The Butcher’s arms shook. The ball and chain reared back like the head of a snake before whipping toward Cloudhawk’s back.
The Butcher was not losing steam as Cloudhawk had thought. It a ploy to lure him in, to make him reveal himself. With his attack prepared, it would be difficult for Cloudhawk to evade once he fell for the trick. Despite expectations, the Butcher was not a muscle-headed brute. His combat style was dynamic and complicated. His cunning ploy nearly succeeded. Although, the operative word was ‘nearly.’
Because Cloudhawk had already seen through the Butcher’s plan, he knew it was a trap and went for it anyway. Cloudhawk wanted to push him in order to see what the freak was hiding. So, while the Butcher had been ready to go on the offensive, Cloudhawk was also prepared to face it. However, in this instance his phasing abilities would not help him. The stone’s power activated too slowly, and he wasn’t sure he could maintain it under the crushing weight of the fatal anvil.
He decided to try and block!
A layer of sand had already appeared beneath his feet and rose all of a sudden, as though gravity had been turned off. An invisible power forced it all together to form a thick shield. Although it was made from gravel, the shield seemed to glimmer with a metal luster that made it look impenetrable.
The fatal anvil came crashing down on him like a thunderbolt.
Cloudhawk’s shield was immediately smashed to pieces.
He reacted quick enough to put Quiet Carnage between him and the ball, but the blow caused his relic weapon to warp from the pressure. Cloudhawk was flung several meters away. Were it not for the Gospel of the Sands’ protection, the young wastelander would have been utterly destroyed. As it was he’d only suffered a few minor injuries.
“So… you’re a little more irritating than I gave you credit for.” Cloudhawk climbed back onto his feet and wiped a trickle of blood that had appeared from beneath his mask. His hard eyes were fixed on the Butcher. “But only a little.”
The Butcher had revealed his secrets. His second relic was defensive, now Cloudhawk knew there was nothing more to fear.
A hideous smile spread across the man’s face. “You’ve got a sharp tongue, but that’s about it.”
Cloudhawk’s cloak fluttered, though there was no wind. Soon, a strange scene revealed itself as four figures appeared all him – perfect copies of the wastelander. With the one in the center that made five, but soon each of those split once again. Suddenly ten indistinguishable copies of Cloudhawk faced the Butcher from across the field.
“I’ve never seen this trick before!” Drake cried out in surprise. “When did he conjure this up?”
Although this looked a lot like Cloudhawk using the Gospel of the Sands to create copies, that in fact was not the case. There was no way for him to create so many at once. Instead, these were merely illusions.
Through his inheritance and deeper exploration, Cloudhawk learned there was more to his invisibility cloak than he already knew. Aside from increasing speed and hiding the user, it was also capable of forming exact images of the bearer. However, in contrast to the Gospel, his cloak of shadows created only intangible phantoms. Obviously, its original function was to leave a false target behind, so that he could use the cloak’s other abilities to flee.
All ten Cloudhawks leapt into the air. There they floated like leaves dancing on the wind.
They fell on the Butcher like he was covered in a magnetic field. With swords in hand they stabbed at his metallic body. He swatted at them like flies by swinging his massive anvil, but it did nothing except slip harmlessly through.
Were they all illusions? No! That heathen scum had to be among them somewhere!
There was no way to avoid them, and the Butcher didn’t try to escape. He put faith in his defenses and let the illusions come. All together they hacked at him with their swords, each one passing right into his body. None of them hurt or left a mark. He knew it – Cloudhawk was nothing more than a trickster.
But Drake shook his head and muttered. “This guy’s finished.”
Nine of the illusions vanished. One remained. His sword was lodged in the left side of the Butcher’s chest.
As Cloudhawk let the resonance of his relics subside, a strong repulsive force answered from the Butcher’s body. Although the man’s relic turned his body surface to steel, the weapon in Cloudhawk’s hands wasn’t for cutting twigs. It was a deadly relic itself, and it was lodged deep in the madman’s chest.
The Butcher shook, and his eyes dropped to Quiet Carnage. He stared with an expression of disbelief.
How was this possible? How did Cloudhawk get passed his defense! How? They were all illusions, he was sure of it. Illusions can’t harm people!
Cloudhawk pulled on his sword, trying to take advantage of the Butcher’s shock and cut the man in two. However, the ugly man was still under the protection of his relic. He ripped his sword free without causing any more damage, then flipped through the air to land several meters away.
The Butcher fell to his knees as the metallic shine fled from his skin. He began to vomit, copious mouthfuls of blood over and over. As he heaved, the gaping hole in his chest puckered grotesquely. Although, there wasn’t much blood from the wound itself. The Butcher reveled in his good fortune, for his was not a typical body. In his anatomy, the heart was on the right side.
Still, he had lost again.
The rest of the demonhunters lost patience. When the Butcher was beaten they reacted at once. “Kill them all!”
A pair of close-range fighters, each equal in strength to the Butcher, jumped forward to engage. They tumbled to the ground right away, and their bodies twitched horrifically as they split into half a dozen pieces. It was as though they’d jumped through a meat grinder unwittingly. Each wound was clean and smooth, cuts even the world’s sharpest knife would struggle to match.
One of the younger demonhunters quailed. “What in the name of the gods?!”
Cloudhawk sheathed his weapon. “You all are a bunch of jackasses. Did you really think I was going to hang everything on a single fight? The challenge was an excuse, a way to buy my friend Gabby some time. Now that he’s weaved his net, I’d like to see you fucks try and kill us!”
One of the enemy demonhunters, a specialized tracker, called upon his powers. Immediately, his face went pale. “It’s bad. We’re surrounded by miniscule threads. They have to be from that blonde one’s relic.”
Cloudhawk turned to Drake and Claudia. “You two get the survivors out of here. We’ll cover you.”
The young enemy demonhunter howled in anger and embarrassment. “Find a way out!”
Gabriel’s face split into a warm and genial smile. “I’m afraid that’s unlikely.”
His fingers danced, and the threads began to dance with them.
The tracker anxiously responded to his comrade. “No good, they move! Careful, they’re coming our way!”
The remaining demonhunters did what they could do protect themselves, but how could they defend against what they couldn’t see? How were they supposed to fight back? In the midst of their confusion, Cloudhawk gathered up the sand around him and cast it at the group. His sandstorm could pass unhindered through Gabriel’s net, so the two of them made a deadly and effective pair.
Claudia and Drake hurried the survivors toward the aqueduct.
Cloudhawk and Gabriel were breathlessly trying to hold their foes at bay. Once most of their charges had escaped, they had expended most of their psychic energy. They disengaged and prepared to leave as well. Gabriel was careful to lay out a wave of threads to cover their retreat. Following Cloudhawk and the others wasn’t going to be easy for these pursuers.
“The mountains are about five kilometers ahead. Let’s go!”
As the four trainees lead the survivors from the village they got their first glimpse of hope. They were less than a kilometer away when that hope was crushed.
A figure clad in a snow-white cloak barred their path. Inserted in the ground beside him was a crystalline spear that seethed with a cold mist. When they got close, the man’s frigid blue eyes opened and fell upon them. Their heartless gaze was like a lake of ice.
A solemn expression came onto Cloudhawk’s face. He lifted his hand, entreating the others to stop.
The survivors didn’t know what was happening.
Frost de Winter plucked Frozen Dirge from the ground, and immediately he was surrounded with an aura of bone-chilling cold. Where he walked, the grass and soil instantly was covered in a veil of ice. His voice washed over them like a frigid wind from the peak of a lofty mountain, biting deep into their souls.
“A wastelander scum, a boorish soldier, a waste of breath, and a traitor. You make quite the team.”
Drake grit his teeth. “Frost! Are you also without any moral imperatives?”
“Moral imperatives?” He held frozen dirge at the ready. A cold breeze had begun to whistle around it. “My moral imperative is to help all of you on your way to hell.”
Gabriel wiggled his fingers, causing threads to slither free. Ten imperceptible strings shot out, severing grass and carving grooves through the ground. Filled with the blonde traitor’s murderous intent, they started to build their pattern.
Frost lifted his spear with both hands. It released a blast of icy-cold wind.
Gabriel’s threads were infected with a creeping cold. Layers of ice thickened them until they were visible, about as thick as yarn. Then, they shattered.
Gabriel staggered backward, his face pale. The cold had covered him, too, making his hands numb and unresponsive. He could hardly move, and that was only after the briefest contact.
Cloudhawk was also disheartened. Frost was stronger than he remembered.
Had he also grown stronger in these last few months? Cloudhawk guessed he was about as strong as the instructors from Hell’s Valley by now. In time, he would easily grow to be twice as powerful.
No wonder he was one of Skycloud’s singular talents. No wonder he had come under the tutelage of Skycloud’s greatest teacher.
Frost swung his spear around, its bladed head carving a trough through the ground. He moved with the grace and precision of a dancer as he marked out the circle. Whatever the spear passed, a trail of ice was left behind. From it rose a slithering crystal serpent, covered in icy scales that made it look entirely lifelike. It glided along the shaft of Frost’s spear until it reached the end, then shot out toward the survivors.
The villagers screamed in fear. They were helpless to defend themselves.
A hundred translucent petals exploded from Claudia’s body, becoming a tempest of cutting metal. However, as the ice serpent charged through it the petals did little more than cause nicks and scratches. All it managed to do was slow the attack down.
The ground caved beneath Drake’s feet and he launched forward. Fast as lightning he charged, blade first into the serpent and they met with a loud crash. The serpent began to fracture, and as it did its icy body detonated into a hundred shards. In the blink of an eye, Drake was peppered with dozens of punctures. The shards of ice slipped through him as easily as water and immediately he felt like he was frozen stiff.
Cloudhawk engaged his cloak, using its speed and invisibility to get Drake and bring him back to safety. The soldier was a sitting duck, and the next blow was sure to take his life.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
And here cometh Frost de Winter...