Book 2, Chapter 23 - The Ambush

“Governor, sir!” Lord Arcturus had just finished explaining his findings when one of the guards came rushing in. “You have an urgent summons from the Temple. They ask that you answer immediately.”

He answered with a nod. “I leave this matter to the two of you.”

“Your disciple obeys.”

“Your subordinate obeys.”

The young man wouldn’t get far, not so long as Lord Arcturus was governor. With his skills and knowledge every move the escapee made would be followed, every action monitored. However, it would be strange for the governor to handle such a seemingly small matter himself. It would draw a lot of unnecessary attention.

Skycloud Domain was not under the control of the governor alone.

He had many old adversaries throughout the territory, and the Temple always hung over his head. He had to be careful of what he did, and what’s more the Temple’s summons meant important matters were at hand. Lord Arcturus didn’t have the focus to spare on this piddling young wastelander.

Augustus was no simple man himself. He was prudent, cautious, and a loyal follower of Lord Arcturus for over a decade. Frost de Winter was also resolute and intelligent, talented, capable. The two of them were Lord Arcturus’s most trusted men and together there was very little they couldn’t accomplish. Their target this time was a young convict – nothing outside of their capabilities.

Lord Arcturus’s body slowly grew translucent, then faded from view. He disappeared leaving nothing but a swirl of dust where he’d stood.

Augustus bowed as his master left them, then arose once he was gone. “So what is your plan, my dear nephew?”

Frost de Winter thought for a moment. “A few hundred men is more than enough to deal with one person. However, he is crafty and has unique powers. I’ll need a demonhunter who is adept at tracking. I would like to ask for your help, Uncle Augustus, if possible.”

“This… is not a problem.”

In his last excursion into the wastelands Augustus had lost many demonhunters. It was a tragedy, not just for him but for the whole of Skycloud domain. Until now they still had not recovered so there weren’t many demonhunters left. However, there were enough to spare to catch a single escapee.

A few minutes later…

Three hundred disguised soldiers had gathered. They were not in the standard armor they were accustomed to, forsaking them for civilian clothing.

Augustus approached Frost de Winter with six demonhunters in tow. Each of them were experienced trackers. Frost de Winter nodded in satisfaction, this should be more than enough for the task at hand.

At this time a young woman appeared in the doorway. She was pale and haggard, and her eyes were unsettlingly empty. She walked with the help of her exorcist staff and a beautiful torque embraced her frail neck. She hobbled their way like a walking corpse.

“Claudia, you haven’t yet recovered. What are you doing here?” Augustus wrinkled his eyebrows as he looked sternly at the wounded woman. “We don’t need you for this mission.”

“Master Augustus.” Her face had no expression like it was nothing more than a mask. “My wounds are healed. I can help, I request you allow me to participate.”

Augustus was about to speak when he was interrupted by Frost de Winter’s cold and dismissive voice. “Leave, I don’t need half-dazed garbage like you endangering my mission.”

Claudia’s pale face flushed red. She clenched her fist and fought back the urge to argue.

Augustus intervened. “You aren’t at your best. Go back and rest.”

Claudia hung her head, grinding her teeth. Disappointment was clear on her stiff face as she turned and left.

Frost de Winter heard what happened to Claudia. She failed her very first mission and hadn’t been able to recover from the shame. Her incompetence earned nothing but his disdain so he paid her no mind and spoke instead to the others. “Starting today your mission is to spread out through the main areas of the city and keep your eyes open for our suspect. The person you are looking for is about one hundred and eighty-seven meters tall, thin, with a grey cloak. He may be wearing a mask. We assume he has trained to the equivalent of a novice demonhunter. If you see someone who matches this description detain them immediately, and if they attempt to escape or resist you are authorized to kill them.”

Claudia was walking toward the door but she hadn’t yet left. Frost de Winter’s description tickled at something in her mind.

Her dim eyes suddenly lit up and a vibrant fire burned behind them like a pair of furnaces. Was it… was it even possible? How could he be in Skycloud Domain?!

Claudia wanted to question Frost de Winter and get more information, but the governor’s disciple was as cold as a glacier. To him she was less than nothing. She remained nearby as he dispatched his people, then held tight to her torque. Gritting her teeth, Claudia made her determination.

If you won’t have me on your mission then I’ll do it myself!

I’ll wash my hands of this disgrace once and for all!

***

Cloudhawk had only escaped from prison not thirty minutes ago. Completely unfamiliar with the city he decided to make his way back to the foliage-strewn parks near the temple square. It was quiet there and suitable for hiding.

He felt haunted by the situation he found himself in. His hunters had to already be drawing the net closed.

His condition had gone from bad to worse, but he needed to keep his wits about him. He couldn’t go rushing to Bloomnettle Company, they didn’t have any way to help him anyway. Besides, Cloudhawk was poison, and anyone he touched would be in danger just for associating with him. The best decision was to keep his distance as much as possible, hopefully that would be enough to keep them out of harm’s way.

As for whether or not the recent circumstances would affect his merchant friends, Cloudhawk couldn’t say. He hadn’t broken any laws that he knew of. He’d only did what Selene instructed, even showing her token. Their reactions didn’t make any sense.

Cloudhawk’s stomach loudly complained that he was hungry.

The elysian lands were not so backwards as the wastelands and used hard currency, casted by methods taught to them by the gods. They had bronze, silver and gold coins. Standard conversion was one hundred bronze to one silver, and one hundred silver to one gold. All the lands under the auspices of the gods was available to its people to use, and so long as you had the money anything could be bought.

This was not the case for Cloudhawk. He had no shelter or coin and had begun contemplating whether he should steal some to purchase food.

Just then two dark figures appeared among the trees. Cloudhawk was instantly on alert – they were following him!

Between the coat and the new face on his mask they wouldn’t be able to easily recognize him. If they had they wouldn’t be leisurely headed his way, there would be scores of burly men trying to take him down.

Cloudhawk vanished right in front of them.

The two men gasped and looked at each other in shock, then raced ahead to where he’d been. When they got there they saw nothing.

“Looking for me?” As the two men were beginning to doubt their eyes a cold voice reached their ears. Their eyes went wide as a hand came up on either side of them and smashed their heads together. They collided like a pair of melons to the sound of a sickening crunch.

Cloudhawk’s strength couldn’t be underestimated!

Without a helmet the two soldiers had nothing to protect their skulls. The bones fractured easily, leaving them with nasty concussions at the very least. It would take them the better part of a week to recover. It would be a mistake to consider Skycloud’s guards to be this weak, however. He’d managed to use his cloak to catch them by surprise, giving them no chance to fight back.

Cloudhawk stooped over them and began to sift through their pockets. Perhaps they had something he could use, like money or a way for him to fake his identity. But just as he stretched out his hand to start looking a flood of anxiety overcame him. Danger.

Something wasn’t right.

Six more men appeared out of the blue with swords in their hands. Six white blades came at him like coordinated lightning strikes.

As they lunged at him Cloudhawk’s eyes picked out one in particular, a demonhunter. He could hear the resonance of a relic in use – this demonhunter had a way to conceal their entire group from view which was how they appeared so suddenly.

No wonder he’d heard nothing, nor felt their murderous intention.

Fuck! I didn’t notice them in time! They’d probably spotted him a while ago but they didn’t move in right away because he’d changed his appearance. The demonhunter had probably sent the two soldiers out as decoys to see how he’d react. 

He couldn’t run or disappear, but instead he chose to deal with what he thought were just two guards – falling right into their trap. The angry whistle of six swords chopping his way filled the air making his every nerve go tense.

A moment ago he was alone, now he was in the center of a deadly storm – too quick for him to react.

Cloudhawk’s hearing seemed to bypass his brain and move right to his limbs. The moment the sound of those tearing blades arose he was on the move without a second thought, retreating backwards. The swordsmen closed in, the light from their quivering swords creating a rapidly closing net. No matter where he tried to go, Cloudhawk had half a dozen fatal blows waiting for him.

Boom!

The area around Cloudhawk exploded.

Explosion wasn’t the right word. A cloud of yellow sand sprang up suddenly all over like the earth had spat it out. In the course of his escape from prison Cloudhawk’s psychic powers had improved, which in turn made him more dangerous with the gospel of the sands.

Each bit of gravel was like a biting thorn and in the midst of the cloud were deadly sand arrows as well. Faced with the sudden and unexpected counter attack the soldiers were forced back. They were able to protect themselves by using their swords to deflect the more dangerous arrows, and the captain of the strike team was even quick enough to thrust his sword into the center of the cloud of dust.

Cloudhawk dodged to the side but the man’s sword sliced a hole in his clothing revealing a golden book cover underneath. Cloudhawk, with his left hand covered in a layer of sand, grabbed the blade as it swung by. With his right hand he grabbed the swordsman’s wrist. Before he could break it and take the sword the strike force leader let go and wrenched his hand free. He pulled out a dagger and stabbed at his target.

He gave up his sword and answered with a dagger. His reaction times were incredibly fast – no doubt an accomplished holy warrior.

Cloudhawk’s left hand held the blade and his wrist swung around to grab the hilt. His opponent was too close, so when he lunged in and attacked with his dagger Cloudhawk didn’t have time to respond. With both hands on the sword he pressed them together, the combined stress bending the sword blade. Snap! Shards of metal were launched outward and buried themselves in his enemy’s face.

A normal person would stop fighting the moment they suffered an injury like this.

But this soldier, his face already slick with blood from the wound, never stopped. He never even blinked and kept the dagger aimed at Cloudhawk’s throat. This level of steadfast determination could only be tempered from years of experience and training. Never give up a chance to put down one’s enemy. Disregard your own safety for the mission, do not fear death. He came at him with the knife like it was the purpose of his whole being.

This fucker was one tough son of a bitch!

At the same time the demonhunter was behind him, slowly drawing back the string of his bow. The other five swordsmen were closing in to follow their captain’s lead. Yes, Cloudhawk was stronger than he ever was – but he was in worse danger than ever before.

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RWX's Thoughts

Take'm down, Cloudhawk!