The flute had sounded. After three hundred years, out here in this foreign place, its song was heard again. Only, the bearer was not one of the tribe.
Shephard’s Call rang through the mountain and beyond, a thousand meters in all directions. No distance diminished it, and no material muted its voice. All living creatures heard it resounding in the depths of their soul.
The murder of ravenous birds outside heard the call, and it drove them into a frenzy. They were drawn into Fishmonger’s Borough like months so a flame, wreaking havoc and rending flesh in their passage. With the soldiers withdrawn to deal with the would-be assassins, there was nothing to stop them from entering. Meanwhile, the city’s domesticated beasts were also out of control. They attacked their handlers, wrecked buildings, and trampled their pens. Anarchy prevailed.
The underground lake was the center of the storm. No one knew what lived in there besides the thousands of sandsharks needed to keep the city functioning. All of a sudden beasts they’d never seen before were roused, and creatures which had never come to the surface were breaching with terrible effect. Unfortunate citizens caught too close to the lake were attacked before they knew what was happening.
All manner of creatures – be they beasts of the land, air or water – began to attack the city. It was no different from the stampedes of starved animals out in the desert. Never in the history of the Boroughs had they needed to contend with a threat of this magnitude.
All because Cloudhawk played a flute. The Shephard’s gift was a spectacular artifact indeed!
Yet how could Brier and Autumn accept what they’d seen? Three hundred years, and no one had been able to coax a sound from their holy relic. No one, not even her illustrious parents nor all the tribe’s elders. Only once Autumn was born did the flute begin to resonate.
Autumn was important to her people for more than the name of her parents. In three hundred years, her birth had done what no other had. She was the only soul in all that time with divine blood, the only one who could call on the flute’s power. She was destined to lead their people.
Throughout the valley’s history, none were born with the ability to commune with the beasts. None but Autumn. For this reason she was seen by her people as chosen by their god to lead. Her innate power and talent made her fated – maybe even a reincarnation of their beloved Shephard.
In a mockery of all of that, an outsider had been the first to call on the flute’s power. This one born to carry on the Shephard’s lineage, this avatar, had tried desperately and failed while an unknown scoundrel did so with his first attempt.
Everything seemed so absurd, now. All their prophecies and beliefs. But this was the hard truth.
Brier could no longer maintain his flat affect. His eyes were wide and red, and the shock caused him to forget the mortal danger they were in. He lurched forward, grabbing Cloudhawk by the front of his shirt. “Who are you? What are you?! How can you use the Shephard’s power?!”
“Hey, hey, hey! Cool the fuck off! I can use all sorts of relics, god or demon.” Cloudhawk had always possessed this ability, but he kept it quiet. Who would believe him? But under duress and at his wit’s end, Cloudhawk couldn’t help it once Brier grabbed him. “Now get your fucking hands off of me! And thank your shithead god that I’m hurt, otherwise I’d slap your ass to the dirt.”
A volley of bullets and arrows were coming their way, so Brier was forced to comply.
Autumn’s face was the bitter mask of a woman maligned. Her tiny hands squeezed the holy relic as though she were struggling with the desire to smash it. Why? Why could he do it, but not her? But now wasn’t the time. “We have to go!”
In his years in exile, Brier had recruited and trained several dozen believers to his cause. The suicide soldiers were formidable, but not invincible. Alone against hundreds of soldiers they couldn’t hold them off for long. Besides the sheer disparity in numbers, Ravenous Tiger’s men were also well equipped; from rapid-fire crossbows, to automatic rifles, and even rocket launchers. They were frighteningly deadly.
The old man was locked in combat with his nemesis, the governor.
He had lost his relic during the assault on the mansion, but even with only the exorcist rod he’d gained the upper hand. After all, the skills of the cripple ran far deeper than one imagined. His powers as a demonhunter were just one aspect – and not even his forte. The drunk’s greatest abilities lay in martial combat, and the manipulation of true power. Even bullets didn’t present any threat to him.
However, there was a limit to what a man could do, even a man like him.
Alone against Ravenous Tiger, the old man had nothing to fear. But there were two clerics of the Crimson Church involved as well. They bore their own weapons, exorcist staffs as well, and launched a fierce combined assault on the lone warrior.
Since when had demonhunters become a dime a dozen? Even Crimson Church clerics were demonhunters! Word of this would cause a sensation if it reached Skycloud domain.
The demonhunter title was an honorable one in the elysian lands. They were required to register, and all that they did was recorded. Few were ever missing or unaccounted for. And yet, out here in this wasteland city, the reality did not match expectations. Not only was the governor himself a demonhunter, but mere clergymen were as well.
How could men like this so effectively conceal their identities, and play as holy men out in the wastelands? More frightening, how much power did the Crimson One wield if these were his subordinates?
Against a veteran demonhunter and two missionaries, together with a myriad of normal soldiers, how long could the old drunk endure? Cloudhawk didn’t spare him a passing though, however, since he had his own life to worry about. After all, he was in too weak a state to protect himself. He couldn’t even call on the phase stone to save him. Even if he stayed behind he would only get in the way.
Brier grabbed Autumn and was bringing her to the underground lake. He was trying to get a sandshark for their escape. All around was pandemonium. Every minute they remained was one minute closer to disaster.
Four men in red were coming their way, led by a middle-aged man. He bore a longsword, wreathed in flame. When he came in range, he hacked the blade toward them. The weapon itself was a relic of uncommon quality, and the green flames none other than Castigation fire. It was a terrifying weapon capable of bearing Castigation.
Cloudhawk had become intimately familiar with the nature of this danger. Castigation fire was misnamed, not a fire at all. It did not burn indiscriminately, and so the destruction it caused could be controlled.
In many ways, Castigation fire was more relic than anything. Its power was directed by the will of the bearer. This was how it was capable of devouring Cloudhawk’s sword, and at the same time leave the cleric’s weapon unscathed.
The middle-aged cleric struck, but not toward Brier or Autumn. His target was Cloudhawk. Attacking the other two had been a ploy to force Cloudhawk to show his hand. He must have seen something in Cloudhawk to recognize him as the main threat, and as such the focus of his weapon.
At peak condition Cloudhawk might have struggled to avoid the blow, and now he hadn’t an ounce of mental ability left. The sword streaked through the sky faster than a bullet. It ripped through his demonhunter armor. Green fire danced along the edges of the wound it left behind.
Autumn screamed. The priest laughed. One down.
The wound was not deadly, but it didn’t have to be. Castigation fire sealed his victim’s fate. The middle-aged man paid Cloudhawk no more mind than a corpse and prepared to turn his ire upon the remaining two. As he did, an angry roar came from behind as an armored, tortoise-like monster came charging his way. It was one of the monsters rising from the depths of the lake.
His flaming sword lashed out! But the beast’s shell was too hard, and the sword couldn’t pierce its defenses.
However, the shallow gash left behind glowed an ominous green. The Castigation fire remaining on the blade after piercing Cloudhawk were weak, but not gone. It was still enough to claim the mutant creature’s life. Those fires grew and spread, until they encased the unfortunate beast entirely
The priest cheered in triumph. The power of his master was unassailable! Not only was he able to wield such incredible power, but he was able to turn it against his foes to great effect. In time, as he learned to master it, who could contend against him? This was why he left the elysian lands; not only because he shared the Crimson One’s faith, but because he had unwavering conviction in the Crimson One himself.
Even Arcuturus Cloude could not stand against his illustrious leader! It was his master who should hold the title of greatest demonhunter!
Blood surged through his veins as the cleric inwardly reaffirmed his master’s ideals. What did it matter to sacrifice elysian ideals of honor in the face of such an exalted mission? They were the people chosen to usher in a new future for the world. It was a triumph for which they would forever be lauded as heroes!
Who were these fools to stand in the way of the master? They deserved death!
He raised his sword, ready to claim another life for the cause. Its gleam was reflected in Autumn’s wide eyes.
The priest had once been a crack demonhunter, and it showed in his assault. With incredible speed he’d cut down Cloudhawk, slain the mutant creature, and now turned on Autumn. All in the blink of an eye. The unarmed girl was powerless before such a warrior.
Sword raised high, the priest shouted. And in that instant his chest caved in.
A tremendous force had caught him straight on and sent him flailing through the air. His eyes were wide in disbelieve, for the one who hit him was the young man he was sure had died. Somehow he was alive, and beyond that capable of fighting back. Cloudhawk had sent him flying with a bone-crunching kick.
Autumn was stunned and confused.
Cloudhawk reacted to the deadly blow by getting stronger. The injury he sustained still burned, but the fires died even as she watched. She could see that the wound was deep, but even that was quickly stitching back together. The Warden didn’t seem pained at all – on the contrary, he looked almost invigorated!
In his wildest dreams the priest would never have believed it. He could not have known that the fires had actually helped fight off more of the Trespasser virus that was assailing him. Thus cleansed, he was actually ready to go a few more rounds. In one smooth motion Cloudhawk kicked up a discarded sword from the ground and charged. Spearhead! Before the priest could react, Cloudhawk’s weapon was buried halfway through his chest.
Just in time. A suffocating weakness returned to sap the Warden of his sudden strength.
Cloudhawk hadn’t truly recovered. Trespasser was still eating away at his body, stealing his ability to fight. Monsters were closing in, making their pitched battle that much more complicated. However, it also meant more trouble for Ravenous Tiger and his people. After all, there were many more of them than there were of Cloudhawk’s small party.
Brier took a long look at the young man who’d twice saved their lives. He was an enigma, from the inside out. What other secrets was he hiding?
Cloudhawk turned, thinking their opportunity to run had arrived, when suddenly his way was blocked by a flash of red.
His entire body was drowned in green fire. Even his eyes were burned by it. Like a demon clawing its way from the depths of hell, he flung burning arms every which way to try and extinguish them. Two more orbs of fire struck a pair of Brier’s suicide soldiers and instantly dissolved them to nothing. Residual fire slithered from the ash left behind, searching for a new target – the old drunk.
“Son of a bitch!”
Cloudhawk didn’t think the old fiend would get here so fast! Now that the Crimson One was here, escape was impossible.
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I can't think of any more tricks this team has to play.