Chapter 91 - A Bitter Victory

As the arrows came at them from above, Cloudhawk and Artemis scattered. Cloudhawk carried the Bloodsoaked Queen into a copse of nearby trees, but not before a few of the arrows found him. They were as effective as any real arrow, but luckily he had his cloak to protect him from the bulk of the damage. By the time they were safe he was bruised from head to toe.

Son of a bitch! He’s right on our asses!

Brandishing his staff the young wastelander glared into the forest. There a dark figure emerged, surrounded by a mist-like haze of sand. A strange, echoing voice hissed at him.

“Do you think you can run?”

The demon! The motherfucker was back.

The Queen’s body was still recovering but she gripped her cross tight in her hand. Holy light radiated from it anew. Although she was already beaten bloody and subsequently wracked with pain from the panacea, she was still determined to die in combat.

After their first encounter she saw how inadequate she was before him, she was no fool. She didn’t expect to win – but perhaps she could help Cloudhawk escape!

Everything, all of this had come about because of her. Getting him involved was an accident. 

He’s a good man with a lot of potential, maybe even more than me. Perhaps he can do what I’ve failed to accomplish. He has to get to safety, even if it kills me!

The demons eyes were unblinking, like deep and ancient wells. He seemed capable of peering into one’s heart. A strange chuckle issued from him like the quiet call of an owl, and as he extended his right hand the sand that surrounding him reshaped into an awl-pike suspended in midair.

The beast slowly extended his hand and the pike fired off like an arrow. The air warped in protest from its rapid passage.

The demon’s target was not the demonhunter, or the new outpost leader that had betrayed him. It was the one between them, Cloudhawk. While they watched the pike none of them noticed the sandy tentacles creeping along the ground that held Cloudhawk fast. His legs and half of his body were quickly wrapped up, preventing him from dodging. He could do nothing but watch his doom approach.

Shit!

The Queen watched with wide-eyed dismay, for he knew it was already too late for her to protect him. The danger that pike presented would be fatal to her, much more so for the untrained Cloudhawk.

In this critical moment a lithe figure swept in front of the young man. Artemis swung her mighty hammer, knocking the sand pike from the air. But the indomitable power of the attack also broke her weapon into metal splinters and sent her flying like a kite with broken strings. Flesh and blood splattered over the peaceful green of the oasis.

Suddenly Cloudhawk’s eyes turned a bloody red!

He broke free of the sandy tentacles like an enraged fiend. With a speed and strength he’d never displayed before the young wastelander charged forward.

The exorcist rod awakened! Its three-edged point spun like a tornado, followed by a fiery light that swallowed the whole area.

The exorcist rod was not a fire-element relic, but the intense friction it caused released heat. It was so extreme that the oxygen in the air caught fire. Cloudhawk had channeled all of his psychic power, all of his strength, all of his anger into his staff for this attack.

B-o-o-m!

Trees shook as concussive force ripped through the area, with buffeting winds tearing off chunks of bark and countless leaves. The demon did not dodge, did not flinch. He just stood with his open palm raised, the tip of Cloudhawk’s smoking stave resting inert against its center.

“Respectable.”

The demon’s understated praise was punctuated with a gentle push of his hand.

Cloudhawk was launched away as though from a cannon and crashed into a tree.

The exorcist rod was flung to the side like so much detritus. When the demon looked down into his palm he noted cracks had formed around the point of impact and purple blood had begun to leak free. Less than two seconds later the bleeding stopped.

The Bloodsoaked Queen raced into the bushes where she found Cloudhawk convulsing on the ground. He was covered in wounds, but his glaring red eyes burned with murderous intent. The will remained but he hadn’t the power to lift himself up off the ground.

Several of his ribs were broken.

The damage wasn’t from the demon – the creature throwing him away could not be considered an assault. He’d done it to himself from overexertion. Berserker rage like this was rarely seen, he was like a wild dying animal. “Let go of me! I’m gonna kill him!”

This isn’t your fight, the Queen said to herself. It isn’t your war! This battle is for demonhunters!

She held him tight, tears mixed with blood streaming from beneath her mask. This is my fault, it’s all my fault. My fault!

The demon’s unblinking, unfeeling eyes watched everything. His hands began to accumulate power once again, but this time it was the Bloodsoaked Queen – blazing cross in hand – who stood to meet him. She fixed her enemy with an unyielding gaze. That pious holy warrior had returned.

Her sights never left the visage of her arch-enemy. “You can have my life, but you must let him go!”

He answered her with a curious expression writ on his face. “A demonhunter giving her life for a lowly wastelander? If your gods knew this they would be disappointed!”

She made no attempt to argue. She growled each word through gritted teeth. “Let. Him. Go.”

The demon’s voice was cold as the depths of the grave. “In reality our world is a fair one. Bad decisions come with consequences. His death is not on my hands. Your stupidity, arrogance and pride is what killed him.”

The Queen had no hope her request would be granted. The brutality of demons was well known, what mercy could she escape for those they deemed a threat? No, if she wanted to protect Cloudhawk the only way to do it was to fight with all she was worth. Perhaps she might harm him enough to dissuade the monster. She had to try, no matter the cost.

The Queen’s holy sword blazed ever brighter. With her left hand resting on its pommel she channeled the power of her burning angels through it, turning its pure white light a fiery orange. The heat was so intense the grass around her withered and shriveled up.

“Very good. This is the proper posture for battle. Asking for mercy is a display of the weak.” The demon reconstructed his sandy blade, held it tight in his grip. “As a reward I shall tell you something. Whether you believe me or not – I was not the one who killed your father.”

“Do you think I would trust anything a demon says?”

“It doesn’t matter. You are young, the world is not as simple as you think. Unfortunately you won’t have an opportunity to learn this for yourself.”

The Bloodsoaked Queen drew on all of her power, all of her potential, and swung her burning blade toward the demon in a vicious chop. A roiling plume of fire and smoke followed in its wake that lit the dark forest.

He lifted his sand-sword before him to block the attack. Strong as he was, confronted with the brunt of the Queen’s potent faith he was forced back. The lapping flames started to burn and crack his sword of sand – but he could see cracks forming in hers as well.

The sound of something snapping filled the air! Both the demon’s sandy blade and the Queen’s burning holy sword shattered!

The demon reeled, his body peppered with wounds. They leaked a viscous purple fluid that did not stop. This time the Queen’s attack had wounded him.

But it was not enough! Still not enough! A few superficial cuts meant nothing to this nightmare.

The Bloodsoaked Queen fought for breath as the cross slipped from her fingers and fell gently into the grass. Despite being covered in her blood it still gleamed with blinding light.

The demon slowly lifted his arms whereupon wicked spikes protruded all over his body. “Are you prepared?”

She forced herself to quit panting and stood tall like the image of the goddesses of old. Even though she was covered in blood and faced an impossible situation, she stared at her conqueror with adamant courage.

Cloudhawk fought back onto his feet. “Stop!”

The demon paid him no mind. He pressed forward with a hand and the spikes were cast forth. Sharp as daggers they pierced the Queen, some even running her through and bursting out the other side.

Cloudhawk watched with wide, stupefied eyes as the strongest warrior he’d ever know collapsed to the floor. It was like watching his whole world crumble. From Mad Dog and Slyfox to Artemis and the Queen, everyone he’d ever known was gone.

As the demon recovered he looked upon Cloudhawk, peculiar fluctuations rippled through its pupils. “Are you… angry? Do you feel hate? Indignation? Humiliation? Let those emotions free, let me see the depths of your potential!” [1]

Cloudhawk didn’t have his staff, it was lost somewhere in the grass. Instead he rushed over toward the glimmering cross and snatched it from the ground. A relic this powerful was outside of Cloudhawk’s abilities to command, but he didn’t think about it. His mind was caught in a white-hot rage where nothing existed except going forward even in the face of death.

It didn’t matter how strong or how fierce he was, this demon had to die!

In the midst of his blinding rage the stone resting against his chest once more began to resonate. A psychic pulse a hundred times stronger than Cloudhawk’s own poured into the cross and vibrated with it. When the holy sword reappeared it was so bright it was like the sun appeared in the middle of the dark forest. Everything was bathed in light.

The light was a column of dazzling power that pierced the heavens. Even the soldiers far away in the outpost could see it splitting the night sky.

A fervent light sparked in the demon’s dead eyes. “Good… very good!”

Cloudhawk swung the sword.

The demon reacted by lifting his hand, and the sand around him reconstituted into four or five walls. When the light came crashing down it split them like paper before finally devouring the demon himself. The power struck the beast head on, pushing back thirty feet until – with a shrill and terrible scream – the beam drilled through him.

Die!”

Cloudhawk heaved the sword high then brought it crashing down again. The demon was cut into two halves, with the light of the holy sword disappearing the moment it split him. Cloudhawk slumped to the ground, supporting himself on hands and knees as he gulped breaths. 

He was dead. Finally, dead! At last that fucking demon was gone!

Only, Cloudhawk didn’t want to accept what it had cost.

1. This is similar to the exchange between Cloudhawk and Stranger Black, perhaps indicating how much the demon builds a cult of personality. Or it could just be the author likes this method of taunting.

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