Cloudhawk rushed forward alone.
“You’re throwing yourself into the fire,” Ash growled. One person’s strength could only go so far!
Cloudhawk could single-handedly defeat thousands, but tens of thousands? A million? He wasn’t some infinite machine, eventually he would run out of energy. Appearing in the middle of Skycloud, soon he would be beset on all sides by Elysian forces.
“Don’t worry. I’ll have plenty of time to play with you before more friends come.”
Cloudhawk’s words were an affront. Soon demonhunters and other elite would rush in to spoil their confrontation, but Cloudhawk was insinuating that he would flatten this prideful Commander-General before that time came. It was an open insult.
“Such a young man, so full of himself. If you knew me – knew the weapon I wielded – you wouldn’t say such boastful things.” Ash wasn’t irritated by Cloudhawk’s bravado. He brandished his spear, ready for the fight. “At any rate, I commend your courage. Come, discover the truth for yourself.”
What did he mean?
The various Elysian lands were all isolated. Skycloud knew nothing of Praelius or its people. The reality was that Ash was a mirror image of what Skye Polaris had been in his youth – the very pinnacle of human achievement among his people. Such a person was highly confident in their abilities and would not tolerate such disrespect. So Ash decided to accept the challenge – only one of them would walk away from this fight.
Perhaps Cloudhawk really did underestimate the man. Could such a person rise to the top from humble beginnings, as he did, and not be a man of quality?
The Arbiter’s staff was held tight in his left hand. Ruin crackled threateningly in his right. With both weapons brandished, Cloudhawk rushed in to attack. But Ash reacted quick enough to deliver the first blow. As he thrust forward with the spear in his right hand, with his left he pulled a sword from his back. It was a black, two-foot shortsword that looked to have been carved from crystal. The crimson runes etched on its surface made the blade look like a work of art and lent it a sinister air.
Ash’s arm was a blur as he flung the weapon toward his foe. It cut through the air like a dart until suddenly it vanished. Half a breath later it reappeared aimed just in front of Cloudhawk’s face.
An assassination relic? Cloudhawk paid it no mind. Effortlessly he knocked it back toward its owner
The Commander-General charged ahead with both hands on his spear and launched into a fierce offensive. In his bull-rush he collided with the black sword and what followed took Cloudhawk by surprise. Ash thrust the spear into the hilt of the sword and the two became one. Dark power gathered through the spear, traveled along the haft and then burst from the sword.
As Ash lashed out with the combination weapon it birthed a storm of energy. The area was flooded with afterimages of the spear as it struck in a deluge. Cloudhawk, taken aback, switched to a defensive posture.
Spear strikes fell like rain against his pale white shield, causing it to dim. The final one finally managed to pierce through. Buildings behind him collapsed. Even the ground beneath Cloudhawk’s feet split, birthing a crevice several meters deep. Some invisible power had torn through the split and cleaved it in two. A few tears appeared in Cloudhawk’s clothing, but his empowered constitution was not threatened. Ash’s mighty effort caused him no harm.
Not bad, both men mused of the other.
Ash reached back and drew a second sword. This one was a long sword that belched an arc of purple electric energy. When it struck, it forced Cloudhawk back a few steps. Ash slapped it against his spear, affixing it as well. Threads of purple lightning danced across its surface.
Cloudhawk could feel its power surge. This weapon was starting to look problematic.
There were more than ten swords strapped to Ash’s back and each one of them was a high-quality relic. Shockingly, the very different blades were all part of a single legendary tool of destruction.
The Commander-General’s voice boomed through the city. As he charged into a full attack the other weapons burst from their sheaths. As though with a mind of their own, they joined the blitz. With no evident power controlling them, they whipped through the air and sliced toward Cloudhawk.
All at once the wasteland leader felt like he was facing half a dozen enemies.
While Ash continued his barrage of attacks, his swords latched onto the spear as though drawn by magnetic force. Each time a sword joined it grew in strength. The process lasted only a few seconds before all swords were affixed, completing the relic.
Its true form was revealed.
Strictly speaking it was not a spear, but a massive sword imbued with tremendous energy.  It was as long as a spear and had a bladed head, but once the swords combined with the haft it became a dual-edged sword like any other. Complex and confounding, it was beyond a doubt an incredible weapon.
The Commander-General’s name came from the weapon he wielded – Ashfall.
It was a relic composed of eighteen other relics. In addition to utilizing several different kinds of energy, it was also possessed of powerful destructive force. This suited Ash’s indomitable style. Once complete and in the hands of the Commander-General, it was a power to be reckoned with.
Ashfall lashed out. Heat, fire, pressure, tearing, smashing!
Before the weapon even drew near, Cloudhawk could feel no less than ten different kinds of power reaching for him. That was in addition to Ash’s own martial abilities. Any defense would be hard pressed to ward off this dauntless assault.
Incredible! No wonder he was considered the best of his realm.
Cloudhawk felt more of his clothing tear under the multi-energetic attack. It stabbed at his defenses like a hundred thousand needles and had begun to pierce his flesh. He could barely remember the last time someone had managed to make him bleed. Ash was a worthy opponent, to be sure.
He brought Ruin and the Arbiter’s Staff in front of him, catching Ashfall between.
Their collision was devastating. The resulting explosion leveled half the block.
Cloudhawk and Ash were flung away from each other. Ash’s hair was tousled and there were burn marks on his body. Arcs of electricity sparked across his skin. Cloudhawk’s clothes were disheveled and in spots seared black, in about the same shape as his adversary.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen anyone take a direct blow from Ashfall and live.” A smile spread across Commander-General Ash’s face. “You’re strong, quite strong. But no one is strong enough to withstand my weapon. Die!”
His final shout was punctuated with a headlong rush. He charged at Cloudhawk, reaching ten times the speed of sound.
Ash was a master martial artist, having perfected his body so that it was as impenetrable as any god or demon. Impressive mental strength also meant that in his hands, Ashfall reached its highest potential. Comparably, Cloudhawk’s weapons were wondrous but paled in comparison to the combination relic.
Ashfall was the treasure of Praelius. Its mightiest artifact!
Since acquiring it, Ash had never lost a battle. He was the greatest warrior Praelius had ever seen – how could he be defeated? As the assault continued Cloudhawk could find no answer for the complex combination of power the Commander-General’s weapon brought. He was forced to back off.
In the blink of an eye the two men had exchanged several dozen blows.
By now a number of demonhunters had been drawn to the commotion. As a storm of energy raged around them, they prepared to surround Cloudhawk like a rat in a trap.
Ash’s confidence surged. He saw no way for the fiend to escape. However, as he moved in for the next attack something went wrong. It felt like something was stopping his relic from releasing its power.
Ash looked down to discover faint cracks appearing in the blades. They appeared across the entire length, and crackling within were faint tongues of green fire… like it was somehow being burned.
Although he appeared to be in a bad position, Cloudhawk grinned. “You put too much faith in your weapon. It may look incredible, but it isn’t as sturdy as you thought.”
Ash had never faced something like this. Cloudhawk had already seen through the relic’s weakness.
Because it was an amalgamation of eighteen different relics, the spear bore incredible and varied power. However this came with a drawback. Eighteen parts meant that together, it made an imperfect whole. Cloudhawk concealed his efforts by staying on the back foot, but what he was really doing was striking specific weak points with the Arbiter’s Staff.
His was also a treasured relic of this Elysian land, and like Ashfall, struck with incredible force! Lesser relics shattered under its assault.
Cloudhawk had repeatedly hit the same spot on Ash’s relic, eventually causing it to crack. Once the form was breached the rest was easy. Without his enemy knowing he infected the blades with Castigation Fire. They spread quickly, traveling along the cracks until the fires corrupted the entire weapon. Damage to their structure robbed the relics of their power.
If the fight continued it was only a matter of time before they shattered. By the time Ash discovered this, it was too late.
Cloudhawk whipped the Arbiter’s Staff through the air, this time aimed at Ashfall. He released a torrent of power and – like a vase struck by a bat – Ash’s weapon crumbled into ten jagged pieces. Gouts of green fire emerged in a deadly plume, roaring into the Commander-General’s face.
He screamed. He turned to try and flee.
It was too late. Ash was fast, but Cloudhawk was too. Seizing this hard-won opportunity, Cloudhawk raced up to the warrior and lashed out with Ruin. The crackling blade came down on his neck. Another flash followed and Ash tumbled to the ground in three pieces.
I lost… I lost… I… l-lost...
Just as blood and organs seeped from his ruined body, thoughts seeped from Ash’s severed head until there was only darkness. Disbelief was all he had left when death claimed him.
Cloudhawk had succeeded in felling Skycloud’s Commander-General. Its protective enchantments were destroyed. The city and its Temple were exposed to the armies of the Green Alliance. With his clothes torn and burnt, Cloudhawk raised his head from the ruin to gaze upon the Temple floating above. More powerful enemies remained, but Cloudhawk was not deterred. No one could stop him from saving Selene – not even the God King.
1. Yo dawg…