Cloudhawk felt his body getting heavier.
He was really in the shit, both physically and in general. He wasn’t sure how bad he was hurt but he felt his strength slipping. The orb of castigation fire was too much for him to maintain. Meanwhile Janus’ attacks were still constant and had no sign of slowing.
Those biting daggers kept coming from different directions. They were too fast and hid behind dark powers just long enough to land their blows. With every pass they damage they dealt increased.
Because of this assassin’s methods, although his attacks fell like rain they were still practically impossible to follow. Even keen-eyed spectators watching from beginning to end could not tell where he was hiding. After all, Janus was not only exceptionally fast and able to change his form, he could also cloak his presence. To most his attacks came from nowhere, summoned from nothing.
All they could do was watch.
Cloudhawk struggled to uphold the flames. While he continued to blast through a huge number of Janus’ shadows, more kept coming and slipped through the net. The assassin’s attack was ever changing and unceasing.
With each passing second Cloudhawk’s body sported a new slash, all of them were laden with poison. So far it wasn’t enough to overcome Cloudhawk’s resistance and his regenerative abilities were closing the slices as quick as they occurred. At least from outside Janus’ attacks didn’t appear to be doing much harm.
However it continued, over and over again. As his strength waned it was a miracle Cloudhawk had survived this long. Another demonhunter would have fallen long ago.
Where’s that damn assassin! Where is he hiding? Cloudhawk tried to see if he could pick him out with Oddball or with his own special senses. So far nothing was working.
Eventually he understood that one’s stealth capabilities could be strong or weak. Oddball’s eyes were sharp enough to pierce many illusory relics – such as the sort used by Atlas – but not whatever power Janus was using.
Under these conditions, Cloudhawk’s own senses were equally confounded.
Each of the shadow assassins hummed with resonance, completely obscuring where their origins were coming from. In addition to the chaos all around them, with hundreds of demonhunters at war and their many relics activated, Cloudhawk couldn’t tell any particular relic out from the din.
Selene couldn’t see what was happening clearly but she knew Cloudhawk was dead if things didn’t change. Her power reached in Transcendence and he braced herself to leap to action.
But before she moved an unsettling rasping sound filled her ears. It wasn’t so much a sound since it didn’t come through sound waves. It was borne on wisps of mental energy that reached directly into her mind.
It dug into the darkest parts of her thoughts as though someone were digging a needle into ker skull. Even Cloudhawk felt the excruciating pain of it.
All at once, demonhunters lost control of their relics and their power faded. Huge groups of soldiers fell to the ground grasping their heads.
Cloudhawk didn’t need to guess where it came from, he knew the instant he felt it. At the same time all the shadow assassins stopped in place as though rooted in place.
It was the mental dissonance from Silvana’s flute!
The Shepherd God had two primary skills; first was the ability to control animals, and second was to control movement. By flooding her victim with mental power she was able to override and take control of their actions.
The Shepherd’s flute was the god’s own artifact. When employed against those of low intelligence it took them over completely. Janus’ shadows were powerful but unable to act of their own accord. They had no intelligence, making it easy for Silvana to manipulate them as she pleased.
And as the Shepherd God’s song reached across the field, a cascade of yellow sand sprinkled down from overhead. It spread wide enough to encompass the stronghold’s central dais, so thick that those caught within couldn’t see two meters in front of their noses.
Among this sudden, unnatural sandstorm was a hail of arrows. They were made from raspy yellow grit and were practically invisible as they dashed along attacking indiscriminately. Noxian soldiers or Elysian elite, it didn’t matter. The arrows ran them through just the same.
Hundreds died when the sandstorm appeared. Most of the victims were Elysian.
One of the Skycloud demonhunters roared angrily and tried to control the winds with his relic. A huge gust was released, blowing the sand aside like someone had blown a bubble into its midst. It disrupted the storm enough to give them a glimpse of clear air.
It lasted only a brief moment. The gust was crushed and once more every eye was blinding by yellow sleet. While it raged at least a thousand troops arrived on the field – Dark Atom’s elite warriors.
Two figures stood out, hovering in the air. One was Autumn, in her emerald dress. The other was the hideous and intimidating Abaddon, Caliph of the Sands.
One God. One Demon. Both presented themselves before Arcturus.
Their timely intervention had saved Vulkan and the Khan of Evernight.
Four figures of vastly different background, but all working in tacit congress. It was a mighty seige laid out before the Governor of Skycloud. But could the four of them threaten Arcturus?
Things had changed near Cloudhawk as well. Silvana’s flute had frozen the shadow assassins in place. He staggered backward as a streak of bright blue light flashed by his face.
It was so brilliant it stung the eyes and moved several times faster than the speed of sound. In the blink of an eye the shadows were cut apart. All that remained was a single target, hanging in the air.
Janus the Titan of Many Faces was revealed.
A broken sword was immediately hacking toward his chest. The angry blue sword was drilling forward as well.
Frost and Atlas finally had something to keep them busy as well. A mighty crystal dragon descended from on high with a Dryad upon its back. When it appeared the crystal dragon released a deluge of green fire toward Frost de Winter. The Dryad leaped off its back and, with its vined hands coalescing into hammers, flung itself at Atlas.
Overhead countless green dragons were suddenly visible in the sky, whipping around the dais. With ripping claws and gnashing teeth they tore at whatever enemy they could grab.
Such beasts were the bane of demonhunters, for their relics were useless against dragonhide.
Phain ordered his Templars to take the field.
“Such a ruckus! Now’s the right time.”
An erudite man with a black eye patch was revealed, hands clasped at the small of his back. Wolfblade, leader of the Dark Atom, strode forth like a man taking a leisurely walk. With his one good eye he glanced around at the chaos.
Upon eliminating Janus’ shadow assassins, Wolfblade’s dazzling blue sword returned to his side. It danced around him in orbit as though it had a soul of its own. Any demonhunter foolish enough to draw near was impaled and killed on the spot. Whatever defensive relics they bore were useless before the deadly blue blade.
What’s more they died in a strange and frightening fashion. Each victim dissolved into nothing, starting from where the sword had wounded them. They were forced to watch themselves atomize until nothing remained.
“Cloudhawk! Are you alright?” A gruff voice caught Cloudhawk’s ear.
Wolfblade had sent his genetic soldiers with the van. Their enormous mutant leader, saved from the Blisterpeaks, had cut through walls of soldiers to reach this point. Coal stood a short distance away looking at his friend with concern.
Now he was alone. His squad was decimated, giving credence to the ferocity of the battle.
Coal wasn’t unscathed, either. The mutant of iron sported a dozen nasty wounds, but with his superhuman constitution he paid them no mind.
Good. Cloudhawk was still alive. Coal finally breathed a sigh of relief.
He wasn’t sure whether Cloudhawk still considered him a friend, but in Coal’s own heart the man was the closest thing he had to a brother.
Wolfblade picked his way across the field until he reached Dawn’s prone body. He fetched a syringe of some unknown liquid from his vest and inserted it into her neck. Heedless of the insanity surrounding him he calmly injected the solution into the girl.
Dawn’s still chest suddenly heaved as she took a gulping breath. She quickly shook as a coughing fit wracked her, causing blood to spill from her mouth.
Cloudhawk’s eyes went wide with sudden hope when he saw her start to move. “She...”
“She won’t be dying yet,” Wolfblade assured him.
Excellent! Cloudhawk was elated. Wolfblade, that piece of shit – he always had an answer! He wasn’t one who made many friends, but at least this time he’d done Cloudhawk an incalculable favor.
Yet no sooner did he drop his guard than an intense feeling of exhaustion wash over him. He was near his limit and couldn’t know how much longer Hellflower’s stimulant would stay in effect. But even under its influence he was more or less spent.
Meanwhile the fight on the dais was becoming more intense by the second.
The center of the stronghold was being awash in enemies, too many to deal with. From below Hammont ordered his Corps to charge to the center and lend aid. But Hammont’s main aim was to hunt down and slaughter that despicable mutant, Coal.
He didn’t have the strength to fight off the other leaders, but that freak he could handle. But when they arrived at the dais he was stunned by the scene. He was amazed it had reached such a deadly pitch.
Cloudhawk spied Hammont’s approach. Hammont, feeling his gaze, looked back. The two men locked eyes and for a moment just stood there and stared.
There was conflict in the fat man’s face. He couldn’t face the man he respected so deeply the same way he had before. The Cloudhawk before him now was a wasteland general. In the eyes of Elysians he was a fiend worthy of nothing but a brutal death – responsible for all manner of evils. A traitor who had thrown his lot in with mutants and demons!
Hammont tightened his grip around his weapon. His face grew hard.
Cloudhawk knew what was in his heart. If Hammont had half a chance he would busy that sword in Cloudhawk’s body. If he did, he would a hero to his people. The highest positions and greatest accolades would await him.
The fate of Sanctuary would be decided here, at its apex. Yet no matter who won or who lost the devastation on both sides would be staggering. When a war reached such a point it was inevitable that death would be the ultimate victor.
Only… for the cost of so much blood and so many lives, what was the point?
Cloudhawk’s only interest here had been to save Dawn’s life. He’d succeeded, but many died for the effort.
In recent months he had risen among the wastelanders like a brilliant star. At the same time he was a foul shadow cast over the Elysian lands. How many wastelanders would worship him as a hero if this fortress fell? His valiant efforts for their freedom would be immortalized. Yet how many Elysian children, parents, lovers, and siblings lost their lives? To those who were forced to live on, they would forever curse the name Cloudhawk.
Wolfblade straightened and faced Janus Umbra, then looked at the others gathered nearby. A grin touched his lips. “Look at all of you panting. You should rest, catch your breath. Watch the show – I’m sure you’ll be impressed.”
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