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Book 5, Chapter 23 - Who Else Wants Some?

 Red Scorpion almost lazily waved a hand.

An maneater mutant lumbered to the fore , easily three meters tall. Standing beside more average humans he looked like a giant. His body was covered in a patchwork of solid, mismatched armors that made him look like a tin can. In his left hand he carried an enormous shield, and in his right was a war hammer. He looked like an army in and of himself.

Moving around in the wilderness with hefty equipment like that was no easy feat! A mere glance proved that this was one hell of a tough maneater - strong enough to be a leader of his own sweeper group.

Sand Viper had known this was Red Scorpion's play. He sized up the maneater, comparing its strength to his own before turning respectfully to Cloudhawk and Rhino. "Do you have this under control?"

A few years ago, Cloudhawk's first instinct against a creature like this would be to run. But things were very different now. Brute force didn't intimidate him like it used to.

There was no denying the creature was tough, but at best he compared to an Elysian unit commander. At full strength Cloudhawk could tangle with the likes of Aegir Polaris or Cosmo Thane. He didn't have to worry about this clanking mountain of meat.

"Shit, I thought you said they were dangerous!" Cloudhawk turned toward the gruff voice. Rhino strode forward with a mad look in his eye, glaring at the opposition. Finally he returned his gaze to Cloudhawk. "Step aside, little man. Get in the way and I'll tear you apart with the rest of this garbage!"

Rhino was the undisputed apex warrior of Sandspire. He had the strength to match some of Skycloud's generals, with swagger to match. Cloudhawk's presence was pointless. Rhino was the only fist Sand Viper needed.

Who the hell was this runt, anyway? He didn't look like much and no one had heard of him. It was an insult to stand shoulder to shoulder with the punk!

But Sand Viper's expression stiffened. While he also doubted the stranger's abilities, he'd been sent here by that old man. It stood to logic that the mysterious and powerful elder from Greenland would send someone to watch over their new investment in Sandspire.

Whoever this Cloudhawk was, he probably didn't have the same status or strength as the old man, but he was a representative from their new masters. Offending him meant repercussions from Greenland City.

But, it didn't appear that Cloudhawk was upset by Rhino's bluster. In fact he obediently stepped to the side. It was a gesture everyone took note of, and one that demeaned his worth in their eyes. Strength was what wastelanders respected. Out here, in this inhospitable place, they saw the world as though they were wild animals. Animals built their hierarchies around power. If you weren't fierce enough, or strong enough, then you didn't deserve respect.

Cloudhawk, in turn, didn't give a shit what they thought. In truth he'd already recognized the state of things. The maneater was a cover - strong, sure, but no match for Rhino. It was a way for Red Scorpion to feel out what Sand Viper was made of.

Sending out one of his strongest for a token fight was exactly what Red Scorpion wanted.

"Bring it!" Unarmed, Rhino called out to his foe tauntingly.

Maneaters weren't known for their intellect, but this one had some brains. He answered the haughty man with a roar then charged at him like a tank.

The two enormous bodies slammed into each other, like dual freight trains meeting on the same track. Their impact echoed through the ruins.

Both men were knocked backward. Rhino staggered back but kept his footing.

The maneater staggered and nearly fell. Each step backward caused the ground to shake and left small craters behind. When he finally regained his footing he looked back at Rhino, who was waving mockingly at him. The mutant couldn't tolerate such disrespect! His eyes went red and, lifting the hammer high, brought it crashing down toward Rhino.

Sandspire's champion slammed his fist into the weapon.

CRACK!

The hammer split to pieces in the maneater's grip. He staggered backward again from the impact.

Rhino was not interested in wasting time, so with no more theatrics he charged in. The maneater responded by bringing his shield up to block a punch from the mighty human. Fist on iron rang out like someone had struck a bell. Rhino's blow punched right through the metal.

Then the arm that held it... and it kept going. Rhino's fist pierced the maneater's armor like a nail, right into the center of his chest. With a vice-like grip he clenched his fingers around the mutant's heart and started to pull.

Gouts of blood sprayed out onto the sand.

A shrill, shocked wail gurgled from the maneater's throat. In the next instant the massive figure tumbled backward like a landslide.

From the edge of the fight Cloudhawk nodded his head slightly. He'd guessed right - Rhino was about as strong as a typical Elysian general. But they were martial artists, whereas Rhino was working with pure force granted by evolution.

He was crude and arrogant, but he had the strength to show for it. A powerful mutant like him who learned Elysian fighting techniques could easily be as strong as someone like Drake or Brontes.

"Who else wants to die?!"

With a wide, bloodthirsty grin Rhino shouted his gibes.

Sand Viper looked at his champion in satisfaction. He certainly earned his reputation as Sandspire's strongest fighter. He raised his voice toward the enemy forces. "If that's the best you've brought, what makes you think you can protect Sandspire? Stop throwing away your men, disperse. Let them go back to their families and grow old."

"Not bad, not bad!" Red Scorpion answered with a sinister grin. "Honestly, I didn't think garbage like you could manage against a half-decent fighter. But that doesn't mean you have the right to talk shit."

Another figure stepped forth from among the sweepers as he called back. He looked normal enough, but in a single bound the new threat leaped several dozen meters overhead. Landing nimbly before them, they could see a robust form without mutation. His chosen weapon was a halberd.

"Let's see how you do against my friend from the south," Red Scorpion said with a smile. "Have fun!"

What? The south!

The words caused Sand Viper's expression to fall.

Cloudhawk's eyes immediately fixed on the fighter. The halberd was a relic - he'd heard it when they first come upon Red Scorpion. He'd been waiting for the demonhunter to reveal himself, and now here he was.

Demonhunter wasn't the right word for these sorts though. Fallen Hunters, maybe, or like Wolfblade and Inkspecter, godslayers. After all, they didn't have faith in the gods like Elysians did. That's not where they got their power.

Rhino was ignorant to the danger he was in. "Another one eager to stop breathing!"

He charged forward without a second thought.

The corner of the godslayer's mouth ticked up in a smirk. With both hands he swept his halberd at the hulking man and as he did its surface gleamed. A gash of black energy intertwined with electric sparks blast outward. Rhino's eyes went wide, but instinct kicked in and he juked to the side. The stream of energy blasted into a metal tower behind him causing it to explode into shrapnel.

Shock was painted on Sand Viper's face. The stranger was indeed from the south!

Rhino realized he might have bit off more than he could chew. As he started to back away the godslayer launched into his second attack. Another piercing ray of black and blue appeared, this time ripping through sturdy flesh and leaving a smoldering cavity where it passed. Rhino was flung into the ruins like discarded trash.

"How could such a stupid insect understand true power?" The godslayer cast the words toward a sea of shocked wasteland faces.

Sand Viper felt his heart sink into his stomach. He hadn't thought Red Scorpion would have the backing of the mysterious powers from the south. If that was the case he had no way to fight back. He swallowed hard and called across the field. "Perhaps we can talk about shared governance."

"Shared governance? Talk? Hah! Why the fuck do you think I'm here? I'm going to make you suffer a hundred times the disgrace I had to bear!"

Satisfaction swelled inside Red Scorpion, the kind that only came with vengeance. How disgraceful had it been when they showed him the door? Ten years. Now he was back to take what he deserved.

This time it would be different. With a fighter from the south his position would be more stable than it'd ever been. Everything they took from him, he would claw back and then some. As for this asshole in front of him, what made him think he was ever worthy to rule over Sandspire? He would die for that sin alone.

"Now everyone listen good." Red Scorpion raised his voice, addressing the others. "Everyone except Sand Viper has the option of surrendering to me right now. Do that and you live. Otherwise you'll die with your Governor right here, right now."

The godslayer slowly lifted his halberd toward Sand Viper. It gathered another shock of electric black power. No quarter would be given.

Sand Viper couldn't protect himself from this power. He felt a hopelessness wash over him. But as he shrunk into himself a figure stepped between the Governor and the godslayer, at an almost leisurely pace.

"Hmph! Another who wants to die! So be it, you'll both be blown to pieces!"

The godslayer was furious at the gall of this stranger and threw more power into his relic. He would make good on his promise and reduce both these fools to paste.

The stream of power that belched from his halberd was spectacular. Yet the man who faced him did not move, did not cower, did not flinch. He merely lifted his left hand to show off the gauntlet encasing it.

Black and electric blue struck the armor. But the explosion everyone was bracing for never came. In fact there was no reaction at all. Black, electric fire danced around Cloudhawk's gauntlet and then was swallowed up.

He cast his hand out, and the same deadly energy was flung back one hundred and eighty degrees from whence it came.

The godslayer and Red Scorpion both leaped out of harm's way. Sadly, a number of sweepers were not fast enough and were blown to pieces.

He's an Elysian demonhunter! It was the godslayer's turn to be shocked. He hadn't thought a place as small and insignificant as Sandspire would house a demonhunter! And one with some skill, at that. He crouched low then sprung into the air, rising high overhead Cloudhawk's head like an ominous wind. With his halberd crackling with energy, he came dashing down weapon first.

Cloudhawk reached out with his left hand. A deluge of power erupted from his palm!

The halberd burst into pieces.

A streak of silver then appeared in Cloudhawk's right hand, sweeping toward his enemy then gone just as fast. Cloudhawk finished with a swift kick at the godslayer's tumbling form. The blow launched him back into the frightened masses around Red Scorpion.

The godslayer, who a moment before seemed so powerful that none could stand before him, now lay in the dirt with a shocked expression on his face. A small, almost insignificant gash had appeared between his eyes with one to match on the back of his head - like something had run right through his skull.

Cloudhawk slowly looked over the sweepers. When he spoke his voice was calm, almost welcoming.

"Who else wants some?"

1. We haven't seen these badasses Wonder how Cloudhawk will handle them now.

2. This mother fucker turned into iron man.

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