Book 2, Chapter 11 - Midnight Conflict

These guys were tough!

Fine, you’ll get to see just how tough Uncle Fatty is!

The portly guard captain angrily threw his crossbow to the side, then pushing his powerful legs against the ground, he launched forward. Pulling the short blades from sheaths on either side of his belt he took three steps forward and struck them together. With a loud clang they fused into a dual-headed glaive and he brought it down on the rebel swordsman with gale force.

Clang!

Neither budged and they pressed against the other’s weapon with all their might. The ear-piercing sound of metal grinding on metal followed them, sparks flew. Despite his size the fat captain was quick. The two men pushed one another away then started the deadly close-quarters dance. Their weapons whipped back and forth, striking and parrying. Neither seemed to have the upper hand.

“Everyone get in there! Stop them, don’t let a single one get away! It’s time to fight for the glory of the gods!”

The other soldiers heeded his call, casting aside their bows and raising their swords. They attacked heedless of the danger to themselves and ready to die for honor.

The large man pumped the shotgun’s fore stock, ejecting a red-hot casing from the chamber and replacing it with another. One of the soldiers came at him with weapon raised and he pointed the black maw of its barrel in his direction. The eruption of fire was blinding, the force of the shot blasting him away.

Though their armor was as hard as steel, even Skycloud City’s protection was no match. Sizzling shards of metal flew every which way.

Ka-chick! Another spent casing cleared the chamber, the whole encounter had lasted only a second. He was on to his next target – the guard captain.

The captain heard the shot, then saw the man turn his way. He tried to move but the swipe of a black broadsword cut off his escape. The two of them were matched but the distraction lost him his edge and the captain found himself on his back foot, left with nowhere to go.

The rest of his brothers were busy with their own battles. No one was there to help him.

“Time to die, Skycloud dog!”

The black man didn’t say it, not with words, but it was what he meant as he screamed and pulled the trigger of his shotgun. He was close enough that it didn’t matter where he aimed or what armor they wore, no one could survive. He was certain this bastard soldier from Skycloud City was dead and the thought filled him with an indescribable sense of joy.

All of this was no accident. From the man with the goatee, to the swordsman, to the shotgunner himself, they all hated what these soldiers represented down to their bones. All of them were either criminals, expelled for their lack of faith, or shunned for trying to forge a life in those lands of plenty. Whatever the reason they all found themselves living the life of a traitor.

Skycloud’s influence was vast. Ending a single life did nothing to change that. However, taking a zealot’s life was always a pleasure. It was more addicting than the strongest drug.

BANG!

A deadly cloud of iron pellets spread from the barrel of the shotgun.

But the large man was surprised and infuriated as a hand shot out, grabbed the barrel, and shoved it toward the sky. It belonged to a wiry figure more bone than muscle. He wore a brown grinning mask with only his strange eyes visible from beneath.

What?! How did this happen? The smoke was thick but he would have seen someone coming.

The thought barely had time to cross the big man’s mind before Cloudhawk started his vicious assault. His left hand swung around leaving a cold gleam of steal in its wake, ready to plant a deadly kiss with the edge of his Skycloud dagger.

Thrice the dagger passed and never once did Cloudhawk let the barrel of the shotgun go.

One stab to the heart.

One to the lungs.

One to the throat.

His attack was as fluid as a swiftly flowing river and at once the large man lost his strength and released his weapon. Cloudhawk snatched it from him and used the butt like a staff, ramming it into his opponent’s chest. The gun broke apart from the force as its former owner crumpled to the floor. Even the most talented surgeon in the best hospital couldn’t save him.

“No!” The man with the large sword saw what had become of his companion.

The marksman had been more than an acquaintance, but there was nothing he could do for him. He was struggling to keep his own hide intact. Just as the fat captain’s attack was coming faster, Squall appeared from the fog with his two swords swinging. The rebel swordsman was only just managing against one, and the addition of another threatened to exhaust him.

Suddenly, from the fog another figure emerged like a ghost from beyond the veil, appearing and disappearing through the darkness. The dark silhouette was so fast and seemed to move erratically. Two guards approached to block their path when a cold light answered. Stiletto blades, fast as lightning. Both soldiers instantly hit the ground.

Their efforts didn’t slow down the agile shadow in the least. In a blink it fell upon Squall and the captain and before they could even shift their attention two more daggers where aimed their way.

Neither the guard captain nor Squall were a match for this stranger in terms of speed. They both saw the sneak attack coming but their bodies didn’t respond quickly enough. Squall’s face went pale. The captain could only stare in impotent shock.

No! I’m done for!

This had to be the one Cloudhawk was talking about, Wolfblade’s lieutenant – Buzzard. Only a fighter of such skill could be this fast, this deadly. All Squall could think of was how much of a pity it was to die here before having the chance to meet his idol, Master Arcturus. The captain’s regrets cut even deeper. Shit. I finally got a shot, a role in something bigger than myself, then this guy shows up. Lady Luck really had it out for him.

Both men were coming to terms with their inevitable demise when Barb came to their rescue. She dashed out from the fog while her exorcist rod howled. Even before she came within striking distance of Buzzard the force of her relic kicked up a storm of dust. The raging winds created a dervish.

She was indeed a demonhunter. Her talents and combat prowess were something to be respected!

Even without practical experience, a demonhunter’s training was rigorous and their effect on a battlefield could not be ignored. She’d been lurking on the edges of the fight, looking for her opportunity. Her target had been the big one with the shotgun until she saw her superior take him out with three cuts. She found his nimble and ruthless style chilling - certainly worthy of her respect.

Then she saw Buzzard moving like a specter through the darkness. Head on, two of her still wouldn’t be enough to stop him. But if she attacked him when he wasn’t expecting it, even a wasteland adept like him couldn’t withstand the force of an exorcist rod!

If it lands this guy’s done, or at least badly hurt. Barb, you’ve got this! Maybe I’ll earn a commendation from the senior – maybe he’ll even make me his apprentice!

Barb already held Cloudhawk in very high regard. He wasn’t a master demonhunter, but certainly her senior, and a guy like him held a lot of sway over someone wet behind the ears like her. If she could go on a few missions with someone like him the benefits to her would be huge.

This was just the opportunity she’d been looking for.

How could she know Cloudhawk was just a pretender? If they fought she would discover that he wasn’t much better than she was. His only advantages were surviving a host of deadly situations and the relics he’d gathered.

Buzzard switched focus to Barb, forced to break off his attack on the other two. He leapt up and spun around, allowing the deadly weapons to fly from his grip.

She froze. If she threw caution to the wind and flung herself at Buzzard she would have to deal with daggers aimed for her throat and heart. Barb lacked experienced in life or death moments like this, lacked the mad boldness of wastelander attacks. She switched from offensive to defensive and protected herself from the daggers.

Whoosh!

She just managed to sidestep the two daggers when a third buried itself in her right arm. She could feel it drill into bone and the pain not only forced her to drop her staff, but knocked her off balance. She hit the ground.

Buzzard’s feet barely touched the ground before he was launched back into the air. With a flick of his wrists two more spikes were in his grip, ready to taste blood. Violet was the most vulnerable, so she was his target.

“No! The lady demonhunter is in danger!”

They saw the threat to her life, but no one could help her.

Violet tried to get up, tried to move, but Buzzard had her locked down. He threw his spikes. Her wide eyes reflected their cold light as they came her way. Six months… it’d only been six months since she’d earned the right to call herself a demonhunter. She’d never completed a mission, and as luck would have it her first target would be this seemingly invincible man.

He was more than experienced, more than vicious. The spikes he threw were meant to kill, not maim, and he followed their trajectory. Both hands stretched out like a bird of prey, ready to snap her neck if the spikes should fail. 

Finished!

She could feel it, his determination to see her dead. The unabating murderous intent made her cold from head to toe, a sensation she’d never felt before. 

At this crucial moment the night seemed to peel away. A frail figure appeared from the ether between Barb and Buzzard, standing tall like an immutable mountain. Both the demonhunter and the rebel were shocked by his sudden appearance.

In the instant his invisibility ceased Cloudhawk lifted a crossbow.

Another demonhunter?!

Buzzard hadn’t expected two, and especially hadn’t expected one to appear from nothing. He couldn’t stop his attack. Now suddenly the spikes’ target was Cloudhawk instead of the girl, as were his claw-like hands. The dual onslaught would slay any novice who dared stand in his way.

“Eminence, watch out!”

The ground responded, so quickly she could hardly yelp her surprise. Dirt and gravel rose to form a shield that, although it looked frail, stopped Buzzard’s spikes in their tracks.

The rebel lieutenant was next, swiping like a fearsome tiger. The force of his strike caused an explosion of gravel and a deafening crack. The shield was thoroughly destroyed. However, the surprise of Cloudhawk’s involvement had slowed him down. Buzzard didn’t have his next move planned.

The crossbow was leveled, glinting iron pointed his way. When the trigger slipped back seven or eight bolts were spat out in the blink of an eye like a deadly rain.

Buzzard was quick, and were he far enough away this weapon would not have caused him a second thought. But he was close – face to face. He wrenched around to avoid the first few but the remainder found their mark. They tore through his chest amidst sprays of hot, red blood.

Got him!”

Barb was not one to keep her thoughts to herself. He was definitely worthy of his status as a mighty demonhunter! His plan was flawless, nothing short of beautiful. It was impressive but filled her with a sense of inadequacy. Even disregarding his mystical invisibility, the calm with which he faced the danger was outside her ability to fathom.

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RWX's Thoughts

Barb is seriously fangirl-ing the hell out over Cloudhawk...