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Book 4, Chapter 82 - Castigation Fire

 Dense smoke, shuddering explosions. Intense heat warped the air.

It was too much chaos for Drake to get a bead on their whole situation. After capture they were brought to the mothership and locked in prison, so they had no idea what was going on in the world outside. They didn't even know what direction they were facing much less what shot this behemoth out of the sky.

Drake leaned over to help a wounded soldier on his feet as the crack of gunfire sounded from nearby. Bullets started raining on them. He waved his sword to put himself between the gunfire, but the soldier he'd been helping wasn't so lucky. He was peppered with half a dozen shots. His armor protected him from one, but one had caught him in the eye. It splattered his brain across the ground, killing him instantly.

"Motherfuckers!" Drake let the soldier's body drop. Wrapping both hands around his blade he roared at them. "I'm right here! Kill me if you think you can!"

"To the end!" Hammont had also fished out a weapon. "Death before surrender!"

Brontes and Roc gathered what Elysians remained and got them ready to rush the enemy. No one would suffer being captured again, they would rather die.

"You're certainly brave."

The hoarse voice of a woman called to them. Naga, with her head of whipping snakes, emerged from the thick smoke. In her wrinkled hand was a strange rod made in the ancient style. Even as she walked through walls of fire she was unscathed. When her and her entourage of gun-wielded wastelanders appeared it was clear she was their leader.

Drake had learned to watch where he looked, especially when the monster had her mask off. Those pupil-less, white orbs held some sort of devilish power. It'd caught them off guard before, hence their capture.

There was a flash of energy from her eyes. Moments after sweeping across the charging Elysians the screams began. Soldier twisted in agony before losing consciousness, their faces contorted from some horrific psychic attack.

Drake shouted over their screams. "All together!"

Naga's vision swept toward him.

His body was like a machine, poised to strike when all of a sudden it felt like someone threw a wrench into the works. Every muscle froze up and clenched tight. He was frozen.

"Bitch!" Hammont tried to close the distance but stuttered to a halt after a few steps, rigid as a statue.

Elysian soldiers were trained to accept death before capture, and few were ever taken alive. Naga's damnable and infernal powers robbed them of a glorious death in battle.

Of the four kings, Naga was the second strongest. Her capabilities were better than Toad and Canker combined. It was said she could even challenge Blood for the height of mutant achievement with her petrifying gaze.

Of course, Naga was not a demonhunter. Her eyes didn't truly turn people to stone. The tales were really just tales.

What her most recent mutation had unlocked was the ability to send energy through visual contact. Energies she radiated from her eyes had an intense reaction on creatures with extensive nervous systems. Unlike an Elysian psion, who might attack the will or spirit, her energies threw one's nervous system into chaos.

That was the fate that had befallen the soldiers who'd rushed her. Her gaze instantly stimulated every nerve in their body, filling their minds with pain.

An attack like this, from the perspective of the victim, was like experiencing the most excruciating pain one's life all at once, everywhere. Even the strongest wills would crumble before very long. If the condition persisted the prey's entire nervous system collapsed and they died from the pain.

But Drake and the others were frozen, not in pain. This was also Naga's doing.

Just as she could infect someone with unthinkable torment, she could cut off nerves entirely. Her victims could lose consciousness and become locked in place. At the extreme, if the petrification reaches their heart they would die within a minute.

This was the origin of the tales about her petrifying gaze.

Potent though her natural mutations were, they reached incredible levels through Naga's own efforts. She was a gifted scientist and used her intelligence to understand her powers. Her name resounded through the Northern Barrens for a reason.

She'd killed two of them already with a glance. Even Drake hardly lasted an instant before his muscles betrayed him.

Her expression sour, Naga walked closer to the hapless Elysians with the help of her walking stick. Light continued to pour from her eyes, and when she spoke a black snake writhed out of her mouth like a tongue. "You sshould never have come here, Elyssianss. You've desstroyed my fortress - a quick death is not your fate. I will make you pay for your sstupidity."

Drake, Brontes, Rio and Hammont. These men were not weaklings, but before Naga they were like dolls.

It was a bitter realization that they were so powerless against her. The mutant was certainly no demonhunter, but the power at her command was just as deadly.

Her hair began to writhe. Every strand of it was a purple snake that eagerly curled on her head as she approached them. While none of the Elysians knew what her motives could be, the sinking feeling in their gut was telling enough.

Shadows flit by from overhead and eyes darted skyward. Cloudhawk was falling toward them with a group of soldiers, Basilisk drawn. Before Naga realized, a bolt of energy pierced her leathery flesh. She reeled back with a shrill howl and backed away.

She wasn't the only one with the power to turn people to stone. Cloudhawk's bow gave her a taste of what the stories said about her.

Drake and the others regained movement and gaped in utter shock. Hammont was practically shedding tears. Somehow, Cloudhawk just knew when they were in mortal danger and showed up in the nick of time.

Elysian soldiers appeared all around the ruins. Many of them were among the expeditionary force's best. Wasteland forces were cut off from fleeing.

After landing a shot, Cloudhawk put Basilisk away. "This place will be crawling with wasteland soldiers and mutants. Our ship is just above, let's find an open area to board and get out of here."

Everyone began to fall back without question.

It'd only been a day since the fight on Fallowmoor. Cloudhawk's wounds were not yet fully healed so he wasn't keen on the idea of another nasty fight. However, as he helped get everyone back he caught a flash of movement. Naga was there, unscathed.

Strange. Basilisk didn't work? When he looked closer he saw a hole in her chest, through and through. He had struck her, but one of Naga's mutations allowed her to shed parts of herself. She must have discarded the affected skin before it could spread.

Every bit a high-grade mutant!

Her milky eyes sparked with power!

Cloudhawk was reaching back for his bow when suddenly he lost control of his muscles. Maddening, indescribable pain exploded through every inch of him. Possibly more agonizing than Castigation Fire.

"Cloudhawk!" Drake skid to a halt, turning to come to his aid.

"Don't stop!" He managed to croak. "Keep going!"

He then reached out to his stone and phased. Immediately the pain vanished.

Naga's powers were derived by throwing energy. While it was an incredible feat, once one knew the origins it was easier to defend against. For instance, any shield that blocked energy would negate her power. Cloudhawk's phase power had a similar effect.

Drake saw that Cloudhawk seemed to have things in hand and followed after the others.

Naga glared at the agitator who had somehow thrown off her power. Her eyes were cold, angry depths. "An Elyssian demonhunter. You have ssome sskill."

Cloudhawk grinned at her. "One or two tricks, you know. Want to see a few more?"

Her wrinkled frame suddenly shot forward with incredible agility. Quick and erratic, she was in front of Cloudhawk before he realized. Her body stretched like there was a serpent living inside that humanoid body.

How many nightmare abilities did this bitch have?! Cloudhawk already saw that she had impressive regeneration, freaky eyes and the ability to change her shape. She was a real example of what the wasteland could produce when dialed up to the extreme. She was unique, but if forced to compare her to demonhunters she would be on par with the likes Clay or Wyrmsole.

Cloudhawk was wounded. A reckless fight wasn't going to go his way. Then he thought of something.

Naga closed in on him with an open maw. Black, toxic fire smoldered in her mouth, but as she prepared to breathe it over this human she discovered he was already aflame.

A sickly green flame. Curious. Strange. Naga felt no heat, but the danger that poured off of it felt scalding.

It was too late to get out of the way. Cloudhawk forced the flames into an orb and thrust it into Naga's twisted, ugly body. Her screech was like a call from the grave. Such a small ball of fire should be nothing to Naga, but this cursed flame spread quickly.

Her wretched body was consumed by fire like she'd been coated in oil. Naga had never experienced something this frightening and screamed for her life.

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