Book 5, Chapter 55 - Posturing

In agreeing to participate in this fight, Cloudhawk had prepared himself for the possibility of death. He wasn’t afraid of Arcturus and the other deadly enemies surrounding him. He paid no mind to the consequences or the charges levied against him. The one thing that he worried about was this situation, right here and right now.

Dawn had to be rescued, no ifs and or buts about it. Anyone who stood in his way would have to be cut down. Though his chosen road would be lined with corpses and his hands stained with blood, Cloudhawk felt no regrets… except when it came to Selene. What was he supposed to do now?

For five years they shared some of the most impactful moments in each others’ lives, moments that were defining and transformative. More than friends, they’d developed genuine feelings for one another. Between them was a pure, if undefined, affection.

Beyond a doubt, Cloudhawk understood Selene better than anyone. Likewise, Selene was the only person who knew the true Cloudhawk. She’d participated in his stubbornness, his wanderlust, and his wild determination. Her intractability, tenaciousness, and solitude had all been affected by his presence. 

These two souls – destined for a life of turbulent change – had rode the tides from mutual exclusion to mutual attraction. They were a pair of lone wolves who’d found their pack… but it seemed as though fate had conspired to rip them apart once again. Cloudhawk had never wanted to lose any of his hard-won friendships, and this was doubly true for Selene, but he knew her and why she had no choice but to stand in his way.

Selene Cloude was different from anyone else he’d met. A more steadfast and perfect warrior did not exist.

She wasn’t like Frost, who chased after prestige. She wasn’t as impulsive as Dawn either. Although the problems she faced were each more daunting than the last, she still possessed an indomitable spirit. She was like a brave, courageous butterfly beating her wings in a storm. It was her unassailable faith that gave her the strength to forever wade through fire.

She’d matured over the years. In that time she had striven to walk in the footsteps of her late father – an unapologetic idealist who never gave up his dogged pursuit of truth and righteousness.

The two were both people of lofty morals. Selene was a warrior through and through. In the face of spiritual doubt, of constant opposition from Arcturus, her position always remained planted on the side of Skycloud.

The Battle of Sanctuary would become a defining moment in the history of her home. The consequences of what happened here would ripple through the lives of millions of civilians. When Cloudhawk raised his hand against the fortress, he also threatened those innocent lives. That had become the moment of their estrangement.

Understanding this, it was not strange at all that she should turn her weapon on Cloudhawk. Rather, it would be wholly unlike her to stand aside and watch Cloudhawk slaughter her countrymen and reduce this first line of defense to rubble.

A column of holy light came screaming towards Cloudhawk, who summoned the power of his gauntlet to protect himself.

No expression could be seen on Selene’s beautiful face as she unleashed Transcendence against him. Baldur’s epic weapon was one of tremendous potential and to Cloudhawk it felt like he stood alone against a flood. It swept over him, unyielding, each second threatening to break through Cloudhawk’s defenses and smash him apart.

“You know, we’ve never had a proper fight!” Cloudhawk realized there was no hiding from this. He might as well face her calmly. “I will admit, I’m curious to see just what Skycloud’s supreme genius is capable of!”

Nearby, Atlas quietly drew forth Malady. As Cloudhawk threw himself in to warding off Transcendence, Atlas launched a sudden attacked. The beleaguered wastelanders now found himself suddenly forced to defend on two fronts, with Selene – as Skycloud’s treasured talent – already a huge threat by herself.

Cloudhawk roared and his mental powers burst forth. A pulse of deflective energy was released from his gauntlet in a shock wave. Transcendence’s light stopped as though held fast by an invisible hand and was thrown to the left at a ninety degree angle – right at Atlas.

The assassin vanished leaped into the air. He simultaneously avoided the attack and advanced toward his target. While floating overhead he split into three copies, each with Malady in hand. All together, they came crashing down with the deadly gleam of their weapons aimed at Cloudhawk’s neck.

He’s too fast. Selene in front, Atlas behind. Even Cloudhawk felt the lethal pressure of this combination.

A cold light flashed in Selene’s eyes. She thrust Transcendence through the air, and from it spat a beam of energy, streaking toward Cloudhawk’s shoulder. But instead it passed him by – and was aimed at Atlas.

That brief moment of shock almost cost Atlas his life. Fortunately, he managed to recover in time to use Malady to deflect the blow. Her strike knocked him thirty meters away.

Cold as ice, Selene growled at the assassin. “Mind your own business. This is my fight.”

Cloudhawk, along with Atlas and the others, was stunned by her actions. Still, all knew that she was a prideful woman. Clearly, she would not suffer someone else despoiling her battles.

And yet! When Cloudhawk looked closer at her stern face, he felt something stir in his chest. He couldn’t help but smile. She sure had me scared! For a second, he genuinely thought she was going to kill him!

Now, it appeared that wasn’t quite the case. On the surface she seemed determined to put him in the ground, but in reality it was quite the opposite. She was trying to give him an opportunity to flee. If it’d been Phain, or any of Arcturus’ other cronies they would have just piled on him.

Phain brought his Templars, Selene commanded the Clerics, Atlas led the Court of Shadows, and Frost directed the Cloude’s family’s best. That was one hell of an army all coming his way, with many demonhunters capable of disrupting his abilities. They could easily have locked this place down while he was saving Dawn, making teleportation difficult if not impossible. Given these circumstances, the second Cloudhawk got caught in the trap he should have been as good as dead.

But instead, Selene was insisting on a one-on-one battle. No one else was allowed nearby. That undoubtedly worked to Cloudhawk’s advantage.

“Hmph!”

When she saw the gratitude in his face, Selene couldn’t help but let her anger flare. So blatant! He had a brazen yet ambiguous relationship with Dawn… so be it. But the disaster it had caused… she hated that she couldn’t heartlessly hack him to pieces!

Her slender legs kicked her off the ground and into the air. Both hands wrapped around the hilt of her weapon and she brought it tearing down toward him.

Cloudhawk responded by putting his gauntlet between him and Transcendence. An explosion of light and energy resulted and the ground cracked beneath him. Both figures disappeared in the blinding corona.

Cloudhawk simultaneous fought off the pain while forcing himself closer to her: “Thank you.”

“Do you have any idea what you are doing!” She was an angel in the center of a sea of light. Her raven black hair whipped in the air around her like a war goddess. Her face was still twisted into a mask of rage and betrayal. “All this? For a psychotic bitch like Dawn? Have you thought at all about the consequences? Can’t you use your brain for one second? You could have waited a few years while I gained more status in the city. I could have found a way to bring you back. But now… now… I should kill you!!!”

Cloudhawk had never seen this look on Selene’s face before. It was the face of a woman whose fear and anger were at war in her heart. Take power…? Had that been her plan all along?

They shoved away from each another, creating a space of about ten meters. It lasted only a moment before they raced in for a second collision. The light it produced hid them from view and to onlookers it was impossible to see anything but a battle at full-tilt.

Cloudhawk sighed. “I’m sorry, really. I don’t think I can keep my promise.”

Selene brought Transcendence crashing down on his gauntlet once more. The force of it almost broke his arm. “So you’re really going to run off with Dawn? With all you’ve done for her, where does that leave me?”

Cloudhawks’ face fell in pain and sadness. “That’s not it. I’m saying, I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

Selene’s pupils contracted to small, dark dots. “What?”

He sighed again. “Half a year ago, the Cloud God badly wounded my mind. Then, Arcturus badly wounded my body. Do you really think that sort of damage can be reversed in six months? I’m not going to pretend I’m making it out of here alive. But seeing you like this… it’s enough for me.”

Selene froze.

She didn’t know the power of the Cloud God, but she did know just how overwhelming Arcturus was. Now here they were, a little under two hundred days from that clash and Cloudhawk was still alive. He was harder to kill than a cockroach. But it seemed impossible that he could’ve not only recovered, but also grown stronger.

He definitely must have taken something to get this result. Something that threatened his life…

No! He can’t die!

Cloudhawk and Selene had exchanged two explosive blows. Dawn couldn’t just stand by. So with her hands wrapped around Terrangelica she threw herself into the fray. She inserted herself blade first between Cloudhawk and the Apostle.

Selene’s anger erupted. All of this was her fault. You thoughtless, psychopathic bitch! If the idiot didn’t let herself get caught, things never would have gotten to this point. Cloudhawk wouldn’t have been forced to put his life in danger!

If you asked Selene who should die today, unequivocally the answer was: Her. She gave her opinion with her sword.

Dawn had never gotten along with Selene, and today she was ready to rip the sanctimonious woman apart. It was incredible to her that Selene could have such a cold heart. It was expected that others would raise their arms against Cloudhawk, but her? She couldn’t fathom how Selene could be so callous! This conceited, self-righteous bitch deserves to die as a lonely old crone!

What. The. Fuck!?! Cloudhawk was speechless. Once Dawn broke in to confront Selene, all bets would be off. ‘Thankfully’, Phain suddenly rushed in with his quick-draw technique. Dawn had to defend herself with her sword and was knocked away.

Phain pressed the attack, his sword raining down upon his former student. As he bore down on her he growled, “Dawn, I taught you most of what you know. Let’s see how well you learned.”

Dawn squared off against her one-time instructor. “You always used to harp on about justice. But what justice is there? My grandfather died while defending our realm, stabbed in the back by a devious snake. That snake still leads you. Is this the justice you were talking about?”

Phain sprang into the air. As he bridged the distance he was surrounded by an onslaught of flashing sword strikes. “Enough nonsense! You are a traitor to Skycloud, and worse a traitor to the Temple. Today it’s time to clean house!”

The two exchanged a dozen blows in the space of an instant. Phain’s Templars stood around them, unmoving. They wouldn’t get involved until they were ordered to.

Frost and Atlas glanced at one another and through it shared their intent. Yet they did not intervene and instead only watched. It appeared neither Dawn nor Cloudhawk would be able to escape anyway.

“These four think their ruses to be so clever, none can see through them?” Arcturus watched the dramatic display unfolding before him and shook his head with a sigh. Cloudhawk and Selene, Dawn and Phain. Each made such a show of their conflict, but not an ounce of lethal intent was revealed. Smoke and mirrors, clumsily portrayed. While their attempts could fool many, it was foolish to think Arcturus wouldn’t see through it.

And yet, what an impressive crop of young fighters! Each one was more impressive than the last. If their predecessors had half as much talent, things would be very different in Skycloud. He wouldn’t have needed to spend a fraction as much effort towards his goals. 

“Governor! Let me teach them a lesson!” Two of those predecessors rose to their feet expectantly. But Arcturus did not grant the request. “Janus. I leave it to you.”

A masked figure slowly rose to his feet; Janus ‘Many-Faced’ Umbra, Skycloud’s consummate assassin and leader of the Court of Shadows. He answered his Governor’s summons with a bow. Then, without any grand gestures, his body dissolved into mist like he’d been nothing more than a wisp of smoke.

“The rest of you, be still. The real enemy has only just arrived.” With this cryptic revelation Arcturus lifted his eyes toward the heavens. The others follows suit and when they witnessed the truth, their faces grew dark.

In the skies over Sanctuary, the air was choked with threads of black. Tendrils of sinister clouds gathered like the groping fingers of Gehenna itself. Darkness swallowed the landscape, inching closer to their fortress.

Cloudhawk had made a lot of noise, but even in destroying a portion of the fortress he’d done little to impact the Elysian force as a whole. If he only had such a paltry force, only a fool would imagine that Cloudhawk would be able to take Sanctuary alone. 

The power that really threatened the thousands of soldiers garrisoned here was encroaching with that ominous darkness.

*A note from the author, Tipsy Wandered (date unknown):

Lately the story has experienced a bit of a bottleneck, effecting updates. Outside influences have had an effect on the story mid-production, thereby forcing some changes to the outline. Since the outline is once again in the conceptual phase the rate at which it’s being written has slowed so as not to lose control of the narrative. Because this novel is in discussions to appear in other media, we can’t be as capricious with its content as other books in the genre. Those works have the benefit of being wholly under the direction of the author’s imagination. Full disclosure, when I started the book I had no outline at all. A map is only useful until you draw yourself into a corner – then just change the map. If there’s a group of characters that have nowhere else to go, write new characters. That’s how it is normally done. However, this book cannot be written this way. I will do my best to update my outline as soon as possible and get back to a normal schedule. I appreciate everyone’s understanding.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter