Five stony-faced assistant instructors stepped forward with long whips in their hands. It was easy to guess they would soon be used.
Meanwhile, the scarred instructor stood before the group with his hands behind his back, straight as a javelin. His loud and imposing voice boomed forth. “Twenty lashes! Spare no effort!”
Cloudhawk had personally experienced what sort of effort these assistants were capable of. While they didn’t possess the skills of a demonhunter, they were more than strong enough to handle the young trainees.
If they used their full force, he was convinced they could whip a boulder to pieces!
Piercing screams rose up from among the offending students. It wasn’t that they were weak, but the bite of the whips was too intense. In addition to whatever tough substance they were made out of, the whips actually spat sparks as they tore through the air. One pass of the whip could easily split a wild boar’s hide and rend the flesh beneath.
How truer was it for these young trainees?
One lash was almost more than they could bear, but as the blood began to flow and the pain spread through their whole body a second lash came. By the third, one of the female trainees had fainted. Most of the others only lasted to five. The strongest managed to suffer through seven or eight passes but eventually they also collapsed.
The assistants didn’t stop once the trainees lost consciousness. They kept going until all twenty lashes were delivered.
The others watching swallowed back their fear and alarm.
Twenty one lacerated bodies lay on the ground, some wounds deep enough to reveal bone. It would be many few days before they could recover from this punishment, and were it not for the immediate treatment they were given these wounds would have left many crippled. The assistant instructors had done their best to nearly beat these young men and women to death!
The two that had come from Cloudhawk’s cabin were out cold and hardly recognizable. They were so badly beaten it looked like they’d been attacked by a pack of wild dogs. It was hard to look at them.
Finally, the scarred instructor nodded. “Take them away! They’ve all been eliminated!”
The remaining trainees blanched and Cloudhawk fought back the urge to curse. Shit! We just started and they’re already kicking people out. Why even bother beating them to within an inch of their lives? Not everyone can handle punishment like that, it’ll ruin them!
“You pity them, don’t you? That’s wrong – you should envy them. You are the ones who deserve pity!” The scarred man smiled a black smile and his voice came down like a hammer. “Once you enter Hell’s Valley there’s no going back. Either you meet the criteria and walk out, or you leave on your backs. At least they still live, but only because they weren’t formally admitted. Many of you won’t be so lucky.”
The faces were a mix of stern, enraged, and frightened. Hell’s Valley was true to its reputation, for here they weren’t seen as people. Didn’t the instructor know that some of these trainees came from illustrious Skycloud nobility?
“The welcoming ceremony is finished. Now you really have entered hell. I’m sure you’ve heard some things about us before you’ve come, but I’m here to tell you whatever you’ve been told is just the beginning. Believe me – you’ll learn all about what it’s really like here very soon.”
As he spoke, the scarred instructor walked back and forth before the group of trainees. He stopped, and as he stood looking back at them he sunk a few inches into the earth like he was some enormous colossus.
“I don’t care where you’ve come from, whether you’re from the military, a noble house, or a demonhunter. The moment you arrived you all became one thing – garbage. Filth. Worms! Understand? Repeat it!”
Those from noble families were already offended by his lack of respect, but after this speech most were unhappy. The noblesse were especially enraged.
No one opened their mouth.
The instructor wasn’t upset, in fact he smiled. He was afraid he might have scared them into submission too early, but he was pleased to find that he’d been too merciful. That was good, otherwise it would have been boring.
“No one here is willing to recognize their worthlessness? Good! Very good! I appreciate that.” He went back to pacing the line, a vicious grin on his hideous face. “If that’s the case I’m going to give you all a chance to prove your backbone.”
Cloudhawk then felt a wave of power emanating from the man, an oppressive force not the slightest bit inferior to someone like Frost de Winter. His rich and barbaric aura made their skin crawl and their heart race. He was like a demon who’d crawled out of the pits of hell.
Everyone watched him, expressionless. No one said a word.
He continued with a ferocious howl. “If any of you can beat me, I’ll give everyone one of you a free pass. An exemption from the Hell’s Valley entrance exam. I’ll give thirty seconds for a challenger to step up, then after that everyone gets ten lashes!”
There was an entrance exam, too? What the hell! They still weren’t formally in the training yet?
Ten lashes was unacceptable. They’d all seen what happened to the last group. Ten lashes might not almost kill them but it would definitely make them pass out and leave awful wounds.
“Twenty seconds! What? You’re all cowards, eh? No one has the balls to take a shot?”
Everyone glared. They hadn’t even started training and they were supposed to accept a beating? No one liked the idea, but they weren’t fooled either. The instructor’s offer was a trap, any idiot wouldn’t willingly fall in.
Cloudhawk sighed softly. It looked like there was no avoiding it, he was gonna take a beating no matter what. It was better than being torn apart, as anyone who tried to fight the instructor would be. But he underestimated the arrogance and self-confidence of the elysians, and overestimated their common sense.
“Instructor!” A gallant young man shouted at him. “I challenge you!”
When he heard it the scars on the instructor’s face twisted horrendously into a hungry grin. His smile was more unsettling than any curse. A young man in his twenties with broad shoulders and a muscular body made himself known. He wore standard demonhunter clothing with leather armor over the top.
When Claudia saw who made the challenge her eyes filled with astonishment. She knew this guy, he was also from a distinguished Skycloud city family. He wasn’t as strong as the stars of their generation – like Frost or Dawn – but he could hold his own for ten rounds or so against them. That wasn’t easy, and it was probably what gave him the confidence to accept the instructor’s challenge.
The scarred tyrant was just a soldier, but he didn’t show an ounce of fear when facing a demonhunter. He extended his hand and motioned the challenger forward.
The youth raised his left hand, a sword cradled in his calm. A cyan light glimmered around it and winds gusted through the camp. A crisp and clear ringing sound hung in the air for a long time.
Everyone shared the same thought.
Demonhunter power burst forth and cyan light radiated from the weapon’s tip. He wasn’t going to take any chances with this scarred sadist. While the ringing sound continued suddenly the sword split in two. As the blades crossed a gust of cutting wind fired out toward the instructor.
A bladestorm ranged attack!
The guy had some skill!
His attack’s dual whirlwinds looks simple enough, but underlying them was a mysterious force. At this distance at the very least it would cut off any route of escape. Whether the instructor tried to go left, right or overhead he was right in its path. And while the instructor was getting boxed in, the trainee was preparing his thirst strike. He’d been prepared, for if the instructor dodged his first two bladestorms, the third would surely do him in!
With a grim chuckle, the instructor reacted. He raised his right hand and punched. His hand was covered in an elysian tungsten steel gauntlet but he still punched at supersonic speed. The friction of the steel piercing the air released sparks.
Bang! It sounded like a thick pain of glass shattering.
The scarred man’s fist plunged into the heart of a bladestorm and blew it to pieces. The cyan power burst out every which way and dissipated.
The young man’s face paled. “Impossible – t-that’s impossible! How could a normal human body resist my attack?!”
The young man was not a lowly demonhunter novice. He’d spent two years in military service before arriving at Hell’s Valley. He was sure his relic’s bladestorms could carve apart steel – and yet the scarred instructor had simply punched it apart? It was so absurd he couldn’t believe it!
The tungsten gauntlet had clean cuts all the way through and fresh blood leaked from the fissures. The youth had drawn blood but it meant nothing to the scarred man. “Is that all you got?”
Shame brought on a wave of anger and the younger man attacked again. The cyan light from his sword rose suddenly to a blazing glare, and he launched himself forward fast as the wind. Meanwhile his sword was quick as a viper and lashed out in a thickly packed series of blows. A rain of steel came crashing down on the instructor.
As Cloudhawk watched his pupils constricted. This guy was faster and stronger than he was. He had to ask himself, if it were him on the other side of this attack, could he endure?
The scarred instructor moved quick and agile, like a specter. He saw through each strike, avoiding them while retreating a couple meters. With a sharp look in his eye the young man raised his weapon, poised to continue. At last eh whipped his sword around and an enormous bladestorm erupted from the sword.
This close, this fast, and this strong, the young man was sure this time he had him.
The scarred man stood still, unmoving, while dust was kicked up around him. Then he disappeared, leaving only a faint afterimage where he’d been. Cloudhawk gaped in disbelief. He knew the instructor didn’t really vanish, he was just so fast that it seemed that way.
Woosh! The bladestorm surged over one of the wooden cabins.
The wooden structure was carved right down the middle as easily as cutting through a sheet of paper, a petal, or a leaf. It slowly started to separate and fall to either side.
The young man was not a weakling. He couldn’t match up to someone like Frost de Winter, but he had to be within the top three of the trainees here. And he was of noble birth, to boot.
What happened next no one saw clearly. It happened too fast.
Before he could retract his arm a thick hand reached out and held it fast. It twisted, then as easily as snapping a dead branch his arm folded backward more than ninety degrees. Bone snapped and tore through flesh to reveal the jagged break.
The young man screamed, unable to hold his sword. It flew out of his grip and got lodged in a boulder some distance away. It cut through rock as easy as custard, proving just how sharp it really was.
“Hahaha!” The instructor’s spiteful laughter rang through the camp. “That is all you got! You aren’t even as strong as one of my assistants. You had no hope of besting me!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
There always has to be one idiot in every group.