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Chapter 75 - Dust-Up

 Chapter 75 - Dust-Up

The enemy of one's enemy was one's friend.

Cloudhawk was fighting alone, but thankfully he had the phase stone to lend him some confidence.

These two joining forces at the critical moment was going to be a difficult situation for him to deal with. Still with the stone's energy field surrounding him he was effectively separate from the physical world. The only attack he would have to fear were those that could overcome the limits of the stone's power, anything less would be ineffective and he could completely avoid.

The problem was that just as others couldn't harm him, he couldn't harm anyone either while he was incorporeal. He would have to drop the stone's power before trying to fight back, and against a single target he could choose the right moment. Just as with Naberius, it was a matter of dodging then counter-attacking.

But when his foes started to multiply things got more complicated.

Activating the stone took time. Constantly galvanizing and dropping it created more opportunity for mistakes. If they could keep up a continuous assault, or had some special attack, or some special way to overcome his defense, winning this encounter was going to be very difficult for Cloudhawk.

"Remember who I am." Cloudhawk's mind was racing, looking for any way to turn the situation his way. But on the surface he remained calm. When he turned his eyes on Claudia a scornful sneer was writ on his face. "Twice you tried to kill me with your sneak attacks and have failed both times. Now here you are again. Are you some sort of sadist? Hey, you don't love me or something do you?"

The accusation made her furious. She wouldn't consider it even if he were the last living person on earth!

Cloudhawk smacked his forehead like he was assailed by some irritating fact. "It's just such a shame you grew up ugly. I mean you know it. Your face looks like a pancake, you've got no chest and your ass is a funny shape. A woman like you holds no interest for me - just not my type. Not even out of pity, really, so you should just put the thought out of your mind."

In fact, while Claudia wasn't as beautiful as someone like Selene or Dawn, she was still one of the prettier girls in Skycloud. Her figure didn't have the same enticing fire of Hellflower, but the bits that should be big were big, and the bits that should be small were small. All in all, very standard.

Gabriel understood what Cloudhawk was trying to do.

He was a cunning little shit. What he was saying was a load of nonsense, but it was driving the girl crazy. The angrier she got the harder it would be for her to keep her head in a fight, and that lost them their advantage.

Claudia didn't rush to action. Gabriel also didn't act rashly.

They were in a stalemate. Cloudhawk's verbal attacks became more boldfaced and more brazen, drawing on the many uncouth things he learned from his time in the wastelands with mercenaries. Naturally, they grew increasingly filthy. How could a self-proclaimed noble soul from the elysian lands accept such black-hearted obscenity? Cloudhawk was nothing more than a scoundrel - and that's exactly what gave him the edge over any elysian. He didn't care about face, so the stream of expletives and foulness just kept coming. That's how he was able to strip before two hundred people without a second thought. What elysian could do the same?

Claudia's face turned several shades of red, and her knuckles cracked as she held her fists by her side. It was like a sea of lava roiled just beneath her skin, threatening to burst out at any moment.

Cloudhawk's plan seemed to be working.

But Claudia shut her eyes, took a deep breath, and when she opened them again Cloudhawk was surprised to see her eyes were perfect blue pools of tranquility. In fact there was no emotion in them at all, or in her voice when she spoke. "You're falling back on old tricks. Don't you get tired of yourself?"

What is this? All this wasted breath, and no reaction? Cloudhawk had her pegged as a hothead, but her reaction today was exactly the opposite.

Out in the wastelands, Claudia didn't lose to Cloudhawk - she lost to herself. Back then she had a clear combat advantage over him, but had let emotion take control. She gave up her power and let him lead her by the nose.

She took her mission's failure as a lesson. She was an emotional person, but she could learn how to separate her mood from behavior. She effectively had two faces. There was benefit in success, but lessons in failure. What happened to her out in the wastelands wasn't all bad.

This was why enemies and foes were so important!

Enemies were the whip pushing you to forward. Adversaries were the mirror with which one constantly looked at the truth of themselves. [1] The person who was able to avoid purely hating their opponents, who could see past their enmity to the worth of their foes, that person was destined for greatness.

"Good... very good. You've grown up." Cloudhawk let his loathsome persona fall away. The fierceness in his eyes gave way to calm and he spoke softly. "But you're still determined to fight me?"

Claudia's voice sounded like it was born on a frozen mountain wind, cold and imperious. "I just don't want to see villains win. I can't stand by while another demonhunter loses their life to contemptible tricks. Any elysian would make the same choice I made, because every elysian carries a righteous heart. A wastelander like you would never understand, so you use any method to get what you want. Any method to gain power. Without faith how far can you really go?"

Gabriel's face twitched. His heart started beating quicker. It was happening again.

Once his heartrate reached a certain threshold, Naberius would come out again. Claudia's sanctimonious sermon was provoking him.

"You're willing to make a decision without all the details? You smug assholes are willing to go out and slaughter freely, and saddest of all you still think you're hands are clean. Put yourselves up on that glowing pedestal. If that's the sort of things the gods teach your people then if they topple today it wouldn't be soon enough." Cloudhawk bent down. He wasn't going to waste time arguing religion. If they were going to fight they might as well get it over with. "Alright. If this is the way it's gotta be then I'll take on both of you."

Claudia was furious. This bastard dared malign the gods?! The only reason humans still existed was because of the gods' protection. This heathen deserved to be burned at the stake!

Cloudhawk resigned himself to murder. He paid Claudia no mind in the past because he didn't see much of value. Now it appeared there was more potential than he thought.

She was trouble, precisely the sort of trouble Cloudhawk was tired of dealing with. If he killed her here, the Claudia family couldn't trace it back to him. But Gabriel was a dangerous aberration he also had to deal with. Cloudhawk had fought hard to win an advantage over him and that was only dealing with his physical abilities. The psychopath definitely had strong psychic abilities, too. Killing him any other time when relics were involved might be impossible.

It was like a bone stuck in the back of his throat. There was no more holding back, he had to clean this mess up.

As murderous intent flooded from Cloudhawk, Claudia's pale face blanched even further. She even stepped back unconsciously. The wastelander was cunning and wicked, even crazy. From his resolute aura she knew he wasn't going to stop until one of them was dead.

Claudia spoke to the man beside her in a low voice. "This one's not an easy fight. If we work together -"

Before she could finish the thought a bone-deep chill ran up her spine.

Her face fell, and when Claudia turned the affable blonde man was gone and she was face to face with madness. He'd changed completely in the blink of an eye, and with the glare of a bloodthirsty hunter he swiped at her with deadly sharp claws.

Naberius' dagger-like claws could rip through a mutant animal's fur, much less the milky flesh of Claudia's throat. But just as it seemed her head would be lopped off she proved her worth as a melee-focused demonhunter. Her body immediately tensed and she leapt out of the way. When she landed several meters back she felt her neck burning. She brought her hand up, and when she looked down at it, it was covered in blood.

Her quick feet saved her from having an artery cut, but the wounds were deep.


She only got a single world out before Naberius was on her again. His wounds were serious, but his speed was still not to be underestimated.

Claudia was faced with the seething murderous rage of this psychopath, who suddenly wanted to tear into several pieces. She had no idea what was going on, was this some sort of trick Cloudhawk had arranged? Only, when she showed up she clearly saw that she'd caught him by surprise.

Naberius charged at her, laughing maniacally. "Killing ten thousand of zealots like you can't slate my thirst! Gods, the Temple, faith - it's all bullshit! You think any of that highbrow nonsense gives a shit about the common man?! I'm going to kill you, unless the gods see fit to save you!"

Claudia didn't know how to put what she was feeling into words. Anger? That didn't come close to describe it. Beyond that there was humiliation and despair. How could this happen! He is a demonhunter!

Cloudhawk was delighted.

Gabriel... or Naberius or whatever this freak called himself...seemed to have a story of his own.

"All day evoking the names of the gods. Who do you think you are?!" Naberius' ferocity grew. "This world is mad! Everyone is mad!"

Claudia fought off his offensive but not without cost. Several bloody wounds peppered her body.

All the while Naberius continued his insane shrieking. "I'll cut off every piece of meat on your body, just like I did to that goddamn oracle!"

He killed an oracle?

It was like a bomb went off in her brain. Her thoughts went blank.

Oracles were ecclesiastical members of the sanctuary, different from a church. There were many churches, mostly religious institutions for the common folk. Only the bishops of those organizations could claim to commune with the gods. Oracles, on the other hand, were legitimate conduits with direct access to speaking with the gods.

Although oracles had no other abilities besides this, they were infallible members of elysian society. All of the art, equipment, food and drink they enjoyed were gifted to them from the gods. Every year they were blessed with more relics or technology from on high in order to maintain the prosperity of the realm. The oracles served as a bridge between the people and their deities.

He killed an oracle? That is beyond insane!

Could it be that this demonhunter has completely renounced his dedication to the light? Has he given himself over completely to the darkness? Damn... what have I done?

1. This is a badass world view. I still hate her but you gotta respect.