Book 6, Chapter 25 – As Expected

The sudden and unexpected attack from the Conclave cast the Elysians into turmoil.

Angry red trails followed missiles as they slipped across Skycloud’s defensive line, smashing into ships. Although the Elysian forces would not be so easy to break, the harassment from these long-range artillery became more troublesome over time.

Selene, with Janus by her side, charged into the fight raging all around. Arcturus was making his move – a brazen murder that seemed impossible to hide. But if she failed to stop it, there was no going back.

Was Arcturus prepared to die fighting? 

She and the leader of the Court of Shadows fought through the chaos and found a spot to catch their breath. It lasted only a moment, however, for at once she was surrounded by a number of figures. Many of them were elite members of the Cloude family. 

“Selene Cloude conspires with the wilderness to undermine the Temple! Kill her!” Frost raced toward her with spear in hand. The other members of the Cloude family brandished their relics, treasured weapons they’d clearly prepared for this moment. Arcturus and his people were not one to make foolish mistakes. He would ensure they had the strength necessary to take her down.

What they did not know was that Selene had inherited the remarkable power of foresight. Their plans were revealed and now she had the help of the Court of Shadows. Killing her now would be more difficult. Even so, it also wouldn’t be easy for her to escape.

She watched as the side of the Temple flagship blasted apart. She couldn’t see the situation on the ship but it was bad, without a doubt. Arcturus’ moves were bold and unprecedented, but if he was making them it meant the situation was well under his control.

“I can handle things here. Go rescue the High Priest!” Selene dispatched Janus and his shadows to aid Ramiel.

If Arcturus were allowed to succeed the damage to their realm would be irrevocable. Without its leader the Temple would face utter collapse and Selene’s own plight would worsen. No matter what they faced, Ramiel had to survive. Not all was lost, for this also presented a very rare opportunity. If they foiled Arcturus’ plans it would blow up in his face. The damage to his reputation would make their efforts much easier.

Janus’ form shimmered and suddenly there were ten of him. They all dissolved into slivers of darkness and dashed out into the sky. No one could stop the assassin from running when he had his heart set on it. Even if someone managed to succeed in blocking his path, chances were it was merely a shade. The real Janus could slip away undetected.

The leader of the Court of Shadows was Skycloud’s foremost assassin. His speed was superhuman. In the blink of an eye he’d arrived at the assailed Temple flagship. Out among the fire and destruction he could faintly make out a figure. Ramiel, embraced by an orb of golden light. He stood face to face with Arcturus.

The Temple clerics around him were either corpses or traitors. Unthinkable, that such a horror could occur.

Janus quickly came up with a plan. Once again his body trembled and split. Two shadows became four, became eight, and so forth until there were nearly thirty copies of himself. They all moved in tandem.

A group of five or six charged into the flaming ruins of the ship. A group of traitorous clerics were trying to put Aquaria down for good. The Oracle was on the precipice of death and had no strength to protect herself.

The clerics summoned power from their relics, preparing to silence her forever. 

Slivers of darkness jutted from them suddenly – black daggers that had slipped soundlessly through the air. They’d found their way into the traitors’ backs, hearts and throats. These men were not weak, elite veteran demonhunters all, but they were not expecting to face an assassin’s blades. After the deadly exhibition, Janus’ shadows faded like smoke on the wind.

Only Aquaria was left unscathed. Suddenly finding herself free, she dragged herself to safety. 

Elsewhere…

Phain was fighting bravely alone against his own men. Five Templars surrounded him, swords flashing. 

He could hardly believe what was happening. These were celebrated warriors who had been by his side for years! Until this moment he’d had utter faith in them and never would have imagined they would betray their Temple. And not just these five, but half of the Templars he’d brought proved to be turncoats.

Bastards! 

Arcturus had probably been working his claws into the Temple for decades. 

The battle was a stalemate until Janus arrived. Caught off guard, two of the Templars were slain outright. Suddenly there was a break in Phain’s encirclement. He capitalized on the good fortune, eliminating the remainder of the Templars with Janus’ help.

“Master Janus!”

Phain recognized the man. Expressionless, Janus barked an order. “Save the High Priest!”

Without another word, both men – one bearing daggers black as night, and the other wielding a shining Temple blade – charged into the sea of fire. Their already formidable strength was empowered by the desperation of their plight, and they cut down any opposition that barred their path. Eventually they came upon Ramiel, locked in fierce combat with Arcturus.

The High Priest was in a precarious situation. His once immaculate robes were in tatters and his snow-white hair had been burned black. He radiated holy light that hugged him like a protective shell. Meanwhile Arcturus bore a hiltless sword in both hands and was taking vicious swipes at his opponent.

The light glowing around Ramiel was gradually dimming. The High Priest was not weak, but even he could not stand against Arcturus for long.

Phain and Janus, seeing this, moved forward to come to his aid. But their path was suddenly blocked by a dark shadow. With a black staff in hand, the figure lashed out at the two of them.

The shadow of Janus Umbras was torn asunder. Phain raised his treasured blade in defense, meeting the dark staff before it could reach him. Upon contact, a burst of power was released as electrical energy. A power that would shudder mountains filled him, and with a terrible crack of thunder his weapon shattered like a flimsy pane of glass.

What power! The Arbiter’s Staff was one of the Temple’s strongest relics.

Phain faced the Oracle of Justice, Thora. She had always been silent as a statue. He could count on one hand the number of words he’d heard her speak. But behind that silence was formidable might!

He was forced to fall back. He groped for the swords off two Templar corpses and spun back around to face his assailant. He reeled back and threw them both at her. This was the special technique he’d created, known for its overwhelming power.

Thora whipped the Arbiter’s Staff through the air. Both swords stopped when they struck some unseen barrier, then crumbled into slivers of steel.

The Grand Prior knew this Oracle of Justice was stronger than he, especially with the Arbiter’s Staff. Ordinarily Phain might have been able to eke out a victory, but under these foul circumstances he could not get to Ramiel in time.

Janus, however, was successful in evading the Oracle. But as he neared his target, clerics hiding in the wings emerged to bar his path. They joined the power of their relics to erect a force field, keeping him at bay.

Damnit! 

Just as Janus was forced to stop, Arcturus thrust his sword into the light around Ramiel. It pierced his defenses and dug into the old man’s body. A pained quail rose above the sound of explosions as even his robes were turned to ash around Ruin’s hideous blade. Cracks like spider silk spread through Ramiel’s flesh and burgeoned outward as though a power from inside threatened to burst free.

An explosion, like a blast of thunder. Ramiel, High Priest of the Temple, was blasted apart. 

Arcturus waded into the carnage and stooped to pick up the ring that had once adorned Ramiel’s finger. He then turned and drew his eyes toward Phain and Janus.

A rare look of despair appeared in the assassin’s eyes. They’d still been too late. Ramiel Caelestis had been slain by Arcturus’ black hand. His plans were now that the High Priest was no longer a threat were not hard to fathom.

“Run!”

It was Janus’ only thought, and while he was making to flee Phain also broke off his attack. Ramiel was gone, it was over. He quickly followed the assassin and broke for freedom. Fighting Arcturus alone was foolish and suicidal. Better to live in defeat and plan vengeance.

But would the Governor allow them to go? He reached out and a pair of lightning bolts darted forth. One of them pierced through Phain’s armor and into his body, causing critical damage. The other connected with Janus. It forced the assassin from his perpetual shadowy aura.

One attack gravely injured two of Skycloud’s strongest!

Thora raised her staff to deal the final blow, but just as the mighty Arbiter’s Staff began to descend a beam of light pierce the heavens. From a great distance it deflected the Oracle’s attack. The Temple Adept, Selene Cloude, had arrived at this crucial moment and saved her allies’ lives.

But she was too late to save everyone! Selene was not strong enough to change the vile course of this war. Against their foe, her interference was negligible.

“None of you will be spared!” Arcturus shot one hand toward the sky and released a column of lightning. It split overhead and then tumbled around them in blazing arcs like an electric birdcage. Selene, Phain, Janus and Aquaria were all captured within.

Phain shouted in blind fury. “Arcturus! You madman!

The Governor’s answer was to chuckle darkly. He walked from the flaming rubble with his gray robes flapping in the turbulent winds. Lightning encircled his form and crackled threateningly, gaining strength with each rotation. Slowly he raised his hand toward his quarry and released the pent-up power. Like a nightmarish deluge it surged toward them.

As the harsh light of doom washed over their faces, suddenly a figure appeared between them and the Governor. The moment he appeared, a pale white shield of light sprang forth. Arcing bolts of lightning were deflected out in all directions.

Space rippled around Cloudhawk and he kept the portal open. Arcturus looked at him straight in his eyes. “You came. As expected.”

 

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