Dawn rushed at him, Terrangelica bared and carving a trio of slices through the air, one after the other. Atlas felt the impossibly sharp attacks bearing down and spun around, responding with six swipes of his own. His speed and skill were on full display as each reposte and counterattack was perfectly executed. This was no typical short sword either, but stings from the deadly relic blade Deathstalker!
This special and lethal weapon had two special properties; the first was that it siphoned power from its victim, and the second was its toxic bite.
When Deathstalker’s blade met flesh it responded by releasing a fog. It looked like smoke, as though from a fire, but in fact it was venom. The potency of it depended on the strength of Deathstalker’s bearer but more than that, it could also melt right through armor. There weren’t many defenses that could ward it off.
Just the thought made one’s hair stand on end. Deathstalker might not have been the strongest relic but it was certainly among the most lethal. Tailor-made for assassins.
Its strength-siphoning abilities were also unique. A normal two-foot short sword wasn’t going to stop a hammer or axe in direct combat, but Deathstalker was not normal. After contact it stole power from the attacker and pushed it into the short sword itself.
Ordinarily if the two rivals clashed weapon to weapon their matched strength would knock both away. However, Deathstalker absorbed the force that would typically knock Atlas back and redirect it. While his opponent would be knocked back he could push forward, sealing his victim’s fate with the weapon’s venom.
Atlas’ offensive was fierce and immediate, bold, unconstrained, and insidious. But after a few exchanges Dawn saw a weakness in his posture. She exploited it, hacking her sword at him. Atlas brought Deathstalker around to block and at the same time, the blade seethed with a dark energy.
The deep purple hue surrounding Deathstalker scattered with the impact, but Dawn was knocked back while Atlas didn’t move. He catalyzed his relic again and the unsettling hue returned, coiling around the blade like a hellish flame. It carved a black wedge through the air.
Fierce, cunning, ruthless, unflinching.
Atlas portrayed all the qualities of a master assassin. Despite Dawn’s family and reputation he attacked her without clemency. She was still trying to regain her footing when he bore down on her, yet the Polaris family’s pride kept a level head. With a chilly snort she thrust the tip of Terrangelica into the ground.
The sound of explosion ripped through the tunnels!
Moments after striking the ground shockwaves erupted from the sword, like the epicenter of an earthquake. Just as the razor-sharp edge of Deathstalker was about to pierce Dawn’s porcelain skin the force knocked Atlas back.
She quickly determined where Atlas was going to land and summoned Terrangelica’s powers accordingly. In just the spot where he was destined to fall a spike of jagged rock jutted forth.
But who would expect that Atlas would suddenly stop in mid-air, as completely as though he was suddenly dropped in water. Instead of hitting the ground as gravity demanded he planted his two feet on the tunnel’s walls. Atlas stood there perfectly parallel to the ground.
Dawn wasn’t going to let this bastard outplay her so easily.
Terrangelica’s mighty powers manifested once again and surged toward her opponent. This energy was completely invisible, yet Atlas seemed to know it was coming. Continuing to violate the laws of physics he leapt off the wall and somersaulted onto the ceiling. His feet tread along the top of the tunnel as surely as if he were standing with the rest of them.
He swung at Dawn with Deathstalker in his right hand, and with his left scattered a handful of five or six pitch black darts. Each one fluttered through the air like butterflies. One could be forgiven for thinking they had a mind of their own, for they whipped around to attack Dawn at all sorts of odd angles. She had no choice but to rely on the protection of her aegis mirror. The air congealed into an impenetrable, invisible wall all around her. Atlas’ darts struck it and were stopped in their tracks.
Dawn Polaris was gathering herself for a counterattack, but Atlas had lost any interest in continuing the fight. Like a spider her skittered away along the roof and disappeared into the shadows. He’d escaped the range of any attack she could muster, and besides his advantage was speed. Much as she grit her teeth she had to accept that he’d gotten away.
Atlas was what people feared when they thought of assassins and sneak attacks. Few within Skycloud City would survive his deadly attention.
Their brief encounter proved that Dawn wasn’t the assassin’s target. Atlas was a remarkable combatant who knew his strengths and weaknesses, so he knew a protracted battle against Dawn would not turn out in his favor.
“Piece of shit, piece of shit! I’ll kill you, do you hear me?!”
Like a furious lioness Dawn roared into the darkness while soldiers winced from the sudden noise. None were eager to give chase.
“Garbage. You’re all useless trash, do you know that?”
With her opponent gone Dawn turned her fury on the soldiers. If they weren’t so useless Cloudhawk wouldn’t have been assassinated by Atlas. If they weren’t completely brainless he wouldn’t have gotten away! She was confused and unsure of what to do next. If she knew this was going to happen she wouldn’t have brought Cloudhawk here…
This bullshit mission – to hell with it!
Dawn, who had never accepted a defeat in her life, was ready to give up on their task. Although she knew there was almost no hope for Cloudhawk she had to at least try. Maybe if she brought him back in time maybe Mr. Ink could do something.
She could hardly believe she was so upset over the life of some petty thief. She fought against the bitter aftertaste of this revelation as she looked around for Cloudhawk, in order to save his life. However as she approached his prostrate form one of his eyes popped open, then the other. He took a few sly glances to the left and right.
“Is he gone?”
Oddball nodded its fluffy little head.
“Holy shit, that germy asshole almost did me in. You really saved my ass this time.”
Cloudhawk sat up like he was getting up from a nap. Where were the signs of venom? Dawn’s emotions ran the gamut from shock to relief and then doubt. “Why aren’t you dead?!”
Cloudhawk stared at her. “Are you that eager to see me in a coffin?”
She rubbed her jaw and looked him over. “It’s impossible. I’ve never heard of anyone surviving Atlas’ venom.”
Cloudhawk paid her to mind. Beneath the tear of his shirt a knife wound could be seen that was neither very deep nor very long. Deathstalker’s venom was so potent that all it needed was to draw blood to deliver a lethal dose. So for Atlas it didn’t matter how deep his strike went – that wasn’t important once he nicked his target. Once the venom spread through his victim it would finish the job for him.
Cloudhawk acknowledge that the scorpion-like weirdo had a weapon just as odd as he was. The potency of the toxin was directly correlated to the amount of energy channeled through the relic. If the assassin’s initial attack had landed Cloudhawk could have had half a dozen lives and still would be no more.
Where he was lucky was in blocking that first strike.
Atlas first blow knocked away Cloudhawk’s defenses. It succeeded in sapping his strength but the interval between attacks was too quick for him to summon the same strength as his first blow. As a result the potency of the sword’s toxin was reduced. Ultimately it saved Cloudhawk’s life.
Atlas was no one to sniff at. That was for sure.
Cloudhawk’s danger sense was almost instinctual, but Atlas was practically right on top of him and he’d felt nothing. Deathstalker was practically in his face by the time he was made aware of the attack. That could only mean he had some sort of relic concealing his presence, something like Cloudhawk’s own invisibility cloak. Add to that Atlas’ exceptional skills as an assassin, who didn’t reveal his lethal intent until the very last moment.
Cloudhawk was happily taken aback by Oddball’s reaction in particular.
The strange little bird had spotted Atlas before he did, which could only mean it was able to see the invisible. He was able to spot the assassin as he was getting close and warn his master.
Cloudhawk’s new pet wasn’t just a great scout. He was also an excellent early warning system! With Oddball by his side he could use the bird to scout out dangerous areas and reveal anything that might be lying in wait.
How many more surprises did this little guy have? Cloudhawk scratched Oddball’s head in appreciation.
Dawn wasn’t all that pleased with being ignored. “The smallest bit of Deathstalker’s venom can kill a master demonhunter. How did you survive?”
She could see the area around the wound had turned black, but it hadn’t spread far. In fact, even as she watched the rotten borders were slowly receding. Foul, black blood oozed from the wound.
Was he a control metahuman? Could a control metahuman of sufficient skill expel venom in their blood?
Supposedly high-grade control metahumans were able to exercise perfect control over their muscles and blood vessels to purge out venom. Only, venom from a relic defied that sort of control – after all, no control metahuman, no matter how strong, could control every cell.
Cloudhawk blinked as he thought of how to lie. “It’s a secret.” 
For the first time he was starting to think maybe Roste’s parting gift wasn’t such a curse.
Dawn’s eyebrows went vertical. Was he immune to poison? That would mean the poison Mr. Ink injected him with was also useless.
She was smart enough to guess the gist of it; the poison General Polaris had given him was slow-acting. Since it wasn’t as intense as Deathstalker’s it didn’t awaken his body’s defense, but once it ‘woke up’ his immune system wasn’t just going to stand by.
He hadn’t cared about that poison business from the very beginning.
Now that the danger had passed Cloudhawk calmed down and grew solemn. “Why did he want to kill me? Who is his younger brother, why don’t I remember anything like that?”
“Atlas’ family has close ties to the Court of Shadows, the Umbras. I remember he had a younger brother named Raith. He wasn’t worth much.”
Raith? Raith Umbra? The one with that weird arrow that almost killed him?
Cloudhawk slapped his forehead. When fate was against you, a single fart could start a shit storm. That guy having a brother was bad enough, but his big brother had to be a world-class assassin. He would rather have Frost de Winter, Dawn Polaris or Blaze as his arch nemeses than even cross Atlas’ mind.
He was like the specter of death, hiding in every shadow. Who knew the next time he’d leap out of some dark corner and take his life? It made him furious! Raith’s death was his own damn fault. Cloudhawk would have had it any other way.
In the end he just wasn’t strong enough!
Cloudhawk made himself a promise. He would wait… wait until he was strong enough, then Frost and Atlas would learn the cost of pissing him off!
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A pissed off older brother assassin... not good.