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Book 4, Chapter 6 - Psychotic Warship

 Condor's three energy pylons functions like three powerful motors. Huge amounts of power were consumed to push it forward, while lights filled the cracks in its shields momentarily - perhaps a sign their defenses were recovering.

"Smash them!"

As nearly all of its energy was focused into its engines, Condor rocketed forth at break-neck speed, disregarding the bombardment it suffered from surrounding enemy ships. Like an out of control beast or an enraged rhinoceros, it bore down on the first airship in its path.

There was a deafening crash as the two vessels met, like a bomb had detonated.

The wasteland ship folded like it was made from paper. Fire belched from it, swallowing the patch-work deck and all who stood upon it. Conversely Condor plowed through like a divine hammer, obliterating the inferior ship. It spun helplessly down through the mist, trailing black smoke to mark its demise.

Condor's protective shell was set ablaze and peppered with debris from its first victim. Cloudhawk laughed in satisfaction as the sky became clearer. That was all Hell's Army had, eh?! Too easy to break free.

But of course, it wasn't that Hell's Army was weak. Rather, Condor was just too big to contain. The six-pylon Talon flagship was the greatest vessel in the armada, with three times the energy potential of a normal warship. How could Hell's Army hope to compete?

The captain called for Cloudhawk's attention. "Another ship off the bow, sir! Judging by the look of her, she's the enemy's command ship!"

Cloudhawk's brows knit tight. "Doesn't matter, run her down!"

Condor obliged.

At such close proximity, their ship didn't have a chance to reach full speed after the first impact. Both were protected by shields, so when they collided the air screeched from the friction. Soldiers held their ears and scowled. The shields of both ships warped.

The Hell's Army command vessel tried to hold Condor at bay, but how could it? Instead it was shoved back while tremors rocked both ships. Cracks appeared in their shields and hulls. Crews were flung about like beans in a tin can.

From the bridge, Cloudhawk stared in amazement. Although both ships were damaged by the collision, it was clear Condor would be victorious. He could see that by the way the enemy shields bowed. In the end the Hell's Army vessel would fall like the first. So what were they doing? Courting death?

No, they weren't that stupid!

Cloudhawk understood his old trainers' style. Hell's Army was the epitome of special forces and tactics. More than just strong, their leadership consisted of noted strategists. If it looked like they had made a fatal mistake, he was sure that was just what they wanted him to see.

The captain's excited shouts returned. "Warden, two more ships approaching from port and starboard!"

Cloudhawk's face stiffened. "What did you say?"

He didn't have time to explain.

Two hideous, lumbering silhouettes appeared on either side of Condor. They appeared out of the mists like towering mountains. Condor had slowed to a near halt after impact with the command vessel, placing it squarely between these two ships. They had to have been waiting for exactly this. As they picked up speed, Cloudhawk realized the danger they were in.

The impact hit them like a landslide! Shattered glass filled the bridge as its viewing ports exploded. Outside, massive cracks nearly split the deck in two.

Claudia and the others were pitched off their feet and hurdled through the air. For a moment sky and deck switched places as they tumbled end over end, then rolled from right to left. The experience of fighting enemies while being thrown about like a rag doll was not a pleasant one.

"Gods! What just happened?!"

Rei's wide eyes swept over the badly damaged deck. Her face was pale when staring at the nightmarish scene. A ship in front, one to the left, another to the right. All three started firing at once. Condor had become a cornered animal.

The pincer attack had nearly overcome Condor's shields, as was evident by the cracks that slithered across its surface. Hell's Army had forethought - if one ship was not enough, then they would use three. Cloudhawk's order to ram their enemies was madness, a gambit that threatened to do nearly as much damage to themselves as to the enemy. What he hadn't anticipated was that Hell's Army was just as crazy.

Getting his bearings, the captain cried out. "Damnit! Our shields are failing. Divert all energy to defenses! If our shields collapse we'll be blown apart!"

"They're arming their weapons!"

"Our controls have been damaged. Trying to fix the problem."

"Condor's starboard hull has been badly damage. Emergency hatches activated."

The bridge was in turmoil. After the three-pronged attack Condor was still listing forward, but at a slow pace. She was clamped tight in the enemy's grasp. Cloudhawk gave the order for all other ships to come to their aid.

At least for the time being, three enemy ships were busy with one.

Drake received the order. "Hell's Army knows what they're doing, but it's a mistake to think we don't! Attack!"

"We can't!" Brontes responded in a grim voice. "Hell's Army ships have pinned Condor, but their remaining vessel has joined with the wasteland fleet and is forming for another assault."

"We have two warships. Leave one to fend them off, while we go to Cloudhawk's aid."

"That won't work, we've been too heavily damaged. Our situation is bad enough, much less throwing ourselves against superior numbers to help the commander. If we can't prevent ourselves from being shot out of the sky then we're lucky."

"Damnit... then we'll draw them away, create an exit."

Hell's Army almost seemed to know how their moves before they did. Whatever orders Cloudhawk gave, Hell's Army was right there with a response. The sudden air battle was quickly putting them out of their depth.

Nearby, Hammont was standing nervously on the deck of a transport ship. He'd never been in a fight like this!

A typical Skycloud fleet consisted of a flagship, destroyers, frigates and scout vessels, with supply ships bringing up the rear. Even though they were rushed, this was essentially the battle group Cloudhawk had pulled together. But both Cloudhawk and Drake had been caught in their trap. They were caught in a stalemate for the moment, but the Elysians were clearly at a disadvantage. It was obvious from how well Hell's Army had executed their surprise attack that their commanders were experienced. Cloudhawk and Drake could not measure up to them.

It would take something big to turn this around.

"Everyone, gather up!" Hammont shouted for the logistics force. Their two ships were situated at the rear of the fleet since they had no combat or defensive capabilities to speak of. As a result the enemy vessels paid them no mind. While they had been the target of a shot or two, so far it was nothing life-threatening. "I have a plan!"

His crew looked nervously at one another. One of them spoke up. "Major Seacrest... w-we're just rear support. Our ships don't even have any weapons!"

"Bullshit! Are you going to run from a fight because you don't have weapons?!" Hammont was not pleased with the excuse. "What do we have? Eboncrys! Fuel! We're carrying what all these ships need to keep flying."

One of the soldiers piped up. "How does that help us?"

"You don't get it? Morons!" Hammont didn't keep them in suspense. "We convert the eboncrys into energy for the pylons, overload it, and turn this whole ship into a bomb."

They stared at him like he was insane.

Something like this had never been suggested before, much less attempted. Was it even possible?

"Prepare to evacuate." Hammont did have the answers, but there was nothing else they could do. He saw his men hesitate and suddenly adopted a more malevolent posture. "Part of the enemy forces are attacking Commander Drake. The rest have Commander Cloudhawk surrounded. Our warships won't last forever, and when they're gone the enemy will turn to us. We need to move now, I will bear responsibility."

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Condor was pinned down. Clamped on three sides, there was nowhere for it to escape to. Enemies ships were bettering their shields with everything they had, which were slowly weakening the only thing between Cloudhawk's men and absolutely destruction. As more cracks appeared in their defenses, Conclave soldiers poured through.

The sound of heavy footballs rattled the deck. Claudia caught sight of a colossal figure through the haze.

Covered from head to toe in armor, it was impossible to see any detail of the warrior, but that didn't matter. As light gleamed from the armor, she knew who they faced. Dumont stood before them like a pillar of flame.

Belinda called out. "This one's different."

She brazenly flung a fireball at him.

Her fires were enough to incinerate most soldiers, she'd seen it herself. Yet upon striking Dumont it sizzled against the armor for a moment before dying. No doubt about it, his red-hot suit of armor was a relic!

Claudia, recognizing the foe they faced, called out in a grim voice. "Retreat!"

Mason had never heard this note in his sergeant's voice, something almost like fear. He knew immediately that this was unlike any opponent they'd faced before. He shifted his shield around and planted his feet. "I'll hold him!"

"You can't!"

She tried to warn him, but before he could react to her words the dim armored figure vanished. He reappeared moments later, encased in light and moving faster than the eye could follow. Like a beam of light he streaked right for the sturdy shield blocking his path.

Mason could feel it even before he reached him. What an incredible aura! The deadly presence stole his breath away. He'd never felt anything like it, this sense of fear and helplessness. Dumont hadn't reached him yet, but he knew in his bones that destruction was coming his way.

She was right. He couldn't stop it.

Dumont crashed into the shield and its wall of light, shattering it and the man behind. His fragile body exploded like it was made of glass.

Mason's warped shield hit the deck with a thud, followed by a rain of mangled flesh. His forearm still clutched the relic.

The demonhunters stared in sickening horror as their corporal was blown apart. He was hale and hearty a second ago, and now his corpse was unrecognizable. Fear struck them deep into their core.


Shock froze the novice demonhunters in place. For the first time they were faced with death, the loss of a compatriot. They'd watched him blown to pieces before their eyes. What could be more terrifying?

Another shadowy figure raced forward.

Rio swept passed them with his sword raised, ready to defend them from this new threat. Ten strikes and parries passed in a blink, but the Talon colonel was ultimately disarmed and knocked several meters away.

A twisted and heavily scarred face snarled at them through the fog. His hands were clenched around an enormous sword and the threat of murder hung around him like a cloak.

Claudia's despairing voice came almost in a whisper. "It is you..."

Once Dumont and Eckard were in full view, a woman with a glimmering whip slowly stepped from the mists. She approached from between the two men, her beautiful face unsettling devoid of any emotion. Only a cold light shone in her eyes as she looked them over. She glanced at Claudia, but did not otherwise react to the presence of her old student. When she spoke it was only to deliver a singular, chilling command. "Kill them."

"You're too slow!" Eckard grumbled at Dumont, who had started to gather his energy into the armor. His scarred mouth twisted into a grin. "Leave it to me."

An exorcist rod slipped into Claudia's grip, and it spun to life as her fingers wrapped around it. She lashed out, the head of the rod colliding with Eckard's blade. A shock went through her, causing half her body to reel backward. She stumbled a few steps away to gather her bearings.

"You're still too weak!" Eckard rushed at her with his second strike, holding nothing back. "Is this all that Hell's Valley has taught you? Then die like the failure you are!"

Claudia was already wounded, but she knocked the second strike away. His third cleaved her exorcist rod in two. The fourth came screaming down, aimed for her head!

Claudia's melee abilities weren't weak, but she was no match for Eckard and his martial proficiency. I didn't even make it to five moves. Bleak realization filled her heart as she watched the sword come.

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