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Book 4, Chapter 99 - Arcturus Acts

 Four years ago Cloudhawk was desperate to get to the Elysian lands. Now, he was desperate to leave.

Ever since he cast off his destiny as a scavenger, his road had been a bumpy one. Although it seemed his life was doomed to an eternity of wandering from place to place, he didn't regret any of his decisions. He set out into the world at large, and though he didn't get what he was after, he got a lot more than he ever thought possible.

Cloudhawk's land of peace and quiet was nowhere to be found, but he was leaving behind many friends and happy experiences. His fingers rose to touch the skin of his cheek where Selene's tears had dried. They'd disappeared long ago but weren't gone, he felt them still in his soul. It was a memory he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

It was feeling he'd never felt before. Subtle, and beautiful. It was the most perfect thing he'd experienced in the four years since leaving the ruins.

Such was life, sometimes. We didn't always get what we were after, but it was important never to give up. Forge ahead, because what you discover along the way may surprise you. There was always the chance a beautiful garden was waiting just around the next bend.

Cloudhawk crossed the border into the wastelands. He turned to look back, over the ridges toward the place he once thought to be his salvation.

Selene, don't worry. I will be back. You hold on until I do.

Wounded and drained, Cloudhawk's eyes still burned with fervent light. He didn't know where he was going, or what his next step was but it didn't matter. He could go anywhere, and the certainty he knew in his heart would be his lighthouse so he would never be lost.

So, where to. Sandbar Station? The old drunk, Gabriel, Barb, Blue... that's probably where he'd find them.

He wanted to see them again and explain what happened, but when he thought about it he nixed the idea. He had all manner of nasty folk just waiting to pounce on him. If anyone found out that group was important to him, he wasn't sure what evils they'd encounter. The last thing he wanted was to cause his friends any more trouble, so he would go without his farewells. If they ran into Selene, Dawn or Hammy they would find out what happened.

Motherfucker... my head...

Cloudhawk's found it harder to focus. Each step made him dizzier, and he was starting to see double. He'd accomplished something incredible in trying to escape; first Frost de Winter, then Blaze, Cosmo, and finally the Grand Prior. Mighty was definitely one way to describe it.

But it was just Cloudhawk trying to keep himself alive.

He used a huge amount of energy just to escape the Temple after his encounter with the Cloud God. The wounds he'd received from the deity were still fresh, and none of those he was forced to fight were typical soldiers. At his previous strength, Cloudhawk couldn't have survived. He only made it out thanks to the sea of mental energy he'd absorbed from the phase stone.

Before assimilating the stone, the Demon King's mental powers had been sealed in his relic. He'd only been able to reach into it to empower himself once a day. Now that it was a part of him, it was easier to access.

The phase stone was gone, transformed into a new part of himself he could draw on an unlimited number of times for support.

Presumably he could just keep using the mental sea to strengthen his abilities, going from mentally drained to back in the fight without missing a beat. The drawback was that the energy wasn't 'his', so there was the possibility it would be rejected as foreign by his body.

Each time he relied on the sea, there were side effects.

Cloudhawk's own mind was reeling from the god's psychic attack, so drawing on the sea was piling one disaster on top of another. Every step was getting more difficult. It was will alone that kept him moving forward. He couldn't afford to stop, couldn't rest, because he knew the moment he let his will slip he wouldn't be getting it back. If he fell he wasn't getting back in quickly, maybe never again.

"You there! Stop in the name of the Border Patrol!"

A group of patrol soldiers stepped in front of him.

Cloudhawk immediately felt his heart sink. Border Patrol. When the realm's wall was destroyed, they lost their monument that kept wastelanders at bay. As expected, many wasteland groups big and small saw it as their opportunity to break in and plunder border villages. In response, Skycloud ordered border patrols to be strengthened and better manned. Now they were everywhere.

Several dozen men sitting astride unicorns had their crossbows leveled at Cloudhawk.

At least for the moment none of them recognized the fugitive. Perhaps the order for his arrest hadn't reached them yet. However, his sudden appearance and the state of his wounds caused them to be suspicious. Answers were needed.

Cloudhawk couldn't let himself be foiled by a bunch of grunts. He needed to get past!

"This one's suspicious, shoot him down. Don't let him escape!"

Pulling forth their swords and bows they moved in, charging at Cloudhawk atop their mounts. Surrounded and threatened by a hail of arrows, Cloudhawk felt another surge of anger rise up within him. But he was spent. did he have the strength to protect himself?

"Get the fuck out of here if you want to live!"

Streaks of silver split the crossbow bolts that got close. With ringing sounds and a shower of sparks they tumbled to the ground. Several rangers came at him with whips, but their unicorns whined piteously as their legs were cut out from under them, sending horse and rider sprawling.

"He's a demonhunter!"

Surprise ran through the patrol. However, an Elysian soldier wouldn't let a suspicious person leave even if they knew they were a demonhunter. Injured as he was, they were confident in their chances of dealing with him.

Their captain hollered. "Cut him off!"

No sooner did the words leave his mouth than Cloudhawk reacted. The silver lights retracted back into his palms, replaced with a bow. In one smooth motion he pulled back and released. The captain and his unicorn were turned to stone and broke apart on the spot.

Their amazement was short lived, and quickly replaced with fury. They rushed at Cloudhawk with deadly intent. They would not be dissuaded.

Cloudhawk obliged with another few shots from Basilisk.

One after the other, a handful of soldiers were turned to stone and slain. By the time they crossed the distance to get before him, half their number were already dead. They unlatched the lances affixed to the sides of their mounts and charged at him. Cloudhawk grabbed at one with his bare hands, causing the land to dig into him but also lifting its bearer out of his saddle. He heaved, throwing the soldier into two more rangers nearby.

Cloudhawk flung the lance aside and drew Ardent Wrath, hacking it at his foes. The nearest ranger was burnt to ash. The others stared in horror.

This fiend was unscrupulous in killing Elysians. If he wasn't some escaped prisoner, then he was a traitor. But if that were the case, what was he doing with these relics? Judging by the quality of them he wasn't just some random demonhunter!

Two more rangers bearing lances dashed his way.

Cloudhawk caught one under the pit of his arm. With his right hand, he carved his sword through the air and turned them both into corpses.

What rangers were left began to reconsider the situation. It seemed clear that even with a team of people they didn't have the strength to take this man down. Elysian soldiers weren't afraid of death, but they weren't suicidal either. They called out and signaled to fall back. They would return with reinforcements.

Cloudhawk watched them retreat while gulping for air like a fish out of water. Blood poured from his chest, but the wounds looked worse than they were. What troubled him most was that in a minute this place would be crawling with demonhunters, using seeker relics to hunt him down.

He couldn't stay here. He had to keep moving. Cloudhawk shook his head to fight off the dizziness and pushed on.

But then, a dark and ominous sensation fell over him.

At some point, unnoticed by Cloudhawk, the day had changed. Sinister clouds had gathered overhead, and he could faintly hear thunder roiling in their depths. It felt like the heavens were about to collapse on top of him.

As though responding to his fears, several thin forks of lightning started to reach out from the clouds. They gathered into a tumultuous orb of lightning that swelled even as Cloudhawk stared with wide eyes.

Any idiot could tell right away this was not natural.

In an instant Cloudhawk felt his heart beating against his ribcage. A crushing sense of danger bore down on him from above. Gritting his teeth against the increasing damage he was doing to himself, he teleported a hundred meters away.

A ray of electric blue light shot forth, a streak of searing light.

Like a lance it pierced the ground, then poured all of its energy through the stone and dirt. The ground lifted like an inflating balloon as an unthinkable quantity of energy was pumped through it. It then collapsed, leaving behind an enormous crater. Cloudhawk had escaped the area of destruction half a breath before.

Overhead, the thunder orb began to move. Where Cloudhawk went, it followed. As it traversed the stormy skies it continued to gather lightning from the clouds, while firing bolts at the ground below. Each blast was faster than the eye could follow and left blackened craters behind.

Incredible! The power behind these blasts was the stuff of nightmares! They were coming faster, only Cloudhawk's supernatural danger sense kept him from being simultaneously fried and blasted into chunks.

He raced forward, knowing there was more to come. He glanced up and saw that the orb was several times bigger than before, and forks of lightning were reaching out like a jittering electric net. Cloudhawk's pale face was lit by the increasing light of several more orbs being formed.

It was like witnessing the end of the world.

All the orbs moved in unison. Electricity radiated off of them and bolts fell like rain. The landscape became peppered with craters like it was subjected to a meteor shower. Meanwhile Cloudhawk blinked in erratic patterns to keep himself out of their path.

As terrifying as this lightning was, it was the man behind it that Cloudhawk feared most. Few were the demonhunters in Skycloud adept at the use of lightning. Chief amongst them was Arcturus Cloude.

What's more, Cloudhawk wasn't feeling the hum of a relic. Even Oddball couldn't see what the source of this attack was. He had to be hundreds of meters away.

All through the ages there were only a few demonhunters who could kill their foes from such a distance. Such vehement and powerful attacks could only be from that one man Cloudhawk feared more than anyone else he'd encountered.

Arcturus Cloude was coming after him personally?

Son of a BITCH!

Four of the thunder orbs stopped throwing lightning bolts and began to descend. They arranged themselves in the four directions around Cloudhawk, then linked with each other with bars of lightning like a cage.

Cloudhawk spun around. There was nowhere to go. He tried to teleport but crashed into the electric barrier, which blasted him back into the dirt. Smoke curled into the air, rising off his blackened flesh.

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