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Chapter 97 - The True Power of a Warrior

 "I win again."

Claudia got back onto her feet. She gripped her wrist, then snapped it back into place with a sharp hiss. Picking up her staff from nearby and stepped back into the crowd. The others eyed the no-nonsense noble for a few moments.

The golden haired woman had been beaten back with a single blow. Still, everyone could tell that Claudia was absolutely not a weakling. Her psychic ability especially was impressive. Between the other two and her flower relic, Cloudhawk would be in real trouble.

She chose not to. Instead, she decided to admit being beaten.

Accepting defeat was a rare quality for others like her. Most would continue to throw themselves at the matter to save their pride. She gritted her teeth and choked it down, for she knew better than anyone would must have happened. She'd used her tempest flower to add pressure on Cloudhawk, overpower his defenses. All the strength and momentum behind her exorcist staff was at a critical point.

What happened next took her completely by surprise.

Cloudhawk's riposte hit her staff at the precise spot her grip was weakest. He forsook attacking her directly for a much more skillful - if unnecessary - display. His sword cut twice in quick succession. The first one whipped right past the staff and into her, while the other knocked her weapon away.

It all happened in a blink. The other spectators wouldn't have seen.

Claudia knew she'd lost before he said it. Not just lost, she'd been thoroughly beaten.

Cloudhawk's sudden improvement wasn't just physical or psychic. In a matter of one night he'd somehow gained uncanny combat experience. His command of his relics, and his keen judgment was nothing short of excellent.

In a duel, relative strength was a key factor in deciding victory and defeat - but it wasn't everything. Who could say that the weakest of demonhunters could never beat a master? With the right combination of equipment, intelligence, skill and power one could cross any chasm.

Her physical strength didn't come close to Cloudhawk's, nor did her relic manipulation. Although she hated to admit it, he was a far cleverer tactician as well. Technically, he displayed a mastery that would rival instructors of the demonhunter's college.

Claudia quickly quit her claim for his title because she knew it would only end in more embarrassment. As for joining the other two? The mere concept was disgusting. She was a complex and prideful noble. What sort of a victory was won with numbers? Nothing she wanted to own.

He's too strong... so I'm going to need to think of a way to get even stronger!

Claudia refused to accept inferiority to anyone!

Cloudhawk had easily put aside a worthy challenger. He hardly had time to gloat before a booming voice ripped through the crowd.

"Let me try!"

Drake Thane tore forward, clad in a full set of titanium armor. He was different from a demonhunter. He was more practiced in speed, strength and other combat abilities. By the first word of his challenge he was already moving. By the second he'd already reached Cloudhawk, sword raised. His weapon hacked down with the final syllable.

A savage cut! The force of it kicked out a fan of dust.

A semi-mystical ability like this came from pure force, no god-given blessing like a demonhunter. Two normal men standing it this blast's path would be more than defeated - they would be smashed to pieces. That was Drake's strength.

He didn't feel his strike land.

An impact like being shot point blank with a handgun struck him in the chest. He looked down and saw a slice in his armor. Cloudhawk couldn't match Drake for sheer speed, but he had an uncanny ability to predict where he'd be. The wastelander easily sidestepped his attack, and delivered one of his own in one easy motion.

He very much appreciated the heavy armor encasing him. Without it, Drake would likely already be injured.

But how? Unbelievable! Drake stood there stunned, but only for a second. Heaving his man-sized sword, he whipped it toward Cloudhawk again with enough force to split a river. It picked up speed, and split into three searing blades of light. A rainbow of pain, certainly a force to be reckoned with.

The other students gaped at what they were seeing. Under all that armor, how could he move fast as a specter? With a sword that large, how was he able to wield it like it weighed nothing?

Eddies of sand beside him hardened into a shield. The first two blades of light broke through the shield while also knocking him back. The last one slipped through, going right for Cloud hawk's throat. Claudia's rain of blows hadn't overcome Cloudhawk's defense, but Drake did it in two. It was clear how much faster and stronger he was. There probably weren't many in the crowd who thought they could take him, even the melee-focused demonhunters.

Drake wasn't concerned that Cloudhawk might use his phase powers.

He understood it now. His was an irritating trick, but one that required time to summon. He didn't give Cloudhawk any time. Using it also cut the wastelander's speed. Drake wasn't about to fall for the same trick twice.

I'm ready this time, I'm not giving you any chances. Do what you will. I'll cut right through you, no mess. What makes you think you have any chance against me?

This attack was overwhelming, faster and stronger than Cloudhawk could manage. Between Drake's titanium armor and nigh-impervious constitution, he didn't fear reprisal from his new 'captain.' Trading a few dozen wounds for a few hundred seemed worth the risk to him.

The wind rose, kicking up the sand.

Focusing his psychic powers, Cloudhawk turned the shield Drake broke through into half a dozen snakes made from sand. They were large as boa constrictors and entangled Drake as he rushed in. They held tightest to his shoulder and right arm and eventually dragged him to a stop.

"Bastard! Let me go!" The soldier roared in protest and heaved his muscles. A few of the snakes crumbled, allowing him to wave his sword through the choking sands.

Drake squared up and raised his sword in a posture that suggested he was ready to cut Cloudhawk in half. Only, as impressive as all that movement and shouting was, it gave Cloudhawk more than ample time to get out of the way. At the same time there was a dark flash from his right hand. Another fissure from a black strike appeared soundlessly on Drake's armor.

Drake was furious. He'd already been caught twice by this bastard's sword. As Cloudhawk made a retreat, Drake jumped into the air. Both hands wrapped tight around his sword's hilt and as he brought it down, the edge of it glowed red from friction heat.

His sword was no relic, and Drake was no demonhunter. His weapon was a specially crafted sword from the elysian lands.

Thanks to its unique construction, the sword was able to turn red hot in a fight. Nothing compared to what a demonhunter might do, but it was a terrible addition to Drake's already formidable person. The tungsten steel was a rare material in the elysian lands with a melting point twice as high as normal steel. The heat coming off his weapon was searing, but would not warp it.

Cloudhawk dodged again, and the sword cut a charred trench in the ground next to him. The stone were melted and the gritty earth turned to glass. The blast of heat that swept by singed some of Cloudhawk's hair.

Drake's sword certainly became more troubling, but it didn't add much to his attack. Strong as he was, a single hit would end pretty much whatever it touched. Whether the sword was burning hot or not didn't much matter aside from a scary appearance. It was the psychological pressure that was more effective.

A cloud of sand whipped around them. Currents of it carried Cloudhawk away from danger. Inwardly Drake grunted disapproval. Blind my senses to try and retreat? Hmph! I won't give you the chance. See if you can get away from this!

He whipped around like a top, remaining in place. Sand arrows coming at him from all directions were shattered in midair. The ground was quickly covered with sizzling red sand. It looked like a defensive maneuver, but in fact Drake was gathering energy. The muscle from his arms and legs were taught as bowstrings until he reached his limit. Then his power unleashed, surging through him inch by inch


Those watching were treated to a stunning scene.

His spinning motion was creating a crater in the ground like it'd be hit with a bomb. But where the ground went down, he rose up only to launch forward with imperceptible speed.

Watching from the sidelines, Natessa's expression betrayed interest. "This is..."

Eckard nodded and finished her thought. "Inner Fire, a martial skill that draws on all one's latent potential. There aren't many with the skill required to pull it off. The soldier gathers all his power then directs it from the inside out. He no longer needs to plant his feet and gain momentum from pushing off, because the power all comes from within. He looks calm from the outside, but inside his body is a storm of energy. He wields it well and freely. The Thane family representative knows his stuff."

Drake's attack was so fast he threatened to break the sound barrier. It was unthinkable to most, because someone moving that fast was subject to tremendous outside pressure. But Drake's body was hard as iron, so when he moved through the air fast as a bullet he wasn't worried. He spun toward Cloudhawk like an arrow, his body the shaft and his sword its tip.

This was a high-level martial skill. Spearhead!

Soldiers like him couldn't use psychic powers, so their abilities came from great physical feats. Their bodies were their main tool. 'Spearhead' was an ability used when two armies met on the field to break through their front lines. A demonhunter who could control all the elements were rare, but a martial artist like Drake bordered on mythical.

Soldiers weren't called martial artists, because most didn't elevate it to an art. Only those that could summon their true inner power could be called martial artists, and they were often formidable army leaders. Skycloud city's greatest martial artist was none other than Grand General Skye himself. He was known as 'the human relic' for that reason. His fists could literally crack mountains.

The only other organization with a higher concentration of martial artists was the Temple.

Skycloud's preeminent organization had a special squad called templars. Few outsiders knew of this mysterious group, composed mostly of demonhunters. No one dared to underestimate what these guardians were capable of.

Exclamations of surprise rose up from the crowd.

Drake's unique martial skill shot out like thunder. It was a display far outside Cloudhawk's estimation. People watched as Drake slipped through the sandy air red-hot sword in the lead, spinning like a drill.

Was this how Cloudhawk would be ended?

Drake didn't expect to break his foe's defenses with the spearhead attack. However, the point of it was indomitable forward motion - never backing down. How else could it be called spearhead? It was too late for Drake to hold back, even if he wanted to. He felt it clearly this time, a hit. His sword wasn't met with air, but Cloudhawk's body.

The blade was about two hands wide, and its edge burned at a thousand degrees. It ran Cloudhawk through fast as a bullet. Even the most stubborn life would be snuffed out after a hit like that.