Cloudhawk’s scuffle with Revenant lasted only a handful of seconds. When he returned to where he left Dawn, the scene that unfolded left him speechless.
The small hallway had somehow grown what had to be hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites. Each one pierced deeply into the bodies of Revenant’s crew. Expressions of excruciating pain and horror were frozen on their faces. Judging by the looks in their dim eyes, they couldn’t believe what happened.
Dawn tugged the blade of her sword out of the ground. With that the collection of spikes receded back into the ground, walls and ceiling. There was no indication that just a second ago the hallway was a death trap. Nothing except for the seven or eight badly mutilated corpses that littered the ground.
“What about the air-head?”
“What? You’re so useless! Don’t tell anyone you know me, alright?”
Cloudhawk rolled his eyes. The wraithrobe was no joke, Revenant was probably just as adept at running away as he was. She wasn’t going to be so easily finished off. But it didn’t matter, she was hurt and wasn’t going to be a problem. Right now they had to finish what they came here to do.
“Get out of the way!”
Dawn thrust her sword back into its sheath before reaching back and pulling her small shield forward. She faced the rocky wall that blocked their path and braced herself. Then, gathering strength, she released a burst of energy that smashed the obstruction to pieces.
At last, we found it.
Cloudhawk hurriedly slipped through. Right away he was surrounded by a dozen figured, led by an old man.
“You!” Majjhima didn’t think that after three years he would see this surprising young man again. Cloudhawk wasn’t the same waif he remembered, he was stronger and taller than before. “What are you doing back here?”
“Shut it! Obviously I’m here to stop you crazy fucks and your crazy plan!”
Cloudhawk tried to step forward but the crowd closed in. He brandished his exorcist rod, ready to fight, when an odd sensation gave him pause. Somewhere around Majjhima’s group he felt the faint whisper of a relic. Was there another threat lurking nearby? Was it Adder?
Cloudhawk was sure he didn’t want to find out just how strong that asshole really was. Definitely not the sort of guy to underestimate.
He held back, choosing to talk instead. His cold voice growled at the others. “You’re all being played. They aren’t Dark Atom, they’re just using you to do their dirty work. Their plan is to upstage the Dark Atom and steal their influence over the wastelands, and you’re going right along with it.”
“What of it?” When he stared at Cloudhawk he had the look of a complete stranger. There was nothing recognizable in his eyes. “Under a brutal dictatorship this city continued to hoard its riches, while countless wastelanders suffer and die. They are forced to wander the desert, exposed to the cruelty of men and acts of god. How is this acceptable?”
“The hundreds of thousands of people who live here are innocent. They have feelings, families, lives they have just as much a right to live as any wastelander. It doesn’t matter where you were born.” Cloudhawk scanned the area while he spoke, looking for that hidden threat. “You think fighting the elysians like this is fair? This is the method you so-called revolutionaries have chosen?”
“There must always be sacrifices, for every great cause. How can we create a new paradise without tearing down the old order?” Majjhima tightened his grip on his walking stick. “I thought you were different. I thought you were wise. But you are soft as a woman. The years have turned you into one of these elysian dogs.”
“What are you two grousing about?” Dawn didn’t understand their exchange, and she was growing impatient. She ripped Terrangelica from its sheath once again. “I didn’t come here to flap my gums! Time to die!”
She thrust the sword into the ground.
All around the earth began to quake as pillars of jagged sprouted like grass. Many of the underground defenders were instantly skewered. They had no way to protect themselves from the attacks from from under foot and overhead, nor was there any place to hide. It wasn’t like they could just float in the safety of midair.
Cloudhawk was too slow to stop her.
Dawn waved her sword, and a host of stone spikes answered. Like a cloud of locusts they were flung into the air and raced toward the one barring their path – the white-haired old man. Dawn’s sword, Terrangelica, was a powerful relic. The hail of stones she summoned was not to be treated lightly. Each spike was strong enough to pierce armor and almost too fast to defend against.
As the spikes drew near to their target, suddenly they were stopped by an invisible force. They exploded into flecks of rock before they could cause any damage.
Dawn was stunned. She couldn’t understand what had happened.
All of Majjhima’s men were dead, there were only the two quiet men standing on either side of him. The power that deflected Dawn’s attack was coming from inside of them.
“Are… are these blackfiends?”
To Cloudhawk, the power they exuded was a familiar one. It was a similar aura he sensed from Blackfiend the Undying, only… different. However, their blank expression and whatever energy gave them life was much the same.
“What are you talking about?” Dawn asked.
“I came across something in the wastelands that radiated an energy signature similar to these two.” Cloudhawk seemed to come to a realization. Squall only get to the level of influence he held because he was following someone’s orders. Did whatever master he follow also find a way into Skycloud? Only one way to find out. “Whose orders are you following?”
Majjhima’s grim and inscrutable eyes were ice cold. “We’re all going to die, how will this information help you?”
“Obviously you’re eager to kick the bucket, old man. You won’t even spare a thought for the old days.” Cloudhawk wasn’t some pushover. His lips curled into a contemptuous smirk. “You think those two pieces of shit are enough to stop us?”
“No? Then how about ten.”
The surrounding walls split, revealing several cocoon-like structures hidden in the stone. They had a jade-like quality to them, and through their opaque surface one could barely make out humanoid figures inside.
The chrysalis-like structure began to fracture, spilling plumes of black smoke out into the cavern. Nude figures emerged, each with cold dead expressions on their faces. Black mist surrounded them like a cloak so that when they walked forward they did not seem human at all. They were harbingers of destruction.
How could there be so many? Was this place being used as some sort of… factory?
Mass-production of these creatures was a terrifying prospect. But even more dreadful was the realization that whatever orchestrated all this was having them made inside Skycloud.
They were bolder than a mouse trying to hide from a cat in plain view.  But who could imagine, in the most insane fever dream, that this was happening right below their feet? So they were kept safe, fostered, until the time when this power was ready to surface. The results were destined to be earth-shaking.
This was the very heart of Skycloud, and Cloudhawk didn’t even know what dark hand held the blade about to pierce it.
“The atomic weapon has been armed and activated. Even if you escape this cavern, you will be buried with the rest of the city.” Majjhima released a long, slow breath. His face slackened, and there was a look almost like relief. “Death. It is not something to be feared. It is a liberation.”
“Well then, let me help you get there faster!”
With a shout Cloudhawk leaped straight up from the ground, sparks shooting from his exorcist rod. He came crashing down toward one of the fiends, bringing with him a crushing sense air of destruction. The fiend, seeing him coming, raised its hands and released a blast of black energy. What was supposed to be a shield crumpled immediately upon contact with the rod, though it also broke Cloudhawk’s weapon. These sorts of low-grade relics really couldn’t be relied on.
Dawn gaped as Cloudhawk showed what he was capable of. From what she saw he had the strength to rival a veteran demonhunter! Is this what three years of training had wrought? In another three years he would be stronger than her!
Was he even human? His speed of improvement surpassed Selene’s back when she was making waves. Joined the demonhunters at eight, and was considered a veteran by fourteen. Six years from start to finish. She also came from the greatest demonhunter family in all of Skycloud. Meanwhile Cloudhawk was a nobody.
Despite the surprise Dawn was not idle. With a sweep of Terrangelica a blast of light was cast forth, cleaving the unprotected fiend in half. That was when Cloudhawk discovered the difference between these things and Blackfiend. Squall’s tool was strong, but it was still just a tool.
As a result it functioned on Squall’s command. These creatures didn’t appear to be under anyone’s control. They all attacked automatically, as though galvanized by some defense mechanism. Majjhima didn’t appear to be doing anything.
Cloudhawk was lucky. Blackfiend the Undying was true to his name, and no method he knew had been able to finish the thing off for good. Luckily, these fiends didn’t share that trait. When Dawn’s sword cut the one in half, it immediately dissolved.
“Ah fuck, thank god. Inferior products.”
If these things had been immortal like Blackfiend, Cloudhawk and Dawn would have perished here. Thankfully they were a far cry from Squall’s relic guardian – at least they were killable. It made them far less dangerous.
The remaining nine protofiends stirred. Their hands hummed with black energy, which they cast at the two invaders like hand grenades. Their detonations were as potent as blasts of thunder.
The cavern was too damn small. Where were they supposed to find cover?
“Out of the way!”
Dawn summoned her defenses, encasing them in a glass-like shell of protection. As the blasts pummeled them, the worst they managed were a few cracks in the shield.
This was not a strategy, though.
Even though they were inferior to Blackfiend, these creatures still packed a serious punch. If the current circumstance was anything to go by, there were more where this batch came from. Dawn’s shield wasn’t going to protect them forever.
The cracks spread further.
Whatever energy powering them appeared to be limitless. Blast after blast assailed them and didn’t seem to be slowing down, giving them no chance to catch their breath. They couldn’t hold out much longer!
Cloudhawk’s mind was racing for a way out, when a feeling caught his attention. He breathed a sigh of relief. “The cavalry’s here!”
“What is this nonsense?” Dawn hissed. “What cavalry?”
Half a breath after speaking the words, a dagger appeared from the center of a protofiend’s chest. Deathstalker’s caustic power infected the creature’s entire body, causing it to wither and crumble away.
Cloudhawk turned his head and saw Felina charging down the pathway with a contingent of demonhunters in tow, along with over a hundred Shadow warriors. They’d been following him, arriving just in time to see what was going on. Cloudhawk was ignored, for the time being. There were other evils to deal with first.
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Most profuse apologies, a full post is coming right after I get these out! - RWX