Book 4, Chapter 51 - Art

During this period Cloudhawk wasn’t idle. Through various underhanded and coercive means, he managed to convince the old drunk to teach him a few things. There was no one else he knew with more knowledge of martial arts than the former War Saint.

The first time Cloudhawk had seen him tip his hand was in Fishmonger’s Borough. He’d seen the drunk peppered with gunfire, and the bullets didn’t so much as pierce his clothes. It was like trying to shoot holes in a sponge.

Cloudhawk didn’t understand how it was possible, so ever since then he’d been anxious to get the old man to teach him a few things. Unfortunately, they never had an opportunity until now. With a little free time and nothing else to occupy them, how was he going to let this opportunity pass? When it came to stuff like this Cloudhawk also believed strongly in the phrase ‘sharing is caring’ – if he was going to go through all the trouble to learn this himself, the old man might as well train everybody.

As a result, even the not wholly recovered novices from Claudia’s squad were gathered together for a training session. This was a fortuitous chance they found themselves in and Cloudhawk wanted to pay the young demonhunters some extra special attention.

The old man supported himself on the wrapped cane while cradling a wine bottle in the other hand. He hobbled into the center of the training field, the hair catching his sprarse grey hair and sending it whipping in all directions. Everything about him poke to a frail old man so drunk he could hardly walk, with no energy to lift his cane much less teach a lesson. A stiff breeze would knock him off his feet.

“Such a pain in my ass,” he muttered. The bottle rose once against to his lips and its contents spilled across the old man’s face. He wiped the fluid away with a dirty hand. “Let me ask you all a question. Do you know what ‘martial arts’ is?”

“What kind of question is that?” Dawn stood in the center of their group. Since she was physically incapable of keeping her mouth shut, she brazenly called out her answer. “Martial Art is a fighting style that doesn’t rely on external things. A practitioner utilizes pure cultivation and potential to access true power, giving them incredible strength!”

“Hey. Yeah, Skye’s… granddaughter, right? Wrong!” The old man chortled raucously. “You’re talking about a warrior, not a martial artist. A real warrior, when they reach peak condition, can rise to the likes of Skye Polaris. But ask yourself this, will there ever be another man like him?”

Dawn nodded her head thoughtfully. He had a point. Her grandfather was an incredible man.

“Someone like General Skye comes along maybe once a century. His style can’t be taught or imitated. He treads his own path.” The old drunk was in a rare serious mood. “Martial Arts is not just about excavating one’s potential. An emphasis is placed on style and skill, so that there are routines we can pass on to future students. This accumulated knowledge is passed down through the generations and given as blessings to those willing to work for them. That is Art. It is the true Way.”

Cloudhawk understood the point he was trying to make. The old man was a completely different sort of fighter from General Skye.

Skye was a special sort of creature who forged his own body into something more than human. He was effectively immune to the elements – fire, water, wind and lightning held no sway. Even his corpse would likely remain perfectly preserved for a hundred years.

Every cell within him was bursting with power like a nuclear reactor. When used together he had the strength to punch through mountains and kick open fissures. His style was not fancy nor particularly skillful, it was just pure accumulated potential cultivated to superhuman levels.

The former War Saint came upon his abilities differently. While his body was also thoroughly tempered, he had a specific and unique training regimen that he followed to achieve these ends. He’d put years of efforts into mysterious and esoteric techniques that transformed weakness into power. Such were the near mythical abilities of the Templars, who were trained through a regimen Vulkan himself created. It was part of the reason they called him the War Saint. [1]

One gained strength through personal experience. The other learned their power through technique. Each path had its benefits, but the styles of martial arts possessed a level of continuity that Skye’s method did not. Skye’s sheer destructive power was likely impossible to imitate, but what Vulkan knew he could teach to others.

That is what the old man began to attempt with his small troupe of students.

He’d learned the secrets of human will and physicality through decades of study. Only pure physical cultivation could see results like the kind Skye displayed, but that was only physical. If an artist could train their will, body, mental prowess to the limit then they would display never before seen heights of what the human form could achieve.

Years ago, the old drunk had a chance to do just that. After all, he was younger than Skye when he had started catching up.

Unfortunately tragedy struck six years ago and any chance was lost. There was no more hope that he would surpass Skye Polaris, not in this life. Regret for what could have been still troubled him from time to time.

“I’m parched after all this talking. Are you all following?” The old man’s wine bottle had already run dry, as had his patience. His eyes swept over the group, struggling to focus through the haze of alcohol. “No amount of talk can beat hands on experience far as I’m concerned. So which one of you wants to show off what you got?”

Cloudhawk had a mind to show off a little. After all, he figured starting with three spearhead maneuvers in quick succession would impress. However, before he had a chance someone else stepped forward.

Dawn Polaris wasn’t going to pass on an opportunity to show off, so she stepped forward practically before she knew what she was doing. “I do!”

The old drunk grinned at her and motioned for the mouthy girl to make her move.

Dawn made no effort to hide her thought process. Terrangelica was in her grasp in a blink. She shut her eyes, wrapped both hands around the blade’s hilt and poured her will into the relic. As her will converged everyone could feel it, for waves of power washed through and around her. Gradually all of that focus poured into her hands.

Her eyes shot open. Terrangelica streaked out and then vanished into its sheath.

The whole thing happened in an instant. An arc of energy remained where her blade had passed.

Its track diffused outward from her position, eliciting a tearing sound as it traveled through the air. A set of shields set several meters away were split apart like they were made of tofu. Their fractured pieces clattered as they hit the ground even though Dawn’s sword hadn’t even gotten close. The power of her strike was stunning to behold.

Cloudhawk blinked in astonishment. “Impressive!”

A stupid grin split Dawn’s face when she heard Cloudhawk’s praise. “Of course, you know who I am. Dawn Polaris isn’t just a demonhunter, I am a martial warrior! It’s just no one ever gets close enough for me to show my true skill.” [2]

“Quick-Draw technique?” [3] The old man gave Dawn a quick once-over. “That’s not a Polaris family style. It’s not even taught to the average Templar. What’s your relationship to Phain Mist, young lady?”

Dawn’s efforts were solely an effort to show off what she knew. She was surprised when the old man said the name of her former Seneschal. 

“He was my swordsmanship instructor. How do you know him, old man? He’s the current Grand Prior of the Templar Order. The fastest sword in Skycloud!”

“Fastest sword in Skycloud?” A strange look passed over the drunk’s face, almost like a slight sneer. He then shook his head and said, “Phain’s an amateur, but he taught you well.”

“You arrogant old coot! Have you even seen Grand Prior Phain at work?” Dawn’s anger flared at the perceived disrespect. “Call him an amateur all you like, but I won’t have you looking down on me! You’re asking for a beating!”

Dawn would be Dawn.

Her nature wouldn’t let her tolerate anything but absolute obeisance.

What she didn’t understand was where Cloudhawk found this crazy hobo. Why would he ask this sack of wine-soaked bones for martial training? If he wanted a whooping he could have come to her to learn a thing or two!

She was on the cusp of losing her temper entirely.

But the old man just smirked at her, revealing a maw of rotten yellow teeth. Before Dawn could draw her sword again his hand was in motion. Fast as lightning, quicker than the eye could follow, his two fingers lightly tapped the scabbard.

Crack! Loud as a dragon’s roar!

A streak of cyan colored energy tore through the ground carving a mark several meters long.

Dawn felt a tremendous force bearing down on her. Terrangelica flashed out and came into contact with an opposing power that knocked her back several steps. She returned her weapon to its own sheath and stared at the mark on the ground in awe.

The look on her face was one of abject stupefaction. Cloudhawk’s eyes gleamed. The others, looking from the sidelines, where also stunned. How had the old man done it?

“Do you understand now, little girl?” The old drunk rolled his eyes. “How do I measure up to your Master Phain?”

A Templar Grand Prior was no pushover. It was a title given only to the best. When it came to strength Phain was probably just as strong as the vagabond, if not stronger. But all they’d seen him do was tap the scabbard and that staggering attack was what had followed. Phain and the old man were oceans apart in terms of skill.

In a trance, Dawn recalled something her grandfather told her when she decided to approach Phain to be her teacher.

Her grandfather was characteristically ornery at the time, for the best martial artist in the realm was not Phain, but another man who had vanished from the public eye. To her grandfather, Phain was a pale imitation and only acceptable since he was the next best option.

Who was this master martial artist? Dawn knew, of course – the only man who could even hold a candle to her grandfather, the War Saint!

Dawn gaped openly at the creepy slob standing before her. Was this… impossible! It was completely outside any of her expectations.

“Alright, that’s all for our demonstration.” The drunk dug at the contents of his nose with a grimy finger. He’d begun to grow impatient again. “I’m not in the same shape I once was, so I don’t have the energy to teach you all one by one. I’ll show you some maneuvers, my own style, and how much you learn will be up to you.”

In a thousand years of history, many sages had traipsed Skycloud’s landscape. In their lives they uncovered many secrets to unlocking human potential.

The maneuvers he taught them were both a way to temper their bodies and their minds. Cloudhawk had learned something like this from the BLoodsoaked Queen, techniques demonhunters used to strengthen themselves. Depending on the knowledge of people long ago, it was a much more systematic means of improvement over the life and death struggle of a life in the wastelands.

The moves he taught them were more complex. Over two hundred in total, they were involved and mysterious – and that was just the beginning. Cultivation involved electric shock therapy, acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine and other ancient aids [4]. It was an involved and holistic body forging system that was completely unheard of to all of them.

The old man didn’t discover this method, nor did he give it a name. But it was obvious to all how precious this knowledge was!

It was a tremendous boon to these young students, but one that demanded great talent to utilize to its fullest. As such when the old man shared with them his cultivation methods, the extend to which they all grasped his secrets were different.

To put a number on it, the novice demonhunters grasped maybe just a fifth of it. Claudia and Gabriel, perhaps half. Dawn’s formidable talent was enough for her to understand a full three-fourth of these mysteries.

But what surprised the old man was the three others who understood his methods intrinsically. The first was his recently accepted disciple, Barb. The other two were Cloudhawk – a fact he didn’t find strange in the least – and another that absolutely did.

Azura.

A child, hardly old enough to dress herself.

When the old man saw her take to these techniques like a fish to water, he thought – not without some regret – about how the new generation would inevitably overcome the old. Cloudhaw’s generation hadn’t yet surpassed their betters and already the children of today were making their potential known. H suspected this scamp would have the potential to change the world before her twentieth year.

Yet the old man noted with pity that time was short. Cloudhawk was unsuitable to take on his legacy, and Azura was still too young. The only person worth the old man’s effort, the one who could carry all the hundreds of Templar skills into the future, was Barb.

While the old man’s nameless forging technique was useful for physicality, he didn’t actually teach them any martial techniques. It was a fact that irked Cloudhawk. He was about to ask the old man if he was fucking with them when suddenly the environment took on an urgent feel.

A soldier came rushing their way, recently returned from the font. Judging by his equipment and bearing, he was a Talon. His armor was broken in several places and was obviously wounded. Whatever he’d gone through had to have been bad, for he looked lucky to have made it back.

“Warden, sir! Commander Drake and the Talons have been caught in an ambush on the front! Things are bad. I was ordered to head back here as fast as possible and ask for reinforcements.”

An ambush?! Cloudhawk’s face darkened.

Drake had been sent to hunt down the wasteland warships that had ambushed them on the way to Woodland Vale. It should have been a quick mission, but it was nearing six months since he departed without any news. That’s why General Skye had sent Rio and the Talons after him.

Then instead of helping, now Rio’s gotten him and the Talons caught in a trap? What had they run into?

“Hey- hey! You aren’t thinking of going yourself are you?” Dawn physically placed herself between Cloudhawk and the soldier. “Don’t you dare disobey grandfather’s orders!”

“Drake, Hammont, and thousands of soldiers are going to die.” A nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach told Cloudhawk something bad was on the horizon. He couldn’t just stayhere. “We can’t just watch them get crushed. Anyway there aren’t many in the wastelands who would recognize me. If I’m disguised who can tell? Don’t worry about it!”

Dawn was staunchly against the very thought. Nothing could be allowed to happen to him!

“The front has exploded! You’re telling me you aren’t the least bit interested in getting your hands dirty?”

The moment he said it Dawn could feel the itch in her breast. 

Cloudhawk was a clever one, and knew Dawn wasn’t that hard to manipulate. “If you’re worried then come with me. If we can we save them, if we can’t then it is what it is. Do what we can, and leave the rest up to fate. What do you say?”

It seemed reasonable to Dawn. She nodded her head. “Let’s go!”


1. It is important to note here that while ‘War’ is used as part of the title for Skye and Vulkan, they are actually two separate characters. This is intentional. As Vulkan just explained, Skye is a ‘true warrior’, which he described in Chinese as 战士. His title – War-God, is 战神, which utilizes the same character. Vulkan uses a different character to discuss Martial Artists in contrast to warrior, even though they could be translated the same. That character is 武, which is also used in his title War Saint 武圣. While this is a significant difference, using the term ‘war’ is appropriate because of the juxtaposition between the two. A god is greater than a saint, and both are warriors, though they are very different in style as intimated by Vulkan in these paragraphs.

2. Oh this smack down is going to be delicious.

3. I believe this is what he is referring to.

4. Wewt! Shoutout!

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