Deadwood Outpost was a hastily constructed camp of wood cabins made from the surrounding foliage. About a hundred soldiers were garrisoned here, picked from the ranks of the elysian armed forces. What was particular to this group was that none of them were younger than forty. Soldiers at their peak – in a few years they’d begin to steadily decline.
But the first thing Cloudhawk noticed wasn’t their age. All of them were surrounded in a dangerous, barbaric air. They could subdue wild animals with a hard stare. Cloudhawk figured these men had been carefully chosen for this post and were more than simple soldiers. They were special forces.
These were veterans, with years of battlefield experience that made them far tougher than active duty men back in Skycloud. It would follow then, that this wasn’t just a training camp but also a veteran garrison. If a force tried to invade from the wastelands this training camp would become a deadly fighting division.
How strong were these guys?
Judging by their aura all of them were about as strong as Mad Dog and Slyfox had been. In other words the average fighter here was a Mad Dog, and captains were probably even stronger.
Strong as they might be, though, Cloudhawk wasn’t concerned. Back in the day he’d been a useless scav, but he could probably take four or five of them now without breaking a sweat. If he wanted to run there wasn’t anything they could do to stop him.
The one that did give him a healthy fear, though, was the guy who led them into camp.
Behind his brown eyes was a tyrannical cruelty not unlike the others, but he had a more commanding bearing. His demeanor couldn’t be cultivated by an ordinary grunt. He must have been one hell of a soldier!
This ragged camp had a hundred discharged soldiers and more than a couple retired veterans, and they hadn’t even reached Hell Valley yet. It certainly said something for the strength of this training camp!
Cloudhawk didn’t like what he saw, there was something unsettling about these guys. The way they looked at him and Claudia he could feel their ill intent. Meanwhile his own eyes looked all around looking for an angle. Cloudhawk thought he might try to get in good with the big guy leading them, but the man’s cold face made it clear he was in no mood to talk. They reached a squat wooden building.
“We’re here!” The man pulled open the door. “From now on this is your home. You don’t speak, you don’t kick up a fuss, you don’t cause trouble. You eat when he tell you to eat and drink when we tell you to drink. If you don’t have a specific task don’t go wandering around. Understand?”
Shit. I thought this was supposed to be a training camp, not prison!
Cloudhawk didn’t say what he was thinking, but he did ask a question. “What if I need to take a shit?”
“What, you shit that much? You got ground all around.”
“Fuck, aren’t you a mouthy one? Keeping flappin’ your fuckin lips and I’ll plug your asshole with my club. See how much you shit then!”
Strict was an understatement, Cloudhawk thought. A breath of dissatisfaction and this freak was willing to shove stuff up his butt. 
Apparantly the threat of sexual assault wasn’t enough for the large man, because he swung his club at Cloudhawk for punctuation. It came down on him in an instant, whistling the same way a sharp instrument might although it was thick and smooth. Cloudhawk stood there with nowhere to dodge.
The club caught him upside the skull and knocked Cloudhawk silly. His world spun wildly and he threatened to pass out like the blow had cracked his head open. The big man picked him up by a handful of clothes. Suddenly a cold sweat broke out all over Cloudhawk. Was this bastard gonna follow through with his threat?!
In desperation to escape Cloudhawk scrambled into the small dark room. The door shut tight behind him.
What the fuck, it was a reasonable question wasn’t it? Cloudhawk rubbed his thankfully unmolested backside and sighed with relief. You can go fuck yourself with that damn club. Goddamn, this place is full of freaks!
Cloudhawk interspersed his grumblings with sharp curses. Since making his Skycloud debut, this was his first time being embarrassed like this, but he still didn’t dare fight back. He waved at Oddball who was anxiously flying around and chirping to show he was ok. Well, as ok as he could be after taking a club to the skull.
It took a full ten seconds for his head to clear.
When he regained his bearings Cloudhawk touched his head but was surprised to find no wound. There wasn’t even a bump. Somehow the blow had skipped skin and bone and knocked him right in the brain – instant concussion. Even if he hadn’t been caught off guard Cloudhawk wasn’t sure he’d have been able to escape a hit like that.
Hell Valley was rife with hidden talents. He’d better behave himself, otherwise who knows what sick fetish that freak would subject him to.
There were two others in the dim room with him. He hadn’t noticed since he’d nearly had his head knocked off, but he saw them now. Both were in beautiful costumes with bags slung over their bags and exorcist staffs on their waists. He didn’t need to ask to know they’d also come to train at Hell Valley.
Cloudhawk didn’t say anything to them. He just walked over to a corner rubbing his aching head and hunkered down. Then the sound of footsteps approaching returned.
The door was pulled open and a blonde woman entered. She was tall and rather thin, and when she saw the small cabin she couldn’t hide a frown. When her sapphire blue eyes landed on Cloudhawk they instantly turned hard.
As the saying goes, it never rains but it pours. Claudia Lunae had joined them.
Of course the two of them had come together and registered at the same time, so it was no surprise they would be put in the same room. Cloudhawk shut his eyes and pretended like he hadn’t seen her. Claudia made her way to the furthest corner and sat on the floor, hugging her knees. Her eyes never left Cloudhawk.
Four people, four corners, not a single sound. It stayed that way until night fell.
The outpost’s soldiers hadn’t given a reason, just forbade them from talking or making any sort of noise. They couldn’t even go outside. Any eating, drinking or bodily needs they were left up to their own devices. Thankfully at night the room was pitch black and they couldn’t even see their hands in front of their faces. The recruits had all brought backs with some sort of container so they could handle their business.
They were only given one meal a day, but when the soldiers delivered it the trainee’s faces went green.
Was this even considered food?
The bowls didn’t contain nutritious fare from Skycloud, that was for sure. Instead it was a mass of foul smelling roots, mashed into a sort of paste and peppered with ants and other insects. To drink they were given a thick red fluid that smelled coppery, likely a mix of blood from different animals.
They didn’t need to eat it to make their stomachs churn. Just the smell made them nauseas.
While three of them glowered unhappily at their food they heard slurping from another corner. They followed the sound and in the dim morning light they could see Cloudhawk stuffing the black rhizomes into his mouth, chewing heartily. He gulped the whole thing down, bugs and all, stopping just short of licking the bowl clean. By the end the only thing looking back at him from the bottom of his bowl was his reflection.
Cloudhawk didn’t hesitate to throw his head back and gulp down the blood-infused brew, either. He finished it off and chucked the empty glass to one side then shut his eyes and went back to sitting quietly.
What a disgusting, barbarous heathen! How could he eat this? It would just as likely kill him as fill him up!
As Claudia Lunae silently cursed the wastelander the other two trainees were doing much the same. They were all elysians, how could they suffer this treatment? They glared at Cloudhawk with haughty expressions, and were it not for the no-talking rule they would have told him exactly how much of a disgrace he was.
An hour later one of the soldiers returned to collect the bowls. Claudia and the other two hadn’t touched theirs. Cloudhawk, on the other hand, had eat and drunk his fill. When he noticed that the others hadn’t he knew why not. Inwardly he had a choice curse of his own to aim their way: Idiots!
It wasn’t hard to see the purpose of this.
The elysians were spoiled young men and women of talent. This training was meant to make them tough, sharpen them, and the first step was to make sure they understood they didn’t have the perks of elysian life anymore. They might have been used to a life of luxury, but they were human and humans needed to eat. They knew they were going to be here a while as well.
So if that was the case Cloudhawk wasn’t going to waste his time. He fumbled around in his bag for a moment and pulled out a small bottle. It was some of the medicine he’d brought with him. They’d taken all the food and drink when he signed in, but they’d left him these.
He tipped the bottle and an azure blue pill tumbled out. He chucked it into his mouth. This one was the purifying spirit pill. . This stuff was meant to help improve his psychic abilities. Up to now he’d been focused on strengthening his body, so it was the first time he’d taken this medicine. Since they were going to have him locked in this room doing nothing, now was as good a time as any.
It didn’t take long for the pill’s effects to emerge, but they weren’t physical. Instead he felt it in his mind, like a thousand tiny needles were boring into his skull. The pain was intense.
Cloudhawk empties his mind and tried to meditate and that’s when he felt a haze settle over his consciousness. It felt like slowly spinning in a dark sea, or being lost in a newborn nebula. As he did he felt like drips of fluid were falling into a small river below. That river was Cloudhawk’s psyche.
Whatever psychic abilities he had now was an inheritance from the phase stone’s previous owner. He had been gifted only the smallest amount from that vast and endless ocean but it was enough to give Cloudhawk the power he’d needed. Now he discovered that he didn’t need to rely on the stone, he could train to make himself stronger from within.
The greatest discovery was that improvement came quickly – at least as fast as any other talent from Skycloud. With his natural skills and help from the phase stone, who’s to say his psychic power couldn’t one day surpass the stone’s former master?
So I guess that's one way in which Cloudhawk has a leg up. He can eat really nasty food...