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Book 4, Chapter 68 - Grievous Harm

 Any who suffered the touch of Castigation perished!

Such an overwhelming and all-encompassing display was impossible to avoid completely. A Master Demonhunter's mental powers were enough to maintain this nightmare assault for a long time, so trying to wait it out was simply waiting for death.

After furiously trying to find any other method, Cloudhawk determined the only way to survive was to beat their enemy as quickly as possible. So, it was basically impossible.

He was surrounded by Castigation Fire and protected by Immortal Defender. What were the three of them supposed to do?

Up til now the most they'd managed was to poke at the Crimson One and test his defenses. What they discovered was that even if they threw everything they had at the golden aura, it stood firm. So far as they could tell, there was no solution to the very deadly circumstance they found themselves in.

Meanwhile, the Crimson One's attacks were only getting more ferocious. Attack after deadly attack was thrown their way, from the rain of fire overhead to the lake of fire below, to the scores of flaming tentacles aimed their way.

Once again the old drunk called on Dawnguard's power to protect them, at least temporarily. He and Selene tried to break through the rapidly encroaching blockade of Castigation and thus created an opportunity to attack the Crimson One. Though it was only the second time the two had fought together, they executed their plan with stunning cooperation.

Many were the skills the old man learned from the Temple. He danced among the deadly flames like a specter. What's more, his mental prowess was enough to protect him from Castigation. Whipping tentacles and raining fire couldn't break his defenses, at least not yet.

Selene didn't have the same mystical skills as the former War Saint, but she did have formidable skills of her own. Her mental abilities were practically limitless, and her Holy Vestments were able to protect her at least marginally from the deadly fires. So long as she defended a few key areas from the flame, and avoid a direct blow, she needn't fear being devoured.

Yet despite their well-executed cooperation, it was no use. The Crimson One's gave them no quarter, their attacks were almost clumsy to his well-trained eye.

First he released a wall of fire to keep the old man at bay. He followed that with a barrage of fireballs toward Selene.

Her retreat was cut off, so she had nowhere to turn when the Crimson One rose into the air and came streaking toward her with incredible speed. His crosier came down on her like a cudgel, but she deflected it with her two swords. The strength of the blow knocked her backward.

As she struggled to regain her footing the fires reached for her, like the abyss of hell opening its maw to receive her. Spouts of flame lapped at her vestments like the grasping hands of the dead.

Selene felt her heart seize for a moment as she lost her balance. She fell backward toward the hungry fires, when suddenly she felt herself get yanked to the side. All at once the world whipped by and she found herself dozens of meters from where she'd nearly died.

Coughing up a mouthful of blood, she felt her heart races and her chest burning. The old drunk was also forced back. No one questioned the Crimson One's overwhelming strength, he was handily pinning down three attackers without any real danger to himself.

"Let me take a shot!"

"Don't be stupid... you can't break his defenses!"

Selene hadn't even finished talking before Cloudhawk blinked out of view. When she spotted him again she was shocked to discover he'd brazenly teleported right in front of their enemy, blocking his path forward.

Putting himself in front of a Master Demonhunter was suicide!

Almost on instinct, the green fiery tentacles lashed toward Cloudhawk. But they achieved nothing!

As experienced as Sterling was, he'd never met someone who could completely ignore the Castigation Fires. However, it took him only a second to realize what sort of power this was.

Cloudhawk tightened his grip on Ardent Wrath. It was now or never, he would put all their hopes on this strike!

He leaped into the air with the sword held aloft. As he brought it down on the priest, Ardent Wrath burst into fire. The dancing red blade cleaved through the green tentacles and struck the Crimson One's golden aura.

The Master Demonhunter hardly paid it any mind.

In his phased state Cloudhawk was immune to damage, but neither could he cause any. His attacks were useless, so why attempt it? Was it some sort of feint?

Ardent Wrath's fiery blade passed right through the golden barrier. Cloudhawk's attack passed through Immortal Defender's protection like it wasn't there.

This was the moment. Success of failure depended on what happened next.

At the risk of being consumed by the spectral fires, Cloudhawk allowed his phase state to collapse. His weapon was already through the Crimson One's barrier and inserted in his body. The blazing sword once again entered into real space along with its owner, manifesting within the Crimson One.


Sterling's face became pale and he pushed himself away from Cloudhawk as quickly as possible. At the same moment, Cloudhawk felt a bone-jarring repelling force knock him away!

This sort of dimensional attack was much different from physical blows. When an object shifted from outside of one dimension into another, it tore apart anything in the space it inhabited. If the energy it attempted to displace was as strong or stronger than itself, a powerful oppositional energy arose.

It was just like years ago, when Cloudhawk overcame Drake's defenses with a dead tree branch. Drake was a talented martial artist, even back then. His body was as hard as steel, so Cloudhawk's stick couldn't even scrape his skin. Yet through his phasing ability he'd managed to shove a dead stick all the way through and seriously injure Drake. It was proof of how dangerous the combination of an attack and his phase ability could be.

It didn't matter how strong the Crimson One's Immortal Defender was. It could be twice as strong, and still be incapable of protecting him from an attack that didn't even come from the same reality. A clear fissure was visible where Cloudhawk's sword had pierced it.

The Crimson One stared in wide-eyed disbelief. His relic was one of Skycloud's best defensive items. By all rights, it should've been all but impermeable. So long as he had any mental energy remaining it was supposed to provide absolute protection... but not against a dimensional strike.

After tearing open a hole, Cloudhawk suffered tremendous backlash in the form of rebellious energy. The fires of Ardent Wrath immediately dimmed, to the point that it seemed unlikely to do the Crimson One any real harm.

The Crimson One did not hesitate, did not let panic take hold. He danced backward out of the way while simultaneously launching a counter-strike with his crosier. The staff moved so quick that several showy copies appeared, delivering several dozen blows against Cloudhawk.

Each one was expertly landed, snapping the younger man's sturdy bones like they were twigs.

Each one infected his body with Castigation. Where the blows landed, tongues of green flame wormed into his flesh.

"Get away!" Selene screamed.

Cloudhawk's vision began to dim. He felt the terrible power surging inside of him. Selene's scream reached him from across the battlefield and he knew that his situation was grim, he had to retreat quickly or lose his life.

But there wouldn't be a second chance. How could he accept retreat now?

The cruelty and ferocity that lived deep in his wastelander bones rose to the surface. It seethed up from the depths of his heart. Engorged veins in his eyes made them swollen and bloodshot, and his face twisted into one of unbridled madness.

"I will not fall back until I break this fucking turtle's shell!"

Cloudhawk roared in defiance of his injuries. The stone around his neck bloomed with light, and a torrent of mental energy poured into his relics. The flames of Ardent Wrath were renewed, ten times stronger than before.

A power burst from it with astonishing strength, like a condensed laser beam. It struck Sterling's gold-encased body and viciously flung him to the ground. The Crimson One soared through the air like a golden meteor, then kicked up a plume of dust when he landed.

The ground couldn't sustain such immense force focused in one area. An enormous crater was carved out of the ground, but that wasn't the end of it.

Cloudhawk's clothes were in tatters. His invisibility cloak had started to burn, and the skin of his face was blackened and cracked. Scars from the fires were spreading out like inky tentacles and spurting from his pores.

He was being burned alive. Castigation Fire was trying to incinerate him from the inside out. His companions could see the furious power threatening to blow their friend apart.

The old drunk stared in horror. Was this kid trying to kill himself? Did he think he could take the Crimson One with him?

Cloudhawk dragged his sword, and with it the streak of pure energy. It carved a semicircle in the ground in its journey, once gain slamming into the Crimson One and dragging him along the ground. The earth was cleaved apart, and whole buildings felled by the force. In the end he carved a semicircular trench a hundred meters long.

At last, Cloudhawk's energy was spent.

Selene raced over to try and pull him to safety.

Cloudhawk collapsed onto the ground, unable to breathe. An indescribable pain wracked every corner of his being. He'd suffered the torture of Castigation Fire before, and it had nearly killed him. This time it felt so much worse.

The inside of his body felt like a war zone. Every cell was being torn apart and put back together, a hundred million times a second. The pain was so excruciating he fought just to maintain consciousness. Darkness was creeping in. He couldn't think straight, much less continue the fight.

Selene impotently held his hand. She didn't know what she could do.

He somehow managed to croak out a few words through his blackened throat. "Did.. I.. kill him?"

If the Crimson One could be so easily defeated, then he would not be worthy of the title Master Demonhunter. The man was enveloped in the golden radiance, floating ten meters above the ground. There he quietly hovered, above a maligned ruin of landscape yet himself unscathed.

Panic gripped them as they saw that not a hair was displaced on the man's body.

Ardent Wrath's burning blade was pointed right at his chest, having torn a hole in that perfect defense. The condensed flames had plunged two inches passed that golden shell. But alas, it was not enough! The angry flames had stopped a hairs-breadth from the Crimson One's eye!

To put it simply, while Cloudhawk's unique skills had allowed him to pierce the Crimson One's defenses, he simply wasn't strong enough to harm the Master Demonhunter. It was only a matter of centimeters, but there were no trophies for almost enough.

"Impressive strength!"

The Crimson One was cold, calm, and dispassionate in his praise. He seemed almost devoid of emotion, no sign of frustration being shown at nearly having his eye carved out. After all, for all the fury of Cloudhawk's assault he'd felt no danger.

Cloudhawk simply wasn't good enough. He posed no threat.

The Crimson One stood before them unscathed, and confident. This was the root of his calm demeanor.

The red priest floated forward, once again filling the area with the suffocating weight of his power. Hungry green flames once again emerged from thin air to float around him, each one holding the promise of death. It reflected in the fear-filled eyes of the assassins as it spread once more.

He was too strong. Too dominating a foe. How could they hope to win against a monster like him?

Even the old drunk had despair written in the lines of his worn face. He had hoped at the outset that the Crimson One was still suffering from his old injuries. Instead, they found Sterling as strong as he had been in his prime - perhaps stronger. They were as threatening as ants before the might of this man.

Cloudhawk was spent. In his desperate gambit he had achieved nothing but suffered much. Though his wounds were not yet lethal, they would come at a cost if he survived. The cruel fires would ruin him, maybe worse than the old cripple he'd come with.

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