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Chapter 108 - Working It Out

 What a relic! Cloudhawk was quite impressed.

By the time the armor receded back into the helmet, his body was soaked in sweat. As he looked down at the crater by his feet, he could hardly believe it was him who made it. That sort of damage was on par with a high level demonhunter.

Cloudhawk knew how inferior he was to veteran demonhunters, which is why the force he'd produced was so shocking. And while he was certainly surprised by the result, the three instructors stared at him as though they'd seen a ghost.

The young man's psychic energies were definitely subordinate to Dumont's. The old man could make the whole suit gleam white-hot, supercharged by his flood of psychic energy. Though Cloudhawk's abilities were obvious inferior, through some special operation he was able to gather all the suit's energy to a single point. All his energy, condensed in such a way, was no less terrifying than what Dumont could generate. Maybe even a little stronger.

Absolutely incredible, unthinkable! A blow like that could kill a veteran demonhunter in one punch!

Collecting energy into his arm like that made it more efficient. A lot was wasted when Dumont diffused it across the whole suit and rammed into his foes. Piling it into a fist and ramming it into an opponent's chest was like a lethal shaped charge. Dumont was floored by the implications.

Natessa possessed at least three relics. In comparison, Dumont had just the one. However, adding all of Natessa's tools together they still didn't add up to the Dawnbreaker battle armor. This would be particularly true once he mastered this new skill.

The old chatterbox could hardly manage more than a stammer.

Once the shock passed, a very self-satisfied expression was painted on Cloudhawk's face. This was exactly the reaction he was hoping for. "Running around the battlefield like a comet works great in open war, but it isn't suitable for one-on-one combat against a strong opponent. It's too wasteful - you could have twice the psychic reserves and still would tire much quicker than your enemy. If you made every attack more efficient, or otherwise made every attack more effective, you'd be more of a threat."

Dumont stared wide-eyed at the crater in the ground between them. What an amazing display! More of a threat was right!

The truth was, Cloudhawk had been a little disappointed when all he got from the skull were a few memories. After all, some long-dead codger's thoughts didn't translate to food in his belly, nor could he shove them into an enemy's throat. He was starting to understand how much he undervalued this predecessor's gift.

Knowledge was power. Power was knowledge.

For his own relics, the invisibility cloak was certainly high-level. The Gospel of the Sands was an epic-tier artifact. If nothing else, learning to fully utilize those two would vastly increase his combat ability. How powerful had the Gospel been in the demon's hands? Before, Cloudhawk could summon a small localized storm, maybe create a few sand arrows. That was hardly worth mentioning when compared to what the demon relic was capable of.

Cloudhawk stood before the three of them with his arms crossed, tall as a mountain peak. Confidence dripped from him as he declared, "So who else needs convincing?"

"Hey! What about me?!"

Eckard finally let go of his pride. He had to accept that this guy was some sort of amazing freak of nature.

It reminded him of Selene Cloude, who joined the demonhunters when she was eight and was a high-ranked hunter by the age of fourteen. There were always things in this world that defied understanding, that defied expectations and challenged everything you thought you knew.

Oh. I almost forgot about him.

This was a little more difficult for Cloudhawk. His talents involves relics and their use, so he didn't have a similarly shocking revelation for the martial artist. However, although he wasn't as practiced in martial arts, he was confident he had something to satisfy Eckard.

Cloudhawk repeated the specific of Spearhead that he'd shared earlier with Drake. He went over the tactical improvements, and skills to improve the efficacy of the attack. If Eckard could master these modifications it would benefit him quite a lot.

This guy even knew the secrets of martial arts? He couldn't even do what he was describing!

By now, Cloudhawk could see from their faces that his instructors were thoroughly convinced.

Dumont stepped forward, his eyes fixed on Cloudhawk, and stood up on his tip-toes to grab the young man by the shoulders. "I knew there was something different about you the moment I saw you, one in a million. You know, I happen to have a niece... pretty as a piece of jade, looks like a goddess. You're single, she's single. It seems to be like you two are fated to meet..."

"That's enough, Dumont!" Natessa couldn't suffer any more of his nonsense. She looked back at Cloudhawk, sizing him up. "It's late. Return to your team and share the news. You're leaving in half an hour."

"Yes, ma'am!"

Cloudhawk extricated himself from Dumont and fled as fast as his feet could take him.

"Ah, I wasn't finished talking to him."

Dumont frowned unhappily as Cloudhawk escaped. The young man didn't even pretend to show the old man respect. He made a mental note to give him a few extra lashes the next time he had an opportunity.

Eckard looked discouraged. He had a nagging premonition that this little bastard was anything but good tidings. Cloudhawk showed up and just wiped his ass with their supposed superiority. Hell, they were the ones showing him respect and making him captain of his own squad. Was the whole lot of them gonna show up their instructors just the way Cloudhawk did?

"What hole was that kid shit out of?" Eckard muttered. "You know anything about him, Windham?"

"I checked," Natessa replied. She was also deeply curious what the answer to that question was. "He came at the recommendation of the Polaris family, but any other details have been hard to come by. Best I can figure he came from the borderlands, and immediately got into some dispute with the Cloude family when he got into the domain. Before that, nothing. No history. I've asked around but haven't received any answers."

"They definitely know what happened in the wastelands, but what happened recently was too sudden." Dumont put away his obscene grin. "Wolfblade's attack, then this mission... strange, everything everywhere seems strange. I feel like something big is on the horizon, what do you think?"

"Whatever the case, there's nothing we can do about it. Let's deal with this mission first and go from there."

The three instructors looked at one another in silent agreement.


Cloudhawk sauntered back to the barracks, whistling happily and carrying Oddball in one hand. His squad mates surrounded him even before he had a chance to walk inside.

"Ay-ya, captain! You were gone for so long we were afraid something happened to me.

"Fuck! Keep away from me, will ya?"

Caspian rushed at him with hands extended to give him a backrub, but Cloudhawk scared him away with a kick. The one who bothered him most in this whole team wasn't Claudia, although she was a constant thorn. It was actually this handsy pansy.

Cloudhawk didn't care about sexual orientation, and Caspian's tastes were no secret. There were many homosexuals throughout the wastelands, nothing strange there. This salacious guy though, he wasn't right. He was good-looking and well put together, the only one on Tartarus Squad who could give Gabriel a run for his money when it came to looks. What gives?

Cloudhawk had a theory about this.

Frost was a handsome fella himself. He had so many fans they could circle the barracks a hundred time. He was also hugely paranoid and a true asshole. Gabriel and Caspian were also lookers. One was a psychopath with multiple personalities, and the other was an androgynous sex-fiend.

The obvious conclusion was that handsome guys were all fucked in the head.

"Aw Captain, why are you always so mean to big brother Caspian?" Felina appeared at Cloudhawk's side unseen and unannounced. "People care about you! We appreciate your help, without you many of us would have been kicked out already. If something happened to you, who would be our leader?"

When the hell did this bitch get so close to me?! 'Demon Kitten' suited her just fine.

He'd been with the small gang for two months now. He didn't have any expectations, he'd always been easy going and wasn't much interested in personal gain. He wasn't out for accolades or rewards. But he'd saved the trainees from more than a few beatings, so he developed a solid reputation.

As of yet, they didn't know that Cloudhawk had come to an agreement with the instructors. He was gonna be an even more important figure around camp before long.

Drake's lumbering figure pushed through the crowd. "So what's the word?"

Cloudhawk shook his head. "It's not real clear at the moment. Gather everyone up, we're heading out soon."

Everyone broke out into cheers. At last they could say goodbye to this painful training!

"Hey Gabby, come here a second."

Gabriel made his way over. The bashful expression on his face was the same as ever. "What's up?" he squeaked.

He explained the situation to him in brief. "Frost will be there, he's leading the whole thing. He asked for Tartarus Squad specifically. My guess is he's looking to take a shot at us, you outta be careful."

Gabriel rubbed his nose. "So that's the deal."

"Don't worry too much about it," Cloudhawk said with a shrug. "I've taken some precautions, the instructors aren't just gonna watch us get picked off. Just be cautious and don't let Frost catch you slipping. We'll be fine. We are Hell's Valley special operatives, after all. Frost doesn't have the right to go after us publicly."

"Oh, I'm not worried. Naberius and I have wanted to see what Mr. Celebrity's made of for a long time."

Gabriel's fingers teased a few invisible threads within his sleeve.

Tartarus Squad's thirty members prepared their things and gathered their medicines, preparing to strike out. The docks above the outpost had been prepared, and a forty-foot vessel was docked overhead awaiting their arrival. All told Hell's Valley was sending six hundred soldiers, Tartarus Squad was just a piece of that troop.

The trainees were all in high spirits. It'd been two months of brutal drills and beatings, without a single day of rest. This mission felt like a pleasant fieldtrip to them.

The broad outline of the mission was made clear. Destroy a nest of traitors and blasphemers, that was it. They were holed up in the elysian territory. Help would be there when they needed it, but no one was coming for the heretics.

Sweep and clear, simple as that.