The power radiating from Judas spread from him in black ripples. It spread out to establish a zone of control which attempted to envelop Arcturus Cloude.
The Master Demonhunter scowled. He retreated from the ripples of darkness. Allowing Judas’ power to touch him would end badly.
“Sanctuary will not succumb to your darkness!”
As Arcturus fell back, two of Skycloud’s elite stepped forward. The air around them hummed with the power of defensive relics which attempted to deflect Judas’ power. Their efforts were to buy the Master time but Arcturus called to them when he noticed. “Fall back!”
But it was too late. Those ripples had spread to form an orb around the elder demon. It swelled quickly, separating from him and swallowing up the Skycloud agents before they could heed the Governor’s warning. When his victims were within his zone of control, Judas wordlessly reacted. He stretched out a hand and gently poked the bubble.
It popped as one would expect a bubble to, but when it did everything caught inside was erased from existence. The men who had rushed to Arcturus’ aid – along with their relics, presence and the air around them – simply ceased to be. It was as though they were never there at all.
Just… removed. Completely obliterated.
Shock and trepidation filled everyone who witnessed it. The elder demon made it look exceedingly simple. He created the bubble, surrounded his target and then they were gone. That was it.
“A powerful demonic relic. The Hilt of Annihilation.” As he watched Judas, Wolfblade spoke like a man recounting a fond memory. “Once it has you, Judas’ power strips reality of all trace you ever lived. Every atom is scoured. There is no way to protect yourself.”
What a horrifying power! It was the bane of a demonhunter’s defensive tools. In the face of the Hilt of Annihilation, it didn’t matter how strong one’s protections were. They were of no use.
It sounded like a kind of dimensional power. But Cloudhawk didn’t feel any ripples in time or space, so it seemed unlikely. Rather, they were obliterated as completely as the bubble that’d surrounded them. The tiniest ions of what they were disassociated when the field collapsed, leaving not even a faint mist to mark their end.
The elder demon hardly lifted a finger, but his power left everyone stunned.
As powerful as Arcturus was, he was a creature of flesh and blood. Had he been caught in that field he would have suffered the same gruesome fate.
Arcturus did not waste time with words. Power welled up inside of him and he jabbed a finger at the elder. Light flashed, and a javelin of electric energy streaked across the dais.
Halfway through its trek a shuddering explosion rocked the beam. Countless threads of lightning crackled through the air like a host of vipers. They jerked and thrashed but gathered around Arcturus’ beam, empowering it further. Harsh electric light fell upon Judas.
The power of Ruin was nothing to scoff at. Few things could withstand a direct attack of this magnitude. A fraction of this terrible energy that had nearly eliminated Cloudhawk and the drunk.
Yet the demon elder was not intimidated by Ruin’s roar. He did not even attempt to move away. He raised his large hand and ripples once more propagated from his twisted form. Once more a sphere of energy was summoned, the semi-translucent field spreading wide, the demon himself at its center.
When Ruin’s power struck the border it was like a meteor striking atmosphere. It had to fight through the dark energy and every inch robbed it of some strength. By the time it reached Judas the overwhelming power had become a mild shock.
The beam struck Judas and detonated, dissolving into several threads of lightning then vanishing entirely. Incredible! The demon had completely castrated Arcturus’ power! Judas wielded amazing strength. Not only could he stop most attacks, those that got close would be robbed of strength before they could be a threat.
This was the power of a demon elder.
Judas’ cold, sinister laughter rasped across the battlefield. “Your attempts are pitiful, Governor. Now witness my supremacy!”
With that, Judas shoved both hands forward.
Suddenly the bubble became a missile. It shot toward Arcturus at incredible speed, forcing the demonhunter to action. Ruin was summoned forth and swiped through the air.
A streak of lightning energy chopped down from overhead. Judas’ orb of annihilation was cut in two. However, that was not enough to eliminate the threat. The field was now two orbs closing in on Arcturus’ location.
The Governor’s brows knit tighter and he was forced to retreat. As he did the two bubbles collided and burst – but instead of vanishing, now they spread out as thousands of smaller orbs.
Each one was roughly the size of a human skull, slowly wafting through the air. Those that touched the ground and popped eliminated all they came into contact with. The rest continued to wander across the dais. People scrambled to evade them and those that were too slow suffered for it. Most continued to harass Arcturus.
Pop! Pop-pop… pop pop pop!
Judas’ orbs burst upon contact, spreading all across the field like a storm. A handful managed to get close to the Governor as indicated by the holes in his robes.
As the danger fell over him power gathered within Arcturus and was released as a cluster of lightning bolts. Like the spikes of a hedgehog they jabbed at those orbs that got too close.
“What’s the matter? Is Skycloud’s greatest demonhunter unable to fight back?” Judas sneered derisively and cast more orbs of annihilation at his target. Craters had appeared all around, mangling the site of their conflict from contact with the demon’s power.
It made onlookers tremble and their hair stand on end.
Meanwhile Arcturus frantically defended himself. For ten minutes it continued with the Master Demonhunter on the back foot.
Throughout the conflict there was no sound but for the crackle of electricity. Judas’ creeping orbs were nearly silent. They could dissolve a spaceship into fragments and it would all happen without a noise.
The elder demon’s powers were just as frightening as the Governor’s. However, Arcturus had spent much of his strength in previous battles. What’s more, demons recovered more quickly than humans. The longer the fight persisted, the clearer Arcturus’ disadvantage became.
Judas knew this. He pressed harder with another powerful attack. Another wave of orbs coalesced around Arcturus, forcing him to expend more energy.
It was only a matter of time. The instant Arcturus’ mental energies were spent, he was doomed.
One of the orbs burst in front of the Governor’s chest.
With a grunt, the orb’s detonation thrust Arcturus back several steps. A large swath of his robes were missing, as well as a fair amount of flesh from his chest. Bright, fresh blood leaked from the wound.
Wound. Arcturus Cloude had been wounded!
For the first time, it was proven the Governor could bleed. There existed someone with the ability to make it so. Elysians stared at their beleaguered Governor in fear and disbelief. Arcturus was a near-mythical figure in Skycloud. But even a man with his unfathomable strength was wounded in battle against a demon. What normal demonhunter could stand against a fiend like Judas?
The Cloud God was sleeping. Arcturus was in danger. Skycloud’s two mightiest defenders were unable to protect the realm from disaster.
What had remained of Skycloud’s legendary heroes – Skye Polaris, Baldur Cloude, Sterling Cloude – were all dead. Two betrayed their home. If Master Arcturus were to fall, who would save Skycloud from destruction? High Priest Ramiel enjoyed a fine reputation but had no real authority. If Arcturus fell, would it mean the fall of the realm he governed?
“I know your stratagems, demonhunter. There is no escape.”
Judas was confident he would emerge today victorious. And there was ample evidence to support it. Never in recent memory had Arcturus been in such dire straits. He was a mess in the eyes of his people, with torn robes and a nasty wound. Blood soaked his once-pristine scholarly garb. However, despite his deadly circumstance Arcturus was not off put. The way he looked at his wound was more calculating than concerned.
Judas was made curious by his calm demeanor. “You do not fear for your life?”
Arcturus lifted his head and fixed the demon with a hard gaze. “Do you really believe you’ve seen through me?”
Judas’ response was tepid and self-assured. “You are the pinnacle of mortal achievement, but that is all. What more is there to see?”
Arcturus shook his head. “Not so. For if you really understood, you’d have never shown your face here.”
The demon elder did not understand. The human’s words confused him and something in the Governor’s confidence filled him with disquiet.
Arcturus raised his eyes toward the smoke-filled sky. “You have come, eager to discover what would happen to Skycloud without its Governor. But have you given thought to what would happen to Nox without its master to defend it?”
Cloudhawk felt his heart skip a beat. Does this mean…
“The battle for Sanctuary was bait, and I’ve managed to catch quite a haul of fish. Much to my surprise, the biggest one even came for a nibble.” Arcturus returned his attention to Judas. “You all came rushing for a meal, and never once noticed the sting of the hook.”
A flash of anger caused Judas’ eyes to burn more intensely. “Is that how you see me? A fish? You honestly believe yourself to be such a threat?”
In the face of the demon’s anger, Arcturus was calm. “You might not have seen through me, demon. But I can see through you.”
In an instant, everything changed.
Several dozen figures emerged from below the dais and rose to reveal themselves. As they appeared a wave of shock spread throughout the fortress. It was not just the wastelanders and the elder demon who were taken aback. All the Elysians – even the likes of Phain and his Templars – stared in open amazement.
These new figured were not men. At least, not entirely. Each one was encased in brilliant light and were held aloft on massive wings. The power that poured from them stole the breath of all who witnessed their arrival.
Seraphs. They were Skycloud’s Seraphs. But weren’t they supposed to be confined to the city? How had Arcturus managed to hide them here?
As the combined might of the divine creatures fell over him, Judas’ expression grew dark. Seraphs were humanoid puppets created through their own power, mixed with godly spirit. Simulacrums only, but powerful ones. A few dozen completely changed the face of this conflict.
Yet Judas maintained his air of dominion. “This is your plan? Seraphs?”
“No.” In response to the elder demon’s query Arcturus removed his robes. When it was revealed to all what lay beneath, wide eyes and shocked expressions answered. “They are not here to fight you. They are here to give me their power.”
Arcturus’ body was covered in faint golden script. They looked almost natural, like he’d been born with them. The delicate lines wrapped around his torso, and if one were to look closely they would discover the patterns were identical to those borne by the Seraphs.
Was Arcturus… a Seraph?
The surrounding divine puppets released their power, but not in an assault. Rather, the ocean of strength was poured directly into Arcturus’ body. Where a moment before the Governor had been drained of energy, now it pulsed through him at unprecedented levels.
“Everything up to this point was a warm-up. Now, it can truly begin.”
A pair of enormous wings composed of lightning spread from Arcturus’ back . His meticulously combed salt-and-pepper hair flared around him, dancing on an unfelt wind. The scholarly Governor was gone, and in his place was a being of tremendous gravitas and majesty.
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