The small valley was locked down. Agents from the Cloude family had lain in wait for this moment. Selene and Cloudehawk had underestimated Arcturus.
Arcturus knew better than anyone his own weaknesses and deficiencies. He also knew where he could afford to take liberties or exploit an advantage. So there was no question that the Governor knew to take targeted measures early on for greatest effect. If the Green Alliance was planning on facing Skycloud’s army, their best and only course of action would be to try and involve the Temple.
To do that, Cloudhawk would have to contact Selene.
Selene likely had her eyes on Arcturus and plans to counter him, so the Governor saw both his opponents clearly and knew their actions before they took them. There was never a plan to try and capture Cloudhawk at the Temple, rather he discovered Selene’s plans to use this valley and set up his ambush here. A sure catch, leaving them no way to escape.
Scandalous rumors of Selene’s relationship with Cloudhawk had long been whispered around the realm. However, Ramiel had been largely successful in leveraging the Temple’s power to keep those foul rumors from getting too loud. After all, Selene’s position in the holy order was an important one. Such blasphemous actions could not be allowed to tarnish her or the Temple she represented. As for Cloudhawk, before his corruption he had been in the process of being groomed to replace Skye Polaris. The Commander General looked on him like a son, so Selene’s interest in him was not suspect, nor was the time they spend overly long. Who would have suspected at that time that Cloudhawk would rise as head of a wasteland army?
Times had changed. Now the Temple Apostle was involved in a secretive tryst with the leader of the Green Alliance. If word of such disgraceful things got out the people would be aghast. Even Ramiel would be unable to tamp down on such news. Especially after the battle for Sanctuary, Cloudhawk’s name was cursed across the realm. His evil reputation would never be amended.
Selene’s good name would be forever soiled and with it the Temple’s sterling prestige. Not only would it negatively impact the Temple’s ability to act in the short term – for instance, in helping the wastelanders – but it would give Arcturus precious ammunition in his efforts to eliminate the Temple as a threat.
No matter what, they could not afford to be caught. The consequences were too dire.
“You go!” Selene gave her orders to Janus. “You can’t let Arcturus know you were involved!”
Janus’ efforts were in secret and behind Arcturus’ back. Him and his Court of Shadows were supposed to be important allies for the Governor. If they kept their true allegiances secret, they could attack when Arcturus least expected and deal a potentially mortal blow. If, on the other hand, Janus was discovered here, not only would the Cloude family be prepared for future betrayal but the master assassin himself would be in danger.
Janus did not make to flee. He was under no illusions that his efforts would be completely hidden from Arcturus and his genius. The Governor likely had long suspected Janus was not as loyal as he seemed. He hadn’t moved against him or the Court because it wasn’t the right moment to tip his hand in the Big Game.
Until now these thoughts were merely speculation. Their frightful situation proved them to be true.
In interrupting this important mission Arcturus likely knew of the Umbra family’s treachery. No one was better suited for such clandestine missions than the Umbras and their Court of Shadows. Arcturus had done a fine job of concealing his efforts, for even Janus had been taken by surprise.
Why hide this operation? Frankly, because Arcturus must have suspected Janus and his people. The assassin realized with a bitter realization that his dealings in the shadows were over. Animosity with the Cloude family was now inevitable.
Four dazzling balls of electricity rose up around the cabin. In an instant, the valley was made bright as day for dozens of kilometers in every direction. The glowing orbs were so bright it was difficult to keep one’s eyes open.
“This is an anti-reconnaissance relic used by Cloude elders.” Selene’s face was cold as ice and a little crestfallen. She feared that elders of her family had come personally, mysterious and powerful figures that would not be easy to overcome.
The powerful light from the orbs was as piercing as it was brilliant. No means of hiding – mystical or otherwise – were possible in this field. Even the highest levels of concealment would leave a trace.
Janus ‘Many Face’ Umbra did not vanish. Rather there remained the faint mist surrounding a humanoid figure, plain as a black splotch on a white canvas. Janus was the foremost assassin in Skycloud and he could not hide, so Cloudhawk didn’t even try. Once Arcturus Cloude deigned to act, few could escape.
“I will hold them off, you two escape.” Janus gave them no time to argue. Once his words left his lips, the assassin vanished. Now wasn’t the time for arguments, anyway. Cloudhawk and Selene did as they were told.
But as they looked for a way out, Cloudhawk could sense a symphony of resonance coming from every direction. The border of the light field was shrinking quickly. Enemies were too quick, they didn’t have much room to maneuver.
“We know you’re here!”
“Come out and fight us, if you can!”
Shouts and taunts form demonhunters assailed Cloudhawk’s ears. However, despite their boastful words everyone had been told that capturing Cloudhawk was secondary. Killing him wasn’t as important forcing him into the open to expose his relationship with Selene. If they could show the realm her illicit deeds it would mean absolute victory for the Master. The Temple’s holy angel in collusion with the wastelander devil… such salacious news was exactly what Arcturus was hoping for.
Selene could feel the border shrinking. All around and overhead, they were surrounded by elite demonhunters. Meanwhile the lock on spatial abilities intensified. It was a special sort of energy interference that undermined the use of spatial-focused relics. Even Cloudhawk’s reflecting gauntlet couldn’t dispel it. But he had to do something, otherwise there was no hope for escape.
Fury twisted Selene’s beautiful face. She wrapped her hand around Sublime Transcendence and prepared to attack.
“Don’t be rash. If you strike them you’ll have a hard time explaining your actions when you go back.”
Selene shot back. “If they find us here we’ll find it even harder to explain. It’s better if I attack than if you do. I’ll stall them, you get out of here. Strong as you are now, I’m confident you can do it.”
Everyone knew Cloudhawk’s tricks very well these days. His Gauntlets of Turning, Castigation Fire, Ardent Fire, the Silver Serpents – these were all tools he’d used at Sanctuary. If he used any of them it would be impossible to hide his presence here today.
But even as this understanding dawned a cold grin snaked across Cloudhawk’s face. “Arcturus, you bastard. You really underestimate me.”
Selene looked at him in confusion. She was taken aback when Cloudhawk grabbed her by the arm and a strange feeling washed over her. All of a sudden the ground beneath their feet became like water and the two of them sank like stones. Suddenly Selene found herself several meters underground.
“What is going on?!”
Shock was an understatement. The brilliant sword in her hand blazed, illuminating the space around them. She discovered they were buried in soil. Holding tight to her hand, Cloudhawk continued to pull her forward. The dirt warped around them like water and impeded them about as much. The undulating space was just large enough for the two of them to pass through, and once they did the earth was left unmolested in their wake.
“What relic is this?”
Cloudhawk’s eyes glimmered with a golden light, while from his pupils smoldered crimson fire. From within poured forth a power that could no longer merely be rated the likes of a Master Demonhunter. It was this power that was supporting their escape underground.
“Not a relic.”
Cloudhawk didn’t explain. Even if he did she wouldn’t understand, and he couldn’t afford to be distracted. The ability to use his will and mental energies to manipulate reality without a relic was still new to Cloudhawk, it wasn’t a skill he’d wholly mastered. It cost him dearly in effort to maintain and the only way he could do it was his recent explosion of strength.
The two escapees traveled quickly through the dirt, away from the site of the ambush. Once he felt they were far enough away, Cloudhawk dragged Selene back to the surface. He looked at her dumbfounded expression. “Look, Arcturus can only lock down my spatial powers. But if he thinks that’ll be enough to catch me then he’s dead wrong.”
Selene frowned. “Can you let go of my hand?”
Cloudhawk realized he had yet to relinquish her soft hand. He recoiled when she pointed it out. As disappointment bloomed on Cloudhawk’s face she felt a twinge of warmth in her chest. “We have to go. When we find somewhere safe we can plan our next move.”
Arcturus’ ambush had come too quick. They hadn’t had time to really discuss what they were going to do. They’d managed to successfully escape, but they weren’t yet free from danger.
This sort of thing was Cloudhawk’s specialty. Nowhere was safer than leaving the planet entirely. No matter how strong Arcturus was, he couldn’t traverse space to hunt them down. So, after giving himself a moment to catch his breath and recover his strength, Cloudhawk prepared to teleport them away. Reality was filled with his mental power and a section of it began to ripple. A portal split open before them, and the two stepped forward toward safety.
Suddenly! A blinding beam of light streaked their way from dozens of kilometers away! It blasted through an entire forest toward the center of Cloudhawk’s back. Such power!
Selene’s eyes went wide. She shoved Cloudhawk out of the light’s path and brought up Sublime Transcendence to block it. Sword and lightning met, resulting in a chain reaction of explosions for several meters in all directions. Selene felt intense, burning power flood her body and she was flung backward. Landing with a grunt, she coughed up a mouthful of blood. Thankfully her Holy Vestments were enough to save her life.
The attack had come from a huge distance away, accurate and powerful enough to nearly slay Selene in one blow. There was only one capable of such a feat!
Cloudhawk lost focus on the portal and it dissipated. Turning toward the source of the attack, he saw another salvo of lightning bolts heading his way. Most were directed at Selene, hoping to take this opportunity to slay her outright.
Cloudhawk blinked through space, appearing in front of the fallen Acolyte. He stooped down, wrapped her in his arms and teleported again a thousand meters away in the air. But before he could even catch his footing, more bolts of lightning were closing in.
How the hell was he locating them so quickly?!
Cloudhawk punched at the bolts with his left arm. As he did a pale white light sprang up around him. The lightning sparked off through the forest, blasting through trees and causing them to catch fire. The intense power in every bolt was enough to split mountains, so where they wanted massive craters were left behind. It looked as though someone had carpet bombed the forest.
How was Arcturus able to attack so accurately from so far away? Cloudhawk couldn’t figure it out, and thus had no way to protect himself from it.
He’d grown strong since Sanctuary – strong enough that he could instantaneously teleport himself huge distances. Even someone like Arcturus couldn’t pin him down. But he wasn’t alone, and he couldn’t just leave Selene behind. To escape to another dimension he would need a few seconds, but to someone like Arcturus a few seconds was more than enough to blast them both to smithereens.
Arcturus’ powers were based in electricity. Electricity moved at the speed of light. The Master Demonhunter’s attacks were also extremely precise. Cloudhawk would have no chance to open another portal. The aim was to break down Cloudhawk with a steady, overwhelming deluge of attacks. The exchange continued for another ten seconds before a familiar figure appeared on the field.
He descended from above, gray robes flapping in the breeze. Ruin crackled ominously in his grasp.
Cloudhawk raised the Gauntlet of Turning to protect himself. As ruin collided with the white light a hundred million sparks of lightning exploded around them. They arced and slithered through the air all around, and the ground below was burned in erratic trails.
It was a terrible, incredible display.
Cloudhawk was thrown so violently to the ground that he created a hole ten meters deep. He’d managed to fling Selene to safety at the last moment and took the full brunt of the impact with his empowered body. While the results of his fall were dramatic to behold, he was unharmed.
Arcturus Cloude slowly floated to the ground. Upon his face was a small smile which birthed spiderweb wrinkles around his eyes. He looked as nonplussed as ever. “I’ve got you.”
Cloudhawk looked back at him, face dark. This was real, real bad.Previous Chapter Next Chapter