The magnificent airship descended through roiling clouds above.
Skycloud’s sun-speckled expanse was revealed. Light sparkled off the wondrous falls that fell from midair. No matter how many times one saw it, the vision seeped into one’s spirit. From the depths of one’s humble heart they felt the majesty of the gods.
But Cloudhawk saw it differently. To him, Skycloud was a city built on quicksand.
If Adder succeeded in bringing his primeval weapon here, this whole place would be reduced to ruin in an instant. A million lives would be snuffed out, bodies turned to ash. Cloudhawk struggled to imagine the scope of such destruction. All he knew was that the city’s spectacular views would make its annihilation all the more terrifying. Destruction on an unprecedented scale.
How could an ancient weapon like that hold so much power? How could mankind have uncovered such a potent means of destruction that might even surpass the power of the gods?
With it, mankind had put themselves above the devastating capabilities of gods and demons. Was the ancient civilization’s disappearance from this earth as the elysians said? Had their greed for scientific knowledge unlocked an unholy power they couldn’t control?
By now the news of what happened on the Blisterpeaks had reached the elysian lands.
People were solemn and melancholy, but their prosperous lived were so far unchanged. With the war so far from their borders, the blessed folk did not fear for their safety. Skycloud was a sanctuary, protected by the auspices of the Temple. So long as they remained strong in their belief, no defeat would break them.
Tens of thousands of soldiers lost, though… the deaths of so many generals and great men.
Yet it was merely a topic of conversation, brought up with forlorn sighs during afternoon tea or dessert. All that death was so distant from them, like it had happened on another planet. Sad, certainly, but otherwise it did not affect them.
A thousand years of peace and prosperity had bred in them tremendous confidence. They were elysians, the chosen people of the gods, while wastelanders were like rats scurrying in the darkness. With but the smallest effort the warriors of god could turn the desert sands red with the blood of heathens. Faith held them up, and in their faith they believed that even Armageddon could not tear down their shining city. Skycloud would stand until the end of time, until the entire world ceased.
Cloudhawk disembarked from the ship and was hailing a carriage when the sound of hurried footsteps reached his ears. The tell-tale sound of steel of leather told him their weapons were being drawn. Suddenly, the streets were thick with a dangerous atmosphere.
“Apprehend the criminal. Citizens, back away! Disperse! Grab him!” The people of Skycloud scurried aside, making way as a dozen or so crack city guards flooded the area. They brandished crossbows which were leveled squarely toward Cloudhawk. In addition the eight soldiers in the front row each had tower shields and spears, which they hefted threateningly as they surrounded him. No explanation was given, only steel.
Cloudhawk gaped at the less than friendly welcoming committee. “Eh… there has to be some sort of mistake. Do you know who I am?”
“Cloudhawk! We have evidence that suggests you have colluded with demons, and worked with the Dark Atom to contribute to the death of loyal soldiers in the Blisterpeaks!” A bearded man who seemed to be their captain was the one giving the orders. “No more talk! Get him, dead or alive!”
Was this the next effort by Augustus and Frost to keep him quiet? This nonsense was too heavy to put on the back of one scapegoat!
What a fucking joke! Cloudhawk took the long trip all the way back here to save this fucking city, and this is what it got him! Halted, before even a glimpse of Adder’s shadow was found. But what was supposed to say?
No! Stop! The city could explode at any second and I’m here to be your hero?
This dimwitted fucks wouldn’t hear a word of it. They would rather kill him than let him go, and to prove it they didn’t even give him a chance to speak. A barrage of several hundred arrows came screaming at his head, while at the same moment the shield-bearers charged forward. Their aim was to crush him small enough pieces to make into dumplings.
The first threat to arrive was the hail of arrows. They passed harmlessly through his body like they were made of air.
The guards were among the city’s best. They didn’t know how Cloudhawk had avoided the arrows, but they didn’t hesitate. Eight six-foot shields pressed in from all around with sharp spears bristling from the gaps between. Cloudhawk was left with no exit and the rapidly shrinking area he occupied had become a killing field. A series of brutal jabs were determined to turn him into a pincushion.
Cloudhawk sidestepped through the shield-bearers effortlessly. He whipped around and snatched the bearded captain with his right hand, quick as lightning. “If you want to grab me,” he said from behind them, “you’re at least gonna need more men than this. You sacks of shit mean nothing to me!”
The captain was tough. Cloudhawk could snap his neck at any moment, but his red face was stoic. “Get him, don’t worry about me!”
Cloudhawk was preparing to teach the man a lesson when two curiously shaped cutlasses chopped toward his side. They were so fast he didn’t even have time to reengage his phase stone. He was forced to throw the captain. Draw his rod and knock the attacks away with a ‘clang’!
Then the situation changed once again. Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye, coming quick.
It was a streak of energy, tearing through the air like a silver river right toward him. Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes to follow its trajectory, and moved just in time to narrowly miss the blow. Where it passed the ground split wide. Cloudhawk reacted with a jab toward his assailant’s chest, but his foe was quick. With the sneak attack failed, his enemy dropped the cutlass and vanished, reappearing moments later with the other cutlass in hand. He launched another streak of dangerous sword energy at Cloudhawk.
Spectators were unable to explain what happened next.
The swords danced like they were being manipulated by some unseen string, or they had spectral wings of their own. They whipped around Cloudhawk in random directions, and among them a figure moving too fast for the naked eye to register. It constantly moved back and forth between the swords, seeking for a break in Cloudhawk’s defenses, filling the area all around him with streaks of cold steel light.
Cloudhawk’s whole world was full of shadows. Everywhere he looked were cutting streaks of light.
Three breaths, that’s about how long their exchange had lasted so far. Already the ground was scarred with a dozen or more deep cuts.
Exasperated, Cloudhawk called out. “Will you just fucking stop already?!”
His eyes burned with internal power, and his will along with his words filled the plaza. His foe was nailed in place immediately. Cloudhawk was ready to take advantage of the chance, but was foiled when another weapon came tearing his way. This one was a short sword that reflected no light whatsoever except for a faint purple haze, like the fang of some hellish demon.
The attack was sudden, perfection both speed and timing.
Most importantly the strike was almost timid. There wasn’t much strength behind it, making the blow soundless and easy to miss. However, Cloudhawk knew that the dozen previous strikes weren’t even close to the destructive power behind this blow. He was fighting an expert, adept in his craft. A master assassin.
Any normal person would have easily fallen into this trap. But Cloudhawk was far from normal.
No matter how much effort his attacker put into concealing himself, he couldn’t dampen the sound of his relics. Cloudhawk had been waiting for him to tip his hand. His series of blocks off the back foot were a ploy to goad his foe into action.
His exorcist rod screamed as it was flooded with power!
Cloudhawk abandoned his attack on the first assassin, the woman with the scimitars. Instead, in as subtle a move as he could muster, he swung around to meet the man in black. When their weapons met, Cloudhawk’s rod was drained of it’s power and calcified. IT shattered on the spot, but the residual strength behind the blow managed to knock the assassin back as well.
“It’s you two!”
The first was a girl with a cherub face and a cutlass in each hand. She stared at him with her big, round eyes full of shock. The other was a man in black without a hint of expression on his face. The weapon in his hand said it all, poised like a scorpion ready to strike.
Well ain’t that a bitch. I know these two.
The girl was someone he knew from his days in Hell’s Valley, Felina the Demon Kitten. The swords that where dancing all over were her relics. Her specialty was sudden, unpredictable and brutal attacks. Quick and strong, she could easily command a battlefield by controlling the rhythm of a fight.
The second hardly needed any introduction. Three demon kittens couldn’t stop this man if he wanted to claim a life, for he was no ordinary assassin. The man in black was the infamous Atlas, the Court of Shadows’ right hand man. Among all of Skycloud’s famed talents he was the most enigmatic, but there was no doubt that he was just as capable as someone like Frost.
A dozen more men poured into the area, weapons at the ready.
Cloudhawk was starting to get it. The first group was a distraction, intended to keep Cloudhawk from noticing the ones who were really supposed to capture him – the Court of Shadows. The secretive group was the best of Skycloud’s special units, under the command of the Umbra family. That family was blessed with a coterie of talented members, and often recruited from outside to bolster their strength. The Court wasn’t an easy group to tangle with.
“So it’s you, eh little lady? Looks like you’ve been doing well for yourself with the Court.” Cloudhawk flung the handle of his broken rod aside. He looked helplessly at the woman in front of him and continued. “We’ve been separated only a couple of months and you found a new man already? You’re not going easy, either. Shit, your lack of nostalgia hurts my feelings.”
Felina was born with a pretty face and a gentle look, but anyone who spent time with her in the valley knew she was the one person not to mess with. She was easily top three in their class. In the times they sparred Cloudhawk could never claim to have a solid upper hand, which spoke volumes to her skill.
She stuck out her tongue petulantly. “If the Demon Kitten hadn’t tried to capture you first, Deathstalker would have taken your life. But it seems maybe my fears were unfounded. How did get so strong so quickly?”
Felina hadn’t wanted to kill Cloudhawk, her intention was to incapacitate him so he didn’t have to fight Atlas. After all, who didn’t know how lethal that psychopath’s weapon was? Who didn’t know how deadly Atlas was all on his own? Among Skycloud’s new generation of stars Atlas might not have been the strongest, but there was no question he could kill almost any target he was sent for.
He was an assassin, not a warrior.
Felina was honestly surprised at the progress she saw in Cloudhawk, after only a few months apart. She was not surprised, however, that Cloudhawk would have a way to prevent assassination attempts. After all, unless a killer had a way to conceal their relics Cloudhawk’s intrinsic talents protected him. His sort was a bane to the likes of Atlas.
“Don’t resist, Cloudhawk. You know you can’t escape.”
He almost scoffed. You could it was foolish to fight back, but fleeing was what he did best. Cloudhawk responded in a no nonsense manner. “If I want to run no one can stop me. But I’m telling you I haven’t done anything wrong. I clean hand does not want for washing. Take me to the commander in chief!”
“It would make things very difficult if there were casualties here today. You know what condition the general is in, are you sure you want to bring him more trouble? If you trust me then stop resisting, we promise to conduct a fair investigation.”
Felina’s words were sincere.
Cloudhawk’s attention was entirely on the man in black, though. This whole time he hadn’t said a word, waiting for his opportunity to strike. So far one had not presented itself. Cloudhawk replied, never taking his eyes off Atlas. “I don’t have the time. There’s a dangerous, ancient weapon that more than likely is making its way here as we speak. If I don’t stop it then the consequences will be unthinkable.” 
“Evidence?” It was the only word Atlas spoke.
Cloudhawk didn’t have any. How could he expect anyone to believe such a claim if he didn’t have anything to back it up?
Felina also suspected Cloudhawk was making up tales to get himself out of trouble. She didn’t believe there was any weapon that could be smuggled into the city, much less be the sort of threat he claimed. “Regardless, we can’t stand here at an impasse forever. Come back with us and submit to an investigation.”
Motherfucker! Investigation my ass! You dumb-asses might get blown sky high at any moment!
Cloudhawk’s rebellious temper boiled just below the surface. He didn’t care about this morons, he would just activate his stone and teleport to safety. Only just as the thought entered his mind, another wave of danger washed over him, like an enormous storm cloud hanging over the entire city. He didn’t see anything, but he sure as shit felt it.
There was another assassin nearby! Someone even more deadly than Atlas!
Skycloud only had one person who could fit that description, the leader of the Court of Shadows and patriarch of the Umbral family. Legends claimed no one outside the Court had ever seen him and lived. Even Hell’s Army hardly had any information about him.
The greatest assassin in all of the elysian lands. They’d even sent the head of an organization of killers after him.
Suddenly Cloudhawk was far less confident. Just using his phase stone took time, to say nothing of the teleport skill. He wouldn’t have a chance to do either before the assassin king got him. He’d be dead in a tenth of a second.
This was the sort of guy Cloudhawk wasn’t going to fuck with.
“Alright. I’ll go with you.”
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