Thanks to her danger sense, which was as keen as Cloudhawk’s own, the girl demonhunter had avoided his hail of gunfire. Emptying what was left of his clip, he slipped back into the ruins and vanished before she could recover. It was all over in five or six seconds.
Their brief skirmish was over faster than a flash of lightning.
The demonhunters were more capable than I’d expected. Cloudhawk wasn’t able to deal with them in one go like he’d hoped, but it didn’t matter. He got the one he wanted.
Claudia lay on the floor, her flaxen hair splayed around her. Her pale skin was smeared with blood and dirt, and an aching pain radiated from her shoulder and lower abdomen. If it weren’t for whatever secret materials they used to make her exceptional armor, the two shots would have taken her out of the fight as well.
Her first instinct was not to go after their assailant but instead to check on Raith. She collapsed at his side and held him close. When she saw the state of him something snapped in her. “Raith… Raith, are you alright? Come on now, don’t scare me like this.”
His handsome face no longer bore that self-assured expression he was famous for. Dim eyes stared sightlessly at the sky, empty. Blood continued to leak from his nose and the corners of his mouth. Even her screams seemed separate, somehow disjointed. All the energy drained out of her.
The shot to the neck was the one to actually take his life, but he had been a dead man walking once the armor-piercing round hit its mark. That bullet had destroyed his lungs, shattering several ribs and his sternum along the way. No first aid or emergency medicine would save him. Now the haughty young demonhunter lay in the dirt, and the only part of him that moved were his legs. They twitched as death loomed near.
Raith’s mind was in chaos, like sinking in a bottomless black hole. He dimly felt a few hot drops strike his face, nourishment for his worn-out soul. His eyes regained focus and the tear-streaked face of a young woman came into view.
Claudia. Is she crying for me?
A stifling sadness filled him.
Ever since they were small he’d tried so hard to be gallant, strong and manly for her. Subconsciously, his brutal massacre of the wastelanders had been to show her his boldness and skill. He just wanted her to see him differently.
But what did it accomplish? For all his pride and conceit, now he lay amid the ruins like garbage.
He wanted so much for her to be his. He would protect her, love her – but the chance had passed. He mustered the life that was slipping from him, forcing words through his shattered lungs and lips. “Please… when you report to Lord Cloude … tell him the failure was mine. Let me shoulder the… shame, and responsibility. Claudia… you’re still young… so talented. You can’t… let this failure tarnish your potential. Don’t go after him. Give up the mission. Go back! Please… go back!
Claudia shook her head. “Don’t speak. I’m bringing you back to Skycloud!”
But that was not true. It was already too late. Raith looked up at her, filled with sadness and despair. My very first mission, and it ends with me dead at a traitor’s hand, out in the wastes. His shame would disgrace his whole family. How could he ever face that?
In her heart, Claudia also knew that Raith was certain to die. Had she only known their first incursion into the wastelands would end so bitterly! The boy she’d spent her whole life with, who’d grown up with her, lay in her arms struggling for his final breath. And there was nothing she could do, only watch as his labored breathing grew shallower.
“There’s something I need to tell you… I…”
Whatever he wanted to say, he would never have the chance to tell her. His pupils contracted and a deluge of blood poured from his mouth, thick with bits of bone and organ. His chest quivered like a broken bellows and then went still. The last signs of life slipped away.
His eyes went wide.
Claudia hugged his bloody body to her own and cried. She threw her head back and gave voice to her pain. The two young demonhunters had been too brazen. If they’d kept their guards with them they might have caught Cloudhawk after his attack.
Of course… when one descended into irrational thought, they continued to make mistakes.
When the soldiers heard the gunshots, they came running towards Claudia’s direction. If she waited just three minutes for them to arrive, the eleven of them working together could easily overwhelm the traitor. But the rage that burned in her beautiful eyes demanded blood. The tracking relic against her chest glimmered and released a resonant pulse.
This fucking scumbag can’t be far. He was hiding in the ruins! Waiting for a chance to strike again.
Claudia snatched up her exorcist rod and gave chase.
Cloudhawk had reloaded his revolvers, and as he broke out of hiding he started firing. His wrists bucked from the recoil as he sprayed the narrow passage with bullets. The girl was just as strong as her fallen companion, but he was adept at fighting from a distance. She was most dangerous up close.
Claudia eluded the bullets as deftly as a dancer, without even slowing her approach. For those bullets she couldn’t avoid she knocked them away with her staff without a second thought.
Incredible! Yet another person able to knock away bullets! The last time he saw someone with that level of skill was back at Blackflag Outpost. This girl had to be about as skilled as that sweeper leader. Meanwhile, Cloudhawk’s marksmanship wasn’t spectacular, still inferior to the likes of Slyfox.
He wasn’t going to kill her with his guns. It was like trying to face off against Hellflower!
She was getting closer. If she got within striking distance Cloudhawk didn’t know how he would protect himself. She was a demonhunter, the real thing. Claudia wasn’t on the same level as the Bloodsoaked Queen, but one on one there were only a few people in the wastelands who could stand against her.
Cloudhawk’s own exorcist rod was gone. What did he have that could protect him from hers?
Claudia’s azure eyes were red from hatred. She glared at Cloudhawk with such burning rage that it seemed a miracle he wasn’t burnt to a crisp right away.
“I find your mood curious. Is it blood-boiling anger? Soul-tearing hatred? Or are you so anxious to share your friend’s shame?”
Facing the furious woman Cloudhawk was not stunned. His face was hidden behind the mask, so all she heard was his modulated, demon-like voic. Every word, every sentence, only caused her to become more incensed.
“Now that I know you can actually feel something… where was your anger and hatred when those innocent wastelanders were murdered? You who pretend to be so noble… in my eyes you’re nothing but selfish, despicable, laughable hypocrites. Are these the great demonhunters of the elysian lands? The righteous warriors of the gods? You don’t even compare to the worms of the wastelands!”
“Shut your fucking mouth!”
Sure enough, she charged.
Her cloak began to rustle from some inexplicable wind. Her staff began to whir and thrum with power that made the sand beneath their feet whip into the air. A tempest of agitated energy surrounded her, causing such friction that heat poured out in waves.
Son of a bitch…! She is strong! Cloudhawk hurriedly tried to escape.
Claudia lifted her staff and it seemed to split the air. Her anger, as vast and vicious as a waterfall, empowered her attack. A terrifying aura swallowed Cloudhawk, turning the air to paste and making it hard to move.
None of the pressure was life threatening, but her skills were beyond everything he anticipated. Her anger and disgrace was fueling her, making her at least three times stronger than normal.
A scorching, hate-filled air surrounded them. It made their surroundings warp from the intensity. Cloudhawk couldn’t escape, only rely on his cloak. He disappeared from her view, with the increased speed helping him move.
The power of Claudia’s exorcist rod came in a torrent, powerful enough to destroy two rows of ancient buildings. It didn’t matter if it was old steel or thick stone, everything was turned to dust.
Cloudhawk barely avoided destruction, staggering out of the way just in time. He slipped into the relative safety of the ruins and unless he let his invisibility drop, she had no idea where he was.
“Coward! Come out!” Claudia knew he had to be using relics, and high-grade ones at that. That’s how he deceived Raith’s Lifedrinker arrow as well as my own attempts to locate him. “All you can do is hide and attack from the shadows? You call yourself a warrior?! Stand and fight like a man!”
“Honorable demonhunter, you are in no position to pretend to know what fairness is.” Cloudhawk was moving so quickly that his voice came at her from several angles, like an echo. Gunshots followed from all around but none had any effect on her. She didn’t even try to avoid them this time and just knocked them away with her staff.
“If your idea of ‘fair’ is the brutal slaughter of the true faithful… if you call ‘fair’ the wholesale slaughter of unarmed citizens… if your ‘fairness’ is the wanton slaughter of the old, of women, of children… if ‘fairness’ in your world is the slaughter of a hundred innocent people just to find me, then I am happy to be a cunning, despicable, impudent scoundrel!”
He said too much. It served its purpose in making her angry, but it also helped her find where he was hiding. Once she knew where he was, she swung her exorcist rod in his direction.
He was knocked back by the blast, the instability causing his invisibility to drop. He stood with both feet on the ground, but two large trenches extended from them.
The girl had a few tricks up her sleeve. When Cloudhawk saw the absolute rage on her face, he knew that a battle was inevitable. He wasn’t particularly level-headed himself, and the situation had slipped out of his control. But no one else was like him, with the help of his mysterious stone and the depths of power it afforded him.
Mantis had taught him once that composure was a soldier’s greatest weapon. When one’s emotions got the better of them, the cadence of a battle was given to the enemy.
Claudia wasn’t ignorant to this fact. She was well trained as a demonhunter. Alas humans were emotional creatures, and sometimes human nature was difficult to contain. Everything she learned was pushed out of her mind in the face of pure loathing. She wasn’t thinking about tactics, all she wanted was to see this masked prick pulverized!
I’m going to kill him.
I’M GOING TO KILL HIM!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Payback's a bitch, demonhunter. Cloudhawk playing it pretty cleverly though.
Changed Luna to Lunae