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Book 3, Chapter 109 - Deception

 The strength of the power forced upon Majjhima directly correlated to the blinding pain he felt, but it did not compare to a lifetime of disappointment and regret.

He wouldn't change these precious seconds for several decades more of the life he was giving up. Was this his end? A long and lonely journey ending in a climax of fury?

He tore through the cavern, desperate to tear it down around them. He would die, but he would take them too. That would be enough.

Cloudhawk was unprepared for the old man to be such a threat. It was too late for him to do anything, too late to stop him. As the last of the supporting pillars was destroyed, a chain reaction of fissures began to slither over the ceiling. This underground world hundreds of meters below Skycloud would vanish any instant.

Was he supposed to be buried here with everyone else?

Dust covered everything, hiding much of the scene from Cloudhawk's vision. Even so, the deafening sound of rocks snapping was unmistakable. The world above was falling, and the impact would spell their end.

He clutched the phase stone around his neck. There was time, at least enough time for Cloudhawk to get free. He could make it if he left Dawn, Atlas and the others behind.

Too late. It was really too late. He couldn't change anything.

Cloudhawk was born a lowly picker, and the first half of his life had been spent scrambling through garbage. It taught him that his first priority always had to be staying alive. Staying down here was the opposite of that. He had to go!

But as time seemed to slow and the dust burned his eyes, another voice sprang up in the back of Cloudhawk's mind. It intruded on his cowardly thoughts, telling him that there was still time, that all was not lost. He didn't know why, but he knew that if he fled he would never be able to face himself.


Dozens of columns fired up from the ground like a petrified bamboo forest. They rose and split, creating a stony web overhead that caught the falling ceiling.

This was Terrangelica's territory. Dawn alone was capable of saving them from a gruesome death, but only barely.

Blood seeped from her very pores as Dawn yelled out. "I've got this handled! You can't let him succeed! He can't-"

Her shouts were interrupted as Majjhima tried to silence her with a punch.

Dawn couldn't move. All she could manage was to hold out her shielded arm, spare what little of her mental energy she could, and hope for the best. But between defending herself and keeping the stones from crushing them, her shields were limited.

The shell of protection shattered easily. Her relic shield caved in upon impact.

A sound like broken glass surrounded her. Majjhima's attack would have liquefied another opponent, and even for Dawn it left her with a number of broken bones. It was the first time in her life she'd been injured so badly, but an ingrained stubbornness surged from inside her.

The rocky ground beneath Majjhima's feet suddenly turned to fluid. All of a sudden he found himself covered as the very earth tried to turn him into a statue.

But the old man merely shook himself and the rock exploded apart.

Seeing this, Cloudhawk forced thoughts of escape from his mind. If Dawn was so obstinate as to stay here and die for the cause, how was he supposed to run like a little bitch?

Majjhima reared back for a second punch toward Dawn. Cloudhawk reacted by drawing back the string of his exorcist bow and filling it with power.

Crack! The bow broke apart in his hands when he loosed the string. A piercing beam of light struck Majjhima square in the chest, knocking him back several steps. The black energy that surrounded him dimmed.

But it wasn't enough! Fear gripped Cloudhawk. How strong was this guy?! He was as deadly as a demon! Three demonhunters weren't enough to deal with him. A whole army of them, trained specifically for this sort of confrontation was required.

But the strike was god enough to interrupt the madman's attack. Cloudhawk quickly prepared to follow up.

As he did, a figure swept by fast as lightning. A streak of sword light sharp enough to cleave the air left a trail in its wake. The stones in its path were blasted into pieces. The figure then struck again at a forty-five degree angle with incredible speed at the exact same spot.

The black mist concealing Majjhima split to temporarily reveal the man within.

Good enough. One well placed shot and this fucker's done for.

Atlas stopped as he prepared for the next onslaught, just long enough for Majjhima to pinpoint his location. He opened his mouth, and a deluge of power poured out like dragon's breath. Atlas, with no time to dodge, swept Malady forward in an attempt to protect himself.

Another concussive blast rocked the cavern and Atlas was thrown into a distant wall.

Atlas was strong, but he wasn't specialized in defense. If that blow hadn't killed him he was at least down for the rest of the fight.

Clang! Malady went soaring through the air like a lonesome falling star.

With a voice like a thousand shrieking souls Majjhima shouted at them. "You will all die!"

Nothing remained of who he had been, no sense of free thought besides 'kill.' He was only sustained by superhuman levels of persistence and obsession.

A silhouette streaked through the cavern, snatching Malady from the air.

This shadow didn't give Majjhima a chance to catch his breath. Taking Atlas' place, they used Malady to renew the assault. Hacking relentlessly at the man's mist-clad form, eventually his defense was breached.

Through the rage-fueled haze Majjhima recognized Cloudhawk.

His mind was gone, but there was enough familiarity that his anger focused in on him. Majjhima's right arm lifted, black mist gathering in his palm. When he released it, a beam of pitch black power streaked forward at near the speed of light. Cloudhawk wasn't as fast as Atlas, and even the assassin couldn't evade these blows. Caught in mid-air, how could he hope to?

So close. So close! As the wave of destruction came crashing down, Cloudhawk was filled with a sense of denial.

Blood poured from Dawn's mouth as, heedless of the consequences, she drew on the vestiges of her strength. Spears of earth rose up directly in front of Majjhima, stabbing at his dark protection. Though not enough to harm him, it did throw the old man off balance.

His ray of death missed Cloudhawk by mere centimeters. It screamed by and disintegrated a section of stone wall behind him.

Cloudhawk landed safely and immediately rolled forward. His skin turned red and heat began to sizzle off of him. He sprinted ahead, suddenly much faster than before, breaking the sound barrier in less than two seconds. He charged at Majjhima like a human bullet.

Dawn's barrage had put him off balance, leaving the madman no chance to fight back. The breach in his armor created by Atlas and Cloudhawk hadn't yet closed. It was now or never, their one chance.

He had to land this hit!

As this final opportunity presented itself, Cloudhawk held nothing back. Not only did he put every ounce of strength he had behind the strike, he even drew on the inheritance locked within the phase stone. It catapulted him to a level of power he'd never wielded before.

For a moment gravity held no sway over Cloudhawk.

He became a streak of light that stretched on into infinity, splitting heaven and earth. With this mystical blade severing all obstacles it pushed through Majjhima's body. Its vessel pierced, the black energy within him exploded in all directions.

Majjhima tumbled through the air, stopping only when he struck a wall several dozen meters away.

Cloudhawk was caught in the epicenter of the blast and was covered in blood. There was no part of his body that wasn't somehow injured. But he wasn't finished yet. Ignoring his injuries Cloudhawk jumped into the air, flipping half a dozen times. He nimbly kicked off falling debris as he crossed the cavern in a blink, appearing once again before the broken old man.

"You... you..."

Majjhima's shriveled body had become even more wasted by the ordeal. He seemed to have almost shrank to half his size and blood dripped from everywhere.

He'd still lost! After all he'd done, all he suffered, this was how it ended!

Majjhima stretched out his hand with the last of his strength. "One day... you will... understand..."

Before he could finish the sentence he seemed to almost collapse in on himself. A husk no longer capable of speech, never again to make a sound.

Cloudhawk thought back to the day he broke the old man out of prison. Now, years later, he was the one to kill him. But shaking the sad thoughts from his mind he looked around for the egg-shaped weapon. He found it, turned it around, and looked at the display.

Three seconds.

Shit! Too late!

Cloudhawk's eyes widened in fear. It was too late to teleport!

He didn't know what to do, so he fell back on the simplest thought. He raised Malady and gave the bomb a solid whack. He didn't know if it would do anything, all he knew was this thing was about to go off and when it did there wouldn't even be piles of ash left to mark where they'd been. There was no alternative.

The results were surprising.

It was more fragile than he thought, and the blow cracked open the bomb's metal casing. Moreover, the continuous jostles and impacts had damaged it, so the internal components tumbled out easily. Components.. that was a generous term. What fell out of the fractured casing was nothing more than rocks!

This thing wasn't even a normal bomb, much less an atomic one! What was going on?

The reading on the display reached zero!

One second passed. Two... three. Time crept forward but nothing happened.

At last it dawned on him. A fake... the fucking thing was a fake. It wasn't supposed to explode at all.

Majjhima was tricked. And Adder? Did he know? Or was this a decoy...

"I can't hold it anymore, everything's about to come down!" Dawn pulled Terrangelica from the ground with a grunt of effort. "Run. Don't worry about me, it's already too late!"

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