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Book 4, Chapter 64 - Public Enemy

 A sea of angry faces was pointed at them, framed by glinting weapons. Dozens if not hundreds of bullets and arrows would rain down on their heads any moment. More dangerous, however, were the demonhunters and their deadly relics. They had been ready for them.

"Is everyone stupid? You're so ready to condemn us and you don't even know the situation." Barb stepped forward, trying anything to buy them a few extra moments. "Do you actually have any proof we killed anybody?"

They were still disguised as citizens thanks to Mr. Ink's relics. They were practically indistinguishable from anyone else here! But despite her pleas the mob was still out for blood. They didn't care about proof, only justice.

Cloudhawk's expression was almost comical, like he'd been walking down the street on a sunny day when suddenly he'd stepped into a pile of shit and then stumbled into a beehive when trying to wipe it off his shoe. This ruckus was sure to attract more attention, so if they didn't do something soon the whole city would be here trying to put new holes in their bodies.

The General was right. Cloudhawk really was a magnet for conflict. It didn't matter how talented he was, he couldn't stand up against several tens of thousands of people.

Barb was stunned at how quickly things had gone sour. They'd only just teleported into the city, presumably without leaving any traces of their entrance. How could they have been discovered so quickly - and what's more, walk right into a bloodthirsty mob like it was all planned?

A man with a scraggly beard lurched forward, gun raised. "Kill the Elysian dogs!"

The barrel of his weapon spat hot lead and fire. His machine gun sprayed toward them with frightening velocity.

The old drunk brandished his cane, using it to expertly deflect most of the bullets. In the same moment Dawn activated her Aegis Mirror. The invisible barrier protected them from the remainder of the bullets, however the rest of the crowd began their attack. More gunfire, arrows, and even shots from exorcist bows began to pummel their location. Her defensive shell quickly showed signs of cracking.

Selene's eyebrows furrowed in a scowl. Blazing light extended from her hand as the crossblade flared to life.

Her grip tightened in preparation to begin cutting their assailants down, but when she began looking for targets she took note of the many children among them. She hesitated. Cloudhawk was right. Five years ago the Bloodsoaked Queen would have slain anyone who dared offend her - regardless of age or gender. Now, however, she found it difficult to make the call.

A streak of cold silver blasted from their small crew.

The beam coiled together into the image of a silver dragon, racing deftly through the angry mob. It did not impact anyone directly, however. Instead it weaved through the gaps, and everyone it passed was frozen solid by the mere passing contact with its aura.

None were dissuaded by the attack. On the contrary, it only seemed to stoke their lust for carnage. Angry, bloodshot eyes were wide with the promise of a painful death.

Frozen Dirge flashed back into Frost's hand.

With one wave he'd created dozens of frozen statues, yet his foes would not be cowed. As the citizens pressed in a murderous resolve took root in Frost's eyes. He swing Frozen Dirge around in a circle, casting out several streaks of energy. As it swept across the area in all directions, icy statues shattered into jagged fragments that were fired into the masses causing further casualties.

A hundred or more of Fallowmoor's residents and farmers had been injured by the icy shrapnel. They lay on the ground screaming in pain, clutching at gaping wounds and bleeding gashes. At last they seemed to recognize the danger Frost presented and hesitated to move in closer. However, there was still a constant barrage of bullets and arrows assailing Dawn's shield.

Cloudhawk looked over the carnage. The number of citizens, both living and dead, continued to swell. He called at his compatriots through a scowl, "This will never end. We're just wasting time and energy here, we need to get free!"

Dawn continued to protect them from the projectiles with her Aegis Mirror. Strong as she was, the numbers they faced were overwhelming and growing by the moment. She wouldn't be able to protect them all for long by herself.

"We're surrounded, where are we supposed to run?"

"I'll draw their fire, the rest of you get out of here."

Dawn and Selene answered in one voice. "I'm going with you!"

Both stopped and looked at one another. The fire in their glares could melt an ice cap.

Cloudhawk failed to notice amid the sound of shouts and gunfire. "No one's coming with me, it's easier if I'm by myself. We don't have time to discuss this, it's what we're doing. Quickly!"

It was a solid plan. Who among them was the focus of most these wastelanders' ire? A rhetorical question, certainly.

Cloudhawk felt like he'd unwittingly become Fate's punching bag. Not only was his name maligned in Skycloud, he was enemy number one throughout the wastes as well. Why the fuck was it so hard to just find a quiet place to settle down?!

Obviously his fight and eventual victory over Adder in Woodland Vale was common knowledge now.

Every member of the Conclave and those organizations affiliated with it would be overjoyed to get their hands on Cloudhawk. Finally they had their chance, so he was the target down most gun sights. If he drew attention away, perhaps the others would have more of a chance to escape.

As for Cloudhawk's own safety? Not to worry! He'd never been easy to kill. On his own, Cloudhawk was even less likely to run into mortal danger.

"Miss, Cloudhawk is right. We can't afford to spend our strength fighting the whole populace of this city." Mr. Ink made his case to Dawn. "We need to retreat and save ourselves for the mission's objective."

Corded muscles danced along Dawn's jawline as she ground her teeth. "Then be careful!"

Though Cloudhawk didn't know it, as far as Dawn was concerned he was her fiance. With General Skye's support for the idea, it would be impossible for Cloudhawk to refuse. Now he was offering to take on the most dangerous role in order to make sure their plan succeeded. She was worried for him.

Mr. Ink produced another one of his strange relics.

It was a bottle, standard but for the fact that it drank up all the light around it completely. Its contours were outlined with faintly glowing purple runes. When he opened it the contents erupted like a volcano, instantly belching forth a black mist. The inky darkness quickly spread throughout the area.

It cut off both the vision and hearing of anyone caught inside. The angry mob spun around in fury, swinging wildly in attempts to cut down the invaders they could no longer see.

Cloudhawk watched in surprise as the inky mist did not diffuse, but rather almost seemed to ooze across the plaza. Distance did not thin the darkness. If it continued like this, the unnatural darkness would soon cover half the city. Such a wide-reaching ability was rare to behold. The mysterious Mr. Ink definitely had amazing tools at his disposal.

"Go!" Everyone began to move.

Recognizing that their prey was trying to escape, the Conclave demonhunters tried to charge through the darkness and cut them off. They were still getting organized when Cloudhawk teleported atop one of the nearby balloon-suspended platforms. He unceremoniously booted the red-clad priest who had stirred up the crowd into the masses below.

"Hey, ya bunch of fuckwits! You can't do shit, and you ain't worth shit!" Cloudhawk snatched up the instrument the priest had been using to amplify his voice. "That's right! I killed Adder. Cloudhawk. Remember my fuckin' name!"

Too far! This bastard! Cloudhawk kicked the mob's anger into an outright frenzy. Bullets, arrows, spears and swords were thrown toward him.

But their field was vision was small, and Cloudhawk was agile as a monkey. He dodged their clumsy attacks, teleporting when necessary, or using his phase stone when no other option worked. It was as public a humiliation as he could manage, stoking the mad fury of his attackers as high as it would go.

And the angrier they became, the dumber they got. All sense went out the window; there was nothing but the burning desire to kill this asshole.

When he felt it was enough, Cloudhawk took off at a full sprint. The mob came racing after him, ignorant to the fact that he was by himself. The rest of the invaders were getting away without much attention.

There were bullets everywhere! The ground was littered with shell casings. The wind was alive with blades of wind or fireballs or icicles as all manner of relics came to life.

As he raced on, Cloudhawk felt like the whole world was after him. There was nothing but hatred and anger and murder, all directed toward him. For just a second he felt a little hopeless, a little lost. Was he really meant to be hated by the entirety of the wastelands forever? He was a gods-damned wastelander himself!

His self-pity came just as a nearby demonhunter launched a sneak attack. A rather unassuming orb of fire was flung his way, suddenly erupting into a blast that took Cloudhawk by surprise.

What a violent blow! He was caught off guard and the force was enough to collapse his phase field. He tumbled out of the air and into a house below. It was immediately surrounded, and the mob ruthlessly buffeted the structure with bullets and arrows.

"Kill him! Kill the traitor!"

Cloudhawk lay flat on his belly and crawled forward as projectiles tore through the walls inches above his head. Immediately the place was a warzone, with almost everything inside shot to pieces. Its walls were barely standing, more hole than wall, like a half-built honeycomb. So complete was the destruction that the structure began to collapse around him.

Now or never!

Cloudhawk grabbed the phase stone around his neck. As he filled it with mental energy light began to poure from between his fingers, and the air all around trembled from an unseen power. Reality twisted into a whirlpool that sucked him in.

The crowd burst into the room moments later. Nothing. As they picked through the ruins of the structure they found no body. They cursed and kicked and screamed in impotent rage, then spread out to try and recapture his trail. But it didn't matter, he was gone like a puff of smoke. It was like he'd simply stopped existing. Even seeker relics weren't picking up anything.

And in fact, Cloudhawk really had ceased to exist, at least from their world. He popped into existence far from the conflict.

He floated in the ruins of a broken world where he hid his secret cache. The ruined warehouse he'd repurposed was crammed full of all manner of things, mostly weapons, demonhunter equipment and food. For some reason, his phase stone had a connection to this place that allowed him to use it at will, both to store things and to flee when needed.

However, transporting a living thing here was not easy. An entire human body was particularly difficult.

Because of this, Cloudhawk rarely transferred himself here. It cost him a lot in mental energy, and the airless environment was less than hospitable. Strong as he was, the place was uncomfortable at best.

Cloudhawk left the warehouse and was set adrift across the shattered landscape. In this place, every step he took corresponded to the same distance traveled back in his world. Since the building he'd escaped was surely still crawling with people, he would have to move around here for a distance before attempting to return. When he got back, with any luck he'd be far from where they'd think to look for him.

It was the perfect escape tactic. Once he got it off, it didn't matter who you were. The Crimson One, Skye, Arcturus, even gods and demons... all were helpless. After all, how were you supposed to track down something that didn't exist in your dimension any longer? Short of someone having the same powers, he was uncatchable. And the likelihood of someone with his same abilities was zero!

His phase stone was a relic from the Demon King himself! He had to wonder, if this was the sort of power the phase stone had then, what about that cuirass? The prospect excited him, but he squelched the excitement soon after. He didn't dare wear the former Demon King's armor.

The power he had now had all come from the Demon King, hadn't it? And what had happened to that unholy thing? Despite the downright legendary effects of his relics, the beast had still fallen. Taking on the mantle of the Demon King was asking for death, as far as Cloudhawk was concerned. It was much better to just live as a normal man.

Alright... should be good enough.

Cloudhawk guessed that he'd probably gone the equivalent of halfway across Fallowmoor by now. Once again he called on the stones power to bring him back into his own dimension.

When he popped back into existence, he was alone. He'd gotten away without a trace!

Taking a moment to make sure his surroundings were safe, Cloudhawk found that he'd phased back into some sort of tower. He was then immediately assailed by a familiar hum. A relic he knew, coming from somewhere in this very building.

Castigation fire.

The Crimson One.

Had he chanced upon the Master Demonhunter's location?

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