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Book 3, Chapter 71 - Skullcracking

 Cloudhawk lunged behind a large boulder for protection. He threw the tattered invisibility cloak over him to ward off the gust of scalding air. The sound and smell of burning hair hung as the heat singed him.

This monster was certainly... unique.

Several sack were located at the base of its mouth that allowed it to suck in fire from the surrounding environment. But it was much more powerful going out than it was going in, so something on the inside was giving it more power. Some organ that stored detonation force that, when combined with the fire, gave this creature its terrible breath attack.

Cloudhawk had never witnessed anything like it before.

How could a monster of flesh and bone mutate this way? To the point where it breathed fire? It was hardly believable.

The tribesmen were protected from the intense heat by their stony skin, but even that had limits. The sudden burst of fire and heat from the insect badly scalded several of them. Coal protected his face with a hand, and with head bowed tried to get in closer. As the continuous stream of fire pummeled him, Coal's skin began to glow from the intensity of it.


Coal slammed his shoulder into Magmesa's armored torso at full sprint. The insect staggered back and spat the remaining stream of fire into the air as it reeled.

The mightiest warrior of the Volcano Tribe followed up by curling his hand into a fist - easily bigger than the skull of a normal man - and ramming it into Magmesa's head. A full-armed punch from the giant would break the defenses of many a martial artist, and against the insect the blow made its whole body tremble. The volcanic rock beneath it cracked under the stress, as did the formidable chitin skullcap protecting Magmesa's brain.

It was not an easy victory. Coal's blow left little damage even though it shook his foe. Magmesa swung its head around after staggering back and slammed it into Coal's side. The three-meter tall mutant was sent flailing through the air, striking by jagged ground, and eventually coming to a stop when he slammed into a jutting pillar of volcanic stone.

The other tribesmen began to lose their nerve and scatter. Magmesa let loose with a skin-crawling screech and gave chase.

At Cloudhawk's order Oddball joined the fight. It's tiny round body flashed back and forth before the insect, harassing it at every opportunity. It gave Coal enough opportunity to get up and retreat back to Cloudhawk's location. Thanks to his incredibly tough exoskeleton he didn't seem harmed, despite the strength behind Magmesa's attack.

However, his entire body was sizzling and wisps of smoke rose off of him. His skin was red-hot and to Cloudhawk it felt like standing beside a stove. It was a potent display of the kind of heat this insect was spitting out. Even the other tribesmen couldn't have survived a direct blast like that. Thanks to his training, Coal was the only one equipped to survive Magmesa's fury. Ordinary flesh like Cloudhawk's would have been carbonized in seconds.

Coal was shaken, anxious, and losing confidence. He'd clearly underestimated what Magmesa could do, and now that he saw firsthand what the insect was capable of doubt had crept into his heart. But they were in it now, and there was no going back. They would win, or they would be decimated.

More danger threatened, however, because these brave tribesmen were most of the younger generation. If they were all slain, the future of their people was in jeopardy. And yet, if Magmesa was not killed, it would come seeking vengeance. The village they came from would feel the consequences.

There was no time to think. Magmesa was coming their way.

Cloudhawk didn't wait for the tribesmen to react. He pulled out a rocket launcher from his interspatial storage and shouldered it, aimed toward the insect. It was one of several new toys he'd bought at the black market in Fishmonger's Borough. He guessed it was a Seeker weapon, created by following old blueprints from the ancient times. Against someone like the Crimson One it was useless, certainly - after all, rockets were relatively slow. A master demonhunter could dodge bullets, so a rocket was no threat.

But this was the sort of opportunity where a launcher would come in handy. It didn't matter how smart or how strong this insect was, nothing would prepare it for humanity's technological superiority. [1]

Magmesa was overlord of this mountain range, and was furious with the attack on its superiority. Mid-charge it witnessed the stream of metal and fire headed its way. Not knowing what it was, but confident in being able to destroy it, the insect opened its mouth and swallowed the rocket in one bite.

A muffled explosion ensued. A giant ball of flame expanded out of Magmesa's mouth along with a deluge of charred meat and blood. It pitched and screamed in pain, slapping itself against the rocky ground. The tribesmen stared, dazed by what they'd witnessed. Cloudhawk, too, was surprised and happy with how effective the gambit seemed to be. He'd bypassed the insect's impenetrable hide by taking advantage of the series of circumstances.

Oddball settled back on Cloudhawk's shoulder.

In swallowing the rocket, Madmesa had blown half its mouth to ruin. But the beast proved uncommonly tenacious. The explosion hadn't killed it, and in fact the monster was more dangerous than ever in its frenzy. Although its mouth was obliterated, it still reered back and drew in more fire for a second breath attack.


Coal roared like a madman and charged ahead.

The three-meter tall mutant was a giant by any standard, but his height meant nothing in contrast to the hulking centipede. Coal crashed into his people's terrible god, grabbing it by the waist, and attempted to squeeze it in half. The discrepancy in scale was too much for Coal to succeed, but he did stop Magmesa from moving any closer. As the two struggled mightily the ground beneath them cracked and fractured.

It was a war of constitution, both refused to back down.

Finally the other tribesmen jumped to Coal's aid. They surrounded Magmesa and began attacking it from several sides.

The mutant creature and its mutant attackers were locked in struggle, one the humanoids were losing. With each lurch of its body Magmesa sent tribesmen flying through the air. Coming back in wave after wave of attack, they only managed to scar the beast's armor but not break through.

It was obvious to Cloudhawk that brute force alone wasn't going to kill this monster. It was too big, too tough. None of their weapons could piece the shell, and even lava was useless. If the tribesmen were planning to punch it to death he couldn't calculate how many months it would take.

Cloudhawk dropped the launcher and replaced it with an exorcist bow. Slowly, he drew back the string.

The phase stone shimmered as it was called to life. Cloudhawk poured most of his own psychic energy and drew on the inheritance from the stone to empower his attack. By the time the bow was fully drawn a tempest of power swirled around him. It was the mightiest attack Cloudhawk could muster, enough to kill a veteran demonhunter in a single shot. He aimed it toward Magmesa's already charred and broken maw.

Cloudhawk was sure that this beast, like any other, couldn't keep fighting if he blew its head off.

Coal could feel the gathering power. Magmesa, a creature of unfathomable age, certainly felt it too. Its struggle against the tribesmen became more intense, casting them to the side. Meanwhile Magmesa swung its massive head from side to side to throw off Cloudhawk's aim. The ruined place where its mouth was cast blood and chunks of meat all around.

Cloudhawk's voice rang out across the mountain. "Keep it still!"

Coal shifted his grip to grab the centipede's upper half. By virtue of his overwhelming strength, he managed to stop it from flailing around. He only had enough strength to hold it for a moment, but that was all Cloudhawk needed. Magmesa sensed the danger and a hideous screech gurgled from its throat. Once again it released the fires stored inside in a pillar of stone-melting heat right toward Cloudhawk. The Warden saw it was too late to dodge, but that was fine - head to head then! See who blinks!

He didn't have time to gather his energy to its limit, but the time was now. He released the bow string. A streak of light like split the pyre in half on its way to its source.

The energy arrow charged ahead with irresistible power, ringing loudly as it disappeared into the open gullet of Magmesa. Once again the partially obscured sound of an explosion followed, and the insects head was blasted apart. A hail of putrid insect meat splattered the area as the resulting concussive force blasted Coal away. To the other tribesmen that would have been lethal, but to him it was nothing to be concerned about.

But the flames Magmesa had belched before its demise were not dispelled. They smashed into Cloudhawk's position with shuddering force, enveloping him in flames hotter than liquid stone.

Coals eyes were on Magmesa, whose head had been reduced to a mess of ruined meat. Its enormous body bucked and twitched as it came to terms with its end. Incredible that one person could have so much power. Watching that arrow obliterate a god was something he wouldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams. He turned back to Cloudhawk, knowing that his frail outsider flesh couldn't withstand the fires. Fear seized him when-

Whoosh! Whoosh!

A violent gale whipped up around them!

Cloudhawk reemerged, surrounded by a small host of cyan-hued tornadoes. The surrounding fires were drawn into them as the tornadoes spread outward. Eventually both wind and flame dissipated, and from the smoke Cloudhawk could be seen, unscathed. He clutched a dainty looking jade fan in one hand.

It was one of the relics he'd pilfered from Ravenous Tiger's haul back in Fishmonger's Borough. 'Heavenly Gale' was a wind-type relic that manipulating air as he wished, forming tornadoes, wind-blades, and pressure blasts. In a way it functioned similarly to the Gospel of the Sands, though of course the Gospel was more effective in an environment where sand was plentiful. Creating sand from nothing in other places - like these mountains - required far more psychic power. Heavenly Gale, on the other hand, needed only air, making its mental requirement far less taxing.

It wasn't the most exciting relic, but it sure as shit was useful to deflect long-range attacks.

Cloudhawk closed the fan and put it away, only then allowing himself a sigh of relief. He didn't think the 'god of volcano' would be such a tough cookie, but they had won. After watching Cloudhawk blow their god to pieces, Coal had to remind himself to breathe. If Magmesa was a demon god that breathed fire, then what was he supposed to call the creature that killed it?

The war party only had a moment's respite before the unexpected captured them again.

Tics and jerks shuddered through the corpse of Magmesa like it was trying to rise, a scene which immediately made Cloudhawk's face go pale. The damn thing's brains were soup! How the fuck was it getting back up?!

1. Are you doing your part?!