Book 2, Chapter 76 - Twists and Turn

The cooperation Cloudhawk was afraid of didn’t happen. Instead what he witnessed was something he hadn’t expected.

Naberius completely ignored his mission’s target upon reawakening and focused entirely on Claudia.

Although the Claudia family’s demonhunter was adept at close-quarters combat, she had neither the experience nor speed advantage in this fight. In the blink of an eye, the two exchanged a flurry of blows that left her with several bloody wounds. One of them was especially deep, and she had to keep her abdomen tight for fear her guts might start to leak through.

Naberius wasn’t any better off.

His fight with Cloudhawk left him with several broken ribs, an injured kidney and a punctured lung. A normal man would have succumbed to the damage already, and his flurry of attacks was making his condition worse by the second.

How interesting. It didn’t seem like Cloudhawk would even need to lift a hand. If they kept it up the two would helpfully take each other out.

Claudia pushed herself forward with an angry roar, her hands lashing out like a dragon leaping from the sea. Her blows brought gusts of wind as they surged toward Naberius but only struck his afterimage. The psychopath appeared behind her and raked his claws down her back, leaving deep fissures that spurt blood. She spun around to counterattack and managed to catch him in the shoulder with her fist. The two were knocked away from each other.

Blood leaked from the corner of Naberius’ mouth. His internal injuries were dire. Claudia was covered in blood that stained her robe copper. Her outer injuries were severe.

Clutching his chest, Naberius growled. “Cloudhawk, I don’t see the need for us to break each other. You hate the gods just like we do, hate the hypocrisy they stand for. We’re the same.”

Cloudhawk stood with his arms crossed in front of his chest, watching the drama unfold. “You flatter me, but I have great respect for the gods. Don’t drag me into this mess.”

“You know the oracle I killed was just a low-ranking one, but still an oracle.” Naberius was an insane mess. His golden hair was caked with dirt and blood, and his handsome face was covered in filth. Anger twisted the cherubic features into a hideous mask making him look like a wild animal. “I never took Frost de Winter’s mission to heart, my situation is different from the Butcher’s. He was hoping the Cloude family could clear his name, but I know I’m never going back to Skycloud!”

Naberius’ best chance was to have Cloudhawk as an ally! Joining forces to kill the demonhunter was a much better option that trying to defeat the wastelander in their condition.

Claudia was stunned by what she was hearing from Naberius. This monstrous man, who had killed an oracle with his own hands, had been dispatched by Frost de Winter? The Butcher he’d mentioned was also someone Claudia had heard of, the one who eradicated an entire village for one heretic.

But Frost was a prodigy with an impeccable reputation. Why would he do something like this?

How could he not realize that his actions violate Skycloud law? That it was a betrayal of the gods themselves? Why would he do such a thing? If this was Frost’s true nature then what did that say about the Cloudes, the Polaris family, and everyone else in the city?

Claudia was lost in confusion. In fact, it was more like panic.

“Alright.” Cloudhawk’s eyes were pits of sinister darkness. With a smirk on his face he leaned against a tree trunk. “I believe you. You did try to kill me, but if you help rid me of this obnoxious woman then all is forgiven. When it’s done you don’t bother me, and I don’t bother you.”

That was it? He wasn’t going to fight? What was he thinking? He was content to sit there and watch the other two beat each other to death like they were gladiators.

Naberius was definitely crazy, but he wasn’t stupid. Claudia wasn’t a pushover. He was sure he could handle her but it would take a serious toll. If Cloudhawk decided to go back on his promise Naberius wouldn’t be able to defend himself, or even flee.

Cloudhawk just leaned against his tree and stared, his dark eyes like pits fixed on the two of them. Naberius couldn’t read the wastelander’s intentions and so didn’t rush to meet his end of the bargain. The three young trainees kept their distance and stared warily at one another.

All three of them saw this situation differently.

Cloudhawk was still weighing his options, Naberius was trying to guess Cloudhawk’s motives, and Claudia was struggling with the new information she’d learned. Demonhunters were supposed to be the most righteous of holy warriors, she thought, willing to sacrifice everything for honor. She had been convinced that all demonhunters were pure and faultless. Aberrations like the Butcher were rare exceptions.

When she learned that Frost de Winter had ordered these evil men here she was beset by fear and confusion. So the Skycloud code could be broken? So someone like Frost de Winter was simply allowed to disrespect, if not openly defy the gods?

No! It was impossible! This had to be only one side of the story, she refused to believe it!

Claudia was born into a wealthy noble family, she’d grown up never knowing scarcity. When she was found to have the abilities of a demonhunter she began training, surrounded by people like her who were bathed in faith and taught to praise the glory of the gods.

Everyone she knew in her life was firm in their piety, so she believed it had to be so throughout the entire domain. Everyone loved one another, brothers and sisters before the eyes of their gods. They were all noble, good-hearted people and that is why she could never understand the dog-eat-dog nature of the wastelands.

Demonhunters were the bedrock of that faith. She was convinced of their inviolable honor, for they represented the bravery, loyalty, faith, and strength of the elysian lands.

For the first time in her life this was brought into question. She was faced with the dirt just beneath the sterling face of the demonhunters. Her faith was shaken, and her honor under attack. It filled her with uncontrollable fury. She would rather believe all of this was a trick orchestrated by Cloudhawk. He was the one who brought this psychopath here.

“Die!”

She put Naberius out of mind and launched herself at Cloudhawk instead. Her fists came at him like missiles catching him by surprise. He hadn’t anticipated she’d come after him with no warning, so much that he had to shake himself from his astonishment to quickly dodge.

Boom!

The tree he was leaning on exploded into splinters.

Holy fuck! What the fuck is going on?!

Claudia whipped a kick at Cloudhawk, forcing him to scurry back half a dozen meters.

A hurricane of punches came his way, forcing Cloudhawk to fight back.

Now it was Naberius’ turn to watch the scene unfold. What a fortuitous change in fortunes! Now the fanatic turned her fervor on the wastelander, but Cloudhawk had managed to beat Naberius. He knew the girl was no match for the man.

Her leg swept by with a powerful gust. But instead of striking her target she watched as her foot slipped right through his temple like Cloudhawk wasn’t even there. He stood there unscathed, then reached out with grabbed her leg in both hands and flung her aside.

This was his chance!

Naberius made up his mind. In his condition he wasn’t going to get away from Cloudhawk. His only bet was to deal with the girl. His ferocious expression promised death as he launched forward.

Claudia was helpless as she tumbled through the air. But as Naberius was getting ready to strike the final blow…

 Rustling came from the trees and several figures emerged. Upon seeing this both Cloudhawk and Naberius would hardly believe it. More people?! It was a goddamn fairground! This did not bode well for either of them – demonhunters like Naberius were not the norm. Most would side with Claudia.

Not good. Got to kill her quickly!

He didn’t slow down one iota. The psycho’s intent was to shatter every bone in her chest and ruin all the organs inside. He would revel in crushing her heart and watching the rain of meat of blood, in feeling it flow over his body.

“Two men against one woman? There’s no honor in that.”

With the words a bone arrow shot from the mist, with both incomparable speed and flawless precision. Naberius could not dodge it and finish Claudia off, so he stopped just short of the fatal blow. He spun and kicked Claudia away while snatching the arrow from the air with both hands. However the incredible force of the arrow shoved him several meters back. When Naberius hit the ground he saw a new bloody hole in his clothing.

Several figures stepped out from the forest. They all wore trainee’s robes.

 One of them was a sturdy man of around twenty-five, with buzz-cut hair and sharp gallant features. He carried a bone bow obviously taken from the natives. No one of ordinary strength would have the brawn to a wield weapon like this, so he had to be strong. He was also clearly the leader of this small group.

Naberius’ face darkened. Claudia stared at them blankly.

Cloudhawk chuckled. “You showed up just in time, but for what? Heroes saving the fair maiden?”

“My name is Drake Thane. You’d do well to remember.” The valiant young man stepped forward. "Because I’m going to personally break every bone in your body. I’m very good at it, so I advise you not to resist, it’ll hurt less.”

Drake Thane? Of the Thane family!

The Thanes were a lauded military family from Skycloud, though not as celebrated as the Polaris. They’d produced many generals over the years but few demonhunters, and those that did arise tended to die quickly. Their lack of a long-lasting demonhunter in the family kept them in the middle tier of Skycloud elite.

Drake Thane wasn’t a demonhunter, either. But he was a young commander.

This meant all his skills came from his physical abilities alone, and the one who benefited most from this test was him. Unlike demonhunters who lost their relics, his strengths weren’t curtailed by the test’s rules. He was also smart, much smarter than the average meat-head. He typically only acted when it played to his advantages.

His goal out here was to find his opponents and break their legs, so they would not make it to Hell’s Valley. With their relics demonhunters had all the power of heaven at their command. But out here? Out here, he was king. 

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RWX's Thoughts

So in Chinese this name was 战龙 - 战 literally means battle/fight, while 龙 is a fairly common name which literally means dragon.  We went with 'Drake' for his name and 'Thane' a la the old Vikings/Saxon military leaders.  This one I'm not completely sold on yet, I was thinking for going for the surname Warre instead.  Another consideration was Stryfe, a la Cloud Stryfe.  What do you all think?

Sorry for the delay on the new tier btw, I got dragged away to Beijing for a last-minute trip by one of our investors so I've been a bit bushwhacked.