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Book 7, Chapter 50 - Ant Soldiers

 Standing on the shoulders of a sand giant as it charged across the desert was certainly a... unique experience.

The beast continued to pick up speed, the earth shook beneath its feet. With a dominating presence, energy poured off the behemoth as it ran. In its wake a huge dust storm formed, but not only that. Gusts of grit gathered together into an army of smaller golems that ran with their towering general.

Abaddon was a mighty demon. Although he did not have the title of Elder, his powers could not be discounted. He was a level above human Master Demonhunters, especially when in his preferred environment. He summoned an army to fight for them as the small group bore down on Kesjir.

They were coming prepared because Cloudhawk knew what they were walking into. Kesjir was Belial's stronghold.

In order to more efficiently search for the divine seed left by the gods, Belial had built himself a secret crew. With the sandstorm concealing Kesjir under his control, the demon expertly manipulated it to allow only his airships to pass. In this way, step by step, his posse grew.

After centuries, Belial had forged all sorts of channels through Stormford's society. He used them to siphon materials from the Elysian land which he used to create relics. These relics he used in his own defense and also to create his secret desert paradise.

The demons' greatest artisan was not a title lightly given.

Belial wasn't at the peak of the elder hierarchy, but he was in the top ten. He earned that place not just from his combat prowess but from his many other skills. His valuable abilities went far beyond what typical Elders could provide.

His aid was worth more than an entire army. If Cloudhawk wanted to smoke him out of his hole, then he had to take Kesjir.

But Belial was as strong as a Supreme, maybe even stronger. Cloudhawk had to be wary. If even the slightest opportunity was given to this crafty devil, he would flee. Time was of the essence.

The Kesjir oasis was nestled in mountainous terrain. Nothing about it caught the eye: From a distance, up close and from above it looked like any other stretch of mountains. But hidden in the valleys and below were fertile lands, fed by clean rivers. So though on the surface it seemed as barren as anywhere else, closer inspection revealed ribbons of vibrant, vital green. Surely the product of Belial's work.

All manner of dangers were littered near Kesjir. Their dramatic approach was sure to capture the attention of deadly beasts and indeed whirlpools began to appear in the desert sands nearby. Creatures drilled to the surface before the sand giant.

Jara was already so frightened by this circumstances that his legs could hardly move. When he saw the whirlpools, however, his breath caught in his throat. "Fuck! Sand demons!"

All the monsters in this area were brought here by Belial, hand-picked for being the more ferocious fiends of the desert. Already possessed of terrible strength, the demon Elder further enhanced their bodies to give them all sorts of extra abilities.

These were not typical mutant creatures. They had become what old legends called the demons of the sands.

A four-headed snake wrapped in black fog appeared in the behemoth's path. Harsh sun glinted off scales with a metallic luster. This king of beasts had its teeth and skull altered.

"Arrghho! Hassss!" The four heads roared and spit, each one different. Fire, acid, poison, lightning. A storm of different powers was belched at the sand giant. Under the formidible attack a fifth of Abaddon's sandy shell was destroyed.

However, the behemoth was not a living creature and could not be so easily destroyed. No matter how many times it was blasted apart, whipping sands made it whole. Although the four-headed beast was strong, it did not possess the ability to stop the giant.

But more creatures were burrowing to the surface. Giant scorpions, skittering ants. There was no way of telling what other nightmares lurked beneath the surface.

Belial had modified them all. They no longer needed food or water and gained sustenance through other means. This stopped them from killing each other for survival. Judging by the extend of these mutations, Belial had a terrible talent for genetics. But war had come to his doorstep and he would have to leave his mountain stronghold eventually.

Cloudhawk drew Godslayer and with one swipe carved across ten thousand meters of desert. The brilliant burst of power whistled across the landscape like an unstoppable tornado. The four-headed snake was caught in its path and torn to pieces, falling in bloody chunks like rain.

Jara was dumbstruck. That... that is no earthly power!

Cloudhawk called out over the roar of the storm. "Belial! Show yourself! You can't hide any longer!"

There was no answer from Kesjir, meanwhile more and more creatures closed in on all sides. Endless attacks of all sorts tried to slow their advance. In response the behemoth formed a sword of yellow grit two hundred meters high and hacked it toward the swarm. Ignoring the encroaching attacks, Abaddon slammed into them.

Wherever they passed, a deluge of innards and shattered carapace was left behind. With its two sandy hands on its blade, the giant swung with wild abandon while closing in on the mountains. SLAM! The weapon struck a protective enchantment barring passage into Kesjir. The field shimmered but did not give, a demon Elder's defenses were strong. Abaddon alone couldn't open a path.

They were being overwhelmed by creatures, each wave stronger than the last. A bird wreathed in lava swooped down from above, the air around it hot enough to melt steel. Seething talons were aimed at the giant.

It was Frost de Winter who answered. Ashfall appeared from within his cloak and he leaped into the air. With a thrust of his right arm, the bird reeled back from a spear in its chest.

A burst of energy followed. The dripping fires around the creature's body withered as though someone had poured a bucket over it. Ice appeared on its surface and crept across the body as, with a lamenting cry, it fell toward the ground. When it struck the bird shattered into countless chunks of ice.

Back atop the behemoth, Autumn put her flute to her mouth and summoned a tone. It tolled in the minds of the creature like a deafening call.

All around the beasts froze in place. Autumn's power reigned them in like a giant hand holding them fast. However, she found that she could not dominate them entirely. They were already under the yolk of another.

"The demon Elder refuses to open the door for us, eh?" Cloudhawk shouted the challenge toward the mountains and got silence in response.

Abaddon, piloting the behemoth from within, continued to hack at the enchantment with its sword. Each blow was enough to cleave mountains and with every one came a storm of sand. The protective light was quickly dimming.

At this rate it would only be a matter of time before they broke through. But what if their target got away? Belial had tampered with the flows of space here, preventing Cloudhawk from teleporting inside. Direct fury was their best bet.

"Abaddon, Frost, Autumn - if we strike together we can break the shield down."

Individually, the four commanded frightening power. Together they were the stuff of nightmares. Nothing could stand in their way. The strength of Belials were limited, no matter how mighty his tools. So, with a deafening roar, a breach was carved in the enchantment.

Cloudhawk and his party forced their way into Kesjir. The moment they stepped foot within, countless dark figures began to approach. Surprise crept into the wastelander's face when he saw them. Were they..? Yes. Ants! Thousands upon thousands of them.

Each one was as big as a horse and were covered in thick plates of dark red. They covered the mountain sides like an avalanche. Some even had creatures clinging to their backs - no, not creatures, humans!

Ant... soldiers?

Cloudhawk looked out over the siege but could find no sign of Belial.

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