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Book 5, Chapter 53 - Open Confrontation

 Cloudhawk was too arrogant! It was a brazen slap in the face!

The mighty demonhunters by Arcturus' side could no longer take it sitting down. However, in this moment they felt more fear than anger.

This monster couldn't be left alive! Today, he destroyed a portion of their grand stronghold in one attack. Tomorrow, he could raise his hand against Skycloud City itself!

Cloudhawk was only in his early twenties, yet he already he commanded such hellish power. In another twenty or thirty years who would be able to stand in his way? Even their illustrious Governor may be outmatched!

"Let us elders handle this one."

"Aye, we'll slap the arrogance out of him. This heathen can't be allowed to take another breath. Every day he lives is an affront to the dignity of our realm."

Arcturus remained seated. That threatening aura had gradually waned and he was again that calm, inscrutable enigma he always was. He did not immediately agree with the proposal of the angry elders. When he responded, it was in quiet, measured tones.

"Cloudhawk could only galvanize an attack like that with immense external aid. He cannot reproduce it. There are other formidable enemies waiting in the wings. It would be foolish to heedlessly press the attack just to cut Cloudhawk down. If we are not prudent, we will lose not just a portion of Sanctuary, but the entire fortress. If that were to occur, all of Skycloud would feel the aftermath."

Obviously, Cloudhawk was merely the tip of the spear. Their main force was watching, waiting for the right opportunity to strike.

Although Cloudhawk's opening assault was terrible and destructive, it didn't destroy their fortress outright. Deploying all their strongest to deal with him would be premature. They would have nothing left to counteract the coming demonic and wasteland forces.

"He's a spent bullet." A masked figure beside Arcturus shared their determination. Their voice was strangely neutral, making it impossible to tell whether they were male or female. Such was the case with Janus 'Many-Faced' Umbra - ever a mystery. "Oren has already ordered his demonhunters to surround him. The rest of our soldiers will rally and come to their aid in short order. Cloudhawk and this small group are alone, outnumbered, and surrounded."

Indeed Cloudhawk was only peering down his nose at them because the army was still recovering from the shock of his attack. The traitor would be singing a different tune when thousand of Elysian troops were bearing down on him.

The hot-blooded members of Arcturus' entourage looked at each other but had no recourse but to hold position. Skycloud's elder warriors had been gathered to counter forces from Nox and Nucleus. Arcturus was right, wasting their strength on Cloudhawk would leave an opening for the wastelanders to mop up. The fight had only just begun.

So be it! There were enough mighty foes for Cloudhawk to throw himself against already. Oren and Zoren in particular were a lethal pair.

In addition the Court of Shadows also skulked the field. When factoring in Oren's Demonhunter Corps, the combined forces were numerous and formidable. If they charged forth together, a whelp like Cloudhawk was as good as doomed.

They watched from above as their forces began to surround the invaders.

"Drunk, you and the others deal with them. Clear landing zone for our main force." Cloudhawk shouted his orders then snapped his eyes toward Oren. "Leave this wrinkled ballsack to me."

The drunk looked out over the devastation that had taken hold of Sanctuary and sighed. It'd gone to far. There was no looking back.

He had not been in favor of the attack, of killing Elysians. But he owed his life to Cloudhawk, and Dawn was the honorable War God's granddaughter. What was happening here was a tragedy, but one he had to partake in.

Cloudhawk had opened the path with his meteor. He made the sky split and the earth quake. Under his power a portion of the Sanctuary had collapsed. Skycloud's iron defenses had been overcome with a single, stupendous blow.

Now, while the Elysians were reforming, the rest of the wasteland forces took advantage of their disarray to move in. Airships arrived and deposited their forces upon the meteor. Speed was to their advantage, for if they could act before the defenders could rally the wastelanders would carve through the fortress like a hot knife through butter.

Oren raised his hand toward Cloudhawk. "You conceited child." That familiar gravitational effect fell over the area. Cloudhawk felt as though he'd been tied to a fleet of airships that were lifting him into the air. He floated a dozen meters into the air.

"Die!" Oren reversed the energy and flung Cloudhawk toward the ground with a hundred times the force of gravity. This sudden change would reduce an iron-skinned mutant to meat paste.

Yet just as Cloudhawk was about to impact the ground, he blinked out of existence and vanished from view. Oren's power crashed into the earth, leaving a crater a dozen meters deep. He'd dug out a grave but there was no corpse to put in it.

"Where did you run to?!" Oren lashed out at any trace of his foe. Meanwhile, Cloudhawk teleported just out of reach, dodging half a dozen attempts. He would appear for a moment then vanish again. Oren's reactions were a tenth of a second too late each time, so while the earth around him continued to buckle under the strain none of the craters sported Cloudhawk's mangled body.

This man had risen in the Crimson One's place to take up the mantle of Knight-Commander, but Cloudhawk did not fear him.

Cloudhawk dodged again. When he reappeared, he did so behind Oren. He couldn't just waste time playing with his target, he needed to fight back.

His right arm came alive with blazing green flames, like a hand groping from the pits of hell. Castigation Fire - one touch and Oren would be burned to ash.

But the Knight-Commander was a hardened veteran. He had been ready for Cloudhawk's counterattack so he had the gravity around him under control and ready for action. The moment he sensed danger, Oren was flung up into the air fast as a bullet.

Cloudhawk did not abandon the attack. Two streaks of silver light gave chase like angry serpents.

Oren responded, increasing gravity around the Silver Serpents and causing them to slow. But while his focus was on the silver light, he heard Cloudhawk's mocking voice in his ear. "Tossing and turning - is that all you can do? Enough games!"

Two silver streaks fused into one. The screaming serpent became a roaring dragon with ten times the threat and momentum. It pierced through Oren's gravitational field as though it weren't there, faster than the eye could follow. A flash, quick as lightning, pierced through Oren's chest and exited from his back. Blood gushed from the wound it left behind.

He was the Knight-Commander... yet defeated in this brief exchange. The gashing wound looked bad enough to portend death.

Had Cloudhawk's combat abilities really grown so much, so quickly? Oren was a lauded member of the Cloude family, an important member. If he died here, the impact would be dire.

From his perch, Arcturus narrowed his eyes.

Oren's vision began to fade when suddenly a streak of light approached from behind. Power enveloped him, followed by an unexpected scene. The gouts of blood and broken flesh were sucked back into the Knight-Commander's body. In a matter of seconds the deadly wound in Oren's chest was healed entirely.

What incredible healing power! This was practically resurrection! This was the incredible power of Archbishop Zoren Leclair.

Zoren - with his white hair and kind face - struck a dignified picture. In his hands he clutched a glowing mirror, the relic that snatched Oren from the jaws of death.

"The Rekindling Lens!"

Cloudhawk knew of this relic. He remembered reading about it in the relic records back in Skycloud. The Rekindling Lens was a one-of-a-kind restorative relic.

Among military circles, Zoren's name was not widely known. However, there were few amongst Skycloud's citizens who did not praise him. This was not merely because of his high status in the Church of Brilliance, but mainly because he was an unparalleled healer.

No matter how grave the injury or how foul the sickness, the Rekindling Lens could restore the victim to health. It was limited only by failures of genetics or wounds that damaged a person's deepest essence. Even if one teetered on the precipice of death they could be returned to full health, as Oren's plight had revealed.

"You think you can kill me?" Oren recovered quickly. He pulled forth a long staff and swung it toward Cloudhawk. Paired with the power of his glove, even this simple staff bore limitless destructive power. One blow, with gravity greatly amplified, could do as much damage as a hundred strikes.

Cloudhawk quickly dodged out of the way. The staff struck, and the ground where Cloudhawk had stood exploded into a mess of dirt and stone.

Cloudhawk's mind worked as he dodged. With Zoren here, killing any Elysian soldier was much more difficult. He had to deal with the Archbishop first if he wanted to put Oren down for good.

But the enemy demonhunters were starting to close in.

A hundred figures clad in long white robes dashed into Cloudhawk's field of view. They glared at the traitor with grim faces and Cloudhawk could hear their relics hum. It was a dangerous change in circumstance, even for Cloudhawk.

"Boss! We're here to help!" The sound came from a strange mixture of troops atop the rocks, split into three groups. On the left was the Wendigo King and his warriors from Nox. On the right was the Dark Atom's genetically modified soldiers led by Coal. In the center were the intimidating mutants, Cloudhawk's own Goshawks.

"You think this motley group of barbarians can stand against my demonhunters?" Oren's smile was thick with disdain. "The very height of stupidity!"

"Is that so?" Cloudhawk spoke over his shoulder to his men. "Kill them."

The Goshawks answered with a thunderous war cry. Out in the wastes, it was the strong who earned respect. They had watched Cloudhawk summon a mountain from the sky and use it to obliterate their enemy. In their minds he had risen to near god-like status.

Never had these twisted mutants experienced anything like it. It was a great honor to join this powerful man in his assault on the Elysian realms. So, without hesitation, they rushed headlong toward the demonhunters, indifferent to the threat of death.

Did they not understand the power a demonhunter wielded? Yet what followed was a revelation that left the Elysians speechless.

The mutants drew out twisted rods of black metal, foul facsimiles of exorcist rods. All of a sudden, the battlefield was alive with a surge of power that washed over the dignified demonhunters.

These didn't just look like exorcist rods. They were exorcist rods! The Elysians stared at the encroaching mutants, stupefied.

It was a scene that shook them to their core, no less staggering than Cloudhawk's meteor shower. It was an assault on the bedrock of their faith, an affront to all they knew of the world - demonhunters were the greatest warriors in the world because the gods had blessed them with the power to wield relics. Only a few were awarded this holy honor.

How... how were these monsters doing the same? It took the demonhunter knights by surprise. By the time they recovered the unflinching wastelanders were already upon them. The damage was done.

The power of the psychic pearls was inferior to the power of these demonhunters, but having no fear of death empowered a man to incredible heights.

Zoren stared in open shock. "Impossible... impossible!"

His disbelief was the perfect opportunity. The air shimmered beside the old priest and a figure appeared. A grim streak of metallic light gleamed from the sword in his grasp.

Oren glimpsed it from the corner of his eye and shouted to his ally. "Careful!" But it was too late.

In his moment of distraction Cloudhawk had appeared within striking distance of Zoren. He brought Ardent Wrath down upon him in an arc of green flame. The Archbishop of the Church of Brilliance was cleaved in two.

The Rekindling Lens was in enemy hands! Cloudhawk immediately reached into it with his mind. The lens' healing light washed over him and in that moment he could feel his wounds vanish like dew before the morning sun. However, although this was a legendary artifact it was limited to healing only ordinary wounds. It could reach into the deeper parts of a person and erase those ills. But that didn't matter now. At least it brought Cloudhawk back to fighting form and robbed a great advantage from the Elysians.

Staggering, unthinkable events were occurring one after the other. Arcturus watched the scene with furrowed brow.

"Do not be distracted, proceed with the execution. Dawn must die."

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