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Chapter 57 - Another Exchange

 Chapter 57 - Another Exchange

Frost de Winter was an admitted germophobe. A place as foul and filthy as this tunnel was exactly the thing he hated most and it made him feel soiled from head to toe. However, self-control and perseverance kept him moving through the darkness, hunting his prey.

His party was somewhat smaller than Dawn's, but Frost had brought five demonhunters with him. As a high inquisitor of the demonhunters he had the right to demand a small contingent on any mission he pleased. So, although in numbers his group was inferior, they made up for it in combat power.

One of his subordinates - a demonhunter specialized in tracking - called out. "There are traces that show a large group has been living in the area. Up ahead."

Frost's voice was cold as ice. "After them!"

His people were some of the best warriors in Skycloud. The fugitives had no hope.

Five minutes later they were flooding through a narrow tunnel. The passages down here were anything but uniform, and this one was among them ore cramped. Only four people could pass through side by side, so a hundred had to file through in several lines. They came across another group trying to do the same, made up mostly of children and the elderly. They seemed to be a sizeable group.

"Kill them all!" Frost gave the order but his men hesitated. Their orders were to capture convicts and to only use lethal force if they resisted. These folk were just normal citizens, wasn't wiping them out going too far? Anyway, if they didn't bring anyone back how could they claim credit and get rewarded?

"These animals are a scourge upon Skycloud City. Bringing them back is inviting evil into our midst. They're nothing but a waste of space, better to kill them. And merit means nothing to me, now obey!"

"As you command!"

The soldiers rushed forward in three columns with their weapons raised. Leveling their crossbows, they pulled the triggers. The sound of twanging strings and the release of compressed air filled the tunnel, followed by a hail of crossbow bolts. A storm of deadly steel came raining down on the defenseless exiles.

Cloudhawk was in the middle of the group, trying to keep them moving and paying close attention to the situation. He hadn't anticipated Frost would immediately choose the most violent path. The screams proved him wrong, and after the first volley half a dozen people were laying on the floor riddled with arrows.

The shots kept coming, but a wall of coarse yellow sand rose up to plug the passage behind them.

Dozens of crossbow bolts could be heard as they thud against the wall of sand. It sounded like rain on a lake surface.

"Lily, get everyone out of here!"

Cloudhawk pushed forward with his left hand, causing the sand wall of explode into a wave of gravel. It surged through the narrow passage and forced the soldiers' eyes shut. The grit coalesced into sandy arrows that charged down the tunnel.

Frost de Winter grunted. He couldn't see, but the pitch of the arrows was enough. With superb precision he swung his silver spear through the air and knocked away every one that got close. His control and strength were flawless, leaving him in no danger from Cloudhawk's attack.

Frost's eyes locked on a figure, half-seen through the sand. His lips turned in a mocking sneer. "You again."

A deep resentment ran between the two men. Frost de Winter never saw Cloudhawk as anything but a filthy wretch, and Cloudhawk's hatred for Arcturus' disciple ran bone deep. Down here in the dark scourge met nemesis.

"These people are innocent, they weren't supposed to get caught up in this. They've been pardoned, so what gives you the right to exterminate them? They're citizens of this city, just like you. What you're doing is contemptable!"

"These rats might have lived a fine life, but you're the one who got them involved. You're the monster here, not me - their fate was sealed when they met you. I agree, Cloudhawk. They shouldn't have to die for your sins."

Cloudhawk already saw through his opponent, he knew there was no point in arguing. He could have perfect logic but nothing he said would make any difference. There was no changing this man, so Cloudhawk steered clear of the topic and tried a different tactic. "Fine. Well, Frost, meeting you down here was my shit luck. But now that we're here, you've got another chance!"

Frost's face darkened like a blizzard as he listened. He growled out his response. "What are you saying?"

"First the prison, then the tunnels," Cloudhawk said through a laugh. "Twice I've embarrassed you and proved you don't have what it takes to capture me. I feel bad I keep making you look stupid, and I have a big heart. I figure I'll give you one more shot."

Frost de Winter's pride was legendary.

With how sharp Cloudhawk's words were, it was shocking they didn't immediately throw Frost into a rage. His escape from prison, freeing the convicts, and snatching Squall in plain daylight were one stinging blow to his ego after another. When he thought of what people must have been saying, the derisive laughter behind his back, Frost's anger flared. He would rip this hateful rodent limb from limb.

Cloudhawk lifted his sword and pointed it at him. "You and me. You got the balls?"

Everyone else paused in surprise. A challenge, one on one against Lord de Winter? This guy had to be crazy, how was he any sort of match for Frost? Against the unscrupulous high inquisitor, how was this any different than suicide?

However what Cloudhawk expected did not occur. Frost de Winter did not lose his temper, only looked at him with those infinitely cold eyes. "You think you can get in my head with a pitiful strategy like this? I'm not sure if I overestimate you or you underestimate me. Keep firing, kill this fool!"

Cloudhawk was frozen. That was his one ploy, thought up in a moment of desperation. He wanted to make Frost furious and buy the others time to flee. Then, somehow he would stay alive until Dawn showed up. Once she got between them the crisis would pass. However it looked like Cloudhawk hadn't thought it through. Frost de Winter was an arrogant shit, but he wasn't an idiot.

The soldiers raised their crossbows and continued to fire. Several more Bloomnettle members were murdered.

As rage welled up from Cloudhawk's heart another sand storm arose. He decided his best shot was blocking their advance. The tunnels here were narrow, and even with so many soldiers there were no more than ten he had to contend with at once. Cloudhawk had enough power to fill this tiny space with choking sand.

"The sandstorm again!"

The soldiers hunkered down to protect themselves and could see nothing. Meanwhile Frost de Winter wildly swung his spear, trying to catch Cloudhawk somewhere in the storm. But he was gone, the scoundrel had already used his powers to vanish.

"Push on, keep firing!"

The first line pointed their crossbows where they thought was forward. If they couldn't kill Cloudhawk, at least they could take out more of the fugitives. But as their fingers began to squeeze the triggers a black-gold sword emerged from the sand on their left. It's sharp bite cleaved right through the crossbow and pierced the compressed air tank, causing it to explode into splinters.

Strangest of all it never made a sound. Between that and the sandy environment, the second soldier was completely unaware when the sword lashed out again and destroyed his crossbow. It was the same scene for the third and fourth soldier, all the way down the line. They sat in a half-crouch with empty hands while the sword flashed above them, disarming the second row just as quickly.

Cloudhawk's brazen actions were unthinkable. He was attacking the soldiers head to head!

Yet why not? His invsibility cloak was a relic of near mythic powers, and paired perfectly well with the deadly silence of Quiet Carnage.

Quiet Carnage cut through whatever it touched and didn't make a sound, including human flesh. Channeling his psychic power through the sword effectively muted everything he did and made his sneaking that much more effective. He could be standing right in front of them and they wouldn't know.

He was also too fast for them to follow. Yet, the attacks all were aimed at their weapons and not the soldiers themselves. Two magnificent swipes of his sword and eight crossbows were destroyed. Thanks to the narrow opening, by the time the next row of soldiers took their place the exiles had fled around a corner.

His gambit did not come without cost, though. For now the others were safe, but that make Cloudhawk the lone target.

The two lines of soldiers exchanged crossbows for melee weapons, and the demonhunters among them were even faster. A pair of exorcist staffs whistle through the air toward Cloudhawk from two different directions.

It was going to be difficult for him to fight these two demonhunters alone.

He pushed off the balls of his feet and sprang backwards. Half a moment later the staffs slammed against the floor, right where he'd been standing. Each one shattered the stone floor and kicked up jagged shards. Suddenly, a shout called out from behind.


Frost de Winter leapt out from behind the line. He ran along the wall faster than Cloudhawk could follow. He felt Snowsong's power crashing towards him like an ice dragon with its fangs bared.

Cloudhawk had not forgotten what happened the first time he fought Frost. He'd been holding out before, but this time there was a brutality mixed in with the overwhelming force of his strike. He couldn't even compared it to before. Although Cloudhawk had gotten a little stronger since then, if he thought he could deflect this strike he was deluding himself.

But getting out of the way was not an option. Even before the spear reached its target, the flood of power washed over him.

In half a blink Cloudhawk was covered in frost, making his joints stiff. If the spear hit him he would be frozen just like last time, then all it would take was a stiff kick to break him into pieces.

You wanna kill me? It won't be so easy, asshole!

Embroiled in the thick of the fight, Cloudhawk wrapped a hand around the phase stone. Immediately its powerful field engulfed him and the ground bellow became as soft as water. He sunk into the earth right before Frost de Winter's eyes.

The high inquisitor scowled but his reaction was quick. With a brutal swipe he struck Snowsong against the ground and released a blast of frigid energy.

Clang! The ground shook and freezing cold swallowed up the whole area. Teeth chattered as the soldiers all started to shiver.

Jagged icicles arose all around where Frost de Winter had struck. The other demonhunters all paled when they saw it, for Frost usually kept his powers in check. Now they witnessed what him and his spear were capable of and it was obvious why there were only three others who could stand in the young man's way.

Yet, even more surprising was how Cloudhawk had slipped away.

How did he do it? They saw it clear, he just sank into the earth just before the killing blow landed. Did he have some sort of special earth-type relic that allowed him to move through the ground?

Frost de Winter pulled his spear out of the ground. The scowl on his face was colder and more bitter than ever. That rat wasn't much of a fighter - ten of him couldn't beat Frost in a straight battle. But he had plenty of ways to run and hide.