Book 4, Chapter 97 - Next!

Was he at the end of his rope? Not necessarily, but Cloudhawk did have regrets.

His old commander inspired Cloudhawk to fight through it. If the rules of a place were unacceptable, than change the place and change the rules!

He joined the army, was given command of the Talons, and step-by-step earned a name in Skycloud. He may not have liked all the troublesome parts of earning rights and titles, but he couldn’t deny the benefits. He used to fantasize that if he were in the same position as men like Skye or Arcturus, he really could do anything he wanted. At last he would have the unrestricted life he always dreamed of.

Now he recognized how foolish that was. Power was tempting, but it wasn’t for everyone.

How arrogant had Skye Polaris been? In the end he still had to bow to the pressures of his family’s honor, and it killed him. Even a man as powerful and influential as him couldn’t live the life he wanted without responsibility to others. And if he couldn’t, what hope did Cloudhawk have?

The good news was that there were many ways to get around in the world. If one road was blocked, then change directions until you found a suitable path. Cloudhawk wasn’t burdened by change, but there was one thing that weighed heavily on him. Would the mess he left mean trouble for Selene, for Dawn, for Hammont and the others? 

Selene was a faithful, loyal warrior. The Temple was her one way to fight against Arcturus’ tyranny. If the Temple ordered her to raise her sword against Cloudhawk, would she do it? Would she have a choice?

The only affection Cloudhawk had remaining for the Elysians lands lay in the friends he was leaving behind. What else was there for him? To avoid causing those he cared for more pain and trouble, the right move was to get as far away as possible.

He denied Frost’s dark words. The wastelands were endless, and Cloudhawk had the ability to do and go whatever he pleased! Would finding a place to settle down really be so hard? If he found some small corner and hid his identity, who would come looking for him? Of course, his priority for the time being had to be getting away from this place.

Cloudhawk was on his own once again. He turned his head toward the bitter winds and pressed on.

He reached into himself to teleport away, but a blinding pain answered. It felt like someone was shoving broken glass into his brain. Trying to summon even a little mental power resulted in agony.

The Cloud God’s attack had left its mark. The fight with Frost made it worse.

His mental abilities were critically limited. If he tried to stretch them beyond a fraction of his capabilities, the pain returned. He could stomach it if he had to, but it interfered with the more complex attempts like trying to teleport. When trying it, even the slightest interference caused the phase to fail.

A sound piqued his attention. It sounded like a whistling from overhead. At first he thought it was the wind, but when Cloudhawk lifted his head he saw countless black dots coming his direction. They whistled and fluttered like a swarm of locusts, but a swarm like that didn’t come from the clouds. It was a rain of arrows!

Cloudhawk’s pupils tightened to small black dots. As adrenaline pumped through him, the arrows seemed to slow and he was able to see their trajectory. He raced forward, darting between them as the arrows fell. He managed to avoid them until-

Boom! A loud explosion caused the air to tremble.

An Elysian warship broke through the clouds overhead. Cloudhawk broke out in a cold sweat as he felt the danger wash over him and threw himself to one side. An instant later, blasts of energy smashed into the ground where he’d been standing. They followed as he ran wildly forward, leaving craters in his wake.

The shadow of hundreds of soldiers dotted the landscape as they disembarked.

Despite suddenly finding himself cornered, Cloudhawk was unfazed. He disappeared from view, and then suddenly the battlefield was a nightmare of flashing silver and sprays of blood. Elysian armor might as well have been made form paper the way these streaks of silver cut them apart. Pieces of these poor men were flung in all directions, marking a bleeding trail of death and destruction.

Kill! I have to kill! Anyone in my way!

Cloudhawk carved a path for himself through the bodies of his former charges. Yet his invsibility cloak was rendered useless when a squad of senior demonhunters appeared on the scene. 

The sound of relics buzzing filled his ears, coming from all around. Cloudhawk searched for a way free.

“Cloudhawk!”

“You can’t escape!”

He gritted his teeth and blinked forward, succeeding in creating some distance but quickly exhausting his strength. He couldn’t stop to catch his breath. Although he’d left many behind, his stronger pursuers were quickly catching up.

In the lead was a contingent of Templar soldiers. Out of the corner of his left eye he saw demonhunters closing the distance. A glance to his right, and he saw a group of officers coming his way.

The sky was overcast and strong winds blew and he stood on the ledge of a cliff. Cloudhawk was soaked in blood, and it pooled around him as he swung from one direction toward another. There was nowhere to go. Three groups of soldiers thirsty for blood would be on him in moments.

Grand Prior Phain approached, his eyes dark and dangerous despite his indifferent expression. “Don’t waste your energy. You can’t escape. Come back to the Temple with us immediately.”

Cloudhawk was out of breath. “You think you can fool me with this shit?”

“The first moment I saw you, I didn’t think you’d amount to much.” Before Phain could reply, a young man with a shock of red hair on his head stepped forward. “But here we are, much to my surprise.”

He was a robust and well-built man with a genial face. There was something warm and inviting about his presence that made everyone immediately like him. Cloudhawk thought he looked familiar, and after a few moments he remembered where they’d met. Blaze!

This was the man he’d met with Dawn when they went to the collection convention.

Cloudhawk remembered him as a low-key, friendly guy with decent talent. Of the many notable youths in Skycloud he was the quietest. After Baldur’s fall, Blaze had come to take over the League of Demonhunters and was constantly busy with its upkeep. When did he have any time to make his presence known?

Because of this, few knew precisely how capable this young man really was. However, if they sent him out for this important task he certainly wasn’t someone to discount.

Cloudhawk coughed, spitting up some blood. “So they sent the head of the League after me, eh? How much money have they put on my head?”

“I’m not here because of the mission,” Blaze said. “I’m here for my little sister. Belinda. I think you knew her.”

She was one of the demonhunters assigned to Claudia’s squad. They’d had to leave her body in the mausoleum under Woodland Vale after everything that had happened.

Cloudhawk frowned. “In a mission, casualties are inevitable. You’re part of the League, you know that as well as I do. You shouldn’t be like everyone else and pin her death on me.”

Everyone else referred to one person in particular, a ruddy-faced old general who stood nearby. It was none other than Cosmo Thane, commander of the Retribution Battalion. He had come with several lesser officers, as part of the mission with the League of Demonhunters and Templars. His intent was to make sure Cloudhawk didn’t get away.

“No no no.” There was no hate in Blaze’s eyes, only calm. “I just wanted to find out for myself the character of the man who accompanied my sister in her final moments. Better to die a dignified death at my hands than be executed in disgrace. Don’t you think?”

“I don’t have time for this shit,” Cloudhawk muttered.

Blaze obliged. He stepped forward, and as he did the air warped from a sudden and intense heat. Sparks rose off of him followed quickly by tongues of fire. Flames swallowed him up as though they had a life of their own, visibly forming into something like the texture of flesh and bone.

Intense heat billowed off the man. Everyone backed away from it.

Blaze was a large man already, but as the fires coalesced around him he suddenly became a giant five meters tall. Every inch of his body looked to be made of condensed, living fire. Not an ounce of the energy he summoned was outside of his precise control. Every muscle in his body surged with power.

His transformation was met with shocked stares, and they raised their hands against the increasing heat.

All these years, this unassuming man had been cultivating his strength. Only, he had done it quietly and without anyone noticing. His awe-inspiring presence wasn’t just for looks, either. The heat wafting off of him felt hot enough to evaporate steel! He was like an engine, one that used his fiery powers to turn his body into a killing machine.

Mocking jeers were aimed toward Cloudhawk. He’d been driven into a corner, helpless.

Templars reached for their sword, but Phain motioned for them to stop. He saw that Cloudhawk was nearly exhausted, and his body was in a bad way. He was no match for Blaze. Why go through the trouble? Besides, Phain would rather bring back a corpse instead of a prisoner.

If they brought him back alive, it would only lead to more trouble. His personal relationship with Selene and Dawn was a problem. Both women would do something stupid in his defense, if given the chance.

Dawn had at one time being Phain’s disciple. Selene was the hope of the Temple. As far as Phain was concerned, this outsider had no place among them. All he did was cause trouble, so he was better dealt with now.

“I will begin.” The fiery giant warned his prey. Then, he bellowed a war cry.

Blaze’s flesh split in several place, and from within terrible spouts of fire erupted. They were pyres of intense energy that spread all across his body, turning him into a spear of flame as he flung himself toward Cloudhawk with a bang.

So fast!

Cloudhawk barely had time to lift his sword before Blaze’s fist smashed into Ardent Wrath. The wide blade deflected the brunt of the force, but a red-hot mark where the punch had landed seethed against the steel. That angry red spread through the metal until the entire weapon sizzled. The sound of Cloudhawk’s skin burning could be heard. 

In the space of a few seconds his broken weapon was hot as molten iron.

Another roar erupted from the fire giant’s mouth. He levied another punch at Cloudhawk and his weapon, more powerful than the last. He pummeled the sword with his fist as though he were trying to break through it to Cloudhawk.

The League demonhunters who accompanied their leader exclaimed with excitement. Their amicable leader rarely raised his hand against anyone, but now they saw that he was much more powerful than they expected. Unlike the other notable talents of their time, he was strong but called no attention to himself.

Cloudhawk’s defeat was certain! How could this wastelander stand against such a man?!

Cloudhawk kept his grip on Ardent Wrath, which was red-hot from end to end. The ground beneath his feet was cracking from the impacts, spreading out to the lip of the cliff and threatening to collapse. He was completely suppressed by Blaze’s flurry of attacks and had nowhere to go.

“You think this is enough to stop me?!”  Cloudhawk’s thoughts became muddled. The residual damage from his encounter with the god remained, so he was finding it difficult to follow Blaze’s speed. Sooner or later the big man was going to land a hit, and that was dangerous. But from deep inside of him there arose a sense of absolute defiance. He refused to lose, and that refusal allowed him to draw on the sea of potential locked within him. It instilled Cloudhawk with a burst of incredible strength. “Get the fuck on!”

Flames danced in the depths of Cloudhawk’s eyes. Dual scarlet fires that drew one in.

They appeared in Blaze’s eyes at the same time. Onlookers heard the flaming giant grunt with strain, and watched as his whole body started to split apart.

With a glance, Cloudhawk had foiled Blaze’s overwhelming assault.

A streak of angry fire followed as Ardent Wrath cleaved into the giant’s body. It cut through flesh and fire, down into the depths of the beast where Blaze was hidden. The leader of the League took what was left of Ardent Wrath’s bite and was gravely wounded for it. His fight was done.

The demonhunters gaped at the scene. Their idol had collapsed after one blow!

Cloudhawk’s black hair danced in the fiery winds. He thrust the burning length of his weapon into the ground, and glared at them with an aura so imposing for a moment no one could breathe.

“Next!”

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