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Chapter 44 – Betrayed
Cloudhawk was a rookie who was taking part in a mission for the very first time. He was completely inexperienced, and he had never before battled against dangerous creatures like these. In front of him was a freak which even the experienced mercenaries had never seen before, and which was far crueler and more sadistic than any ordinary beasts. Not only was Cloudhawk not terrified… he actually went out to challenge the thing!
The kid has gone absolutely stark raving mad!
True, during the past two days Cloudhawk’s performance in battle was far superior to what the mercenaries had predicted, but he still ranked at the very bottom in terms of ability. If even Cooke had been completely unable to fight back against this freak, how did the kid think he would stand a chance at all? This sort of behavior was absolutely suicidal!
“Slyfox, what the fuck are you afraid of?” Mad Dog actually knocked down two of the people in front of him. “Even the newest rookie has more balls than you, you spineless pussy! If we die, we die. Mad Dog aint no bitch!”
Slyfox stared at Cloudhawk as the kid charged out, then let out a long sigh. “Fine, then. Let’s charge together!”
“We were waiting for you to say that!”
“Rookies! Follow my lead!”
The other mercenaries had been burning with the desire to do just that. Men, by their very nature, are filled with stubbornness and defiance. They weren’t going to be able to escape today… so if they had to die, they were going to die with a bang! To die while hiding in a mountain cave like turtles hiding in their shells was far too fucking pathetic!
As soon as the mercenaries began to move, the rats began to move in unison as well. The two sides instantly became locked in yet another bloody battle!
Cloudhawk focused all of his attention towards the opponent in front of him. When the rat king noticed how the mercenaries were attempting to surround it, it felt as though there was no need to waste time; it would first kill this small human, then wipe out the others! It leapt off the ground with its four paws, sending it straight forwards in a straight line charge.
Even though Cloudhawk’s reactive instincts were better than Cooke’s, the rat king was simply far too fast! There was no way Cloudhawk could dodge… and so he didn’t. Instead, he barreled straight towards the rat king!
When the rat king was ten meters away from him, Cloudhawk’s black tri-bladed staff began to vibrate slightly.
When the rat king was five meters away, it once more leapt off the ground towards Cloudhawk. It launched eight incredibly sharp claw-strikes straight at the puny human’s critical organs. Its claws were like eight lethally sharp knives stabbing straight at Cloudhawk!
Here it comes… here it comes! Victory or defeat would be determined by this strike!
Ignoring everything else, Cloudhawk struck out with his exorcist staff! The tri-blades had already begin to spin frantically, reaching an incredible rotational velocity in an extremely short period of time. Cloudhawk had poured all of his energy and his very being into this strike. Sparks appeared from the dancing exorcist staff as it exploded with tempestuous might, generating streams of energy which caused the dirt and pebbles in the surrounding area to fly into the air.
“GO DIE!!!” Cloudhawk bellowed, poured all of his rage and hatred into this strike. The rat king’s eight claws, ‘impervious’ to normal weapons, were instantly shattered by the terrifying destructive force of Cloudhawk’s strike. The shockwave generated by the clash was simply incredible, with the exorcist staff releasing its full, pent-up, tornado-like power onto the body of the rat king.
The rat king let out a miserable squeak as it was sent flying ten meters away. Its body actually fell apart into two pieces in midair. Blood splattered the ground as its two halves finally fell down.
The rats were all stunned. Even the mercenaries stared, stupefied.
The weakest-looking human had actually just unleashed a strike of incredible power. There was no way an ordinary person could possibly possess such strength. This power, this savagery… it defied all science and all common sense!
The rat king didn’t instantly die. The upper half of its body was struggling in agony, seeming to want to reconnect with the other half. It wanted to stay alive. It didn’t want to die! But its body had been completely torn apart, and its innards had been completely splattered. Even though the rat king didn’t know exactly what was going on, it knew that it wasn’t going to survive this.
The rat king turned its increasingly-blurry gaze towards the youth. The youth had unleashed all of his rage and hatred in that strike. Now, he simply stood there while panting and gulping.
So the brat succeeded. He gained revenge for his friend. But what about me? What about my vengeance? I haven’t even found that damn madman! I haven’t torn him apart, haven’t ripped him from limb to limb!
These humans… they might view me as being ‘evil’, but in my eyes these arrogant and ignorant humans are the true definition of evil!
Why did you capture us? Torture us? Why did you barge into my territory? Why did you kill my children? You even skinned our dead and ate our flesh. You tore our bones out of our bodies!
Why? Why?! WHY!!!
The dying thought of this intelligent animal was that suddenly envied its fellows. It truly wished that it was like them, incapable of rational thought or planning. If they were hungry, they ate. They survived on instinct alone. The rat king didn’t want to die. It really didn’t want to die!
The rat king let out one final terrified, agonized squeak… then everything went dark.
Now that the rat king had been slain, the dire rats instantly lost their cohesiveness. No longer under any control, the hundreds of dire rats entered a state of chaos. Some turned to flee, some ran back and forth, and a few continued to press the attack against the mercenaries.
Cloudhawk felt completely exhausted after having used his tri-blade staff to slay the rat king. His head was woozy and his ears were deafened. He was barely even able to stay standing… and this was the moment that seven or eight dire rats surrounded and attacked him.
Cloudhawk was completely out of energy. He was able to feebly swing his staff a few times before the dire rats knocked him down with ease. Right at this moment, a machete flew past him and plunged deep into the body of a dire rat.
Mad Dog’s muscular body was covered in blood. He had charged next to Cloudhawk, and with but a single chop he knocked that dire rat flying. He then pulled his machete back and growled, “Got any fight left?”
Cloudhawk struggled to nod.
“Good. We’re gonna carve a path outta here!”
With the rat king’s death, the rat swarms had lost their cohesiveness. The majority of the dire rats began to leave in various directions. Although a few hundred continued to surround and assault the mercenaries, they were now under much less pressure than during the previous battle. Despite that… it was still a brutal fight.
The mercenaries were completely spent, and all of them were covered in wounds. They had to battle for over ten more minutes before the dire rats finally and fully retreated.
Six more mercenaries had died during that last battle, leaving just twelve of them alive. This mission had caused the Tartarus mercenaries to suffer catastrophic losses. They had lost half of their combat power… but thankfully, the other half had made it out alive. Otherwise, the Tartarus Mercenaries would’ve been a mercenary company in the hells of Tartarus.
Mad Dog turned to stare at Cloudhawk as if the latter was a freak. “How the hell did you do that earlier?”
Cloudhawk knew that there was no way he would be able to hide this any longer. He briefly told the mercenaries part of the story regarding the Bloodsoaked Queen and the exorcist staff. All of the mercenaries were stunned by what they heard. None of them had imagined that Cloudhawk was someone who was capable of supernatural abilities like the Bloodsoaked Queen!
“I knew letting you join us was the right choice.” Slyfox felt both envy and jealousy. The kid could very well end up becoming stronger than both him and Mad Dog! “The company’s taken a heavy hit. It’s gonna be real hard for us to recover from this… but if you can reach the Bloodsoaked Queen’s level of power, we can just go and conquer a different wastelands’ outpost. In the future, we’re gonna be the bosses! Fuck begging for scraps.”
Conquer an outpost? Cloudhawk had never even considered this as an option. His dream had always been to leave the wastelands!
As for becoming as powerful as the Bloodsoaked Queen? Cloudhawk didn’t think that was very likely. Exorcist staffs were the lowest-level relics a demonhunter could use, while the Bloodsoaked Queen was most likely a high-level demonhunter!
Cooke was dead. Woola was dead. They had lost far, far too many people.
There was no need to bury the corpses of the dead, because no matter how deep they buried them the corpses would still be unearthed by wild animals. This was simply how things were in the wastelands. They were wastelanders; they lived in the wastelands and died in the wastelands, and when they died they would naturally return to the wastelands in this fashion. The survivors briefly mourned for the dead. Then, they departed.
The twelve surviving mercenaries had all suffered heavy wounds, and the injuries were beginning to take a toll. Even worse, many of the wounds would probably become infected. It could be said that the situation was quite dire. There was no way they could stay here; they had to leave as soon as possible.
Slyfox and Mad Dog led the mercenaries out of the gorge… and when they walked out, their gazes froze.
A tattered, wastelands-style airship was hovering in the air above the ruins up ahead. No one knew when the airship had arrived, but every single mercenary recognized it… and Cloudhawk had seen it once as well. This airship belonged to the rich employer who had employed them multiple times in the past.
These were the ones who had issued the mission to kill the rat king!
A look of fury flashed past Mad Dog’s face. “These sons-of-bitches. They completely fucked us. I should tear a few of their fucking heads off!”
“Don’t move!” A strange look was on Slyfox’s face. He thought quickly, then said, “Don’t let them notice us. We need to leave immediately!”
“Leave?” One of the mercenaries shouted angrily, “We got killed out there on this mission. We gonna walk away without even taking our pay?”
Slyfox whispered in response, “That’s the problem. The intelligence report was completely off. I’ve looked at it from every perspective, and the only answer is that they were TRYING to get us killed.”
Mad Dog was shocked and enraged. “Are you saying they sold us out?”
“Yeah. They sold us out!” Slyfox was clearly beginning to panic. “We need to go right now. Otherwise, we aint gonna make it!”
The mercenaries slowly began to realize the gravity of their situation. When they had first received the mission, they had all been puzzled by many of its irregularities. Right at this moment, they heard a low, bestial growl ring out: “It seems you aren’t as stupid as I thought you were.”
Cloudhawk was badly startled, and the other mercenaries all turned pale as well.
A dark human silhouette stepped out onto the sands. This was a tall, muscular man who was dressed in black leathers. Not an inch of his skin was exposed to the elements. He wore a black breathing apparatus that looked like a long-billed bird’s face, and the apparatus was connected to all sorts of wires and tubes. Rough, ragged breathing could be heard from behind the mask, and a few streaks of white mist belched out of the mouth-opening. It made him look like a freak who had the face of a bird.
It was him! This outfit was too distinctive. Nobody who saw this man would ever be able to forget him.
The mercenaries couldn’t help but take a few steps back. A grim look was on Slyfox’s face as he asked, “why?”
The man dressed in black leathers cast a cold glance at them, his features hidden by that bird-beaked breathing apparatus. “I liked working with you as well, actually. You are pretty strong for wastelanders… which makes it all the more unfortunate that my master intends to annihilate Blackflag Outpost. You serve as an obstacle, and so I’ll have to trouble you to die for me.”
Blackflag Outpost! He belonged to the same organization as the leader of the sweepers who had just attacked the outpost!
In other words, he was a servant of the demon. His target was the demonhunter… the Bloodsoaked Queen!