Khan of Evernight? That was quite the title. Cloudhawk was even more convinced his feelings were well-founded.
From the second he laid eyes of the enormous figure he felt a creeping dread. Whoever or whatever this person was, he was no throw-away wastelander. Neither was he an enemy Cloudhawk could handle easily.
Those soldiers on either side of the Khan weren’t the typical sort, either. With as much fighting prowess as Templars, the group of them was like a small army. It was enough of a display to make Cloudhawk’s throat go dry. And that was before he even considered their boss.
He didn’t like getting into a scrap he couldn’t control, so Cloudhawk tried diplomacy. “I don’t care if you’re the king of daylight and sparkles, what are you doing here? Wanna sit down for a cup of tea? If that’s the case you’re welcome.”
The Khan’s eyes flashed. “You are the one called Cloudhawk?”
Cloudhawk blinked in surprise. He then looked toward Hellflower. “Look at me, I’m famous. My name’s gotten all the way to… wherever this guy is from.”
“Infamous more like it,” Hellflower grumbled.
As high-brow as his title was, there was nothing stately about the Khan of Evernight. He turned a deaf ear toward Cloudhawk’s teasing words and pressed on in his mechanical voice. “You have someone that belongs to me. I expect you to release him. Immediately.”
“Ah, so this Wendigo King is your man.” Cloudhawk acted like this news came as a surprise. “Why didn’t you say so? Hyena and I actually go way back, so I guess you can say he’s our man, am I right? He’s a guest of ours though, so I’ll make sure he gets back safely when I’m done playing host.”
“I am here speaking with you as a show of respect. I urge you to comply, for everyone’s sake.”
The Khan’s digital affect was completely devoid of emotion. Cloudhawk was starting to suspect there was nothing alive in that armor at all and he was bantering with a robot. The Khan spoke like a machine, with flat tones and stilted pronunciation. Everything was at one volume and one tone, making it impossible to tell anything from his voice.
Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes. “Let’s say I refuse?”
The Khan stepped forward. Although there was nothing threatening in his posture the sheer presence of him forced Cloudhawk to take a step back.
Cloudhawk scowled. This asshole is being all mysterious over a simple question? Fine. I can show off, too.
He glanced toward the old drunk, who met the silent order with reluctance. “You haven’t learned a thing. Any time you meet a foe you can’t handle your first act is to trouble me with it.”
However the old drunk complied, pulling Sunstroke from his belt.
The sword was well-suited for the old man, in that they both were nothing special to look upon. However, while an ordinary man might’ve missed the true strength Vulkan concealed, the Khan of Evernight could sense it immediately. He pointed at the sword but was otherwise still as a mountain. “You mean to start conflict.”
“You want to bring that puppy king with you, right?” The old man said with a smirk. “Beat me and you can take him.”
The Khan’s response was frank. “Alright.”
With nothing more to say, the old drunk made his move. Sunstroke flashed through the air.
His attack was simple, at least on the surface. In reality it contained tremendous strength that would carve right through someone like the Wendigo King. Even Cloudhawk, in the state he was in now, reckoned he would struggle to defend himself against it.
The Khan extended his hands and dual blasts of energy belched from his palms.
They were a pair of vorpal blades, plum red and composed of pure energy. The air crackled and distorted around its edges. 
He opened with a dismissive wave of his right arm that cleaved Vulkan’s attack in two. The streak of energy was cleaved down the middle, leaving two troughs in the earth on either side of the Khan. Each one stretched out at an angle, carving a forty-meter long V in the ground.
Bystanders stared with mouths agape. The unassuming geezer had attacked with staggering power and the mysterious Khan had deflected it without effort. They felt like their eyes would roll out of their skulls.
All but Cloudhawk, who’s face was furrowed in worry. He felt like they’d just stepped on a landmine. How strong was the old drunk? Put it this way; while Autumn was obviously the strongest person in their crew, that was a measure based on a bunch of factors. One on one in a straight fight, it wasn’t certain she could beat Vulkan. The drunk’s combat abilities were comparable to the late General Skye’s.
One of the reasons Cloudhawk took him along was because he was convinced there wasn’t anyone around who could threaten the old man. It was what gave him the gall to snatch the Wendigo King in the first place. The end result was watching this Khan of Evernight, who he’d never heard of, deflecting Vulkan’s attack like he was a child.
He had to be as strong as the Crimson One! A man like him was a tremendous threat any way you looked at him. But that being the case, how was it that absolutely nothing in Cloudhawk’s intelligence even mentioned him? Anyone with this sort of strength left a trail. They had to have come from somewhere. It wasn’t like super powerful people appeared out of thin air.
The South? That must be where this problem came from. But what sort of place was it down there? Sand Viper claimed it was the former home of Abaddon…
Hyena had also led his people there, and after only a few years was reborn as the Wendigo King. Now they were facing somebody who fought with the strength of a Master Demonnhunter? If there was something like the Khan hiding down there this whole time, why had they been hiding at all?
Maybe it was a demon. The Khan’s black armor gleamed dangerously, and his red eyes burned. A ghastly wind made his shadowy cloak flap and flutter.
A powerful resonance buzzed in Cloudhawk’s head. A relic, but he couldn’t tell where on the Khan it was coming from. The mysteries never ended.
The Khan of Evernight stood with a burning sword of light in either side. His sinister gaze turned first to Cloudhawk, then to the old man, sizing each of them up. “I did not anticipate facing men of your strength out here. The Wendigo King has suffered no shame in losing to you.”
“I didn’t think we’d find someone as strong as you outside of Skycloud, either. I haven’t had a good scrap since Arcturus Cloude. Maybe you can help an old man get his creaky bones moving again.”
“If you can survive an encounter with Arcturus Cloude, it speaks to your value.”
Cloudhawk took this exchange to heart. From the way he at least one thing could be inferred about the Khan of Evernight; he knew about Skycloud and Arcturus. Though he’d never been there, he knew about the Elysian lands.
It would make sense that he knew Cloudhawk’s name, then. After all, he’d made a splash in Skycloud over the last few years.
“Enough talk. Let’s give your men a show!”
The old man vanished. Half a breath later there were a dozen copies of him surrounding the Khan.
Cloudhawk recognized it as a martial arts move similar to the Polaris family’s Manifold Strike. With incredible speed and power the martial artist could make it look like he split into several copies. The powerful strike that followed was designed to overwhelm an enemy’s formidable defenses. When they appeared, the Khan’s vorpal blades began to rotate. A miniature tornado was spawned around them, and as Vulkan’s sword and the Khan’s energy weapon collided the ground split in all directions.
It was like watching a headstrong painter turning the world into his canvas. Everyone was forced to step back or get caught up in the skirmish.
A fight at this level went far beyond what they could comprehend. They’d become crippled just by standing too close.
Vulkan and the Khan exchanged a hundred blows in an instant. Their speed was too fast to follow. Blows cast out a light that could be seen for a thousand kilometers, and clashed with the force to cleave mountains. None could keep up with the naked eye, they could only feel the result of this contest as a tempest raging all around them. The ancient buildings around them collapsed under the strain.
The longer Cloudhawk watched the more astonished he became.
Be it physical or mental strength, the Khan of Evernight had reached stupendous heights. Compared to Vulkan, the two were diametric opposites. While the old drunk had focused his training on physical prowess, the Khan’s primary focus was obviously in psychic power.
In terms of true strength, the Khan revealed bursts that were comparable to the current Templar commander Phain Mist. Yet the way he used his relics and the depth of his mental fortitude was on the scale of someone like the Crimson One. He was unequivocally a Master of his craft – a dark sage from a mysterious land. It was clear this stranger’s vaulted title was not just for show.
For the moment there was no way to tell who would win their contest.
“Fuck, this is gonna be a problem.” Cloudhawk seemed to realize something and slapped his forehead while grumbling to Hellflower. “Quick, get to Hyena and make sure you keep eyes on him.”
Hellflower snapped back to the present.
Whether or not the old drunk could beat the Khan was yet to be determined. All they could do was parade out the Wendigo King like a bad child and hope to threaten their attackers. But the Khan of Evernight wasn’t a beast. There was no way to know whether such a low-brow move would help, but it was better than just standing around.
Hellflower went to fetch Hyena, but before she could go a few steps a shuddering explosion rose from the jail. She watched as a string of figures poured out – a coterie of black-armored soldiers with the Wendigo King in the center. They quickly absconded toward the Khan and his soldiers.
Cloudhawk was blindsided. Fuck! When had they even sneaked in?
They’d been taken in. The Khan’s presence was meant to keep their attention off the prison. In fact he’d sent men into the city to infiltrate the jail even before the airship made its appearance. While Cloudhawk was busy going back and forth with the Khan, they were freeing their companion.
They’d only figured it out after everything was done.
Vulkan and the Khan disengaged. Their contest had resulted in a draw, but not really. From the beginning, this whole scene had been controlled by the Khan of Evernight.
“I heard you were intelligent, but it is obvious you are still too young.” The Khan stood in front of Hyena, staring at Cloudhawk with his electric red eyes. “You are too focused on the fight at hand and have no grasp of the battlefield as a whole. By the time you realized your folly, it was too late. I had no need to defeat your champion, for I had already won.”
Cloudhawk’s face was a mixture of depression and frustration. While his foe sounded pompous and preachy, there was something more profound hidden in his words.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter