Book 3, Chapter 46 - The Good Die Young

Cloudhawk dragged the old man through a series of walls, but eventually had to stop. The effort quickly exhausted him.

When the drunkard saw who it was that saved his life, he gave a wry smirk. “So it’s you, naughty child. When did you enter the mansion? I had no idea you had such talent for sneaking around.”

“I mean, if we’re talking about being a sneak, I can’t compare to you, old man. Sure seems like you lost your marbles though.” Cloudhawk mustered enough energy to give the drunkard sass, even rolling his eyes. “Fuck, coming all the way out here to kill the Borough’s governor. What if you succeeded? Did you think you were just gonna walk out of here? You pack a punch, no doubt, but there are limits to the number of people one person can handle. If you died it wouldn’t be any skin off my ass, but then Autumn and I would be implicated in your plot. Your nonsense is definitely gonna get us in some shit!”

He responded in a stern, dry voice. “Some people are fated to live on in spirit, and others a long life while dead inside. I am nothing but a discarded cripple. There is no difference between living and dying for me. I might as well try to something worthwhile before my time comes. As for wrapping you two up in this? Well, I hadn’t given it any thought.”

Well, that was pretty fuckin’ frank.

Cloudhawk was at a loss. “Who the fuck are you, anyway? Why the hell do you want to kill Ravenous Tiger?”

Before he could respond, the sound of heavy footsteps interrupted. About a dozen soldiers were closing in from different hallways. They bore crossbows, the sort used by elysian military, and in the cramped interior of these hallways a concentrated burst was deadly. Even a high-ranked demonhunter would find themselves in a tough corner.

Cloudhawk was coming to acutely regret sticking his nose in this business. The bitter realization that he was neck-deep in shit practically turned his face green. [1]

Playing the hero was definitely not in his wheelhouse if it didn’t concern him, especially if there were no damsels in distress involved. Hell, he wouldn’t even earn a round of drinks for his trouble. The problem was, even after the old fart died Fishmonger’s Borough would no longer be a safe place for them to stay. Better for him to grab a powerful ally while he was at it, no matter how much he was starting to regret it… but regretting his choices now was only going to get him killed. 

“Do you have any spare weapons?” the old man growled.

“Just this.” Cloushawk tossed him an exorcist rod. “You’ll have to make do.”

When the guards found the two intruders they didn’t spare a moment for words. Right away the familiar thck-thck-thck of pressurized air releasing filled the hallways, as a volley of bolts came their way. Cloudhawk’s face paled as he was forced to call on the phasing stone again. The bolts slipped harmlessly through him, but he could feel the pressure threatening to break his concentration. It was a significant burden, especially since he was drawing on the last remnants of his mental energy.

Cloudhawk could lean on the phasing stone’s power to protect him. But what of the old man? He anxiously watched the bolts come, afraid that he’d saved the cripple only for him to turn into a pincushion moments later. He refused to let it happen – he had to get some return on his investment for saving this shithead’s life. Without even so much as a second thought the drunk walked in and kicked a hornet’s nest. Now, they were in a world of trouble.

He was still mulling over what to do when the cripple reacted. Eyes hard, he lifted his staff and raced toward their attackers – right into the storm of crossbow bolts. With the staff he knocked away the shots aimed at his most sensitive areas, but he couldn’t protect his whole body. Many found purchase, yet as they struck him it was like hitting an iron sheet. They ricocheted off without leaving a mark. As he charged at them, the walls and floors in his wake bristled with arrows.

Cloudhawk saw the whole thing. What sort of skill was this?

The old man wasn’t using a relic, he would have been able to tell. He was relying on physical ability alone. The only way it was possible was through martial ability, true power. In the instant a bolt reached him, he was gathering strength into the area and hardening his flesh. 

This level of skill was almost unheard of. The sheer level of training and master over one’s true power was incredible.

Cloudhawk had always suspected that this old man might be a better fighter than him, and this confirmed it. Even crippled the drunk could probably go head to head with a veteran demonhunter and have the upper hand. He had to be a superior demonhunter himself, or better. Even with Cloudhawk’s suspicions, he’d underestimated what the boozer was capable of.

Although it was obvious he had considerable psychic ability, the old man’s superiority was in his physical skill. Sadly, some life-threatening injury had left him crippled and robbed him of a great deal of potential. Up to now, the greatest martial artist Cloudhawk had ever seen was Eckard Skinner, the instructor from Hell’s Valley. But several men like him still couldn’t compare to this lame old man.

Then he swung the exorcist rod.

He was still several meters away from the guards, but as the power surged through the relic they all were summarily blown apart. The hallway became a grotesque display of blood, bone and quivering innards. 

Absolutely incredible! The scene reminded Cloudhawk of something he’d heard once; 

The greatest demonhunter family in Skycloud boasted three paragons of their craft. They were the city’s governor, Arcturus Cloude; Inquisitor General of the League of Demonhunters, Baldur Cloude; and Knight-Commander of the demonhunter military forces Sterline Cloude.

Chief among them all, the greatest demonhunter in recorded history, was Arcturus. Baldur was sadly killed, but word was that Sterling had been gravely wounded.

It couldn’t be that this smelly old man… as it occurred to him who it was he might have saved, Cloudhawk’s heart lit up. They wasted no time in fleeing the scene of destruction the old man left, but the Warden shouted his questions as they ran. “Hey old man, how did you protect yourself from those bolts? Can you teach me that?”

“You just figured out how to use spearhead and now you expect to learn one of the sanctuary’s greatest abilities? Learn to crawl before you can fly.”

“Shit. Don’t worry about whether or not I have the skill, it doesn’t cost anything to teach me.”

“Let’s see if we survive first!”

“I’ll hold you to that!”

Cloudhawk finally found some comfort in his rash decision. If they managed to escape maybe he could get the drunk to teach him his invulnerability technique. That was something no amount of money could buy. With a chance like this falling in your lap, you’d be an idiot to pass it up.

As they raced ahead, their way was suddenly blocked off by an ominous green glow. A host of flickering green orbs appeared in their path, like innumerable fireflies.

Pervasive fluctuations of deadly power wafted from them, a fact Cloudhawk felt wash over his body. He couldn’t hide his puzzled and concerned expression. “The fuck is this stuff? Each one is like an independent relic.”

“Castigation. Do not touch it, don’t even get close. If it reaches you, you’re dead.”

“That bad? You’re fuckin’ with me.”

Cloudhawk looked around and discovered that the flickering lights had blocked off any escape. Even the way they came from was bathed in green. [2] The old man’s face was ashen and grave, proof that he wasn’t exaggerating. He’d fled from the Crimson One when he saw the fires, even leaving his relic behind to escape. The castigation fires had to be just as terrible as he described.

“Use your phasing ability!” The old man commanded.

Cloudhawk angrily shot back, “Easy for you to say! You think it’s so simple?!”

The old man had no time for his nonsense. “Use it or we die. Figure it out!”

“If it were just me then I could, but bringing someone else makes it much more difficult.”

“Well you’re the one who decided to save me, so follow through. If you try to run without me I’ll cave your fucking head in!”

Cloudhawk was ready to spit blood. This fuckin’ guy! Every moment they sat there the fires were getting closer, and as they neared they were less like fireflies and more like the souls of the damned. Without any options left to them, Cloudhawk grabbed the old boozer and called on the stone’s power one more time. Both men flung themselves through the nearest wall.

Thankfully it led them outside. Face pale and covered in sweat, Cloudhawk gasped from the exertion.

The old man raised his head and saw scores more twinkling fire swirling above the mansion. The moment they appeared outside the fires were alerted and descended their way.

“Fucking stupid asshole things are on us like stink on shit!”

Cloudhawk was at his wits end. He drew Quiet Carnage, aiming to try and swat them away.

The old man tried to stop him. “Don’t!”

Too late!

The fires clung to the sword as he attempted to knock them away, sticking to it like creeping waves of pus. All at once Quiet Carnage burst into flame like it was made of dry wood. He wanted to throw it aside, but was a fraction too late. The fires reached his body and slipped inside.

“What the fuck?”

Cloudhawk felt himself begin to burn.

Spouts of green flame belched from his pores.

The sudden and intense pain was too much, and he slipped into darkness. His final thought hung in the back of his mind as his consciousness fled: Nice guys live short lives. This was the end!

The old man trembled with rage. He told him not to touch it, but the idiot kid wouldn’t listen! Did he think the fires of Castigation were that easy to banish? In the whole of Skycloud domain – with the exception of Arcturus Cloude and a precious few other masters – no one could withstand such terrible power!

The young man was beyond saving.

The old man had decided to abandon Cloudhawk to his fate and save himself. He turned his head to spare a final glance for the poor soul when what he saw froze him in his escape. There he was, lying on the ground with his flesh cracked and blackened. Green flame belched from the cracks, yet they seemed to fuse back together as quick as they opened. Somehow his body was fighting against the all-consuming fire.

But how? Castigation was renowned for destroying its victims from the inside out. There didn’t seem to be anything about this young man that was different from any other person, not outwardly anyway. And yet, he was protecting himself somehow.

The old man grabbed Cloudhawk once the fires died and picked him up. He leapt from the parapets they emerged from down to the streets below and disappeared into the city.

Meanwhile the Crimson One was recovering in Ravenous Tiger’s audience chamber. The green fires had returned and were slipping back into his body. He stood staring absently into the distance with stern expression. “A young man with unprecedented abilities. Touched by the fire, yet he survives!”

“He had to have been saved by that old fool!”

The governor saw his compatriot’s reactions and knew their targets must have escaped. It was a sobering realization to discover that the terrifying man could also fail.

“I was unable to kill them, but they no longer have the strength to run.” The Crimson One turned to command Ravenous Tiger directly. “Shut down the city. Discover what you can about those two, and anyone they’ve been in contact with. Bring them all in for questioning.”

Ravenous Tiger didn’t dare hesitate. “Of course!”

Fishmonger’s Borough was a unique place. People couldn’t come and go as they pleased. Without the help of sandsharks, travel was halted. Closing off the city was as easy as restricting access to the animals. 

The young man with the ability to slip through space was badly injured. There was nowhere for the old man to run to. Finding both of them was only a matter of time. With the five thousand soldiers at Ravenous Tiger’s disposal, on constant patrol, even a mouse couldn’t slip through much less two wounded men.

But it wasn’t only them in their crosshairs now. Everyone they knew, everyone they’ve spoken to was in danger.

 


1. The Chinese is ‘cut him open and all his guts would look cyan’. The Chinese love cyan as a descriptor for sickly and uncomfortable (blue-green). It took a minute to think up an equivalent, so I picked another sort of mental imagery and color to try and evoke the same thought.

2. Bruh, the Crimson One is Maleficent.

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RWX's Thoughts

Castigation, the flames of divine judgement, are nothing to toy around with, Cloudhawk my boy...