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Chapter 100 - Who Else?

 Gabriel twitched his fingers, and the motion was answered with a series of vibrations along the strings. Because the filaments were all tangled together, the vibrations spread into all of them. They grew stronger as they traveled until the air hummed like Gabriel had plucked a guitar string. But the keen resonance was like no stringed instrument anyone had ever heard.

Nature's greatest weaver was the spider. To them, each strand of silk was like an extension of the self. Through even the slightest sensation along the string, they exerted absolute control over their domain. Gabriel could achieve the same result. Cloudhawk couldn't hide anywhere in which his threads extended.

"I found you!"

Gabriel clenched his hands, and the threads closed in. He was determined to finish this contest right here, right now.

For the moment Cloudhawk remained in his phase state, but the flaw was obvious. He might be immune to harm, but neither could he harm anyone else. Moreover, once he was between dimensions moving around became more difficult. With another pass from Gabriel's threads and his psychic energy quickly waning, how much longer could Cloudhawk keep this up?

Inwardly, Gabriel had to admire his opponent.

The fact that Cloudhawk was in possession of so many relics at his young age didn't matter much. More striking was their varied types. Gabriel had never met anyone who could use so many different kinds of relics, it was frankly incredible. Given time, Cloudhawk would almost definitely grow to be stronger than Gabriel. But for now, he was still green.

Good enough. Time to begin!

His hands rose, revealing his next offensive.

Another net, much thicker and stronger than the last, fell over the area. It was the same as before, only this time Cloudhawk was out of strength and Gabriel had more to pour into his threads. The mesh was finer and the filaments stronger, No blade was going to carve an opening this time.

It was over! Gabriel clenched his fist.

The net contracted, leaving its tell-tale marks along the ground. The indomitable crush of it sent a shiver through the crowd.

Cloudhawk felt it coming; from the top of his head, from under his feet. North, south, east and west. His enemy's web was closing in all around. Dangerous did not begin to describe his predicament. A moment of carelessness and he would be a corpse. Meanwhile, Gabriel was speculating on how Cloudhawk would respond.

Sitting around and waiting for death was definitely not Cloudhawk's style. But, with the net closing in and nowhere to go, he wasn't left with many options. Phasing was his only choice, but once the field surrounded him he was forced to slow way down. The net would be on him, hundreds of threads, the longest he could hope to persist was three seconds before his mental energy was totally drained.

Would that be enough? Gabriel couldn't think of anything other way Cloudhawk could evade him.

Cloudhawk did not pause. He threw up hi cloak, and vanished once again into thin air. As the net continue to draw in he raced to the border. With the phase stone activated, Cloudhawk attempted to slip through. They fought him, but he eventually managed to fight through the resistance.

Invisibility again?

Gabriel found that he couldn't even determine Cloudhawk's position through the string's vibrations anymore, but he did not remain idle. He gathered another large net of filaments and sent it through his string prison. It swept across the circular field, but upon reaching the other side -

Bastard! He already escaped?

Cloudhawk was faster than he gave him credit for. By the time he realized his error, a black-gold sword was hacking toward his face. But... Cloudhawk had to use the phase stone to escape his net, and that slowed him down. How did the wastelander appear in front of him so quickly? Like he wasn't slowed at all.

What Gabriel did not know was that Cloudhawk's cloak was also an exceptional relic. It didn't just make him invisible, it also sharply increased his speed. It and the phase stone made a very effective pair, for it counteracted the stone's drawbacks. He slipped through Gabriel's net almost the instant he summoned it.

Most of his threads were tied up in the net. What was left for him to use in his defense?

Hastily pulling a few strings free, Gabriel whipped them into the sword's path. The force of their collision knocked him back several paces. For a moment the two struggled. CLoudhawk heaved his sword against the filaments and they started to give way. Quiet carnage's keen edge inched closer to Gabriel's face. He couldn't compete with Cloudhawk's strength. Gabriel's handsome face seemed destined to be horribly mamed.

"Naberius, it's your turn!"

There were two people locked in the young man's body - or, more accurately, two souls. Naberius was his darker side, and once he awakened his bloodthirst would not be abated. However, his malignant nature came with at least twice the speed and strength Gabriel possessed. With Cloudhawk weakened, how was he going to fend off the madman?

He had to deal with him before Naberius woke up.

A bestial growl rumbled deep in Cloudhawk's throat. Veins engorged throughout is eyes and in the depths of his pupils burned a crimson fire. All the white turned sanguine red, nightmarish to behold.

Pop! Snap! Gabriel's string were breaking, though Quiet Carnage kept it silent. He only knew by the sharp vibrations as they were severed.

Gabriel felt Naberius stirring within. The tides would turn when the sculptor came out, he knew it. He just had to hold on. The two men stared eye to eye and Gabriel could see the burning fires. A stifling intensity was crushing him, like he could stop breathing at any moment. Those fires were almost infectious, reflecting in Gabriel's wide emerald gaze. It was haunting.

He felt a psychic power engulf him. To him it felt like his brain was splitting in his skull.

Cloudhawk's sword bit into pale flesh. A spray of blood burst out!

With a cry, Gabriel hit the ground and rolled several meters away. The cut stretched from his shoulder down to his abdomen, deep enough to cut into the cavities below. Writhing organs were visible to the naked eye. None were lethal, for Cloudhawk had held himself back. It was the only reason Gabriel was still alive.

Gabriel took a long time to recover cognizance. He shook his head, extinguishing the crimson fires that lingered in his green eyes. Little by little he felt the dictatorial presence in his mind recede. Although his physical wounds were grave, the thing that terrified Gabriel the most was how Cloudhawk had gotten into his head.

What had he done? With just a look, he almost totally shattered my mind! For just a moment Gabriel had completely lost himself in those fires. Like a helpless lamb to the slaughter.

It happened in an instant, so quick even the instructors didn't notice. But in moments like that, on the razor's edge between life and death, everything could be decided in an instant.

Beyond the fact that it happened at all, most incredible was that his power was not derived from any relic. It came from somewhere inside him. He'd never heard of anyone doing something like that without a relic to focus their power. It was unnatural, yet Cloudhawk had somehow managed to do it.

All of it was simply beyond the reality he knew.

Gabriel looked up at whatever monster this was. Cloudhawk stood over him, catching his breath. He returned Quiet Carnage to the sheath on his back. Dozens of wounds criss-crossed his body, but the threads caused very narrow wounds. Even now they were stitching closed, and none of them were a serious threat.

"I've lost."

His admission was a great relief.

Cloudhawk looked out over the crowd. In a voice thick with pride and anger he shouted. "Who else?!"

The others exchanged quiet glances. He could still fight? He went on as they shifted uncomfortably. "If no one else wants to take a shot, then it's decided!"

Shit, he is shameless. Cloudhawk could barely stand but he was still putting himself up on a pedestal! Yet after what they'd just witnessed, no one dared look down on the crude young man. He didn't take Claudia, Drake and Gabriel on all at once, but he did still beat them in succession. Formidable opponents, each one. He was strong - at least strong enough to be captain.

"You three!" Cloudhawk turned his eyes onto his defeated opponents. "There's a price to pay for everything we do in this world. If you don't pay for your pride then anyone will feel like they can challenge their captain at any time. You've failed, so now you're going to tell me how to punish you for it."

Gabriel responded the fastest. "I accept your leadership. Anyone who wants to challenge you in the future will have to get through me first!"

Drake heaved a sigh. "From now on I'll listen to your every command or be subjected to punishment by military law."

Cloudhawk nodded his head in satisfaction. His eyes darted to the last challenger.

Claudia felt a churning in her stomach like she'd swallowed a fist full of flies. She knew if she let him open his mouth again the insult would be unbearable. She spoke up. "A loss is a loss, I have nothing to say. I never had any interest in the position anyway."

That was an unacceptable attitude. She couldn't even suffer through a simple pledge of loyalty? But Cloudhawk didn't care, he accepted it.

There were others out there in the crowd, trainees with more talent and abilities he wouldn't necessarily be a match for. But now Drake and Gabriel were firmly in hand, convinced of his superiority. Claudia wasn't happy with the result, but she had lost in full view of everyone. She would have no choice but to listen to his orders. Victory had earned Cloudhawk three mighty henchmen.

Whether there were others who disagreed with Cloudhawk's appointment, they wouldn't be foolish enough to try their hand now. It wasn't just Cloudhawk to contend with anymore. Anyone who wanted the title for themselves would have to be good enough to get through those three before they even had a shot.

"Good. Very good. Now you've got yourself some underlings!" Eckard nodded delightedly as he made his way to Cloudhawk. "You've proven yourself as captain. You all have a day to get your shit together, then the training starts! Dismissed!"

Eckard turned away.

Natessa gave him a slight nod, then the three instructors each went their separate ways.