed off when they knew Cloudhawk had the powers of a demonhunter. Three years was long enough to change a man, but not long enough to change someone so dramatically.

“I’ll say it again,” Cloudhawk hollered over the roar of the engine. “Tell them to stand down!”

A sinister fire burned behind Cloudhawk’s eyes. The bandit felt a tremendous pressure settle on his mind, shattering his will. A fear the likes of which he’d never known consumed him. The one-eyed bandit leader’s face twisted hideously. This was an assault on the psyche of a victim, and especially for those much weaker than Cloudhawk, it was difficult to resist. Even after losing the use of his arms, the Highwayman would not capitulate, so the Warden had to try another way.

Veins bulged in the man’s head and eyes. His armored vest almost seemed to stretch as he struggled with every fiber of his being. The bandit was no match, but still he struggled until blood poured from his every orifice. He slumped, unconscious, beside Autumn.

Cloudhawk cursed and took his place back in the driver seat. His foot stomped hard on the accelerator, despite the damage to its tank and tire. “Hold on to him! We have to get free!”

The other Highwaymen were not fazed in the least by their leader’s condition. Throwing axes tumbled toward them like a meteor shower.

The bandits were formidable. Axes thrown from their bulging arms could easily split a man’s head in two. Cloudhawk relied on Oddball to watch the incoming attacks, and as they got closer he had no choice but to have his friend join the fray. A streak of golden light darted out, first knocking an axe aside then fiercely beating its wings. Dagger-like pinions were cast out toward their targets.

Four bandits were thrown from their mounts.

As Cloudhawk poured his psychic energy into their connection, Oddball was rife with power. The tiny bird darted faster than the eye could follow, whipping around the buggy as it charge forward. However, Cloudhawk and Oddball couldn’t be everywhere at once. The axes and arrows kept coming, cutting apart the buggy piece by piece.

The ground began to rumble.

Oddball’s keen eyes spotted another group, coming from the distance. This second horde was even larger than the first and were bearing down at them with break-neck speed. If this band of thugs had been irksome, now they were in deep shit.

“Here!”

Cloudhawk called Oddball back then shot out his hand. A torrent of golden sand erupted from his palm like a geyser. It spread out over the sand below and seemed to infuse it with life. As the bandits charged after them the sand churned like an angry sea. The beasts they rode were caught off guard and threw their riders as they panicked.

Rise!”

Cloudhawk lifted his arm. His voice was not loud, but still fell like a thunderbolt.

Countless granules of sand shot into the air dozens of meters. They blotted out the sun and hindered vision, spreading out from the buggy in all directions, following it forward. Cloudhawk’s sandstorm swelled from ten meters to twenty, from twenty to forty. Eventually fifty meters were covered in choking dust, too thick for the Highwaymen’s reinforcements to know where they were going.

Their world was plunged into suffocating darkness. Sand blinded them. It was impossible to see where their targets were hiding.

It was enough for Cloudhawk to shake them. He slipped passed the confused hordes, hurdling for dozens of kilometers into the distance as pieces of their beleaguered buggy rattled free and fell away. Since one well-placed axe had punctured a tire, the ride was anything but smooth. With their tank punctured they also couldn’t get very far.

“They can’t keep up for the moment.” They had no choice, they had to abandon the car. Cloudhawk wiped the sweat from his brow. “The Highwaymen are all over the borderlands. Now that they know which direction we’re headed you can bet your ass they’ll keep hounding us. We need to find somewhere to lay low for a little while.”

Autumn was still suffering from the shock of what she’d witnessed. She pointed at the man lying in the sand. “What about him?”

The captured bandit leader was a mess. Blood trickled from his nose, mouth, eyes and ears in a light but constant stream. His nose was broken, and he whined in pain. The madness that had consumed him a moment ago was gone now. It was as though the blast of psychic force Cloudhawk leveled at him wiped it all away.

“He won’t be much help to us.” Cloudhawk hefted his sword. “Might as well kill him now.”

The one-eyed bandit shuddered. “I-f you kill me, you’ll just seal your fate! Blackfiend will never let you go!”

“Ah, so you are afraid of death.” Cloudhawk returned quiet carnage to its sheath. He reached down and grabbed a handful of the bandit’s clothes, using it to lift him up. He gave him a couple sharp slaps across his face, bringing the half-dead thug back to the present. When he saw Cloudhawk there was a palpable fear in his eyes. Whatever happened in his skull a moment ago had left a deep impression. His face, though, was menacing as ever.

Autumn stared at the man in fear. Cloudhawk had him under control, but there was an air about him that made her very uncomfortable. For half his life this maniac had lived in the borderlands, murdering and performing all manner of vile deeds. Countless innocents likely died by his hand, so it was no wonder death hung over him like a shawl.

Cloudhawk’s lips curled into a savage grin. “I bet you’re thinking about what’s gonna happen now that I got you.”

The bandit looked back at him with his one good eye, his shock of red hair wild and matted. “You… kill me if you can, runt. Because if you leave me alive, I’ll show you what it feels like to wish for death once my men get here.”

Cloudhawk lazily waved a hand. A coil of golden sand encircled his forearm like a snake. “I am a demonhunter. You should know the consequences of trying to kill a demonhunter.”

“Demonhunter?” The bandit was a rough sort. Cloudhawk’s threats didn’t unsettle him. “Under Blackfiend’s leadership we’ll tear Skycloud apart one day. When he is the ruler of all the wasteland, bastard demonhunters like you will be his slaves!”

The Highwayman’s reaction surprised Cloudhawk. Who was this ‘Blackfiend’? He gave the thug another ear-ringing slap. “Stop the bullshit. If you want to keep breathing then you’ll start talking sense. Keep it up and I’ll keep chopping parts off.”

The bandit leader looked back at him for a long time Fear was welling up inside again. He didn’t know why, but there was something very dangerous about this young man.

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RWX's Thoughts

Blackfiend?  Any guesses on if it's a familiar face or no?