Chapter 258: Constantine
“You dare provoke us at this table, Wolf King?” growled the Angel of Death, Gabriel.
The burly man flicked his wrist, casting bits of apple towards the opposite end of the table. “What are you going to do about it? All of you, Pontiff’s boy toys… you’re disgusting to look upon.”
Raphael lifted a finger, and with a flash the apple residue was cast aside before it could offend him and those beside him.
“Ahem.” The man in the tuxedo interrupted with the quiet sound.
The Wolf King turned his head towards the man. “What are you coughing about. You’re just as despicable.”
Meanwhile the Barber chortled at the exchange. His voice was thick with disdain. “I can’t tell if he’s supposed to be a wolf or a mutt. He’ll nip at whoever crosses his path.”
“You looking to die, kid?” The Wolf King shot to his feet.
The voice was calm, but commanding. The Wolf King shuddered at the sound, as though struck by lightning, and sat back down with no further complaint. As the words filled his ears, he had suddenly been afflicted with a terrible, suffocating sensation of terror wash over him. He knew that if he didn’t immediately comply, he’d have been erased from existence.
The Wolf King’s eyes were dual pools of indignation and embarrassment. He was rude, certainly, but he was no fool. He simply looked at the Wine Master, proverbial tail between his legs.
Lucifer looked calmly towards the Paragon. “Please excuse my companion, Honored Cosmagus. The Wolf King has a hard time controlling his outbursts.”
“This is Skyfire Avenue.” The Wine Master’s response was simple, and straightforward.
Though his words were delivered quietly, they had a terrific and shuddering effect on those who listened. It was like gunpowder, and the slightest provocation would set things off. Both Metatron and Lucifer narrowed their eyes.
“We aren’t sure when the three Masters will be coming back,” the Gourmet chimed in. “Since everyone’s so impatient for a fight, why not begin the Reaper Arena contests slightly ahead of schedule. This will help us avoid trouble with anyone a little too eager to get started.”
Metatron’s handsome face split in a small smile. “Alright,” he said with a nod.
Lucifer similarly agreed. “Fine.”
The Gourmet and Wine Master exchanged a look, then the newly minted Paragon nodded.
The largest battlefield in the Reaper Arena had already been prepared. With the Wine Master himself present, there was no danger that the copious levels of power the combatants possessed would cause any damage to the structure.
“In accordance with earlier determinations, there will be four individual battles, and one group battle of five on five. Who will be competing in the first fight?”
Metatron shot his eyes towards Lucifer. They had already come to a consensus, and the previous animosity between them was put aside.
A man, tall of stature, separated himself from the group, on the Pontiff’s side. “I will be first.”
Lan Jue, standing behind the Gourmet, took measure of the man. He couldn’t help but reveal his surprise, for he had no idea who this gentleman was. He certainly wasn’t an Archangel.
In a contest like this between two great Adept alliances, tactics were very important. There were things like antagonistic Disciplines to consider. If a combatant didn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of their enemy, they were at a severe disadvantage.
The Wine Master watched Lan Jue, curiosity in his eyes. The Gourmet, meanwhile, waved towards the Pauper, who was squatting in a nearby corner.
The beggar unfurled and rose to his feet, revealing his height to be no less impressive than the unknown challenger. He hadn’t bothered to change from his rags for this important meeting. He certainly stuck out.
“The Pauper will be your opponent,” the Gourmet revealed.
“Ah.” The transient walked towards the Wine Master, and stood at his back.
There was a flicker of doubt in the old master’s eyes as the Pauper approached, to which the Pauper responded with a yellow-toothed grin.
“Hah! Is the Avenue running out of people? You’re sending a panhandler after us. At least give the man some food before you send him out to get beat on,” the Wolf King growled mirthfully.
It was a sentiment largely shared by the denizens of Skyfire Avenue, who couldn’t understand why their resident beggar was called on for this task. However, the Gourmet was sat opposite the Wine Master, revealing his status in the Avenue – no one dare contest his decision.
“I’m curious to see when it’s your turn.” The frigid voice cut through the banter.
The Wolf King turned to find the source of the challenge, revealed to be a beautiful woman clad in an ancient-style qipao. Her eyes were hard and unforgiving, trained on him.
“What?” he began, “You want to play with me pretty girl? You and me can find a quiet place to… spar. Aware from prying eyes. What do you think?” His words were full of malice and lasciviousness.
However, the sentiment was ignored, as the Gourmet and Lan Jue both raised their brows. The message they deduced from his response was that the Wolf King would not be participating.
A few moments later, the two challengers were waiting in the Reaper’s Arena to begin. The Wine Master would be the judge. No one complained, for they knew a Paragon was above such petty things as favoritism and cheating.
The Pauper shambled off to one corner, and very carefully placed his patched cotton comforter upon the floor. He ambled back to the center of the arena, clad in his patchwork monk’s robes, grinning broadly at his opponent from the Pontiff’s Citadel.
The tall man, by contrast, wrinkled his nose as though he smelled something particularly unsavory.
“The purpose of this fight is mutual education. We will not tolerate attempts to injure, or kill. If any such attempts are made, we will cease combat immediately.” The Wine Master’s imperatorial voice boomed from all directions.
These battles were not for show, they were real competitions. No prologues or redundant ceremonies were required here. They got right down to business.
The rules governing power during competitions were largely unwritten commandments in the world of Adepts. Skyfire Avenue was hailed as the strongest gathering of Adepts because of its total aggregate strength. And how was this determined? By the very activities they were engaged in now.
“I am called Constantine,” the tall man offered.
“Constantine? I’m the Pauper.” The dirty man answered through his grin.
A thick golden light suddenly burst outward, surrounding the Pontiff’s soldier. In the blink of an eye, he was like a golden torch.
Not all powerful men of the Pontiff’s Castle had wings. The aura released by this one, insured his lack thereof wasn’t construed as weakness. Thanks to the power of the Wine Master, even those observing from outside of the arena were able to feel it.
Constantine? The name was foreign to the denizens of Skyfire Avenue, but his presence here meant he must be at least equivalent to the Archangels.
As the oppressive energies soared, the first one to attack was – unexpectedly – the Pauper.
He bore no impressive aura, like Constantine, and while his advance was met with a golden halo of his own it was thin and hazy. It was like looking through threads of fine silk, or a cloud of dust. Remarkably unremarkable, just like him.
The Pauper was on the move, traversing the distance between him and Constantine in a flash. His right hand lashed out, dark and skinny as a bird’s.
Constantine huffed dismissively, his right fist exploding forward. As he did, the clear and loud cries of a holy chorus sprang up around them. Layers of what looked like pristine white mountain ranges appeared behind him like a mirage.
This was the development of his Discipline? What he displayed was available only to Adepts who were ninth ranked, seventh-degree at the least. The dense aura of his energy washed over the crowd of onlookers.
An unknown player with such power, who would not be surprised by the development?
Both the Barber and Beautician sat with sour expressions. They were not participating in the one-on-one fights, but they were part of the team battle. They hadn’t expected the two Citadels would bring so many who were more than halfway to paragon status. This one alone could contend with the both of them.
Constantine’s empowered attack met the Pauper’s incoming grapple.
The Pauper was swallowed whole in to the undulating golden light, and as he did a golden blanket of light covered everything. The resulting wave of power felt strong enough to rival a blast from a battleship’s cannon.
Metatron’s face bore a tiny, self-satisfied smile.
Constantine. The Pontiff’s secret weapon. It was in part because of his furtive existence that the Citadel agreed to this.
He was a demon hunter, infamous in the Western underground. His purpose, his specialty was to destroy evil. Be they Satan’s men or even the Pontiff’s, once Constantine had proof they were sinister he did not hesitate to deal with them. He was evil’s bane.
Constantine wasn’t here to represent the Pontiff’s Citadel, but to represent the Western Alliance. Even Metatron wasn’t sure what his true purpose in agreeing to this was. However, his sense of justice was without question, and that was enough.
Gradually, the blinding golden light receded. The arena slowly came back in to focus.
The Pauper was standing where he had been, unmoved. Constantine, however, was about ten meters removed from where he’d been before the blast. Upon his arm had appeared a shield; shimmering gold, and alive with raging fire. His previously calm façade was replaced with unbridled surprise.
No advantage? The Demon Hunter Constantine, didn’t have the upper hand? Metatron’s eyes narrowed at the unpleasant revelation.
Constantine’s power relied on his all-consuming sense of mercy and justice. It was where his strength, and thus reputation, derived. The Pontiff’s Citadel hailed him as God’s will on earth. He was, in fact, a ninth ranked eighth-degree Talent, who once battled with Michael. He managed to hold his own for thirty minutes, and even Metatron was amazed by his breadth of divine empowerment.
And yet facing this unknown, unwashed beggar, he came out of their first collision the underdog.
Just as Skyfire Avenue was well familiar with the big names in both Citadels, they too were versed in the skills of Skyfire Avenue’s councilmen. Metatron knew, therefore, that this Pauper was not a councilman.
So who in God’s name was he?