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Book 4, Chapter 70 - Apex Attack

 The old drunk had watched the two young people in their battle against the Crimson One.

Cloudhawk's mysterious dimensional powers took everyone by surprise, and Selene's Sublime Transcendence was destructive on another level. But what the vagabond noticed most of all was the deep connection those two shared.

It was pure and undisguised, one of life's most profound connections. It was also the source of life's greatest power. The look in Selene's eyes was one that the old man found familiar.

Back when the drunk was the lauded War Saint, everyone acknowledged that he was the greatest martial artist of their time. He rose to fame as a favorite of the gods and well known even in his youth. Those were the greatest days of his life, the peak of his heroism.

Countless young women vied for his attention back then. One of them was a girl like Selene; beautiful, prideful and strong.

Two people: one living in the height of his glory, and the other in her most pure and innocent years. It was the perfect time for them to meet, and if they had chosen to follow their hearts it would have been a fairytale love story.

Sadly the War Saint's heart was filled with arrogance and ambition. He was determined to explore the limits of the human body, and open the door to new realms of potential. Desperate was he to surpass the towering figure of the War-God and become the strongest person under heaven.

The two were together every day, but might as well have been separated by a vast ocean.

The old drunk, in his folly, expected his dreams to consume all his life. He left no space for anything but the dogged pursuit of his goals. She was content to wait and follow in his footsteps, so that when he reached the summit of his mountain he would look back and see her.

Happiness had been right there, just within reach. No longer.

It took him so long to wake up. Half a lifetime he'd carried this regret and was still unable to put it aside. Only in the abyss of his darkest days did he realize what he really wanted. It wasn't to be the greatest martial artist, or to be an enduring celebrity for the ages. It meant nothing to rise above all the rest of humanity if you stood at the peak alone.

He made her wait for so long... so now he would hold her in memory for all the rest of his days. It was too late to tell her what he really felt, but in the depths of his heart it had given him a measure of faith to hold on to.

Today, whatever the cost, he would protect these two young people.

The Crimson One peered upon the mighty warrior of bygone days. "It seems you were also gifted Woodland Vale's medicines, yet you remain a far cry from your former glory. Even at the height of your skills, you were never a threat to me."

"We haven't fought yet. Don't you think it's a little preemptive to declare victory?"

"Hmph. I can kill you with a snap of my fingers."

Cloudhawk's small fissure in his golden defense had been hacked open even further. This formerly invincible opponent now had an obvious weak point. It was their one opportunity. If they did not act fast, Immortal Defender would seal the crack and any hope of victory would be lost.

The Crimson One could buy time, or take a defensive posture in order to give Immortal Defender a chance to recover. From that point on he would again be invincible, and could handle these invaders at his leisure.

However, he was a Master Demonhunter and had a Master Demonhunter's pride!

The old man before him had once been cheered throughout the realm, their glorious War Saint. Despite his taunts, Vulkan would have been a force to be reckoned with back in his prime.

In order to spare his own pride, the Crimson One didn't want to resort to dirty tactics when fighting a crippled old man. So he rose up higher off the ground, trailed by tendrils of Castigation Fire. They spread out all around him like the grasping arms of an octopus.

"We're both old men, priest. Too old to cling to idealism. The future belongs to the young."

The old man drew himself up as he spoke, causing his joints to pop and creak in protest. His hunched figure straightened to his full height, while his old bones rolled back into place visibly beneath the skin. He almost seem to expand as toned muscles appeared where moments before there was only emaciated, papery flesh.

He was changing right before the Crimson One's eyes.

Dirty, patchwork rags still hugged his form and he still looked like he'd been dragged out of a gutter. The many half empty bottles hanging from him remained, but there was something fundamentally different about his presence.

The Crimson One's response was a direct and violent assault. Four or five tendrils of flame lashed out at the drunk, surrounding him.

He didn't budge one inch, still as a statue.

However, just as it seems the fire would swallow him up the old man's body vanished like a shadow in the noonday sun. A torrent of green fire slammed into the ground at everywhere the old man appeared, but each time only struck an illusion. He was too fast, rapidly changing his position on the battlefield with such speed that an afterimage of him was only the Crimson One could follow. None of the tendrils could pin him down.

It wasn't teleportation, but at short distances the drunk's speed might as well have been. The Crimson One couldn't tell where he was or where he was going.

The old man's recover was more complete than the Crimson One had assumed. He was using a mighty and effective skill from the Temple - Shadowstep!

His incredible speed allowed him to dodge attacks and close the distance between them. However, such a physically intensive skill was hard to use continually especially in the drunk's condition. The Crimson One need only flood the area with his deadly fires and eventually the drunk would be caught in it.

Of course the vagrant was not content to passively accept these attacks. He darted between the tongues of flame, both hands lifting Dawnguard high. Its resplendent light burst forth like the morning sun as he came in for a direct assault.

He'd used this technique to beat back the dragons in Woodland Vale, for it was effective and powerful. However, today he was not in the Vale and the Crimson One was far more dangerous than any dragon.

Cane and crosier exchanged half a dozen thunderous blows. Neither side won the upper hand.

In their contest several sparks of green fire had landed on the old man, yet extinguished upon touching his iron-like skin. Small burn marks remained but nothing further. The power he was calling from inside of him flooded the exterior of his body, and was strong enough to present Castigation Fire from infecting him.

Close combat? The old man was asking for death!

The Crimson One was no longer the grizzled warrior he once was, but doused in Castigation fire there was no hope for the old drunk to break through. The green flames were spreading out through the area, leaving him with nowhere to go. How long could the drunk keep up their fight if he had to do it in a sea of fire?

Again their weapons clashed. The old drunk was falling further behind.

Under constant assault from Castigation fire, Dawnguard's surface had started to corrode. Even a relic as mighty as this could only suffer so much from the fires, and the effect was obvious in how the golden light surrounding him had begun to dim.

Each exchange saw the Crimson One's face grow increasingly cold. The fires gathered rapidly around him and danced across his body. "You could have found a hovel somewhere to live out the rest of your sad existence. Instead you've chosen to come here, seeking death. I shall oblige."

Immortal Defender still wrapped the priest in a shell of gold. Castigation Fire enveloped him further and turned him into a pyre of green destruction.

The Master Demonhunter grew before his eyes until he towered over a dozen meters, but it was transitory. He quickly coalesced from a dozen meters to a fireball five meters in diameter. The power that poured off of it was staggering! Was he preparing his final attack?

The old drunk slowly lifted his scorched cane.

Even in this critical moment, he felt his mind wander to an old promise. It called a wry grin to his face, full of bitter mirth.

"You said you wanted to see me perform the best technique in the world..."

His right hand shot out. He wrapped gnarled fingers around one end of the cane and let loose with a guttural roar. His hand jerked back and pulled a slender blade from inside the cane.

The moment the sword emerged, everything around them quivered from some shared resonance.

A strange power swept through Fallowmoor. It crested against the flames and forced them back as it was revealed that Dawnguard was not a cane, but the sword hidden inside. The true depths of its strength were contained in this hidden relic.

The real Dawnguard!

Six years...

...six long years.

Years spent wallowing in guilt and self-pity. He'd fell from the loftiest mountain peak to the muck below. A sad figure cast from the light of heaven into the abyss. In those six years he'd lost everything, and the mighty War Saint became a miserable wretch suffering the indignity of his failures.

But now he had somehow summoned the courage to draw Dawnguard once again. From the moment its holy light was allowed to shine anew, the War Saint was reborn.

For all the hardships, all the pain and all the hopelessness there was a single truth: The dawn was brightest after the darkest night!

A man's life was like a parabola, for the deepest valleys were followed by soaring peaks. Existence was a measure of ups and downs, the cruelty of constant change!

In his quest to forget the old man put all of his mind and all of his strength into the hidden sword. He wanted to lock it all away, keep it from view. For six long years that's where he kept the spirit of the old War Saint. When it was drawn, its light contained not only all of that mental fortitude and latent strength, it bore all of his frustrations, all of his regrets.

"This is what you wanted to see, wasn't it, Jade? I hope you're watching."

When the two foes met against, it was like two comets colliding in space. The fury of their clash shook the whole city. Selene could feel in the power expelled that the old man had miraculously regained his former grandeur. The Crimson One was also calling on the full extent of his power.

Two legendary men in a contest that required everything they could summon. Selene feared she and Cloudhawk would be destroyed merely by being too close.

She turned her eyes away, heedless of who held the upper hand, and wrapped her arms around Cloudhawk. Selene lifted him up and ran while violent explosions and plumes of green fire erupted behind them. The resulting blast force felt like being struck by an Elysian warship. Both of them were flung to the ground, and she hacked up mouthfuls of blood. Cloudhawk was flung a dozen meters away, flailing like a broken doll.

Time passed, no one knew how long. The apocalyptic aftermath of the drunk's attack slowly faded away.

No inch of ground nearby was unscathed, especially around the old warrior who stood with Dawnblade in hand, panting from the strain. His body was badly charred from flame. It looked like the battle was over.

The Crimson One was no better off. At last Immortal Defender had been completely defeated. Blood leaked from a wound that went straight through his chest and out from his back.

Both men had suffered gravely from their battle. Neither expected to find themselves here.

The Crimson One's expression was one of disbelief. Somehow, the old drunk had done it.

But the old War Saint was hardly standing himself. After all, his injuries were old and intractable. He had called upon all the power asleep within him, but his body could not support it anymore. It would not allow him to make a second such attack.

On unsteady feet the Concalve's leader looked to his hands, where the shattered remains of his crosier were clutched by pale fingers. The power wielded by Skycloud's War Saint was nothing short of extraordinary.

But it didn't matter. In the end, he still lost.

Though his defenses were breached and he'd been wounded, the Crimson One was still a Master Demonhunter. The strength of his mental fortitude empowered his body, so that his wounds - although serious - did not influence his ability to fight as much as they would the martial artist.

Cloudhawk was unconscious. Selene had no fight left in her. The old drunk's strength, astonishing as it was, was a flash in the pan.

It was over. They'd lost.

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