Toad bulged as he filled with air, and his body blistered with pustule-like poison glands. The hideous, pimpled body swelled until it was permeable, then weeping in a way that was nauseating to behold.
Each one of the swollen glands released a toxin which interacted with the air, dissolving into a deadly fog. With each movement the grotesque figure made, more fetid air rose around him. It was a scene well known throughout the Northern Barrens.
Toad wasn’t just immune to poison, his whole body was peppered with toxic pockets from inside out. Over his many years Toad had scoured the wastes for its many poisonous creatures, stealing their bounty from them. The mist that seeped from him now was the consequence of that searching, years and years of toxins released all at once.
Poison floated through the air itself! There was nothing like it.
Every cell of the mutant’s body was deadly. A normal man would die in an instant after a mere touch. Once Toad engaged his whole body, that terrible potency grew even more, and the pestilence killed everything it came in contact with. Even the very grass withered around him. It was obvious at a glance that one could not approach this creature, much less touch him. Even demonhunters would find themselves in dire circumstance if they did.
So far, Toad had encountered no creature that could withstand his poison.
“Bear witness, young Elysian – A mighty King of the Northern Barrens!” By now Toad was round as a ball and crouched on all fours. His green robes were now a small vest on his engorged, amphibian-like body. “If your soul does flutter to your holy mountain after death, tell your self-righteous gods that one day I will reduce them to rot as well!”
Atlas stared at him with a dark scowl. “All talk.”
His form flickered, then all at once the assassin disappeared from view.
Toad’s swollen body jiggle as it belched a laugh. “Gaaah gaah gaah! You think you can hide? Look at your young friend!”
Toad vomited a stream of poison toward Cloudhawk, forcing Atlas to reappear and come to his defense. Once again he brandished the sword with lightning speed so that not a single drop of the poison passed through.
Even holding his breath and focusing on shutting his pores, and even though Atlas was moving at speed, what little skin was exposed to the poison fog immediately began to decompose.
Toad’s black laughter rang through the canyon. “You are no match for me!”
For the moment Atlas was not gravely wounded by the poison, and he could still move without issue. However, with the situation as it stood he could not fight back effectively.
Nearby, Canker was also following the young assassin with a malicious gaze.
The inky fog around him grew thicker still. Millions upon millions of insects – no longer than a tenth the size of a grain of rice – floated through the air. Where Toad was living poison, Canker was an insect. His actual body was still a mystery, even to this day. No wasteland scientist had ever had the opportunity to study him. The truth was that this mutant was unique, a hive of insects that was able to turn other living things and itself into hosts. Eggs were nurtured, hatched, and from them were birthed these insignificant black bugs.
He couldn’t even be called human any longer. In reality, he was more of an amalgamation. Any part of him – it, really – could live independently of the whole. As it stood nearby bits of some unidentified substance sloughed from below the clothing. The strange, flesh-like matter slithered along the ground, infecting the corpses of the fallen. Soon those corpses swelled, and eventually burst as clouds of black insects fought free.
Before long, the air was choked with them. Insects flew into every opening, every gap in armor. There was no way to protect against them.
For Elysians, these Barren Kings were largely unknown. However, in the northern lands they hailed from, mentioning the names Toad or Canker would summon a chill up anyone’s spine. They were true super mutants, beasts known as Kings.
Both had at sometime in the past single-handedly destroyed an entire settlement. A millennium of life in the most heinous of environments had transformed them into creatures that could survive almost anything. Either of them had the strength to threaten and kill demonhunters.
Atlas was painfully aware that he had no methods to fight them. He was the elite, an assassin of incredible talent and the child of a mighty noble family. But today, he was entirely castrated by these monsters from the wilds.
He glanced behind them, at the battle raging between the wastelanders and the statues. They had collapsed, finally, after killing easily several hundred Highwaymen. Massive chunks of stone fell to the ground as the statues finally succumbed to gunfire and explosions.
There was no time to waste.
Cloudhawk reached into the phase stone and drew on the energy stored within. Runes etched within the door blazed brighter and spread faster in response, until they covered the entire surface. Finally the ground shook as the stone barrier began to give way. The single line of line that bisected it started to widen.
They door began to open inward.
On the heels of his victory Cloudhawk spun around to face Toad. He called out to Atlas. “That goopy asshole I leave to you. Let me handle this prick.”
The doors were opening! The light from inside was rising in intensity, filling the deepest part of the canyon.
Without wasting a beat Cloudhawk raced toward Toad, and the hideous mutant met him with a grin. He regurgitated a glob of poison that sprayed all over the space between them. It fell over Cloudhawk and yet… nothing. For it never touched him at all.
The phase field rippled imperceptibly.
Both the mutants had a weakness that was easy to recognize. The attacks themselves weren’t very strong, so while they were an intractable threat to most they did not scare Cloudhawk. Nothing they could summon would overpower his phase abilities.
He charged ahead, heedless of the poison. The Silver Serpents gleamed in his hands.
Toad knew that demonhunters were capable of all sorts of miracles, but he’d never encountered someone who could turn their body incorporeal. Against someone like that his poison was ineffectual. Yet the Green King was a survivor of countless battles, and would not let the surprise throw him off.
He couldn’t keep that strange power engaged forever. If he ever planned to attack he would have to drop it.
He stayed put, focusing everything on releasing more of the poison stored in his body. Rolling clouds of malignant fog hung around him. His bulging figure was lost within it.
Cloudhawk appeared in front of Toad, and just as he expected the young Elysian was immediately soaked by the poisonous cloud. At this level of concentration he would be killed immediately.
But… nothing happened. Cloudhawk did not react to the poison at all.
With a sickening shhhtck, two identical silver blades plunged into Toad’s grotesque body.
Toad had the leathery flesh of his namesake, tough and tenacious, but not tougher than steel. Cloudhawk was confident he was on the verge of cutting the frog-like freak to ribbons. Toad, feeling fear grip him, deflated like a punctured balloon. A dozen gashes of silver light swept by harmlessly once their target shrank back to normal size.
But the last-second gambit came at a price.
Both of Toads arms were hacked off, and several more wounds appeared across the rest of his body. Even while reeling from the dire wounds, the mutant was aghast at how Cloudhawk was completely unfazed by his poison. How?! No creature he’d met had ever survived being doused by his poison!
Atlas was also continuing his onslaught against Canker. The cloud of insects had not risen to its peak yet, but was already choking out what little light was coming from overhead. Masses of insects gathered around Canker’s body and pressed together tight, like a shield. Atlas jumped into the air and disappeared, moving too fast to follow. A dozen gashes raked against the shield of insects from several different directions.
The swarm disintegrated. Canker was carved into several pieces. Though not enough to kill the creature, Canker would be out of the fight for a least a little while.
At last, the door was open. The world beyond was revealed.
As the door fully extended, intense light flooded the canyon, blinding the eye.
The door served as an enormous vortex as all the air within the canyon was sucked out. It was as though someone punched a hole in the bottom of a tank and all the water was pouring free.
Many of the weaker wasteland fighters were picked up off their feet and flung through the door, vanishing into the blinding light. Their fate was unclear. The others stared at one another with wide, wild eyes.
“Woodland Vale! The way is open!”
Wyrmsole’s mission had failed. He had been unable to stop his enemies here.
As for Squall, the desire to fight was gone. Now that the door to the Vale was open, continuing to throw himself at his enemies was pointless. Get in, and find a way to take control – that was the plan. If he didn’t then the Conclave would beat him to it.
“Forget about them,” Squall shouted. “We’re going in!”
Squall and his henchmen made a beeline for the door, and they weren’t alone. This millennial treasure trove was within their grasp, open and ready for the taking. They had to get in!
Wyrmsole ran as fast as he could toward the light.
Frost and Selene returned to the Elysian camp. Dawn cried out, “The door is open. Everyone, on me!” To which the Elysians all charged toward the door.
Claudia scowled. Because that bastard Cloudhawk had brought the child, she wasn’t sure what to do. Was she supposed to follow, dragging the child with her into a war zone?
It was their only option, a problem to deal with once they were on the other side. They ran through the press of bodies, Azura holding tight to Claudia’s hand. When they passed through the wall of light suddenly it felt like passing through a windstorm. They were immediately lost in the buffeted gusts and blinding light. Claudia didn’t even know which direction she was facing.
An intense blast of air struck her in the face. Azura cried out as the wind flung her away. Claudia and Rio both reached for her, but it was too late.
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Cloudhawk is kind of like a super super mutant. Also, Canker somewhat reminds me of the beast Cloudhawk had to kill around the volcano tribe area...