Book 5, Chapter 58 - The Ultimate Assassin

Cloudhawk was locked in conflict with Selene.

Their exchanges were full of fire and fury, but no real lethal intent. However Cloudhawk knew they couldn’t keep up this ruse for long. The medicine Hellflower had given him would fade soon, he couldn’t afford to stay here. Who could say if he’d even be able to stand once it wore off, much less defend himself.

No time to delay! He had to move quickly. Of course, that was easier said than done.

They were surrounded by Templars, Clerics, demonhunters, Cloude family fighters, Court of shadows assassins and representatives from the other great households. Frost de Winter and Atlas Umbra were skulking the edges, waiting for their chance to strike, though he didn’t know why they hadn’t already. He couldn’t afford to discount them.

Something was disturbing the space in this area as well, preventing him from teleporting to safety. It seemed Selene’s efforts to force an opening were of no use, he couldn’t escape!

A sound thundered overhead. Cloudhawk raised his eyes in time to see the aftermath of the drunk and the Khan of Evernight attacking Arcturus. It was an incredible thing to watch, with the exchange shifting and flowing a dozen times in the blink of an eye. They were a mess of purple light, electric fire and gleaming steel. It was dazzling and too fast for most to follow.

The Khan of Evernight had dispatched a large number of capable allies. His forces spread out to capture the attention of Arcturus’ lieutenants. 

Cloudhawk continued to look around the battlefield until he spied a wastelander mothership speezing through Sanctuary’s defensive shell. As it’s shadow fell over the fortress wave after wave of Black Knights descended to join the fight. 

Frost saw it too and his face darkened. “Stop them!”

The Black Knights were Nox’s greatest fighters, what Cloudhawk understood to be Godslayers and wasteland martial artists.

On average the Black Knights were stronger than a typical member of the Demonhunter Corps – more in line with Templars. The product of years of Nox’s effort and resources, they were trained directly by the mysterious city’s mighty leader. When they were fully trained they were nightmares of martial capability who wielded relics artfully, warriors of superior quality and fighting prowess.

Two hundred of them flooded the battlefield, together with a number of other units. Frost and Atlas were forced to turn their attention away from Cloudhawk and order their troops to mount a response.

Cloudhawk recognized this as his chance. So did Selene. “Go. Now!”

“If I leave now won’t they know you helped?” He knew things were not easy for her now. 

She sniffed. “You think it’ll trouble me? Do you still care? You have Dawn to worry about!”

Cloudhawk’s heart ached to discover that even Selene, intrepid as she was, would take this stance. Even now she was still upset. Cloudhawk could see her resentment ran deep. But he didn’t have time to make it right. The window to escape was closing.

“If I survive I will come back and find you.”

 Cloudhawk wrapped his hands around Ardent Wrath’s hilt, then hacked it toward Phain. The Grand Prior deflected the strike but was knocked backward ten meters as a result.

Cloudhawk grabbed Dawn. “Stop fighting, we’ve got to go!”

Phain did not give chase. He watched the two leap off the dais and out of the demonhunters’ field of control. They were free from the heart of the battle and Cloudhawk prepared to teleport them to safety -

A sickly green flash of light dashed toward them, aimed passed Dawn at the back of Cloudhawk’s neck.

Cloudhawk’s danger senses were keen as a knife, but he didn’t have time to warn Dawn. The threat of it chilled him down to his bones.

The one attacking them was powerful – one of the most powerful Cloudhawk had ever faced. He knew immediately this was an expert assassin. His sneak attack and the deadly relics he employed were all but impossible to avoid.

“Careful!”

In that instant Dawn drew on all her potential. She shoved Cloudhawk out of the way and threw herself in its path.

Caustic green and black power bloomed across Dawn’s chest. It drilled through her, threatening to burst out the other side at Cloudhawk who stood stunned behind. But Dawn’s reaction was quick. Her hands darted out and snatched her assailant’s wrists in a vice-like grip. The weapon stopped, frozen in Dawn’s body and unable to pierce Cloudhawk.

No!

His vision turned red as the veins in his eyes engorged. Faster than even his mind could react two streaks of silver shot from his hands and wrapped around Dawn. Like a pair of silvery vipers they lashed out at the shadow that haunted them.

Light raked through the darkness. Cloudhawk, in blind fury, wrenched the Silver Serpents again and again through the figure until it was cut to pieces.

Wait. Something isn’t right. Too easy. 

Even with Dawn’s help this was an apex assassin they were pitted against. He wouldn’t be taken down by a wild counter attack.

He was preparing for another blow. This man would definitely not be so easy to kill!

It was a passing thought, however, as Cloudhawk called back the Silver Serpents. He wrapped his arms around Dawn and kicked off with his legs. They both shot off into the distance, away from danger.

Seconds only had passed since the blow caught her, but Dawn’s face was already deathly pale. She didn’t even have strength to hold Terrangelica.

Clang! The weapon hit the ground. She’d lost all control of her body. She looked up with wide eyes, pupils dilated, fighting for breath. Every nerve in her body was shutting down.

Poison!

That bastard had made sure she’d die!

Killers like him never relied just on their strikes. They were employed to eliminate targets, so they took whatever measures necessary to make sure they died.

Cloudhawk didn’t know what to do. “Hey, you hold on. I’m getting you out of here.”

“I’m sorry, Cloudhawk. I just wanted to be with you in Greenland. I didn’t think I’d cause so much trouble.” Dawn could only manage to weakly shake her head. Her tears dripped down her pale cheeks as blood. She had to fight for each mouthful of air. “That was Janus… you can’t beat him. Leave me. Run.”

It was just one stab with a dagger! But Dawn was on the precipice of death. That monster’s relic was more deadly even than Atlas’ Deathstalker.

Cloudhawk stood up and looked around. He spotted a shadow creeping through the air – a figure draped in black cloth with nothing but emotionless eyes revealed. The wrinkles gathered at his canthus told Cloudhawk he was a middle-aged man.

Dawn was right. It was Janus Umbra, sometimes known in whispers as the Titan of Many Faces.

Stories told of Janus’ ability to take whatever shape he chose, and his method was killing was known to all in the Elysian lands. He was a man who was among the peak of Skycloud’s elite even in its heyday, comparable to the likes of the Crimson One. Only, unlike the Master Demonhunter, his talents laid in darker spheres.

Once you were stalked by the Titan of Many Faces you did not escape. Now his shadow had fallen upon Dawn and Cloudhawk.

Phain watched from the dais, seeing the life fade from his former student. His face darkened. In the end she wouldn’t get away. His hand tightened around the hilt of his blade. 

Surprise flitted across Selene’s expression when she saw what happened. She could hardly believe Arcturus would call out his deadly shadow. She couldn’t hold back. “You actually...”

The look on Frost and Atlas’ face were different. Frost was surprised his master had finally taken the step to kill Cloudhawk. As far as he was concerned the wastelander was finished. It filled him with a sense of displeasure. On the surface he made it obvious he despised Cloudhawk – in fact there was no love at all between them – but logic dictated that the man should live. Thus he understood why Selene had fought with him but had no intention of doing harm.

Frost hated what Cloudhawk stood for, hated his potential. But he knew that if there was anyone – anyone - who could cause even a minor inconvenience to the mighty foe he kept secret in his heart it was Cloudhawk. He understood that if he wanted to exact revenge for his parents’ death he couldn’t do it alone. However much he despised Cloudhawk he could still be used.

Atlas was just as surprised to see his family’s great power called upon. He was a man in his twenties, his father twice that. Atlas had been positioned as the future patriarch of their clan for a long time. However, based on the current circumstance the transfer of leadership wasn’t set to happen for another couple decades.

Still, even after being promoted to second in command of the Court of Shadows he still didn’t know anything about the mysterious leader of his troop and his family. There was but one thing everyone knew about Janus, that he was a complete enigma.

He seemed to be cloaked in mysteries. Although he was their family patriarch he rarely dealt in familial matters. Most everything was handled by Umbra elders. Though he held the post of Chief Assassin he almost never led Court agents personally. All of the organizations dealings were handled by Atlas.

Yet the most inexplicable thing of all was that no one – not even Atlas – had ever seen his face.

Such a puzzling and powerful figure. His interest in Cloudhawk had been piqued years ago.

It was not out of the blue. In truth Janus had had many dealings with Cloudhawk over the years, covertly of course. Dealings even Cloudhawk had never known. One of the most extraordinary that he knew of was when the Umbra patriarch spoke on his behalf during his trial in the Temple. But that was not the only time. Six months later, when the Court of Shadows had been contracted to kill him…

Janus had been summoned to deal with the problem himself. To the eternal shock of all in know, he failed. For an assassin of his caliber it was unthinkable.

 More precisely, Janus never had the opportunity to hunt down his target. On the way his road was blocked. Since even the Umbra family was unaware of what happened they sent Atlas to investigate. He followed the trail to a battlefield. The marks left behind told the story of a fierce battle. Between Janus, and…

Atlas’ eyes slid toward Selene.

The marks he’d seen could only be caused by her crossblade. It could only have been the Apostle who stood against the Umbra patriarch. Atlas knew of her strength, and knew that he was no threat to her. However he was equally certain she was no match for Janus. More secrets shrouded the truth, these time between these two. What were they hiding?

Atlas had the distinct impression there was some unseen thread tying them all together. He glanced toward Frost. Frost looked back. Atlas answered the unspoken words with a nod.

Both men continued to wait, and watch.

Cloudhawk’s eyes burned with madness. Those fiery eyes were fixed on the cryptic shadow coming his way. “What did you do to her? Give me the antidote!”

Janus’ eyes peered back at him, as though they’d never suffered a moment of emotion in all his years. “I kill, I do not save. There is no antidote.”

“Then I will kill you!”

Anger took control. Flames from Ardent Wrath flared with unprecedented intensity, lancing across the sky dozens of meters. Like a burning waterfall is screamed toward the assassin. Janus remained still – he did not move, did defend himself. He just stared with those empty, soulless eyes as the fire ran him through. Nothing registered as the fires consumed his body.

What the fuck? Cloudhawk had a creeping premonition. That was twice he killed this asshole. But he didn’t understand.

Suddenly from behind he felt a sharp and deadly bite. He could feel the cold steel digging into his cloak, his armor, then his flesh. He felt every inch of it as it pierced his heart. The frigid presence of death fell over him.

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