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Chapter 77 - Bold Provocations

 Chapter 77 - Bold Provocations

Drake Thane was not a demonhunter, but a normal soldier. Like the scarred instructor he relied on pure strength and speed to best his enemies.

Demonhunters spent a lot of their effort on strengthen their mind and spirit so that they could make the most of their relics. They were not lousy fighters by any means, but they typically were not up to the same level as a specialized warrior like this man.

In this world the different between a wise man and a fool was simple; a wise man played to his strengths and avoided shortfalls. He held on to his advantage until the best possible moment, because while an advantage could give you the upper hand it could also just as easily slip away. Opportunity was about timing and motivation, and if you hesitated that opportunity fell into the opponent's hands.

Drake was wise. He recognized this moment as an unparalleled opportunity. He recognized his advantage.

Once the demonhunters had their relics returned and recovered from the beating, Drake would go back to being in the middle of the pack - if not near the bottom. He didn't know what was waiting for them in Hell's Valley, but he did know it would involve vicious competition. If he dealt with the strong out here while he had the upper hand it reduced the danger he would face in the future. It made sense, now was the time to strike.

This test was meant to weed out fifty percent of them, wasn't it?

But while the implication was to outpace the others, that wasn't Drake's goal. No, he was going to remove half of his competition himself. All of them were obstacles in his path.

The fewer there were of them, the more resources the valley had for him. That was Drake's thinking, and so that's what he set out to do. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

He'd already put down more than ten other trainees by this point. The sounds of fighting had brought him over here, but he was surprised to find three demonhunters going at it. Each of them looked the worse for wear, and Drake had three handy little helpers to make sure things went his way.

He and his fellows stepped out from the mist. Cloudhawk, Naberius and Claudia stopped their fighting. Three enemies suddenly found themselves on the same team against the newcomers.

Claudia was especially confused. She hadn't expected to run into him, and then he saved her life. Only, now it seemed like he was going to kill her anyway. When had the world become so unraveled? "You dare face a demonhunter as a loyal soldier of Skycloud? Do you not fear punishment?"

To a typical soldier her words might have held some weight, but Cloudhawk wasn't sure whether she was being naïve or just plain stupid trying it on Drake. This guy obviously wasn't a typical soldier, he was a noble just like her and successful at a young age. Whatever respect she expected wasn't going to come from him.

"We believe in the gods and are loyal to Skycloud. A soldier is duty-bound to complete their mission, and our mission is to complete this training. What we need to do is make sure we walk out of this training." Drake spoke quickly and with determination, sharp as a knife through butter. He seemed altogether unshakable. "Saving your life was my duty as a soldier. But to complete my mission I'm going to have to stop all of you right here."

Quite the contradiction.

"Don't worry!" The words tumbled out of his mouth as gently as iron pellets. "I'm just going to break your legs. I don't want to kill you. If you're lucky maybe you can still claw yourselves there."

"Oh, I'm going to claw something alright!"

No sooner had Drake made his threats than Naberius flung himself at the soldier. His mad laughter echoed through the forest, but no one could see where he'd vanished to. Drake stood with his feet planted and his arms folded across his chest, squinting into the mist like a tower stuck in the marsh. Wind or rain, he wasn't budging.


Drake's robes were ripped open at the chest.

Naberius swept by like a specter, groping at Drake with his claws. But it didn't feel like he was tearing at a body at all. Naberius might as well have been trying to dig his nails through stone. Claws that could rip through a mutant beast's hide only left shallow gashes on Drake's chest.

The instant Drake felt the strike he lashed out with a fist, fast as lightning. He wasn't one iota slower than Naberius at peak condition, and he was orders of magnitude stronger. There was a stuffy hmph, and Naberius was flung away with all the grace of a discarded sandbag. He hit the ground, bounced up, his the ground again, and stopped only when he smashed through a tree.

The golden haired youth's body elicited a series of nauseating pops and snaps. In one punch Drake had done as much damage as Cloudhawk had in a flurry of attacks.

Drake dropped his head and looked at the wounds on his chest. A few droplets oozed from them but quickly stopped, and a few moments later they healed completely. A few faint scars were all that remained. "That tickled," he muttered.

Inwardly Cloudhawk felt his heart skip a beat.

The guy's skin was hard as steel. He could stand there and let someone hack at him with a sword and they would barely leave a mark. Beyond that, his recovery speed was even faster than Cloudhawk's, and judging by that one punch he was strong as hell too.

Against someone like him they might have stood a chance if they had relics. But even three on one, with nothing in hand, how were they supposed to fight back? It was like a rabbit trying to fight a pangolin. The fuzzy moron wasn't getting through that carapace.

A few more seconds passed and even the scars were gone from Drake's chest.

"Demonhunters like you command the powers of ice, fire, wind and earth. I could be twice and strong and still couldn't stand against you. But out here, without your godly powers and relics, what can you do against true soldiers like us? The instructor was right, you've become too reliant on the gifts of the gods. You've lost sight of your own strength." Drake had always felt like he was under the thumb of demonhunters, but today he was finally able to breathe. "Every inch of our bodies has been tempered by pain and struggle you couldn't even imagine. Any soldier can defeat a demonhunter in a straight fight, they just need to realize their potential. We could be the backbone of Skycloud's defense, just as well as any of you!"

"Cut the nonsense! If you think you have the skill, then wait until we get our relics back!" Claudia was at a loss, she didn't know how to fight back against Drake as things were now. But she wasn't about to agree to his bullshit. "Any one person, no matter how strong, has their limits, but the power of the gods is endless. You all have made your bodies strong, but what about someone like Master Arcturus?!"

Drake's face screwed up in anger and darkened. His voice came in a dangerous growl. "There's only one Arcturus in Skycloud. Become him, and I'll have nothing to say. But today, right here and right now, I can teach you all a lesson. Too much talk already - all three of you come at me. We're wasting time, and there are others out there who need learning."

Naberius had gotten back onto his feet, albeit shakily.

Claudia glared at him from across the misty clearing.

Moments ago the three of them had been willing to kill each other, but now that a common enemy appeared they were forced to work together.

But how?

Each one wanted the other dead, how were they supposed to fight shoulder to shoulder in good faith? How were they supposed to join forces even though they would have to?

Drake promised to only break their legs in order to stop them from participating in the training, but what other dangers lurked out here in deadwood forest? What was waiting for them, ready to strike when they were at their weakest? If their legs were broken, how could they run, or defend themselves?

Things had definitely turned dire!

Drake Thane seemed easily capable of beating Cloudhawk and the other two by himself, not to mention he had three friends waiting in the wings. Like him, they were also soldiers who'd been hardened by service. Even if they weren't as strong as Drake, they were still definitely stronger than a group of demonhunters without their relics. It was like fighting a tiger with its claws cut off and its teeth pulled.

"If you aren't going to get it started, then I guess it falls to me."

Drake punched his fists together causing his knuckles to pop. He twisted at the waist left and then right and the stretching made his muscles seem to swell. In all his body was like a copper statue, quenched and hardened. The onlookers were convinced that if it was between his skin and a steel blade, the blade was what would break.

No time. They have to be dealt with quickly.

A voice called out to him from the crowd. "Hold on!"

Drake narrowed his eyes at the speaker. He'd taken special note of him before, the least wounded of the bunch. He was the first one to remove his clothes back at camp, too. Someone like him was hard to ignore.

Cloudhawk looked over Drake's perfectly formed body. "If you're so confident why not make a bet?"

Drake chuckled at the suggestion. The guy was just trying to waste time, but he humored him. "What sort of bet were you thinking?"

Cloudhawk leaned over and snatched up a bit of broken wood from the ground. He picked off twigs from its surface and swung it around. The branch was no thicker than his finger. "I bet I can whoop your ass with this here stick."

Naberius gaped. Claudia stared dumbly.

Drake and his three companions stood there staring at him. In their wildest dreams they wouldn't have thought that would be Cloudhawk's offer. Had he hit his head somewhere? They couldn't decide on the best way to mock him.


"Drake, did I hear that right? This kid thinks he's gonna break you with a stick?"

"His brain's rattled. A sword can't even pierce Drake's skin. And he's hiding behind a bit of wood!"

But Drake's face turned dark and angry. "Are you trying to insult me?"