chapter 4 the sweepers
nightfall. night signified the cold. it also signified death.
an enormous rat was skittering through the ruins, its pitch-black form merging into the darkness of the night as its beady little crimson eyes swept left and right. the area around it was rife with ditches of water. the water was a deep green color and thick with the aura of rot and contamination. the corpses of many unknown animals had long been steeped within that foul water.
there was some type of algae-like growth which could be seen in spots throughout this area, emanating their dim, sickly fluorescent light. the light wasn’t enough to illuminate anything; all it could do was make the dark night seem even more sinister and forboding.
the giant rat vigilantly scanned its surroundings. finally, it came to a halt in front of a giant tunnel. this was perhaps a transportation hub of the old times, or possibly an entranceway to an ancient, enormous building. it was also possible that it was a building from one of the invading worlds… but by now, none of this mattered.
the giant rat hesitated, unsure of whether or not it would go in. it could smell a strange, dangerous scent.
right at this moment, a large amount of torch light could be seen, followed by the sounds of many people moving together.
the giant rat was so startled it instantly dove into that tunnel. a few seconds later, it emanated a chilling screech from deep within the tunnel. the giant rat’s screeching sound continuously receded, almost as if it was being dragged deeper and deeper into the tunnel. finally, the giant rat’s miserable screeches were cut short, followed by ripping, gnashing, and chewing sounds.
a few minutes later, the light from a torch shone over this place.
mad dog stared at the enormous ruins before him, a frown on his face. “you sure this is it?”
the fat man pulled a match, using it to light the cigarette in his mouth. “the layout here is extremely complicated. supposedly, those bastards are pretty sly. it’ll be dangerous if we try to force our way in, and we’ll also set off the alarms. it’ll be hard for us to wipe’m all out.”
mad dog frowned even more. “then what should we do?”
“why do you think i brought so many pawns?” the fat man stared at mad dog as though his question was offensively stupid, then tossed his half-smoked cigarette to the ground. “rookies, send in the bait!”
several of the mercenaries walked over to the quivering scavengers. “y’all deaf? slyfox told you to move it!”
the scavengers were both cold and frightened. the yawning black tunnel before them seemed to be the entrance into hell itself. by now, even the most foolish of them could tell that they were just here to serve as bait, bait to lure some people out. that was it!
but… did the scavengers have the choice to refuse? only if they could move faster than a speeding bullet. otherwise, none of them would be able to escape slyfox’s pistol!
the scavengers had no choice but to be driven into the tunnel, raising their torches high as they slowly shuffled forwards.
“be careful in there, rookies.” the fat man lit another cigarette, puffing slowly in a relaxed manner as he watched the torches advance through the tunnel. “take things slow. let the pawns stay up ahead of you.”
the tunnel was both cold and moist. it was filled with a strong stench of rot and decay, and it held many ancient algae-covered tools that lay abandoned. many mosquitoes could be heard buzzing throughout the tunnel, and it was filled with the signs of dangerous creatures living within it.
cloudhawk was terrified out of his senses, but also quite puzzled. for some reason, he could vaguely sense that something was calling towards him from an unfathomably deep part of this dark tunnel. he had never sensed anything like this before. the feeling was both subtle and indescribably peculiar.
what secrets were hidden within this place? and what were those powerful excavators planning on doing?
ancient items from the old times weren’t the only things that littered the tunnels. the scavengers were also able to see many suspicious traces, such as tattered bits of cloth, animal carcasses, and congealed pools of blood. but the layout here was quite complicated; after walking for twenty or thirty minutes, no one was able to tell which direction was which.
a shrill sound rang out from some unknown place, sounding almost like nails scratching across a blackboard. the sound was ear-piercingly sharp, and it rang out continuously, sometimes loud and sometimes soft. there was no way to tell where it was coming from.
darkness was something capable of bringing out the most primordial of fears, and the fear of the unknown can multiply all other fears a hundredfold!
the scavengers halted their advance, their bodies stiff with fear and their foreheads covered with sweat. they didn’t know if they were to advance or to retreat. the darkness around them was filled with rustling sounds, causing their nerves to fray even more. in fact, they were almost at the breaking point already.
“ahhh!!” a scavenger suddenly let out a horrifying, blood-curling scream. only then did the others turn and see something which they would never be able to forget. at some point in time, the area around them had become filled with bugs. the vast majority of the bugs looked like beetles, but there were also long, centipede-like creatures that were hanging from the walls, crawling on the ground, and even crawling up their bodies. the entire area was filled with the things.
cloudhawk frantically began to brush away at his clothes, his leg, his stomach, and his back. he had no idea when so many bugs had begun to crawl all over his body. he hadn’t felt them biting at him at all, and some of them had already begun to burrow their way into his flesh. he frantically clutched at his torch, pushing the blazing flames against his own body. it was better to suffer heavy burns than to let these bugs eat their way into his body and kill him!
bugs! there were bugs everywhere! they were clustered so tightly and were so numerous, it was like an entire wave of bugs was before them!
even the boldest of men would be scared senseless upon seeing such a sight. by the time the scavengers at the outside perimeter noticed the bugs, it was already far too late. by the time they tore their clothes open, they found that their bodies had already been transformed into unrecognizable masses of blood and flesh, with many bulging lumps roaming about underneath their skin.
several scavengers let out horrified screams as they collapsed to the ground, and the surrounding bugs all immediately swarmed towards them. they burrowed in through every available orifice, and if they couldn’t find any they would make their own using their teeth.
“run!” the scavengers were already at the point of completely breaking down. when this word rang out, it was like a spark going off in a room full of gunpowder, setting all of their fears alight. the blazing fear burnt away all their rationality and intellect, causing all of them to scream in horror as they began to flee in every direction.
a few managed to escape the bug-infested region. before any of them had the chance to so much as relax, the ones at the front stumbled into some sort of trap.
whoosh! a large bucket of powerful green acid was overturned above them, causing the acid to be poured over their faces and bodies. the powerful, corrosive acid instantly began to eat away at them, causing large clumps of acid-eaten flesh and hair to fall off their bodies as bloody blisters began to appear on their faces and their hands.
“ahhhhhhhh!” a scavenger let out a horrified scream, then turned and ran straight towards cloudhawk. right now, he looked just like a demon himself. he was clawing at his acid-eaten head out of blind instinct, with the result being that he himself scraped large chunks of flesh off his face, revealing a bloody skull. the flesh on his fingers had also withered away, leaving only the bones… but oblivious to all of this, he continued to just scream like a madman.
cloudhawk stared at this horrifying, breathtaking sight. he was stunned and unable to give voice to his astonishment, and his fear was being overridden by an even more terrifying thought – these were all carefully prepared traps, traps laid out by sentient, intelligent beings!
a sharp spear suddenly stabbed through the darkness. the scavenger’s chest was pierced through as easily as paper, and the terrifying strength behind the spear caused both it and the scavenger to be nailed firmly to the wall.
a steel hook shot out as well, reaching out towards one of the fleeing scavengers and ripping off half of the flesh from his stomach. the scavenger didn’t seem to notice a thing, continuing to scream madly as he fled as fast as he could. his blood and intestines gushed out for quite a few meters before he finally fell down to the ground, all traces of life having fled him.
this was a slaughter. this was butchery!
“don’t be afraid. it’s all a trap. if we just…”
the scavenger didn’t even have a chance to finish his words before a long knife came chopping towards him through the darkness. the knife wasn’t that sharp, but its wielder was so terrifyingly strong that the knife sliced all the way through the scavenger, from the right shoulder blade through to the lower flank. the man was ripped in half, and the blood from his bisected body instantly sprayed across the faces of those around him.
his organs flopped out to the ground, and they were still pulsing.
the scavenger didn’t die right away, but all of his ‘courage’ disappeared. all he could do was let out an absolutely inhuman scream, filled with such despair and horror that it was like a mountain hammering away at the spirits of the survivors.
is that them? have they finally come out? cloudhawk saw strange creatures in front of him, the likes of which he had never seen before. the creatures were completely nude and unclothed, but their bodies were completely covered with cancerous growths that looked like the knots on a tree or tree roots. from head to foot, they were covered with those gnarly, wart-like growths.
they also had large growths atop their heads which looked much like the most malignant of malignant tumors. they had two legs that looked almost like a rat’s legs, with knees that inverted backwards instead of forwards. this gave the creatures superior running abilities and leaping abilities. as for weapons, they primarily wielded long knives, spears, and stone hammers.
there was at least one thing which the excavators had told the truth about – there really were sweepers here!
in this day and age, human mutants could be seen everywhere. however, those mutations were generally uncontrollable, which meant that every single mutant looked different from the others. these sweepers, however, didn’t just look the same, they also kept a modicum of intelligence. they definitely were an incredibly rare breed of mutants.
one of the scavengers, gripped by despair, let out a desperate counter-attack. slash! alas, the scavenger’s knife couldn’t even cut through his opponent’s skin, coming to a halt before those gnarly, root-like lumps of flesh. the sweeper, however, struck out with the heavy stone hammer in his hands, delivering a vicious blow to the scavenger’s chest. the furious power of the blow pulverized the scavenger’s flesh and bones, instantly reducing him to a flattened chunk of meat dressed in tattered human clothes.
no way. fighting head-on meant death. these creatures were far stronger than any humans! even worse, the sweepers were beginning to increase in number. their stone warhammers were like terrifying weapons of mass destruction, and each blow from a warhammer reduced one of the scavengers into a bag of pulverized meat!
the scavengers had completely broken down. no matter where they ran, they would die. faced with certain death, they all began to flee wildly, but they also knew that in the end they would end up as flattened hunks of flesh. the endless horror of it all, coupled with unrelenting despair, nibbled away at their minds and their sanity. the little bit of strength and sanity they had left was only enough for them to cry and howl in misery.
something like this… if you never experienced them yourself, you would never be able to truly imagine what those howls sounded like.
anguished howls, intermixed with the sounds of bones being crunched and shattered. it formed a strange, almost musical cadence that echoed throughout the tunnels, a song that was composed from the devil himself, a song that no one who heard it would ever be able to forget.
one warm body after another was broken down and destroyed. one life after another was callously snuffed out!
prior to this, cloudhawk had never truly understood the concept of what ‘hell’ meant. in this instant, all of his courage and his heroic aspirations vanished as he heard those hideous screams. the only thing he left was a gamblers desire to try the cards one final time as he followed the few surviving scavengers as they charged towards a passageway with fairly few sweepers.
crunch! the sound of yet another body being physically blown apart could be heard!
one of the comrades who had been by his side just moments ago was suddenly felled by the hammer of a pursuing sweeper. multiple sweepers immediately swarmed forwards, surrounding the fallen figure and smashing down with their heavy stone warhammers. the corpse was reduced to a state where it was in even worse shape than the refuse on the ground!
the sight of blood spraying everywhere provided an incredible shot of adrenaline to cloudhawk. he felt as though all of his energy had been focused into his legs, and only a single thought was in his mind – get the hell out of here!
“ahh!” right at this moment, one of the scavengers who was running in front of him let out a miserable scream as he fell to the ground, the pincers of some strange beast having clamped around his feet. this beast’s pincers appeared to contain a tremendous amount of force, as its clamping attack had crushed almost every bone in the scavenger’s feet so badly that shattered bits of bone could be seen poking out of his skin!
“i’m begging you, save me!”
cloudhawk fled past him without even thinking about stopping, but the scavenger actually managed to grab him by the feet. caught off-balance, cloudhawk fell to the ground as well.
the scavenger’s face was covered with tears and snot. “help me!”
cloudhawk howled back, “i can’t save you! let me go!”
“then give me a clean death!” the scavenger’s face was filled with despair. “if those devils get their hands on me… i’d rather die now!”
cloudhawk hesitated. he had never killed anyone before! but right at this moment, he could see a dark figure beginning to move straight towards them.
“give me a clean death!” the scavenger lay there on the ground, howling with all his might, “i’m begging you!”
cloudhawk let out a guttural, bestial roar, then raised his short sword up high before plunging it the man’s neck. blood immediately spurted out, and the stench of the blood assaulted his nostrils. cloudhawk wiped his face, not bothering to pull out his blood-stained short sword. he kicked his right leg free from the man’s grip, then clambered to his feet and continued to furiously run towards the depths of the tunnels!
this was his first time killing another human being!
he couldn’t forget the look of utter despair on the dying scavenger’s face. it seemed to have indelibly impressed itself into his heart, into his very soul.
cloudhawk’s eyes were bloodshot with shock and horror. he felt as though a volcano was rumbling deep within his soul, making him want to scream with rage and anguish. however, this wasn’t the right time. the underground tunnels stretched out like the webs of a spider, and he had no idea how many dangerous creatures were living here.
the dark figure behind him tossed down its stone hammer, smeared with red blood and white brain matter, then reached backwards to pull a javelin from its back. it threw the spear directly towards cloudhawk!
the javelin howled through the air. sensing the impending danger, cloudhawk almost instinctively leaned sideways, letting the sharp tip of the spear scrape right past his face. it was so close that it had actually severed a few strands of his hair!
the sweeper was rather surprised. it never would’ve expected for a young human to possess such an acute sense for danger!
cloudhawk knew that the specter of death had just brushed past him. he continued to furiously run forwards at full speed. upon noticing that there was a turn in the tunnel right up ahead, he immediately dashed in without hesitating at all. here there was a branch in the tunnels, with three different openings leading towards three different directions. cloudhawk chose one at random, then charged into it and hid himself towards the back of the tunnel.
there was a limit to how much strength he had, and he was already at the verge of collapsing. if he continue to flee, he would definitely be caught by the sweeper. his only chance was to entrust everything to luck and hope that the sweeper wouldn’t choose the tunnel he had entered.
the dark figure came to a halt in front of the three tunnels. it hesitated there for a few seconds, not making an immediate decision. this sweeper was an experienced hunter. the sweeper could sense that the footsteps had come to a halt, which meant that the human hadn’t run far. he had to be still hiding nearby, and so the sweeper didn’t run blindly into one of the tunnels. instead, the sweeper intended to rely on his acute hearing to determine where the human was.
right now, cloudhawk was hidden less than ten meters away from the sweeper. his heart was hammering so hard, he felt as though it was about to burst out from his chest.
this time, he was completely finished. the sweeper wasn’t going to leave. he was waiting, waiting for cloudhawk to show himself. if cloudhawk made the slightest of sounds, he would probably be immediately discovered and caught.
what was he supposed to do? cloudhawk clenched his fists, his palms full of sweat. but right at this moment, another powerful premonition of danger filled his mind. cloudhawk could feel something coming, and he immediately turned to stare towards his left. his eyes narrowed from what he saw.
the walls of the tunnels here were lit by the fluorescent moss… and all of a sudden, without making any sound at all, an incredibly large black silhouette had suddenly appeared on them. this creature had eight slender legs, and its joints were all covered with needle-like strands of bristles that were as sharp as knives. it had twelve blood-red eyes, each of which gleamed with a brutal, savage light.
this was a mutabeasts! an enormous mutabeast spider, one which was at least two meters long!
the dangerous creature lay atop the ceilings. clearly, it had already discovered cloudhawk and was slowly crawling closer and closer towards him.
right at this moment, the sweeper heard something as well. the sweeper pulled out yet another javelin from behind its back, then began to stride towards cloudhawk’s direction.
cloudhawk’s forehead was matted with sweat, and he found it impossible to tamp down his fear.
time to try something crazy! he shut his eyes, then howled as he jumped out of his hiding spot!
upon seeing that its prey was trying to flee, the enormous spider flexed its eight legs, then shot out at the same time as its prey jumped out. the spider was a powerful predator that moved far faster than cloudhawk did; it was certain that it would be able to catch its prey mid-leap.
just as cloudhawk leapt out from behind his hiding spot, the sweeper’s arm flexed as it hurled its incredibly sharp javelin with enough power to penetrate clean through a man’s body.
time seemed to slow down. the dangerous mutabeast inched ever closer in mid-air, as did that lethal javelin. cloudhawk frantically tried to twist his body in midair, and the javelin sliced a deep wound through his chest as it flew past him. he had almost miraculously dodged that strike!
the enormous black spider struck out with its limbs. just as it was about to latch onto cloudhawk with them, the oncoming javelin hit it almost perfectly on its head, causing it to let out an agonized screech!
the sweeper stared, somewhat stunned. it certainly hadn’t expected something like this to happen!
in that brief instant when the sweeper stood there dumbfounded, cloudhawk fell to the ground then rolled to his feet, clutching his hands over the gaping wound across his chest as he furiously fled into another one of the tunnels. just as the sweeper was about to chase after him, the injured and enraged mutabeasts spider clambered to its feet, then leapt straight towards the sweeper.
“grah!” the sweeper was knocked down but immediately drew a short knife and plunged it into the spider’s soft abdomen. as for the giant spider, it used its sharp, venomous fangs to bite at the sweeper’s neck and shoulders. the two deadly creatures began to furiously attack each other, and as for cloudhawk?
he had long since disappeared into the tunnels.