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Chapter 67 Tested

 Chapter 67 - Tested

The Bloodsoaked Queen looked like she was recovering well. The way she was stomping forward made her look like she could stride right through an iron wall. The women trembled in fear and surprise, for the aura that poured from this woman was more intense and threatening than Hydra's.

Cloudhawk quickly spoke up. "You got here just in time! You gotta try this."

The Queen glared through her mask at Hydra's maidservants. "Get out, now!"

The women immediately left, feeling as though they had just been pardoned from death. "Yes, of course. Right away!"

Cloudhawk watched the exchange in confused surprise, and not a little displeasure. "Hey! What are you doing, what's with the attitude? They didn't do anything to offend you, why'd you snap at 'em?"

Share glared daggers at him. "Have some dignity. If you want to go to the holy lands, become a citizen of the city - if you want to be a demonhunter then you mustn't consort with these sordid wasteland women."

"Who the hell wants to live in the wastelands? Who wants to be someone's slave? Do you think anyone here has a choice?" Cloudhawk hated to see the Queen treat his fellow wastelanders with such disdain. Her sense of superiority didn't come from anything other than being lucky enough to be born somewhere else. He had come to know the Queen, and through their trials they were closer so he was frank with her. "We don't get to decide where we're born - not like your high-and-mighty gods. Lemme tell you, if you'd been born in the wastelands you'd be no better than the rest of us!"

"Shut your mouth!"

Cloudhawk could say what he pleased, all except any word against her god. Blasphemy was a sure way to incite her rage.

"All I'm saying is life dealt us different hands. Maybe what Mantis said was true. Even if I get to where you came from I'll never be like you." Cloudhawk couldn't understand what was wrong with this woman. He knew nothing he said was going to change her mind - it was like beating his head against a wall - so he wasn't going to fuss. "There's all this good food in front of us, I'm not gonna busy my mouth fighting with you!"

This child, the Queen fumed. His manners are getting worse by the day!

She wanted to beat him so badly her teeth itched!

However, after a moment's thought she had to admit that her reaction had been a tad overblown. He was a wastelander, after all. Why was she so upset? Without another word she pulled the mask from her face.

Cloudhawk couldn't help but steal a peek.

No matter how many times he saw it, the Queen's face was a blessing to the eyes. Beauty like hers just didn't exist in the Wastelands. Thankfully the maids had left, otherwise seeing her might shame them into never again showing their faces.

"Is the food serviceable?" The Queen partook in a spoonful of fish soup, only to spit it out. She sniffed disparagingly. Her voice took on that familiar, petulant scornfulness. "The wasteland is the wasteland. Even the lowest caste of commoners from the elysian lands eat food ten times better than this."

Cloudhawk kept his thoughts to himself. Eat it or don't. Why sneer at what we got?

"For some, will is in short supply - they cave at the slightest temptation and abandon their dreams. These people will never achieve greatness, and will never succeed."

Who the hell is she preaching to? Cloudhawk kept eating.

The Queen felt both awkward and angry. He wasn't actually being enticed away by the joys of this place, was he? She didn't know when, but the Queen had started to look at Cloudhawk differently. He wasn't like the others - he might have what it takes to walk the path of the demonhunter... or at least be useful.

But wastelanders were wastelanders. You couldn't convince a dog to stop eating shit, and slinging mud at a wall wasn't going to make it stronger.

Neither of them said anything more, they just busied themselves eating.

Cloudhawk ate until he could hardly walk, and the Queen had her fill as well. As they were picking at the last bits they heard footsteps approaching. From the sound they could tell one was large and walked with a purposeful stride. The second set sounded like steel boots, but the tone it made ringing against the ground made them sound homemade. Clearly, it was Leonine and Hydra.

The Bloodsoaked Queen slipped her mask back over her face.

"The two of you come out for a moment, we need to make a plan."

Hydra noted that the Queen was recovering faster than he'd anticipated and it put him more at ease. With someone as strong as her to help him, victory was all but certain.

In the Great Hall.

Mantis was already seated within when they arrived.

Hydra faced the four of them and shared what he knew. "Those fucking mutants were always suspicious of me, and now that you've 'gone missing' they're on my ass like stink on shit. We're out of time, we have to act before they do - let me introduce you to some people."

He clapped his hands.

Cloudhawk watched as eight people walked into the hall. They were all roughly the same in build and bearing. Though he couldn't sense anything right away, Cloudhawk could tell these men were first-class wasteland warriors. All of them were at least comparable to Leonine.

"These eight warriors are the best of the best here in Greenland Outpost. They're my handpicked bodyguards, and they'll be splitting up into two groups to help you fight. Once the mutants are dealt with, we'll have a shot at the man who commands them." Hydra waved his hands as he spoke. "Snaketooth, Artemis - introduce yourselves."

One of the men with long straight hair stepped forward. His eyes were wide and slender, sharply outlined, with a keen gaze. He had a somber air about him. "I am Snaketooth, and I'm responsible for the three others in Team One."

"And I am Artemis [1], leader of the remaining three on Team Two." This one was actually a woman, somewhat more petite than the others. She had clean, short-cut hair and was clad in leather armor that constrained her chest, whereupon the tattoo of a red rose was visible. Her thin waist splayed out into a large buttocks, and she held herself with an alluring posture. All in all she was an attractive wastelander woman. "Such a shame the demonhunter is a woman... I was planning on seeing what a hunter was like in the sack."

Her voice was lilting and seductive, like the purr of a feral cat.

The Bloodsoaked Queen stared at her with frigid eyes. Her harsh voice croaked through the mask. "I wouldn't mind burning the tongue out of that filthy mouth."

For emphasis she slowly raised her hands, then rested the burning angels against the wooden table. An intangible energy hidden from the eye surged through the furniture and in an instant it was a charred ruin. It clattered to the ground.

Everyone gaped at her, utterly shocked. None of the wastelanders could understand what they'd just witnessed. Even the coquettish and bold Artemis broke into a cold sweat. If a single touch from that woman didn't kill her it'd at least leave her permanently crippled.

The Queen, in contrast, was completely casual. She'd made sure her prestige was apparent to everyone gathered.

After a brief moment Hydra gathered everyone's attention with a cough. "So everyone's met. Now it's time for the plan - are there any doubts before we begin?"

"I have one." The man with long hair, parted in the middle and falling to his shoulders, cast his eyes toward Cloudhawk. "It's an important mission, why is this mangy rat scampering along?"

Everyone's eyes landed on Cloudhawk.

He was only a kid, maybe fifteen years old without any vigor to speak of. What's more because of his malnourished upbringing he was little more than a stick. How could someone like that positively impact a mission this important?

Cloudhawk rose to his feet. "Who the fuck are you callin' a mangy rat?!"

He hoped the Queen and Mantis would speak up, get his back. Neither of them said a word.

Shit, they still think I'm just getting in the way?

The long-haired one named Snaketooth was Hydra's true brother. He was only saying what Hydra thought - the kid was too weak. He was useless. Hydra only kept him around because he saw how close he was to the demonhunter.

"Fine. If you're not convinced that's exactly what you are I'll give you a chance to prove me wrong. Panther." Snaketooth peered down his nose at Cloudhawk before glancing to a man by his side. A man with coal black skin stepped forward. "If you can go ten rounds with Panther I'll take back what I said. You can come on the mission."

In reality, Cloudhawk wasn't thrilled to be participating in such a dangerous mission. But anger swelled up in him, stoked by the snide looks from all sides and the fact they still saw him as garbage. No one actually expected him to accept, but then... "Good! I'll give it a shot!"

This kid is a fucking moron! He sure had a high opinion of himself despite clearly being nothing better than average.

The crew Hydra had put together were his best men. Compared to the fighters of Blackflag Outpost they were no less impressive than Mad Dog, Slyfox, Grizzly, Mantis or Wulf. This was the level they stood among, how was Cloudhawk going to be any sort of match for one of them?

Cloudhawk sometimes was perhaps a little too courageous and didn't think through consequences. Yet the Queen and Mantis didn't try to stop him. He could stand to be knocked down a peg or two.

Cloudhawk and Panther separated from the others and the young man pulled the exorcist staff from his waist. Panther was a compact black man about five feet and a handful of inches - roughly the same height as the fifteen year old he planned to pummel. Black clothing covered almost everything, including his face. For weapons he produced two sai that'd been tucked into his waist.

These weapons were about two feet long and impressively sharp - deadly, in fact. One could guess Panther's fighting style based on the tools he'd chosen.

Leonine's weapon was a two handed saber, designed for a heavy and powerful strike. Strong, but it demanded a lot of energy to wield and dramatic sweeping movements. Panther's weapons were compact three-pronged daggers, which alluded to his style being more focused on speed and agility. For Cloudhawk, he was more trouble than a heavy hitter.

He didn't think too much about it. He dropped into a battle stance and called out a challenge. "Bring it on!"

Panther looked back with scorn in his eyes. He rushed forward fast as a whip. Faster than Cloudhawk could blink the small man appeared to his left jabbing at him with his sai in a reverse grip. It all happened too fast. This guy had to be just as fast as Blackflag Outpost's elite commander Wulf had been!

Mantis lifted his hand, ready to release one of his flying knives.

Anyone could tell, even without thinking, that Cloudhawk couldn't cope with attacks this fast. But then the unthinkable happened, and Cloudhawk brought his bladed exorcist staff around in a counter attack from below.

Panther could drive his sai into Cloudhawk's neck, but the kid's attack was just as fast and just as vicious. If he went through the attack the momentum would cause him to fall right on the staff where it would impale his belly. The end result would be a life for a life.

No choice.

Panther redirected his weapons, bringing them down on the exorcist staff. As the two struggled against each other their weapons elicited ear-piercing screeches. One sai kept Cloudhawk's staff out of the way, while Panther whipped his second dagger around right for the center of his opponent's chest.

"Fuck - off!"

Cloudhawk's eyes were red. A dreadful power welled up within him, infusing him with strength. He wrenched his staff free from Panther's firm control.

Panther staggered backward. The attack aimed for Cloudhawk's chest only managed to leave behind a shallow gash. Meanwhile the kid's sudden rush of strength had thrown him off balance, too, and he stumbled away a few paces.

Contrary to what everyone thought, this kid's reaction time, speed and strength were pretty good!

Panther was angry, ashamed at being shown up by this brat. He was ready to attack again when, before he could take a step, Cloudhawk wrapped himself in his cloak...

...and vanished.

1. Her name is - beautiful - but she's also a badass. Grecian goddess of the hunt seemed fitting