Book 5, Chapter 65 - Curtain Drop

Sanctuary. A scene of devastation.

For ten kilometers in every direction dust choked out the sun.

The once beautiful planes were now ravaged by conflict. Burning wreckage and mangled bodies could be seen everywhere. The sky was black and the mix of acrid smoke and harsh sunlight cast everything in a crimson hue as though all were submerged in a sea of blood.

Their war had persisted for a number of hours. This is what it had come to – Arcturus and Judas were each vying for advantage, to strike the final blow.

Whether the Governor or the demon, both wielded power far beyond what a normal man could comprehend. While it was stupendous to behold, those with keen eyes were able to see that Arcturus was slowly gaining the upper hand. Barring unexpected circumstance, Skycloud’s Master Demonhunter would come out on top.

After all, the wasteland army was a disorganized force. They didn’t have the equipment and training of Elysian soldiers. The longer a fight dragged on the further the wastelanders slipped behind.

Wastelander weapons were simple, and most fighters hadn’t had much traditional training so they lacked organization and discipline. Weapons like rocket launchers were impressive, showy, and deadly when used properly. But their ammo was wasted in the beginning of the fight, so the clunky blasters were useless now as they were beginning to lag behind.

This was not so for Elysians.

After fending off the initial wave of ferocious attacks the Elysians settled into their experience. Talented commanders wielded their forces like their own arms. Skycloud’s advantage in equipment was also becoming more obvious. After the first assault wasteland forces broke apart into different groups and spread from the furthest gates to the central dais. Making their way back out would be difficult to say the least. As Elysian discipline took control the wastelanders found themselves surrounded and slowly being strangled.

They weren’t going to let these despicable thugs leave. If they were stupid enough to attack once they would do it again! Peace would only be achieved when every heathen was dead!

Hammont, as commander of his own Corps, was a high-ranking commander on the field. First and foremost in his mind was performing his duties. That was when he made a choice the moment he saw Cloudhawk collapse. He summoned soldiers from nearby and mounted a charge to cut the criminal down.

They surged ahead in two solid ranks. In their hands were Elysian crossbows at the ready.

Glinting bolts were reflected in Cloudhawk’s eyes as he watched them come. His teeth ground together painfully, but despite his anger his body would not listen to him. There wasn’t an ounce of strength left to stand, much less fight.

Hammont’s solemn face was suddenly pale. He raised his hand and hesitated but held it ther.

“Commander, give the order!”

“This man is one of their leaders. Accolades for whoever spills his blood!”

Hammont’s beady eyes slid closed. His mind was brought back years ago, to memories of a strange young man in a dusty town. He and Cloudhawk had history. He’d helped Hammont get to where he was today.

But…

Hammont was a soldier. An Elysian officer. He could not abandon his duty.

“Kill him!”

Dozens of crossbows fired in unison with spurts of rapid-fire destruction. Perhaps a thousand bolts were cast toward Cloudhawk in an instant.

It was overkill, but Cloudhawk warranted it. They weren’t willing to underestimate the man who dropped a mountain on their fortress. He was known to slip out of danger with his teleport abilities. There was no telling when he’d blinked into their midst and crack open their fat commander’s head.

But he couldn’t, not now. He had nothing left.

A wave of regret and helplessness washed over him. Even someone like Hammy was out for his blood now. Was there anyone he wouldn’t one day have to fight?

Suddenly a figure placed itself between him and the hail of arrows. They struck the expansive form again and again, breaking in a cacophonous display. Not a single one pierced his defender’s flesh and they were scattered on the ground like so many used toothpicks. Their arrows heads were glowing red hot.

When Hammont saw who it was his fists clenched tight. “You again!”

Coal’s hulking frame was like a living mountain. The air around him radiated red-hot as he charged ahead at the Elysians like an out-of-control tank. A dozen men were flung aside as they tried to stop him, to no avail. They screamed in pain, their bones shattered from the impact and their skin burned black.

Hammont watched his compatriots flinging themselves wildly at Coal. “That’s the wastelanders’ super mutant. Even Commander Drake couldn’t defeat him! Don’t get in close, use the smoke!”

The moment the words left Hammont’s mouth, Coal roared and tried to silence him with a series of attacks.

Coal felt things strike him and explode. They didn’t hurt in the least but in the next moment his world wasp lunged into a smoky darkness. He spun around, completely unable to tell which direction he was facing. What’s more this strange smoke clung to him, so that when he moved the smoke did, too.

Coal lost his target. All he could do was rush around wildly and grope for anything to strike.

“Forget about him for now.” Hammont easily sidestepped Coal’s charge. Although he hated the mutant, and although he didn’t want to kill Cloudhawk, logic told him Coal was not the bigger threat. Even if they let him go and he became a wasteland king, a man like Cloudhawk had the power to topple Skycloud. He shouted his order. “Everyone on Cloudhawk!”

The soldiers raised their weapons only to find them empty a second later. Somehow, all at once their crossbows exploded into shrapnel. A spear had screamed passed to disarm them. It struck the ground and was itself reduced to splinters.

Another elite fighter had come to his defense!

The drunk appeared at Cloudhawk’s side. “You alright, kid?”

Cloudhawk shook his head. “Take Dawn and get out of here. Make sure to tell Gabby and the rest of them to retreat!”

Of course the drunk wasn’t about to leave Cloudhawk to be torn apart. He took up both he and Dawn, slinging them over his shoulders as Elysians closed in to block his path.

Over-confident fools! He waved his sword almost flippantly at them. The men in his path yelped and stumbled back, their armor splitting wide open like a lobster’s shell. Strangely, though, not a drop of blood was spilled. It was clear the drunk was holding back. “Stop fighting and run for your lives!”

As the path to freedom was open, the battle on the dais was coming to a close. 

Arcturus continued to dart around the orbs of destructive power. The larger ones he dexterously avoided while the smaller ones were warded off by his wings. The Governor seemed to fully grasp Judas’ combat rhythm. The demon’s ability to deconstruct matter did not seem to be enough to overcome Arcturus Cloude. His mental energies were simply too strong. Any damage to his electric wings was quickly repaired.

Witnessing it, onlookers felt like the Governor was invincible. On the other hand, the elder demon’s limitations were clear.

Judas’ powers were based on scale. The larger his field was allowed to become, the more incredible the results. If Arcturus were caught in a field a dozen meters across, even the mighty Governor would be helpless. The mighty demigod would be erased from existence.

However, Judas power was spread out and cut apart. His assaults became legion in number, but each was now far weaker in comparison. What’s more, with each wave it became clear that the volume of power he released was the same.

That meant attack and defense interacted. When Judas forced his power into attack, his defenses weakened. Likewise when protecting himself from Arcturus’ counters, his attacks were diluted.

Judas was preparing for another wave of orbs when Arcturus took advantage of the shift. His wings burst with a thunderous noise as he broke the sound barrier. There was a flash and Arcturus appeared in front of the demon.

He struck. Judas’ armor split open. The thunderblade left a long scorch mark where it passed.

Demons had incredible defensive capabilities. Spray them with concentrated gunfire, shoot them with high caliber bullets, even hit them point blank with a rocket and it would do nothing. Yet before Arcturus, the elder demon’s sturdy armor was about as effective as paper.

Judas was gravely wounded. He knew now his weakness had been revealed. If this fight continued he would be slain.

A mere mortal! He had single-handedly defeated an elder demon! Human potential was as incredible as it was frightening. Was this why we demons and gods had used them to fight our wars?

It didn’t matter now. Judas was out of options. He released a pulse of destructive energy around himself.

As Arcturus retreated, Judas rose up from the ground. The demon dashed away from the field so quickly he looked like a streak of light in his attempts to escape.

“Trying to leave?!”

The electric sword in Arcturus’ grasp began to pulse, like a river about to burst its banks. All the power inside him gathered into the weapon, transforming it into an enormous spear of lightning.

But as he was reeling back, the Master Demonhunter’s body began to quake. A rivulet of golden blood dripped from the corner of his mouth.

The Governor wielded immense power, granted to him by a cadre of Seraphs. However he was still a mortal, with a mortal body that could not handle such a deluge of power. He was beginning to feel the side-effects – internal injuries which would possibly follow him to his grave.

But he had strength enough for one – more – attack!

Everyone watched as a blast of light was expelled from Arcturus’ hand like a laser. It pierced the demon’s defensive fields, dug into Judas’ back and then out the other side. The wound it left behind was hideous to behold.

What a powerful, brutal attack!

Even Judas, with the power and defenses of an elder demon, felt Ruin’s awful power coursing through him. Where that tremendous energy passed, it did not just injure tissue. Ruin’s kiss caused permanent damage – wounds any living thing would struggle to survive.

Vulkan knew it. So did Cloudhawk. Judas was stronger than those two, but the injuries he suffered were ten times worse.

He didn’t dare stop. He knew if he did, he would die. So the demon pushed on with the domain of destruction radiating around him. He thrust his legs and shot off like a shooting star.

Arcturus had begun to feel the consequences of his actions. He’d badly wounded the demon but had failed to kill him. It wasn’t enough to keep Judas from fleeing. The demon was a survivor of the Great War and it wasn’t since those dark days that he’d been in such dire straits. However, though he did not achieve what he’d come to do, there was still a chance to get things done!

Judas swooped down toward Cloudhawk.

Gasps followed. He was after Cloudhawk!

The drunk tried to fend him off with his sword but the flash of a vorpal weapon forced him to split his attention. The Khan of Evernight launched into a series of vicious attacks with his purple light weapon against Vulkan.

He wasn’t holding back! 

Yet there was something… Familiar. The techniques used by the Khan were some that Vulkan himself had invented.

“You – that’s impossible. You can’t be-” The drunk stared with a look of disbelief. “Is it really you?”

Judas stretched out a black, clawed appendage toward Cloudhawk.

Autumn watched from a distance, her brows furrowing. Almost instinctively she raised the flute to her lips and blew. A streak like the slash from a sword struck Judas. Before this moment the elder demon had paid her no mind, but when that blow landed it caught his attention.

That power… so familiar.

Judas’ crimson eyes fixed on Autumn. “You? How!? What an amusing turn to see you… like this!”

Her face unreadable as stone, Autumn launched into a dozen attacks. Judas was badly injured but still had strength enough to protect himself from the god’s blows. Upon entering his field of destruction the power of her flute dissolved away. 

The Elysians looked on, baffled. Why were the wastelanders suddenly turning on one another?

Autumn was preparing for a second onslaught when the ground before her began to tremble and spit up yellow sand. Four huge spikes of grit shot up at her like snakes.

“Abaddon! Betrayer!”

Autumn quickly dispatched of the sandy tendrils and glared at her assailant.

The Caliph of the Sands answered with a raspy laugh. “We were using one another from the start. You can’t call this betrayal.”

Vulkan was blocked by the Khan. Autumn was held back by Abaddon. Who was left to protect Cloudhawk? Judas was irritated to discover others remained. Several shadows blinked into existence around the demon and began to attack with lightning speed.

“Insignificant.”

The moment those shadows crossed the boundary into Judas’ sphere of influence, they vanished like smoke on the wind.

To ordinary folk, Janus the Titan of Many Faces was an incredible man. However, the demon’s defense more than negated his skills. As his shadows were already weak, they couldn’t overcome the domain.

Heedless of the assassin, Judas’ massive have reached forth. Cloudhawk was caught and lifted off the ground.

Cloudhawk was unconsciousness. He had no idea what was going on.

Excellent! Yes! So this is the Demon King’s successor!

Judas had failed to kill Arcturus and the battle today was a failure. However, if these efforts led to the King’s successor falling into his hands then it was not a total loss.

A simple, ordinary human. What right does he have to bear the master’s inheritance?

Judas, the Khan of Evernight and Abaddon fled the field. Wolfblade watched them go with a chilly, knowing smirk. “Don’t mind them. Time to go.”

The wasteland forces abandoned their assault of Sanctuary and began to fell back while being hounded by Elysian soldiers. Bodies continued to fall as Skycloud’s forces gave no quarter. Only their leader, Arcturus, remained still. After defeating Judas he made no further motions to pursuing the enemy.

He vomited a mouthful of blood and collapsed in the middle of dais.

“Governor!”

“Governor!”

The gathered warriors and Skycloud’s elite blanched at Arcturus’ condition. He’d fallen? He can’t! He was their government and spiritual leader!

They rushed to his side to discover that the energy encasing hid body had dimmed to a faint sheen. He was weaker than anyone had ever seen him, and his hair had all gone white. It was evidence that although Arcturus had defeated Judas, it had cost him dearly.

“Stop pursuing the heathens! Call them all back!”

Their leader was injured and couldn’t keep up the fight. It was time to call it off. After all, the wastelanders still had a number of formidable killers in their midst. Breaking their forces just to wipe them out wasn’t going to win them any benefit, and besides the day was won. It was an effort that had demanded a great deal of blood and sacrifice, but they had successfully defended the honor of Skycloud.

 

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