Book 6, Chapter 36 - The Sword That Drops the Curtain

Mighty as Arcturus was, against his three opponents it did not win him the advantage.

Indeed, Cloudhawk’s strength was comparable to the late Judas and only somewhat weaker than Arcturus. With the aid of the drunk and Selene’s explosive power, on the surface it would be Cloudhawk and his allies who held the upper hand. The reality, however, was not so bright.

The Governor’s body became a beacon of light. Those Seraph under his command all burst into flame and from them flowed torrents of psychic energy. Like opening a dam, they all surged toward Arcturus. Wings woven from bolts of lightning spread from the Master Demonhunter’s back and he stood amid an electric blaze, like a god given flesh.

He was making his move! Cloudhawk, Vulkan and Selene all stared with faces grim.

It was with this stolen power that Arcturus defeated Judas during the battle for Sanctuary. Calling upon this power he bolstered his strength to godly levels. It empowered him enough to handily defeat the Elder demon. 

At that time, he had been strengthened by four seraphs. Today there were eighteen!

“He’s throwing everything he’s got!”

Cloudhawk was surprised at Arcturus’ reckless decision. Absorbing foreign power made the Master Demonhunter a nigh unstoppable force, but it was not easy. Without question, the damage it caused him would be severe.

All at once Arcturus’ graying hair turned snow white, confirming Cloudhawk’s suspicions. 

“He can’t keep this up for long. Do everything you can to avoid him!”

As he spoke Cloudhawk released a surge of mental energy. Reality thickened around them like starch, creating barriers between his allies and the Governor. Meanwhile the Highblood hovered nearby like a royal guard. Through Cloudhawk’s handling they brandished relics, launching a deluge of attacks at his foe.

Cloudhawk, Selene and the drunk slowly backed away. 

Thunderous power roiled in the depths of Arcturus’ eyes. With a mighty beat of his wings the Highbloods’ attacks were batted away. A flash as though from lightning followed. As a Master Demonhunter, Arcturus’ speed was even greater than that of the War Saint. He moved so quickly shadows of him hung in his wake.

Ruin glimmered, hacked lengthwise through the air. A wave of electric energy spread out toward the horizon. One of the Highblood was caught, but rather than being cut in half the lightning swallowed up the body. It was reduced to ash then blew away on the wind. 

A second slash. This time vertical. Another one of the Highblood in his way burned up. None of these puppets were strong enough to even slow the Governor down. Like a chicken bold enough to confront the wolf, they were quickly extinguished.

Not enough. They couldn’t slow Arcturus down this way. His electric wings birthed a storm of lightning behind him as he dashed forward.

The lightning he released carved a path through the thickened air Cloudhawk had summoned, opening a path. He darted through it unimpeded. With no other recourse Selene called on the power within her. A light sprang to life between her eyebrows, shining like a gem set against her skin. As power was unleashed from it, the Apostle was transformed.

Selene became an infinitely dignified and imposing figure. Her strength doubled in an instant!

Her dark eyes turned a brilliant silver. Her retinas, like implanted relics, empowered her vision far beyond the likes of mortal eyes. Humans saw things in the realm of the physical world, but through this power Selene could witness objects as they traveled through time and space. Where things were and where they would be was revealed to her as lines of illusory specters.

She knew better. These weren’t specters. Once this power awakened in her she could see a short distance into the future. 

“Cloudhawk, careful! He attacks from above!”

As Selene delivered her warning, Arcturus cut his way through half a dozen Highblood. In the blink of an eye he appeared over Cloudhawk with Ruin poised to drill right through his skull. Meanwhile Cloudhawk heard Selene’s call and didn’t for a moment question it. It was a tacit understanding, from two connected spirits.

CLANG!

Ruin was deflected by a shield of pale white. Cloudhawk countered with a swipe from his flaming green sword.

Ever since absorbing the entirety of the Demon King’s blessings, Cloudhawk hadn’t felt such a crushing threat. It was like trying to defend himself against being impacted by a planet. The storm of their collision swept across dozens of kilometers.

He managed to ward off the strike, but the demands of it nearly shattered every bone in Cloudhawk’s body. The electric power felt like a hundred thousand arrows piercing his flesh. Luckily his physical condition was pristine, like the greatest of martial artists. If it were any less, Arcturus’ blow would have reduced him to ash. In all of Skycloud – likely in all the world – only Cloudhawk was strong enough to survive such a direct blow. While the Governor was laser-focused on his target, Selene and Vulkan took advantage to try and flank him.

“Over confident!” In response, Arcturus’ strength surged even higher.

Ruin flared. Cloudhawk’s sword of Castigation Fire was extinguished, and the Governor’s power wrapped him up. He was lifted off his feet and flung into a distant part of the battlefield. Colliding with a group of soldiers, they were atomized from the residual power – wastelanders and Elysians alike vanished in puffs of smoke. 

Cloudhawk rose from the crater and the sword in his hand crumbled to dust. Bits of his clothes, too, fell away like burnt paper.

His skin remained as white and unblemished as jade. Rising from the destruction gave testament to his superhuman constitution. Replace him with any other man and they would have died ten times over, while he suffered only minor injuries. Those surface wounds were already beginning to heal.

Selene continued to watch, her silver eyes following shadows further into the future. She witnessed images of Arcturus as he existed in different periods of time all across the battlefield. In other words, it was difficult for her to see the Arcturus that existed in the present because of his speed, but she could see all the places he would be. By employing the power granted to her by the Temple she could temporarily rise to the level of a Master Demonhunter.

Without hesitation, she flung herself into the fight.

Sublime Transcendence was thrust toward a seemingly random spot of air, but it was informed by Selene’s prophetic vision. Her shimmering weapon pierced the area which Arcturus was crossing giving the impression – even to Arcturus himself – that he was throwing himself onto her sword.

The Governor was taken aback. Could she follow him, even at this speed?

No, even if she could Selene wouldn’t be able to react that quickly and accurately. It isn’t perception, it’s prediction. This power…

Arcturus’ face darkened. At last he understood how his ambush had failed. 

He had underestimated Ramiel, that old fool! Selene had been gifted the power from that ancient rite! These thoughts and more flashed through his mind but did not slow his actions. He knocked Selene’s blade away before it could cause him harm.

Ruin crackled as it lashed toward her. 

Were it to land Selene would be fatally wounded, even if she had the constitution of Cloudhawk or Skye. But as the deadly strike neared, Selene did not try to escape. Rather she gripped her holy sword tight and thrust it forward.

Was she ready to sacrifice her life to take his? Selene had to know it was a gambit doomed for failure!

The Apostle was more than just a little slower than Arcturus. By the time her blow landed he would have enough time to strike at her eighteen times. But much to his surprise it was in this moment that Vulkan appeared by her side. With a well-placed blow he knocked Ruin away.

No wonder she wasn’t afraid. Selene had presaged Vulkan’s arrival, she knew his attack would fail. It was confirmation that indeed she had come to possess an ability that wasn’t hers. It was a power typically reserved for a singular being.

The power of time!

Cloudhawk wielded mastery over space, and now Selene saw the weaves of time!

The Demon King of old relied on his spatial powers to do incredible things. They made him nearly unstoppable. Only one being existed beyond the scope of the Demon King, and that was the God King himself.

Demon and God. Space, and time. Space existed above matter. Time existed above space.

Of course Selene did not possess that talent, not really. Nor did she have relics specialized in temporal power – after all, those were even rarer than relics that manipulated space. There was only one possibility. Given unto her by Temple rites, Selene now possessed a power from outside of herself. Much like Arcturus borrowing strength from the Seraphs, using an ability not native to her was a risk. How long would she be able to withstand the dangers?

But that wasn’t important right now. 

If she possessed even one one-thousandth of the power of the God King it made her practically invincible in battle. She made everything much more difficult, for indeed in seeing the near future she could thwart any tactic Arcturus concocted.

Selene couldn’t wield a tenth of Arcturus power, but she was nonetheless a terrifying foe. Ramiel had clearly been planning to use her against him. Between his new Savior, the Oracles, and Phain there might have been enough opposition to unseat the Governor. Only, the High Priest did not expect Arcturus to act when he had.

“Some aspects of the future can be changed.”

“Some cannot.”

“Those that can, are you strong enough to keep up with the change?”

As Arcturus spoke it was difficult to determine his position. His words and attacks fell over them like a flood. Although he had never experienced such power before, Arcturus was wise enough to know its flaw from the outset. Selene was not, as he’d first feared, invincible. The future was ever in flux, but what’s more some aspects of it were so entrenched nothing she could do would change the flow.

In the days of ancient earth, their scientists had performed an amusing quantum mechanical study. It observed one of the most fascinating phenomena of reality.

Simply put, the quantum state was unobservable, for once an outside force became involved its fundamental state shifted. When witnessing something – even if the onlooker does nothing – the very act of watching is intervention and in turn changes reality. [1]

In a way, those fundamental pieces of reality are immeasurable. This theory can be applied to how events manifest.

Before Selene observed the future it was set. However, once she saw its path the future became fluid. As a result the future Selene saw wasn’t necessarily the future that would come to pass. It was all a constantly moving, squirming uncertainty. The more she got involved, the more fluctuation was observed. Eventually the changes would become too rapid for her to react to.

The second point were those possibilities that were so likely almost nothing could sway the path. Like the destruction of the earth, the explosion of a planet. It was one thing to see it coming, another to stop it from happening.

Upon seeing Selene’s power and its limitations, Arcturus adapted his tactics in a simple way. Contrary to his nature of well-planned and targeted attacks, he should rather strive to be as random and directly powerful as he could. Direct, absolute force would break the shackles of time. That was how he could overcome Selene’s godly powers.

The wisdom in his plan was proven several rounds later, as Selene was struggling to keep up. Although Cloudhawk and Vulkan had joined her, the three were finding it hard to beat the Governor back. He paid Cloudhawk no mind for the time being and seemed intent on eliminating Selene first and foremost.

Soon enough, an opportunity presented itself.

Arcturus first repelled Cloudhawk with a swipe from his sword. Then, he followed up with a thrust right for Selene.

Escape was impossible, there was no room to dodge. Cloudhawk, fighting off bolts of lightning, could not come to her aid. The realization was crushing and Cloudhawk’s face darkened. After all of this was the Governor still impossible to overcome? He seemed destined to watch Selene be cut down before his eyes. 

Only suddenly another figure charged into the fight. The silhouette put itself squarely between Arcturus and the Apostle.

It was the only person close enough to react in time, Vulkan. As a martial artist his reaction times were nearly superhuman, fast enough to contend with Arcturus. However, he was not fast enough to take measures for his own safety.

Selene saw the entire thing happen in a single, unbroken chain from past to future. Her face stiffened, her eyes went back to their normal color, for her sudden rush of emotion interrupted the power.

No!

She cried out just as Ruin pierced the old drunk’s chest.

It was immediately understood by all, even the drunk. The instant Ruin touched his body, Vulkan’s life was forfeit. No one could take a direct strike from Arcturus and live.

For an instant, before the full power of the Governor was released, time stood still for Vulkan. He felt an infinite peace within him, for this was the moment he had been waiting for. 

Years ago this was how he envisioned it would end. Much to his surprise, a whole new chapter of his life had followed where he met Cloudhawk, Selene, and Dawn. He’d been blessed to watch the Green Alliance and its young revolutionaries grow. What was there to regret? 

Although it was now done, it was not yet over.

The drunk’s body began to swell. Nine years ago he had been defeated at the hands of this man. Three years ago Arcturus allowed him the chance to land three blows, and all he’d managed was to tear his sleeve. Two years ago, fighting at Sanctuary with powerful allies, he was beaten back by a mere exorcist rod.

The drunk had nothing to regret in life any longer. But if there was even the slightest possibility, he wanted to go out with his honor as a warrior intact. He wanted to leave the world with dignity!

As Ruin entered his body the drunk summoned all the strength left to him and threw his sword as hard as he could!

Vulkan was an Elysian martial artist, once cheered as the War Saint. His conflicting identities as a wasteland drunk and a peerless hero were in this moment one and the same. As the sword left his fingers both of those mantles were relinquished. He let it go. He let it all go just like the sword.

At one time long ago the drunk had stood on the precipice of human pride. Fate conspired to bring him low to its deepest valleys. Tribulations he’d suffered would have crushed lesser men, and he clawed his way back up. His life was certainly a tumultuous tale of ups and downs, but not once had he ever given up his sword – a symbol of his fighting spirit.

In this moment he did not hesitate to let go. It was time to go back, down the natural road.

His simple attack, as magnificent and mundane as the dawn, did not need to travel far. It split through Arcturus’ electric defenses and sliced clean through the Governor’s arm and one of his wings.

He’d done it.

Every time before he had been beaten, embarrassed. In the end he’d broken through the shackles of shame and inferiority, calling on the deepest parts of himself. Finally, he’d left his mark on Arcturus.

But he would never know, for death claimed him the moment the sword left his fingers.

It was alright, he didn’t mind. For a soldier, there was no better way to drop the curtain on his life that with a toss of his sword. It was a fitting end. He closed his eyes and let darkness take him, content.

You young folk…

Fight hard. It’s time this old man took a rest.

Cloudhawk saw the life leave his old friend. The fire of rage that burned inside of him now was more than he could contain.


1. He’s talking about the Double-Slit Experiment. Strap in, this shit is full-on bonkers.

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Xiao Lai's Thoughts

Requiescat in pace, Vulkan.