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Chapter 74 - Unpredictable Happenstances

 Chapter 74 - Unpredictable Happenstances

The abnormal fiend that was Naberius had a host of glaring flaws; vanity, conceit, madness. By now he was convinced that he had the upper hand, that the rhythm was under his control. He was a cat playing with a mouse.

So why was Cloudhawk so calm? His tricks were exhausted, his death was near!

This unsettled Naberius. It was like sleeping with a beautiful woman, only for her to lie motionlessly beneath you - responsive as a corpse. It killed the mood.

"The look in your eyes is getting under my skin." Naberius was sure Cloudhawk had no way to fight back. When they dropped once more to the ground Cloudhawk pressed himself against a tree to avoid another attack. He thrust his dagger right toward the wastelander's left eye. The madman's precision was uncanny, and his quick movements were sure to pop the young man's eye right out of his skull. "I think I'll take one!"

As the dagger's tip came his way Cloudhawk's heart was filled with a cold mirth. You fuckin' dope, you want my eye? He caught the blonde man's wrist in his hands, stopping the dagger mere centimeters from his face.

Cloudhawk's back was against the tree, pinned as they struggled for the weapon.

Naberius chortled at the young man's foolishness. The claws of his left hand reached out, this time to dig into his abdomen. This close and with his hands occupied, Cloudhawk couldn't stop him. He could almost feel it - the soft skin parting, tough muscle giving way to warm wriggling guts. He would grab them and pull them out for his plaything to see.

The time had come.

Naberius threw all his focus and strength into the attack, convinced Cloudhawk could not resist. He completely missed the stone around his neck come to life, or the pale light and power that surrounded him.

Naberius felt all resistance vanish. The dagger in his right hand jerked forward into his victim's face at the same time his left hand plummeted into his abdomen. With a thud his dagger stuck in the tree's tough bark. His five sharp claws struck something hard.

No... no this isn't right!

He saw them go through but there was no tearing.

Naberius was an expert in body control, and a self-proclaimed master sculptor of the human body. He knew what it felt like it muscle tore and skin gave way. He knew what it felt like this a dagger and with his bare hands. This felt like nothing but air.

Cloudhawk took a short step to the left, and smiled.

"My turn."

With a grunt his right leg came across like a hammer, sending Naberius off his feet. He broke through two trees before coming to a stop. That wasn't going to kill him, but it sure as hell hurt. He was confident Naberius wasn't going to be nearly as fleet-footed after a kick like that.

Sure enough, although the blonde man's body was tough the blow was not easy to recover from. Naberius felt that several of his ribs had been broken and his lungs had taken some damage. He couldn't move as deftly as before.

Cloudhawk leapt into the air, as flexible as a chimp, spinning like an expert diver. As he came plummeting down he stuck out his right foot for a crushing ax kick. This wasn't a normal kick - it was as lethal as a large man swinging a war hammer. If it landed it could very well split him in half.

Naberius pushed off the ground and shot back up to his feet, light as a feather. He dodged Cloudhawk's kick by the skin of his teeth, causing the wastelander's heel to strike the dirt. He then swept his leg around, kicking up a cloud of dirt and rock into his enemy's face.

"You bastard!"

The two men punched at one another at the same time. The force of each blasted away the particles of dirt.

Naberius staggered backwards. His gifts lay in speed while Cloudhawk was more well-rounded. He was fast and strong, leaving no weaknesses to take advantage of. Without his speed to help him Naberius had to rely on strength alone, and he couldn't go toe-to-toe with Cloudhawk.

The bones of his left arm ached. The punch damaged something in his shoulder.

Naberius refused to admit defeat. Regardless of his injury he lashed out fast as he could, but his dagger once again passed harmlessly through Cloudhawk. Again? How was this happening! Cloudhawk sidestepped and delivered a punch. Ordinarily Naberius could easily have dodged but his injuries stopped him cold. He just stared as the young man's fist caught him in the stomach. As he doubled over another dropkick buried him in the dirt.

"You have a relic... how?!" The man's twisted face was a mask of rage and disbelief. He struggled and spat mouthfuls of blood into the soil. His left arm, chest, kidney and spleen were injured. Sturdy as he was this guy had nearly put him out of commission after only a few blows.

"The instructor never said foul play was forbidden in Hell's Valley. All he said was make sure you don't get caught."

Cloudhawk was calm and frank with the man who'd just tried to kill him. He'd had no advantage against the freak and it was only thanks to the phase stone that he hadn't been gutted. Without it he would have been forced to only stay on defense and hope for the right moment.

But with the phase stone he wasn't afraid.

Although the stone's power wasn't invincible it required more power than Naberius possessed. Through its unique abilities Cloudhawk was able to land a surprise blow and negate his enemy's superior speed.

Naberius hadn't considered this his foe would have a hidden hand yet to play. Unprepared, he was taken completely by surprise and it cost him. What's more he'd never heard of a relic with power like this, that turned people into ghosts. Now his only option was to try and flee, for the condition of hi injuries would only get worse and running away would become impossible.

Cloudhawk knew what the blonde man was thinking. "Weren't you being pretty cocky? Why are you running now?"

Naberius didn't answer. He jumped up and made a run for it through the forest.

Cloudhawk gave chase. As they dodged trees Naberius' face softened. The sharp angles and twisted muscles gave way to the more familiar gentleness from before. The almost bashful Gabriel returned.

"Hey, hey! You're going to leave me to deal with your mess?!"

Gabriel was not pleased, but the body belonged to him now.

Cloudhawk was gaining so Gabriel put all his energy into trying to stay ahead. Although they shared the same body, Gabriel didn't have the same control as his darker counterpart. He could only managed about eighty percent of his potential speed, and with the state of his body as it was he was even slower. He didn't have any advantage of speed over Cloudhawk anymore.

Gabriel shouted at him over his shoulder as he ran. "Hold on, I don't want to kill you. I just let Naberius out to deal with the Butcher. I'm sorry about what happened after! That was all Naberius, it has nothing to do with me!"

This is his apology? If it weren't for my tricks, I'd already be dead.

Cloudhawk would cut him into pieces, then apologize when he was dead. He'd be interested to know if Gabriel would accept his apology then.

Gabriel bemoaned his fate. He was told it was a 'nothing mission', but obviously Frost de Winter had misjudged. It wasn't that he'd underestimated Cloudhawk, but rather that no one knew what to expect in Hell's Valley. Without relics both he and the Butcher were fighting with one hand tied behind their backs!

Cloudhawk was not the softhearted sort. These two were sent to kill him and he had no reason to show them any mercy. He was determined to kill Gabriel, if for no other reason than to spare himself more trouble later!

Cloudhawk kept up pace but after several minute he still wasn't getting close enough. He grit his teeth and thought for a moment, then snatched up a sharp rock as he ran past.

Whoosh! It struck his prey's calf.

Gabriel was surprised and alarmed by Cloudhawk's tricks. He hit the ground with a grunt and his pursuer took the opportunity to close in. He came down on him with a first like a falling star, a punch that if it landed would split his skull open. If Gabriel's head was made of steel it still wouldn't save him.

But with Cloudhawk's fist just two meters away-

Oddball squawked from nearby. Cloudhawk hesitated for just a moment, for just then a slender figure leapt out. The stranger bound off a tree trunk to his left, then whipped a kick at him.

Cloudhawk spun around and brought his arms up to block. The force of it knocked him four or five meters away, toward another tree. He grabbed a branch and used it to flip himself up onto his feet. Eyes narrowed, he glared at the new attacker.

Claudia glared back [1]. She then cast a glance toward the man on the ground. "Are you alright?"

Gabriel was relieved and overjoyed at his savior. He scrambled to his feet. "Thank you!"

She returned her gaze, filled with righteous anger, onto Cloudhawk. "Dogs can't help but eat shit, huh. Here you are trying to kill more innocent people!"

Cloudhawk felt like a child who'd had his candy taken away and then framed for stealing it in the first place. It was a nauseating feeling.

Motherfucker! It was absolutely baffling that this defeated assassin would get to live on. How did she always show up at the least convenient time? Wasn't she afraid he would kill her?

Wait... something wasn't right.

Suddenly it all felt off. He couldn't defeat Claudia, not here.

She was a close-ranged fighter with capable speed and strength. As a demonhunter she had sub-par psychic energy, however. Cloudhawk had managed to easily beat her back at Skycloud because he had his relics to help him.

Without their tools, purely hand-to-hand, Cloudhawk wasn't sure he would take her.

Claudia was marked from the lashes she decided to take as punishment for her dignity. Fresh blood traced paths down her arm and dripped from her fingertips. The back of her robes were dark from the bloodstains. Those whips were serious business so she had to be suffering, which also meant her fighting capabilities had to be affected too. It was a gratifying thought for Cloudhawk.

As Gabriel rose from the ground he fixed his eyes on Cloudhawk.

Things just kept getting better, didn't they.

1. Oh my god I hate her so much you guys.