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Book 3, Chapter 58 - Firestorm

 Squall's own right arm was a unique sort of relic. From what Cloudhawk understood, it had the power of attraction and repulsion. But Castigation fire was not your typical power. As his arms drew in the fires traces of green were revealed just beneath the surface. His skin started to crack, the arm barely held together, ready to burst.

Squall's face grew heavy. Suddenly, the power was released.

The cracks actually moved, slithering together to gather in his palm. They spread up to the tips of his fingers, and finally that was where the eruption occurred. A ray of concentrated green fire spewed from his fingertips, marring the ground before him.

Cloudhawk watched in utter amazement. Squall really had come into his own!

Ever since the red-robed bishop became leader of the Sanctum of Judgment, he'd known only a few people capable of withstanding the power of Castigation. Cloudhawk managed to survive thanks to the special circumstance of his own body. Squall, on the other hand, used whatever relic was implanted in his arm to expel the threat. A strange power like this was typical of demonic artifacts, however. So who was it backing this strange youth?

Squall saw for the first time the breadth of the power they were faced with. "Fall back!"

But the Crimson One was not inclined to let them escape. With an orb of green fire he repelled Selene's own flaming assault, and with his crosier he deflected an attack from the old man. In the midst of this fight he had the skill and strength to launch of strike of his own, but as he stretched forth his hand something he had not expected occurred.

The black figure who had remained unmoving by Squall's side up to now made its move.

Blackfiend the undying, surrounded by wisps of black power, launched forward. He moved so fast that an afterimage remained, that he cracked the sound barrier with a sonic burst. Moving a hundred meters in an instant, he used his right hand to chop at the coagulating fires gathering in the Crimson One's hand. The fingers of his left hand contorted into five pitch-black, dagger-like claws. Blackfiend swiped at the bishop with staggering speed and ferocity.

He was too sudden for the Crimson One to avoid it entirely, and the claws ripped a hole in his elegant robes. His experience in battle served him well, and before Blackfiend could find purchase in his flesh he responded with the crosier. The dozen strikes he delivered were incredibly fast, blurring together so they were difficult to distinguish. They all struck their target, slamming into Blackfiend with a loud crunch. He was blasted back, crashing into a building nearby.

Amid a deafening impact, the building collapsed around him.

Swiping through the green fire was a death sentence. Facing the full impact of the Crimson One's attack spelled doom to anyone. The terror that was Castigation was well known, but his crosier - supreme divergence - was also a powerful relic. Each strike hit with the force of a thousand kilos, from all different angles. Paired with the Crimson One's depth of psychic power, it was capable of tremendous power.

But Blackfiend's attack left the bishop open. An opportunity Selene was quick to exploit. Her crossblade seethed with burning light.

She swung her sword, carving a blazing, brutal arc toward the bishop.

The Crimson One hurriedly swung his staff around to protect himself. Caught on his back foot, the force knocked him several meters away. That had been almost more than he handle. He felt surprise grip his chest, as he realized that the woman before him was quite a lot stronger than he'd given her credit for.

The collapsed building suddenly erupted into a shower of debris.

A black figure rose from the ruins.

Blackfiend the Undying was half covered in hungry green flames. Parts of his torso were concaved where the bishop's staff had landed, and yet he just stood there in a blank, almost confused manner. His eyes had the blank cold of a corpse, yet he stood tall as gossamer-like threads of black energy swirled around him. An instant later he threw himself at the Crimson One again, heedless of its brush with oblivion.

The Crimson One's face stiffened. What was this creature?

Selene didn't stop with one blow from her sword. Brandishing the crossblade high, it erputed with a beam of energy that split the sky and consumed the green fires. He brought it down on the bishop's head with all her strength. The momentum behind it was breathtaking, so vicious it threatening to tear through reality. Seeing his chance, the old warrior also threw everything he could in his next attack. Gathering all of his true power into his arm, his staff vibrated as it ripped the air and birthed a roaring shock wave.

In front of the bishop was the old man. Behind him, Blackfiend. Selene was coming down on him from above like a celestial being. The three attackers left him nowhere to run.

Whipping winds, roaring thunder. Terrible power assailed the Crimson One from several sides, all at once. He stared death in the face.

Fear cracked through the bishop's sanctimonious facade. He planted his crosier in the dirt before him, kicking up a tuft of sand. As his foes closed in he pressed his hands together. Red robes swelled, as green fire erupted from every part of him, spreading every which way. Like a bomb it consumed everything in an expanding radius of green fire, horrifying in its savagery and impetus. A lake of green fire was left behind.

Boom- - -!

The force of the blast alone nearly toppled buildings. The heart of the settlement exploded.

The drunkard's attack was the first to reach its target. It cleaved through the shell of the expanding orb of fire like bursting a bubble. Blackfiend charged into the blast radius fearlessly. He rushed at the Crimson One but the force of the explosion knocked him away. Selene's crossblade of light was last to reach the bishop, slicing clean through the fires. They were blows away from the point of impact, erupting into the sky.

Malevolent green light carpeted the settlement as a firestorm began to fall.

Squall, Green Snake, Gremlin, Cloudhawk, Autumn - everyone darted for the nearest cover.

As they ran Autumn chastised the man beside her. "Hey, why aren't you doing anything?! Your friends are in trouble and you've can't do a damn thing!?"

Cloudhawk scoffed and responded self-righteously. "I'm injured!"

His excuses were cut short as the rain of fire started to reach them. Cloudhawk grit his teeth and threw himself of Autumn just in time to spare her from the flames, but they quickly set about trying to consume his own flesh. There was a moment of tremendous pain before the trespasser virus quenched Castigation. Though he didn't say it, inwardly he complained at Autumn's words. How many times would she have died without him putting his ass on the line? And she still had the gall to talk shit!

The two of them scrambled out of the danger zone and hunkered beneath some cover.

Autumn continued to summon the power of her flute. She couldn't be of much help against the Crimson One directly, but at least she could try and trip him up. However the battlefield had became a killing field of green fire. Any creature that tried to get near was immediately swallowed and reduced to ash. Her monsters were powerless to attack or defend themselves.

Cloudhawk clutched his exorcist staff and started to look for an opening.

His body was in no condition for close range combat, but that didn't mean Cloudhawk wash happy to stick to the sidelines. He couldn't let this obnoxious girl continue to sneer down her nose at him, could he? He leveld the bow and slowly drew back the string. He knew that against an enemy like the Crimson One, he only had one shot. If he didn't take the chance then he wouldn't get another, but one he took it he had better make sure it counted. He couldn't give his enemy the smallest opportunity. But it wasn't the right moment, not yet. He couldn't see the bishop, but Cloudhawk could feel him. He wasn't weakened enough, which meant Selene and the others hadn't done enough with their attacks.

Above the settlement on a distant rise.

One of the red-robed priests turned angry eyes on the governor. "Ravenous Tiger! You can see the fight has started, why are 't we moving in to assist?"

"Indeed!" The conflicted light behind the large man's eyes dissipated, replaced with determination. "Now is the time to act!"

"Then let's go!" The priest hollered back, to which Ravenous Tiger ripped his ax from the sand and swung it around. A circle of cold light cleaved the air in a disproportionately large circle for the weapons size. The angry priest stared at Ravenous Tiger with wide eyes, for his throat was in reach of the gleam.


Another of the priests fumbled for his exorcist staff. He'd only managed to pull it half out from his belt before the white haired swordsman was on him. It took only one swing from his buster sword to cut the cleric apart at the waist.

By the time the remaining four knew what was happening, it was too late. The crack soldiers from Fishmonger's Borough finished them off at a cost of six dead and five wounded.

By now the scene in the outpost center was becoming clear.

More than half of Blackfiend's body was covered in fire. Selene was perched on the ruins of a nearby building. The old man stood panting in the lone patch of save ground in a sea of green flame. Blackfiend was functionally immortal, but the ravenous nature of Castigation kept devouring what was remade and stealing his power. By now his attacks were much weaker than normal. The old man was not injured himself, but the encroaching fires were closing in from all around, leaving him in a precarious position.

Selene was the only one with her strength intact. She gracefully rose to her feet like a fairy, with the flame-cleaving crossblade of light still help in her hand. What was not obvious was what the last clash had cost. Nearly half of her mental energy had been spent.

The Crimson One reappeared in the center of the sea of flame. His elegant robes were a tattered mess, blood was dripping from the corners of his mouth, and his hair was a matted mess. But that was all. Though three powerful attacks had close in at once, he remained largely unscathed. Blackfiend and the old man were inadequate - only Selene's attack had managed to fully pierce his defensive shell of fire. The wound on his chest proved it.

"It has been many battles since someone's managed to draw blood." The Crimson One dropped his head to inspect the wound, though his face never broke from that unsettling calm. A man of his strength had a body just as tough, and no matter how deep the wound his control stopped it from bleeding. It had already begun to heal, in fact. "But this was all you could muster."

Obviously Blackfiend was proving irritatingly difficult to destroy.

It was the tactical choice, then, to deal with the next easiest target. The drunk.

The three warriors all possessed powers beyond any normal demonhunter. Together their chance to defeat the bishop was no better than fifty percent. If he were then to concentrate his attacks on one of them and remove them from the equation, his foes would be greatly weakened. The fires around the old man seethed and roiled, slithering toward him like a host of angry vipers.

They were almost on him, inches away, when -

A piercing light shot toward them from the distance. It buried itself in the ground before the old man, and he immediately recognized it was a familiar tool. His walking staff, the one that was abandoned back at Ravenous Tiger's mansion. There was no time to wonder how or why, instead the boozer snatched up his staff and released barrier of energy all around. Half a breath later the fires were on him. Even with his barrier the old man would not last long.

A rush of energy tore through the fires then, clearing a path. Seeing his chance, the old man leapt for safety.

Selene retracted her sword but spared a shocked expression for the old man and the cane he bore. "This is... the Dawnguard?"

At last the Crimson One realized his support would never come. His eyes narrowed into a hard glare. "I would not have suspected you'd have the courage to make such a decision. I underestimated you."

Ravenous Tiger smirked at the bishop, watching from nearby.

A war between two tigers was a loss for both sides. Wait for one side to destroy the other, then clean up what was left. When the Crimson One was finished the Millennium Vale would be his. With such an attractive reward, why not take the risk?