The windstep boots had been in Natessa’s possession for over five years. Every day she explored the relic, trying to learn how to use it the most efficient way possible, how best to utilize its powers. Ultimately, she discovered that despite her efforts there was still a lot she didn’t know.
“This trick is called gale-shot. What do you think?”
He handed the boots back to Instructor Windham with a cheeky grin.
Natessa was not concerned with the disrespect Cloudhawk was showing his superiors. She was still struggling to believe what was in front of her. How was it possible that Cloudhawk could use her relic so masterfully, after only a few minutes? Her boots had been in the Windham family for three generations, and they had a record of former users proving that they’d never fallen into outsider hands. She could be absolutely certain at least that in recent years no one had touched them, since they’d been in her hands. Cloudhawk was young and likely had never heard of the boots before coming to the valley. Frankly, it made no sense.
Cloudhawk spoke confidently in the face of their visible doubt. “Y’all don’t know talent when you see it, huh.”
Cloudhawk’s little display had been very enlightening. Although he didn’t share the details of how he did it, Natessa was skilled enough that she was sure she could puzzle it out. But Cloudhawk succeeded in his task, he proved his worth.
The guy’s self-satisfaction was so rankling to Eckard he had to fight back to urge to chop him in half.
People like him were cancer. If they allowed his attitude to fester and spread among the others, how could they assert any kind of authority? Eckard could bluster all he wanted, but it wouldn’t help if his students did not fear or respect him.
Next, Cloudhawk turned his attention to Instructor Cenhelm. He’d been curious about the man ever since he came to Hell’s Valley. What was he like underneath that plate armor? He’d been here for months already and never once heard Dumont speak a single word. The man was a mystery.
“Instructor Cenhelm, would it be alright if I took a look at your armor?”
Dumont towered before him over two meters tall, a veritable giant. From head to toe, every inch of him was covered in that perfectly fitted suit of armor. His whole face was obscured to where Cloudhawk even wondered if he could breathe under there. He couldn’t see where the armor joined together, either, like a solid piece of metal. Cloudhawk wasn’t sure how he could take it off.
Well, he couldn’t have been born in that suit. He certainly seemed like it, though. Would he do what Cloudhawk asked?
“Don’t take it off! You can’t!”
Before Dumont could even react a look of shock and concern crossed Eckard’s hideously scarred face. Natessa, upon hearing Cloudhawk’s request, also frowned in disapproval. She took half a step back.
Their reaction surprised Cloudhawk. What the hell did it matter to them if he took the armor off or not?
Dumont never spoke a word. He pressed his hands together, and then inch by inch the armor began to separate. It started at the fingers, the metal casing split and receded into itself in layers. Soon his arms were revealed up to his shoulders, and the same was happening from his feet up to his waist. Eventually the entire suit folded up the whole two-plus meters to disappear into the helmet. That was the only piece of the armor that didn’t vanish.
Somehow, the whole suit was contained inside it.
It would be difficult to find anyone who wouldn’t be shocked by the scene. As incredible as the construction of the relic was, though, it was what Cloudhawk found beneath that nearly made his eyes roll out of his skull.
Two hundred and thirty centimeters or so, that was how tall the suit was. Huge, sturdy, immovable as a boulder. No one had ever seen the instructor inside, but with a name like Dumont Cenhelm Cloudhawk expected a man built like a mountain. Tall as a tower and just as burly, that’s what he thought. What was revealed was anything but what he anticipated.
Dumont’s actual height was closer to a hundred and sixty centimeters. He was thin and frail with a wrinkled face half hidden behind a white beard. He was slightly hunched, his cheeks were sunken, but his eyes were sharp and lively. The instructor’s limbs were thin as bamboo reeds.
Eckard scowled. “Fuck.”
The old man picked the oversized helmet off his head and gently placed it on the ground. Croaking laughter rattled from his throat, like a man freed from a prison after years of captivity. His look and the sound he made left Cloudhawk speechless. Was this the real Dumont Cenhelm?
“I can’t tell you how smothering that armor is to wear every day. Why that face, Ecky, hm? We’ve been through a lot, you and I, but we haven’t had much opportunity to talk. The armor isn’t terribly convenient for chatting. Now we can have a real conversation. Smile, will you?”
When the wrinkled old man turned his eyes to Natessa, a dirty look flashed in their depths.
“Ah, Natessa. I’ve always wanted to say you only seem to get more beautiful. But like me, you’re getting on in years. Maybe it’s time to find a good man, eh? Maybe I can introduce someone to you, I have a nephew who is a good lad. You should meet him.”
He continued to babble incessantly at his fellow instructors, words coming out quick as a machine gun.
Both Eckard and Natessa wore grimaces. It looked like both of them had suffered miserably at the hands of this grandpa. His voice was like a cloud of flies buzzing around in their heads, leaving them pained but powerless to stop it.
All of a sudden, Cloudhawk got it.
Instructor Cenhelm had been this creepy, chatty old man all along. From the beginning, locked in that enormous tin can, was an irritating talkaholic. What a sharp contrast! The severity of it made it that much harder to accept.
He was still talking.
Even Cloudhawk could tell the other instructors didn’t have any interest in responding to his unstoppable diarrhea of the mouth, but Dumont didn’t seem to care or notice. Eventually he seemed to remember why they were there, and his attention returned to Cloudhawk. “I am the longest serving instructor in Hell’s Valley. Ecky and Tessa have served for fifteen years, but I’ve been here for over two decades. But in all that time I’ve never met a young man like you, very interesting. Only, I’ve never heard of you even from my time in the elysian lands. Where were you born? Who are your parents? Where is your family located? How big is it? Do you have dogs? A girlfriend?  Or maybe you’re a virgin?”
Cloudhawk stared in hopeless despair. Now he knew the repulsive truth. Hell, it was probably why his family got him this incredible relic and shipped him off to Hell’s Valley in the first place. No better way to get rid of him, really.
“Wait wait wait, Instructor Cenhelm, we can talk later if we have a chance. Right now I don’t have much time.” If he didn’t interrupt Dumont Cenhelm, this old codger would never stop talking. “Let me take a look at your relic first, alright?”
“Oh, my Dawnbreaker battle armor? Of course, of course!” Dumont leaned over and plucked the helmet off the ground, then handed it to Cloudhawk. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you, this relic is considered complex amongst other high-level artifacts. It may look like armor from the outside, but it’s actually a weapon. You’ve seen what it can do. It’s of the light type, and using it is very difficult. Your average demonhunter can’t even get it to work. You might have been able to use Tessa’s boots but I’m confident this relic is too much for you. After all, this relic has been used by several masters over the years…”
He went on for quite a while longer, introducing the history of his helmet. Every battle it was used it and anyone who ever held it was described in detail. If he had time, Cloudhawk was sure he would have gone on to give the life story of anyone who ever laid eyes on the thing. He needed only the slightest input to go on, and on, and on, and on. He could talk for three days and three nights and still have something to say.
Cloudhawk listened as passively as possible, meanwhile placing the large helm on his head. Immediately his psychic energies resonated with the relic, which reacted by encasing his body with metal inch by inch. Face guard, neck guard, pauldrons, breastplate, all the way down to sollerets . Cloudhawk felt like he was encased from head to toe in an iron coffin.
To this, Dumont did not offer any surprise. “My Dawnbreaker battle armor is special in that you don’t need to be talented with light relics to use its protection. Anyone can channel psychic energy into it and summon the armor. But using it without the skill to manipulate light-type relics, it’s really just an over-glorified tin can, not much use at all. So, that is to say –“
Cloudhawk stopped listening. The enormous armor covered him completely, but although it was much larger than his body it didn’t feel loose. It formed to his body tight on the inside, and although his entire face was covered it didn’t impede any of his senses.
He could vaguely feel the breeze as it touched the cold steel of the armor. He heard everything going on around him with perfect clarity. Once he was completely encased the armor was as heavy as one might expect, but with the aid of his psychic energy Cloudhawk felt it become light. The armor didn’t move through force of muscle, but through force of will.
Armor like this, which moved through psychic energy, was tailor-made for demonhunters. It also meant that the user’s psychic prowess influenced how quickly they moved. No wonder Dumont tore around like a freight train.
Instructor Cenhelm’s Dawnbreaker battle armor had quite a storied history, including a number of different names. Dawnbreaker, obviously, but also ‘Mutemetal’. It earned the name due to the fact that the wearer was effectively silenced once worn. It was almost as though this special characteristic was especially designed for for Dumont, otherwise he would have long ago talked to death anyone who got close.
The suit’s collision attack was out of the question, but Cloudhawk didn’t need it to prove his mastery of the relic.
His will and the relic matched frequencies. The armor began to glow.
Dumont and his companions were flabbergasted. Glimmering patterns spread all over the metal until it burned like a soldering iron. The chatty old man finally shut his mouth, and Natessa was equally surprised. This young man had more talent than seemed possible. Could he do this with any relic? It was nothing short of miraculous!
Cloudhawk poured all of his mental force into the armor, causing it to burn red hot. Of course, it did not come close to the degree Dumont could summon. From what Cloudhawk saw the instructor do, he could turn into a ball of light. Anything in his path was instantly burned to ash.
This was the best he could do.
Shutting his eyes, he immersed himself in the flows of power as they raced through the armor. Then, the unexpected – the red glow vanished.
“His power is fading.” Eckard practically growled the words in triumph. “This guy can’t control a relic this complex.”
“No… it didn’t fade.” Emotion wavered in the old man’s voice. “Look at his right arm. He didn’t lose control. In fact, quite the opposite. He is gathering the energy in a single point. It’s a particular way to use the armor that my family knew hundreds of years ago. One of my ancestors could do it, but he died during the holy wars and his secrets died with him. No one’s be able to do it ever since…”
He couldn’t help but explain the scene in detail. Eckard and Natessa got the idea.
The red light did fade from most of the armor, but not all of it. It was more correct to say it migrated. The upper half of the armor went from red to brilliant yellow as it seemed to flow over his shoulder and into his right arm. By then it was white-hot.
Natessa was surprised to recognize that it was as intense as anything Dumont could muster, once Cloudhawk gathered the energy in one place.
But Dumont was a high ranking demonhunter! The two weren’t even remotely comparable.
Cloudhawk continued to gather the energy into his right fist. The white heat rose as high as his elbow but seemed unable to go any further. He was not finished. The rest of the armor looked normal now, glossy and dead as any metal. However, the light encasing his right forearm was blinding. It was so intense that reality warbled unsettlingly around it.
“Inconceivable,” Dumont muttered to himself. “Incredible, amazing! Fantastic!”
Cloudhawk couldn’t hold it back anymore.
He slammed his fist into the ground!
The ground three meters around his fist collapsed from the blow, leaving a sizable crater. Fissures stretched out from the point of impact another six or seven meters in all directions, and the whole building shook beneath their feet.
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Two down, one to go. Meanwhile, I did NOT expect one of the three instructors to be a dirty old chatterbox.