The boundary had been breached. Something abnormal had happened. Autumn was the first to recognize the danger.
The man’s first reaction when seeing the young woman was surprise. Then he saw her beauty, radiating from everything except her deathly-cold glare. But when all that passed what gripped him was her remarkable temperament, like a queen looking scornfully upon unruly subjects.
Two contrasting things in one body. She was like no one he’d ever seen before.
Though wounded, the middle-aged man looked dangerously toward Autumn. “You dare stand in my way? Do you know who I am?”
Autumn’s tepid voice returned, “I don’t care who you are.”
He smirked while the other men in his crew looked at each other in surprise. This child had the gall to speak to him like that? They were here as a scouting party, but that didn’t mean they were weak. Each member of their group was a trained killer. Meanwhile, there didn’t seem to be anything special about this girl.
What these fools didn’t know was that when the discrepancy of power was too great – when they existed on entirely different levels – then intuition failed to show them the truth. It was like an ant trying to describe the power of a dragon. It was impossible for such a tiny thing to even see the majestic beast in its entirety.
“I don’t have time to play with you.” The man waved his hand toward his companions. “They’ll know something up in a few moments. But take this one with us, maybe the mission won’t be for naught. Grab her.”
Several men stepped forward to comply. They circled around the deadly mushrooms toward Autumn.
She didn’t move except to lift her flute and wave it lazily toward the men. An invisible force struck them with intense force, which caused their bodies to detonate from the inside out. Where muscled men had been were now piles of meat paste and pools of blood.
Dead in an instant!
Even in the moment of action there was no sense of murderous intent from the girl. She did it was easily and as thoughtlessly as someone might step on an insect. Whatever she was, she was on an entirely different level from them. Killing these gnats wasn’t even an afterthought.
Now the middle-aged man understood. His face darkened. He never would have imagined such a pretty, frail looking girl could command such power. How could this be?
His reaction was swift. The man threw down a handful of smoke and slipped away.
His ploy got him ten meters from the clearing, when suddenly he found his escape route blocked by vines. The man spun around to find another way, but more vines had appeared to cut off retreat. Before he could formulate another plan he found he couldn’t even lift his feet. They were pinned to the floor with writhing green tendrils that slithered like snakes. They started climbing up his legs.
“No!” A short, shrill scream arose and was suddenly cut short.
Autumn’s Dryad lumbered from the forest with a head in one hand.
By now, the entire city knew something was wrong. A contingent of Talon soldiers brought a hundred troops to the area, but they arrived to discover that the problem had been solved. Copperhide was saved from the mushroom grove and brought back to the city where his wounds could be looked at. His report was delivered to the Governor.
Afterwards Cloudhawk brought Barb and Gabriel to the scene of the attack.
“What happened?” Cloudhawk looked at the carnage and scowled. “Aren’t we supposed to be protected from this? How did these mice squeak through?”
Greenland’s protections were under Autumn’s purview. Seeing them fail was a distinct loss of face for this prideful ex-deity. She grumbled in his general direction, “The enchantments aren’t perfect. OOf course there are ways in and out. They must have used some special relics or methods to find the holes and slip inside.”
Cloudhawk scowled darkly as he checked the body of the man killed by the Dryad. Tough Love He found a ring on the body he sensed was a relic. The inscription on it told him the relic’s name; ‘ring of concealment.’ Obviously, it was a tool to help the wearer remains undetected. Low-grade, really just a means of invisibility. It masked the user’s sound, temperature and aura as well. That’s why the mushroom hadn’t attacked him until his weapon was revealed.
“Are they from Skycloud?” Gabriel asked.
“We can’t rule it out, but I don’t think so.” Cloudhawk slipped the ring into his pocket. “Not Skycloud’s style. Arcturus wouldn’t have sent these sorts after us. My guess is they came from someplace else.”
Gabriel found it strange. “Someplace else? With relics?”
“Not unthinkable. Squall, Wolfblade – they have these kinds of powers and they aren’t from Skycloud, right?” As he then leveled his displeasure toward Autumn. “Why did you have to kill them all? You should have at least left one for questioning!”
Autumn just laughed coldly. Why bother? If this was all the mysterious outsiders could muster, coming here was suicide.
“Not a problem,” Barb said, stepping forward. “Let me try!”
Barb’s Heartscry Thorn was typically used on live targets. However, on those who were recently deceased, if their brain tissue was intact, she could still extract some memories.
Cloudhawk stepped aside so Barb could get to work. Meanwhile, he was worried about the safety of their city, so ordered that preparations be made for better security. This sort of incursion had to be avoided in the future.
At least the mushroom plot had proven to serve as decent protection. While its range of attack was only a hundred meters or so, strategically planted it could be a good defense against invaders and mutant creatures.
Hellflower’s experiments also had good news. Through exhaustive tests they found that the small mushrooms were not poisonous. In fact, they were quite nutritious. Nothing about them seemed harmful. It had potential to become a staple of Greenalnd City’s diet.
Cloudhawk’s next announcement was to begin planting plots of these mushrooms around the city.
1. It’s funny when you see such an unimposing description and immediately you think ‘oh man, you’re fucked.’
Next Chapter Barb’s efforts bore fruit. However, the process of reading the dead man’s memories was not a smooth one.
At Barb’s current level of skill there was always a chance of failure. This was compounded by the fact the head she was working on no longer had a body. The memories she extracted came in bits and pieces, fragmented, and vague. It was like a mirror shattered into a hundred pieces. She was trying to piece it back together by sweeping everything into a pile. Recreating it seemed impossible.
However, there were some important tidbits they managed to uncover. For one, this relic-wielding stranger was not from Skycloud. It was as they expected, but confirmation helped them breathe a little easier.
The one thing that kept Cloudhawk up at night was having Skycloud set its sights on his young city. With his condition as it was, Cloudhawk couldn’t contend against Arcturus. So long as it wasn’t a direct attack from Skycloud, though, Greenland City could defend itself.
Both the Conclave of Judgment of the Hand of Gehenna boasted demonhunters of their own. Wasteland demonhunters had existed for some time now. What they needed to know, and had yet to discover, was where this one had come from.
If he’d been sent here by the Conclave, that meant trouble. After all, the real power behind that group was Arcturus. The good news was that unless they got help from Skycloud, the Conclave couldn’t defeat Greenland City on its own.
This did not mean Greenland City was strong enough to rival the Conclave. Aside from a solid core of good fighters, their young domain wasn’t any better than an average settlement from the Northern Barrens.
However, even a dragon couldn’t cross an ocean without growing tired.
Natessa was clever and resourceful. The Conclave of Judgment was dominant, with its talons dug deep into every Northern power. But these were the southern wastes. It was too far for the dragon’s reach. With the Dark Atom operating in the area, Natessa’s forces couldn’t run wild here.
“I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty confident he isn’t from anywhere we know about.” Barb continued her trying efforts. “From what I piece together he came from somewhere further south.”
The southern wastes were far less organized than the north. The environment was less forgiving. It meant the human population was scant. Up till now, there wasn’t much of a force to speak of in these parts.
Because it was so harsh here and rife with mutant beasts, even highly trained Elysian troops had a hard time getting around. The furthest reaches of the southern wastes remained a mystery. No one knew what was down there. Or what to expect.
Legends said the south was comprised of complex highlands, which the people had come to call the Savage Lands. But recent discoveries made it seemed the savage lands were misnamed. After all, this was a trained and deadly demonhunter that just wandered into their home. What’s more, coming all this way meant two troubling things:
One, a significant and unknown power was hiding somewhere down there. One that had its own demonhunters.
Two, whatever the reality of this new player, they knew all about Greenland City. Cloudhawk figured the sudden changes in the four nearby cities had caused the strangers to pay attention. Best way to learn more was to send scouts – hence this group.
It was trouble. Whether a lot or little, it was too early to tell.
If they were a small group then it would stand to reason that they act more defensively, be more cautious. Greenland City would be left alone and the calm days would continue, ample time for them to expand. But if this new threat was strong, and they took offense to Cloudhawk setting up shop nearby, then they could expect a fight.
Everyone gathered at a meeting to discuss the possibilities.
More trouble for the young domain. Before their problems were internal ones – food, equipment, resources. For the first time, the problem came from the outside.
“Afraid my ass,” Dawn said from the seat next to Cloudhawk. She slapped the table and shot to her feet. “If those wasteland rats want to cower then let them, but coming up to our house and causing trouble? If we just bury our head in the sand what’s to stop them from stomping on it next time?”
Several of the people in the meeting hall nodded in agreement. Most of them were members of the Polaris family, whose tradition was to solve weapons with fist and steel. “Cloudhawk, as far as I see it this problems doesn’t even bear discussion. Let me take a few hundred people down there and I swear to wipe them out. We are looking for a chance to establish ourselves in the wasteland and this is it! Cull our opposition to scare the others into place!”
Barb openly endorsed the plan. “No quarter for our enemies!”
“If only it were that easy.” Everyone was eager to draw blood, but a voice from the other side of Cloudhawk tried to temper their hawkish views. “You’ve only just started to learn about the wastelands. You don’t know just how dangerous this place can be.”
Dawn scowled threateningly at her. “What are you trying to say?”
“Never underestimate your enemy, and especially never underestimate the environment. With a few hundred soldiers do you think it’d be easy to cross a thousand kilometers of unknown terrain? You don’t even know what you’ll find when you cross it. Simply charging in blind is foolish and deadly.” Hellflower was blunt. “At best, if you follow that plan, victory is a long shot.”
Dawn opened her mouth to refute her but was cut off.
“Hellflower’s right,” Cloudhawk said. He didn’t agree with Dawn’s fervor. “She and I have grown up down here. Hellflower has spent her life traveling all over the wastes. No one knows more than she does about it.”
Dawn tried again. “But-“
“Enough. I know your objections but force is not the only way to solve a problem. It might be worth trying to talk.” Cloudhawk shook his head. “We can’t risk that many soldiers anyway. Greenland City is still young and weak. If you take those soldiers and something happens, that’s a month of hard work thrown away for nothing. If we let internal strife start to tear us up that will only gather attention. We don’t want Arcturus hearing even a whisper of our name, not yet.”
Dawn gave a deflated snort. She didn’t like it, but she saw the reasoning. The root of her discomfort came mostly from Cloudhawk siding with that floozy Hellflower. But she had to accept it.
“We aren’t in a position to commit to a big fight. But we’re in an unenviable position – our enemy is unknown, but they know about us. We need to think of a way to send out feelers and figure out what we’re dealing with.” The suggestion came from Roc. “Perhaps instead we should send Rio and a handful of his best soldiers into the territory, see what they can find?”
“Rio’s capable, but this mission isn’t suitable for Talons. The soldiers are good at what they do, which is a straight fight. They aren’t trained for wilderness survival and covert operations. Besides it’s far, so sending orders is difficult.”
What Cloudhawk wanted was something like the Court of Shadows. If he had someone with Atlas’ talents, they’d be able to trust that person to sneak into enemy territory and learn what they needed without a problem. Unfortunately a man like that wasn’t near at hand. Sending amateurs to do that sort of a job wasn’t going to help them.
A counterattack was out of the question. Investigation was off the table. So what were they expected to do? They couldn’t just sit on their hands!
“Sandspire is a city at the southernmost reaches of our territory, there in the ruins.” Cloudhawk pulled out a crude hand-drawn map. He poured over it while he made his decision. “It’s about four hundred kilometers south from us. We can use that as a screen between us and whatever is down there. If they promise to help us deal with whatever problems come bubbling out of that place, we can help with expansion and safety.”
What was waiting for them in the highlands was a complete mystery. Cloudhawk didn’t want to tip his hand before they knew more. As far as he saw it, the best thing for Greenland City right now was to remain low-key. If they could avoid getting wrapped up in wasteland conflicts, then they should do so.
Sandspire’s population was similar to Greenalnd’s. If Cloudhawk could bring it under his control, they would have a fine launch point for any future missions into the deep south. That would save Greenland City a lot of headaches.
With the enchantment present, Greenland City could focus more on development.
Sandspire was unique and important. In contrast to the other three cities in their orbit – which provided much needed resources – Sandspire gave them something they lacked even more. Technology. It was a city among ancient ruins, filled with strange and interesting things.
Hellflower wasn’t the only one excited about learning more about them. Cloudhawk was as well. He made his decision. “I’ll go visit Sandspire myself.”
Dawn immediately piped up. “You are the Governor. How does it make sense for you to go yourself? You still aren’t fully healed yet. What happens if you run into trouble?”
“I’m already feeling better. I can get around just fine and I still have the ability to teleport. Even weakened, I can get there in half a day.”
Cloudhawk made up his mind, but he wasn’t careless.
Cloudhawk was fairly confident there were few threats to him in these parts, but the world was big and there was a lot he didn’t know. Who’s to say something altogether unexpected wouldn’t catch him out on the road? He’d learned not to underestimate people. He had to be careful.
“Hey drunk, you and Hellflower come with me. We need to make sure the city is ours when we leave.”
“Why me?” The old man rubbed his dirty nose. “You’re falling into a bad habit of bothering me with all this nonsense.”
Cloudhawk grumbled. “Keep complaining and I’ll stop giving you booze.”
The hobo raised his hands in surrender.
Dawn, Roc, Gabby and the others were strong enough to hold things down. Anyway, they had important responsibilities to see to. They were better utilized here in the city. Right now, Greenland’s construction and development was still the number one priority. Autumn was an option to bring along, but it wasn’t like she would come because Cloudhawk asked nicely. The more he troubled her the more she detested him.
Better to employ the god’s powers as sparingly as possible. She was to be used at key moments, when the time was right.
In the end, the best pair to bring with him on this journey was Hellflower and the drunk.
Hellflower had her powerful silver golem as a bodyguard. Unfortunately for them, her golem had been left behind with the Dark Atom. If not, Cloudhawk likely wouldn’t have needed the drunk’s help. Hellflower was strong on her own, but extra protection was good in case they ran into a particularly hairy scenario. After all, Hellflower’s safety was important too. Cloudhawk needed her if he was to continue building his own power.
“Sandspire’s a good place. I visited once a decade ago. Since then I heard there’s been several political upheavals. I’m not sure what it’s like there now.” Hellflower gave her approval of Cloudhawk’s decision. She had fond memories of the place. “Their scientists are mostly known for engineering. Perhaps we can recruit a few of their more clever members for ourselves.”
Next Chapter One thing the wastelands didn’t lack was ruins. Cultivator in Cultivation Chat Group The former civilization that once spanned this world had been vast and glorious. What remained now, of course, was nothing but husks of their former splendor.
The skeletons of their buildings and neighborhood were now haunts for scavengers and nests for wild animals.
However, the ruins were anything but worthless. Often they were the final resting places of ancient knowledge. Tools, weapons or data were buried in the detritus, waiting to be unearthed. Usually, these places rich in ancient tech were referred to as troves.
The wastelands were vast and sparsely populated. It was a land mired in conflict, but also rich in opportunity.
One place where opportunity lived was Sandspire. Slowly rusting husks of buildings rose from the dunes like jagged teeth, marking a trove where it was said many legendary weapons were discovered. These stories inspired those who heard them, spreading among the masses and changing with each retelling.
For those who lived in Sandspire now, they would say those stories were their lighthouse.
They believed without a shadow of a doubt that Sandspire was a place where one’s luck could turn. Beneath their feet was a trove thousands of years old, hiding untold secrets just waiting to be discovered.
Attracting nearly ten thousand scavengers came with challenges as well. Sandspire’s complex maze ruins became a breeding ground for sin. Murder was an everyday occurrence. Hideous creatures also lurked in dark corners. They waited for unsuspecting wastelanders and picked off the weak.