Python was not considered one of the stronger citizens of Redleaf. He was second-tier at best. However, Chosen were men of status in this kingdom so he was a recognized name by virtue of his abilities.
When he left the Summer-Autumn Company, Python took up with Red Banner – one of Redleaf’s best merchant groups. There were forty-three Chosen pledged to their service. Python had just got his foot in the door at this point, but he had plans to have that change.
He knew about Summer-Autumn after being in their employ for years. Enough to know the small company had real potential. So he’d come here on purpose, ready to start a fight, because he knew Summer couldn’t resist. Getting that kid to start something was exactly why he’d come.
As for the old man, he could go fucking die in a corner. And Autumn? Hmph! She’d be just another worthless bitch without that company, much easier to get into his bed then. After he got rid of the Summer-Autumn Company his status in Red Banner would definitely improve. That meant more respect and a higher salary, as well.
When a lion wanted to swipe at the sheep, the sheep couldn’t do anything but bleat. But this ragged-looking asshole would have to be dealt with, first.
Python had never heard of this guy. Either he had worthless backing or he was an outsider who didn’t know his place. Killing him wouldn’t cause any troubles.
The four big men Python brought with him all attacked together.
These were some of the stronger thugs employed by Red Banner. Among normal folk they were intimidating, about equivalent to a standard Skycloud foot soldier. But there were only four of them. Cloudhawk could be mostly crippled and still wouldn’t have a problem dealing with them.
“You must be from somewhere else, huh.”
“He’s a moron. Obviously he doesn’t know what Red Banner’s about!”
“For a runt like you to offend Boss Python is a joke! Beg for your life, asshole, andm aybe we won’t kill you!”
Summer was practically shaking in his boots. He didn’t think Python would be so brazen! Summer-Autumn Company didn’t have any Chosen anymore, and that meant no one to stand up for them.
The rules of the Silver Kingdom stated that organizations and merchant companies were forbidden from fighting directly. Doing so was a violation and both offenders would earn the King’s anger. But conflict was inevitable, so the kingdom made an edict – organizations could fight to protect their interests, but only through champions.
Essentially, the kingdom allowed for proxy battles between Chosen. They served as representatives for their employers and whoever won the contest settled the disagreement.
It was a simple, brutal system, but it avoided full on war between factions. The Silver Kingdom protected its population numbers and Chosen were elevated to a respected class. As gladiators they were showered with resources and training to hone their skills. Over time they developed into a veritable army of mercenaries for the kingdom.
Summer-Autumn Company, though, had no Chosen of their own. If someone like Python found an excuse to stir up trouble, the company couldn’t protect itself. Clearly that was Python’s whole game today. To stir up shit.
Again, Summer’s eyes darted to the stranger. While he was confident of Cloudhawk’s abilities, Cloudhawk was an outsider. How could he be expected to take on Red Banner? If Cloudhawk didn’t intervene, it was unlikely Summer could get away unharmed, but if he did he was declaring war on one of Redleaf’s strongest companies.
“Quit wasting time, deal with him!”
At Python’s command one of the men acted. He wrapped his arms around Cloudhawk’s shoulders to try and pin him, setting up to try and tear the limb from the joint. But Cloudhawk was faster. He spun around, took the big man’s arm in a vice-like grip and twisted. The sound of snapping bone could be heard clear across the bar.
His attacker’s arm was bent backward at an unnatural angle. His companions rushed in to take revenge.
Cloudhawk first snapped a lazy kick at one of their kneecaps. The meaty leg bent backward at a ninety-degree angle and the jagged end of his broken femur stuck out from behind the knee. That was enough to convince the other two that fighting wasn’t necessary. They tried to run.
No one could see what happened next, it was too fast. What was obvious were the indentations in their chests which caused the thugs to crumple to the ground like sacks of potatoes after flying backward a dozen meters. Judging by those wounds these men would be bedridden for the better part of a year, and it was unlikely they’d do any fighting ever again.
What the fuck?! Was this asshole even human? How was he so strong and fast when it looked like a stiff wind would blow him over?
It’d taken two seconds for Cloudhawk to shut down four strong fighters. More importantly, each one of his blows seemed halfhearted but did frightening damage. It was like whatever bone he brushed a finger against, simply just snapped. The sheer force of it made him all the more mysterious.
“Do you really want to make Red Banner your enemy? Do you have any idea who you’re fucking with?”
The black snake entwined around Python’s arm awakened. Like black lightning it darted forth, its black body changing dramatically in the process. It split from one snake into a hundred in the blink of an eye. The writhes and hissed all around Python.
A snake that can split apart? Has to be a divine beast. Rare to find in Skycloud, but here they seem commonplace.
The snake seemed otherwise normal, except that it could split as often as it wanted. An opponent would find themselves immediately confronted with a whole host of snakes whose venom was quite deadly. One bite was enough to fell an elephant.
“I don’t know anything about this Red Banner,” Cloudhawk said, eyes fixed on Python, “but if you’re the best they got, then they aren’t worth shit.”
“Wait till you get a taste of the death adder. We’ll see if your talk is so tough then!”
Python’s face twisted into an expression of savage rage. He raised his hands and the snakes responded, laying siege to the outsider. They charged at him like a poisonous wave.
A flash of gold darted into view. At some point Oddball had swollen to a formidable size! It snapped up one of the snakes with its dagger-like beak and swallowed it down before everyone’s eyes. It whipped its tail and struggled, and though its scales were tough as steel it couldn’t save itself from Oddball’s gullet.
Was that it? Python’s serpent was so easily devoured? The rest of its copies meant nothing and were no longer a threat.
Cloudhawk didn’t wait for his foe to react. He dashed forward, crossing the dozen or so meters between them in a moment. He came to a stop inches before the scoundrel, pinning him with a hard gaze.
Python had never seen eyes like them.
They were like dual pits whose bottoms he couldn’t find. There was no emotion in them or lethal intent. He felt like an ant staring into the eyes of a lion. He was so beneath this man’s attention he might as well not exist. All at once he realized how stupid he’d been.
This was the most terrifying person he’d ever met in his life.
Python didn’t have time to say anything, though. Cloudhawk’s hand shot out before he could open his mouth.
The full-arm slap caught him right on the chin. Python’s head spun seven-hundred and twenty degrees. His neck twisted up like a screw and every vertebra snapped into pieces. No one could survive an injury of that scale. 
How? How could a guy that looked like him be so strong? And why? Didn’t he know there are entire organizations supporting every Chosen? Python in particular was backed by the frightening Red Banner. He just eliminated an expensive asset, an act which definitely would demand an answer.
Cloudhawk didn’t give a rat’s ass about benefactors and power struggles.
He was far different from the Cloudhawk of old. Getting to where he was today, he didn’t do it by being a good man. If these assholes were going to treat him this way then he had no reason to go easy. If Red Banner wanted to come knocking, then let them come. Cloudhawk figured such a piddling outfit wouldn’t have anyone that would cause him trouble.
Anyway, the Khan of Evernight was lurking somewhere if he bit off more than he could chew. He’d show up if there was any trouble. He could count on that because he himself was a big asset to Nox. The Khan was here to protect Judas’ investment.
When Summer returned to the family home he told his sister and grandfather the whole story. It was a shock to the whole company. It was as surprising as it was disheartening that Python would turn on his former employers in only six month’s time. Just as shocking, the arrogant Chosen was absolutely obliterated by one man who no one knew.
Craig’s face was full of worry. “You may have dealt with Python but that will only mean more trouble. Red Banner doesn’t tolerate any challenges. Python was a new asset, but an asset none the less. They won’t sit idly by in the face of such an insult.”
As if on cue, a company man rushed in and delivered news: four Red Banner Standard Bearers had delivered an invitation for tea, to be shared by the leadership of Summer-Autumn Company and Red Banner.
Who were these Standard Bearers? Only the most powerful members of their organization! They were on an entirely different level from Python. Among the top ten most dangerous Chosen in Redleaf. How was Summer-Autumn supposed to stand up to that?
When the junior members of the company heard the news, everyone began to lose their minds with fear. A handful renounced their relationship with the company on the spot to avoid getting involved.
Craig couldn’t believe this was happening. He didn’t know what to do.
During the turmoil Autumn approached Cloudhawk and confronted him frankly. “I was wrong about you. Thank you for saving Summer, but none of this is your business. You should go before you get any more involved. Red Banner is strong, too strong for one man.”
She paused and stretched out her hand, laden with a heavy purse. “This is a thank you gift. Our company is small so it isn’t much. Leave as soon as you can.”
It took Cloudhawk by surprise. “If I go what will you do?”
Autumn frowned. “It feels like things are beginning to fall into place. Worst case scenario, Summer-Autumn Company will be disbanded.”
Cloudhawk smirked. “Something tells me they won’t be happy with just that.”
She felt the fear worm up inside her.
Cloudhawk didn’t cause this problem, but these people did save him from the ruins. Besides, he needed a way to get to Imperia and a local power was the best way to do that.
“I’ll keep that appointment tomorrow.”
With that, Cloudhawk turned and walked away.
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