Book 4, Chapter 39 - Eternal Warrior Spirit

Barb was panting heavily. Four dragons lay broken by her feet.

Peppered with wounds and bruises, she stared at the final one. She hardly believed she’d gotten this far, for five dragons together was difficult even for a high-grade demonhunter to handle! The slightest misstep could mean death, especially since these dragons were resistant to demonhunter attacks – but here she was.

Four down.

It showed that Barb’s total capabilities weren’t inferior to someone like Claudia, who underwent the grueling rigors of Hell’s Valley. The difference was that Barb learned everything she knew on her own, with nothing but her talents and the bitter wastes as her instructor. Getting to this point wasn’t easy.

A brief moment passed where the two stared at one another. Then, with an angry roar, the final dragon attacked.

Blood was dripping into Barb’s eyes, turning her vision red. But even though her eyes burned she didn’t blink. She watched the dragon come, knowing that her body was reaching its limit. Yet her heart was determined.

It was coming!

Power flowed through her exorcist rod.

The dragon opened its flurry with its spear-like tongue, but Barb deftly juked to one side. She held her breath, swinging around to the side and bringin her weapon up. Barb released the air from her lungs in a roar of challenge, bringing the rod down on the dragon’s neck. Sturdy scales cracked, but held. Every muscle in Barb’s body went tense as she pressed, pushing with all her might to force the rod through.

Crrrack-pop!

Her rod fought passed the scales and into the breast’s neck.

One viridian eye glared at Barb, wide and angry, as she pinned the hulking creature to the wall. One final shudder wracked through its body, and with a gurgling death rattle it went still. It took four or five seconds for Barb to wrench her rod free. Blood dripped down her body from head to toe, making her hair slick. Some of it was her enemies, but much of it was her own as well.

She stumbled back a little when her rod was freed. IT had been a trying ordeal, one that pushed her to her limits- but in the end, Barb had prevailed. Five dragons were felled by her hand. She’d pushed herself past her limit to succeed in a mission that should have been impossible. Even so, five dragons meant nothing in the grand scheme of their battle. Victory here was not what mattered.

Not far ahead of where she was recovering was the fight that would change the tide.

The dragon king’s crystal body shimmered with pure green energy. It was hunched low to the ground, facing an old man bearing an iron cane. 

Golden light embraced the filthy warrior. Though he faced a creature who’d dwelled in this tomb for a thousand years, the old man’s presence was no less dignified.

Little remained of the old drunk they’d met at the outskirts of Fishmonger’s Borough. To Barb’s eyes that vagrant was gone. The man between her and the dragon king was an invincible War Saint.

The two had already exchanged several blows. The shattered stoned and fractured walls gave testement to the fury of their battle. The old man’s body was marked by several deep gouges from the dragon’s claws.

His martial prowess allowed him to regenerate quickly and the blood gushed from the wounds, but they were far from negligible. Meanwhile the dragon’s magnificent crystal scales glimmered along it’s form unscathed, like a beautiful piece of art. This was despite the fact that half of the old man’s attacks had found purchase.

Did this mean that even the drunk’s considerable power still wasn’t enough to harm the divine beast?

The dragon king was a tenacious foe, whose scales resisted all energy and corrosion attacks. Pure force was the only way to combat it.

While a normal dragon to someone like Barb would be a threat, the old man could defeat one in a handful of moves. Not so for the dragon king. The emerald monstrosity was resistant to most assaults, in addition to other formidable defenses. It’s scales were stronger than any steel, and even masterwork weapons were impotently deflected by its hide.

Seething in the divine beast’s glowing green eyes was a look of haughty derision. Then it was on the move again. Leaping up from the ground, it threw itself at the old man with such force that a gale tore through the cavern.

A torrent of green fire was expelled from its maw, forming into orbs as it traveled.

The old man danced around them like a pendulum, deftly avoiding each orb without issue. Yet from above the dragon watched his erratic movements, gauging where he would be, and descended with claws outstretched. Its great wings folded over them to restrict his movement while those dagger-like talons reached. Keen as spears, with the strength to crush steel and rend stone.

Clang!

The impact of two incredible forces released waves of energy, visible to the naked eye. So intense was their collision that even the air was blasted away from them, creating a brief vacuum.

Pain shot up from the old man’s wrist. The dragon’s strength was too overwhelming and threatened to break his defenses. It felt like a whole mountain had been dropped on him, like he was a lightning rod in the midst of a terrible storm. He could feel the terrible power sear through him from his head down to his feet.

Boo-oo-omm!

A thunderous crack ensued as the rock beneath his feet cracked apart.

He positioned himself to redirect at least some of this power to help him retreat, but the dragon would not give him any quarter. It stretched out its neck and belched another wave of green fire over his body, a torrent of pure hate. For a moment nothing could be seen, but the sound of something heavy striking a distant wall was clear. Fist-sized shards of rock were expelled as the old man was buried several meters in the rock.

His gnarled hands held tight to the iron walking stick. Golden light blazed, protecting him from the brunt of the dragon’s fire. Even so, through breaks in the roaring flames one could see the old man’s hair, clothes and even skin begin to melt.

The creature’s fire breath was no normal fire. It was more like acid, so strong that even corrosion-resistant equipment would be dissolved in moments. One shuddered to think what it could do to flesh.

Mighty though he was, the old War Saint found himself in dire straits. 

Seeing this, barb gripped tightly to her exorcist staff and charged forward.

Disregarding the real dangers to her life, and although past the point of exhaustion, she gathered up the dredges of strength hidden deep inside her cells. Pain jolted through her every muscle; a combination of burning, tingling and bone-deep agony that was almost more than she could bear.

She pushed through it. One, two – seven steps, charging ahead until with the last footfall she flung herself at the dragon king like a human javelin. Barb focused all of her remaining strength in her exorcist rod as she brought it crashing down on the divine beast’s spine, hoping to break it.

Barb’s combat skills were not inconsequential. While her mental prowess was lacking, and her physical and martial capabilities were average at best, where Barb differed from others was her ability to combine them together. Joined with the advanced Demonbreaker March martial technique, it gave her an intense and brief explosion of power.

Toonnnnnnggg! A deafening peal sounded, like she’d struck a large bell. 

Barb’s arms went numb from the impact, as her power was reflected backward. As it shuddered through her weapon the rod was overwhelmed, and shattered. Far from injuring the beast, Barb was instead blasted backward by her own attack.

The dragon king didn’t even spare her a glance, it merely answered by whipping it’s tail.

She was sent careening across the cavern like a baseball and ultimately ended up in a heap on the floor. The beast’s defenses were too strong, so much so that Barb hurt herself trying to attack it.

It paid her no more mind. The creature was intelligent, calculating. Obviously the human female was no threat, and thus was beneath notice. It could stand there and let her attack to her heart’s content, all to no avail. The only one who constituted even threat was the male. And so it kept trying to dissolve him with its green fire.

The dragon would dissolve this old fool into a heap of mush before he could fight back!

The old drunk was fighting to protect himself, but the fires were taking their toll. Skin and muscle were starting to separate, to melt and fall away. Seconds would all it would take to reduced him to a skeleton if this kept up. Seconds after, nothing at all would remain of him.

The human was waning, he was getting tired. He was not strong enough! The dragon king’s heart was flush with mockery and disdain.

It was a creature that took part in the Great War between gods and demons. The dragon king witnessed the greatest of their race, as well as the ten legendary demonhunters dispatched by the humans. This paltry old man did not measure up, and it was folly to think he could stand against the likes of the dragon king!

The old man felt his strength quickly fleeing. The inner strength that had recently begun to return to him once again evaporated like water droplets in an inferno. This creature was too strong. In his heyday, Vulkan could have stood his ground. But this withered old man – even with the help of the Vale’s powerful medicines – was fighting an ancient foe with only a fraction of the strength he’d once commanded. It wasn’t enough.

Dawnguard’s light began to fade. The old man knew he couldn’t hold out against the flames for much longer.

He felt helpless to change the inevitable, a familiar experience he’d had once before. Five years ago, when he brought his Templars out to the wastes under the direction of his disciple. When he’d gone to rescue Baldur.

A figure in a gray robe had appeared to bar their path. 

Strong… too strong.

The moment he attacked they were overwhelmed. Ten of the Temples most talented warriors, each one comparable to the mightiest demonhunters – but it didn’t matter.

Half their number had been slain in the first attack. By the end of his second, they’d been wiped out. The disciple he had painstakingly selected to succeed him had thrown herself between Vulkan and their attacker in an attempt to give him time to escape, giving no heed to the fact that it might end up costing her everything.

It didn’t matter.

The man in gray began to glow.

A bolt of lightning streaked from him that mercilessly obliterated any martial attempt at defense. He remembered watching the charred black flecks of ash float through the air, all that remained of his disciple. 

Fury filled the mind of Skycloud’s War Saint. But the fury was just a front, hiding the terror that was beneath.

The mightiest warrior of Skycloud, a man whose pride bordered on defiance, was struck dumb in the face of a power that was so far in excess of his own. Complete and utter hopelessness was all he felt, a sense that there was no option but death. That was the fear that gripped him, fear and despair.

Fates had conspired to keep him alive, but so absolute was his defeat that he never even considered vengeance. Instead he took to wandering the wastelands, a beggar in the land he once sneered so openly at. He was reduced to accepting food from the vile prostitutes he spat upon, subsisting on the foulest fare, performing the lowest deeds for coin.

Once he had been held high above everyone, a prince among the clouds. In the end, he was nothing more than a worthless old man crawling through the gutters.

All glory, gone. Five years now, and all that time the old man was convinced his heart had withered.

Yet in the face of this dragon he felt a stirring of defiance. He remembered that bitter defeat, and the years of disgrace that followed. Would he allow this failure to haunt him a second time?

No. Five years of miserable living was enough. The grim existence, the pain – it had filled him to his limit like water in a bottle. No more. Not a drop more, or he would burst.

A little more. He only needed a little more to break through.

The old man’s eyes widened and started to burn with a radiant light. Dawnguards’ nearly spent light flared back to life stronger than before.

Skycloud’s War Saint had never died! He’d only been waiting, waiting for this moment!

With the light of his relic protecting him the old man stepped out of the hole he’d been buried in. His weakening body was quickly returning to normal. Once free, he brought his cane back and swept it forward, expelling a wave of pure energy.

For an instant, there was something like panic in the dragon king’s eyes.

It didn’t know what had happened, how suddenly the old human had fought back from the brink and fought back with such intensity. No answers were forthcoming, and so taken aback was the dragon king that it couldn’t avoid the blast that caught it in its stomach. Its scales cracked as the beast of several tons was thrown into the air.

A second blow knocked the divine beast to the ground. Cracks split the ground when the beast landed and spread through the cavern.

Exhaustion could be seen from the wrinkled creases around the old man’s eyes, but it would not diminish his resolve. For he had finally vanquished the demons he’d been warring against within his own soul. 

His third strike was aimed for the divine beast’s skull, to obliterate the ancient brain within.

However, it was in the moments before the killing blow that the sound of a flute echoed through the cave. The flitting notes raced like bullets toward the old man. He could feel their physical presence as a danger.

His face darkened as the old warrior was forced to abandon his attack. The flute’s sound knocked him from the air and several meters away from the beleaguered dragon king.

Through his glowing eyes he watched several figures emerge from the far end of the cavern. Autumn was at the fore, with the flute against her lips. Had she been the one to stop him with the godly artifact?

He looked passed her, toward Cloudhawk who followed with an odd expression on his face. Intentionally or not, he was keeping his distance from the young leader of Woodland Vale.

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Xiao Lai's Thoughts

Damn, not too shabby Barb!