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Book 5, Chapter 54 - The Cavalry

 Zoren Leclair was a respected archbishop. There were many among Skycloud's lower and middle class who adored him. However, this did not stop him from being cut down by Cloudhawk's hand.

The barbarian leader had crushed a portion of Sanctuary in one attack and followed it up by murdering an archbishop. A coterie of relic-using mutant were now tearing through noble demonhunters with bloodthirsty abandon. Each fact was more shocking than the last and painted Cloudhawk more and more like a demon. And indeed, all of these tragedies were piled on Cloudhawk's shoulders. He was an enemy the likes of which Skycloud had never seen in a thousand years.

When it rains, it pours. From a time of peace to sudden war! After today, the name Cloudhawk would shake the world. Whether in Skycloud or the wastelands, he would go down in history.

Oren was close enough to see the death of the Archbishop in clear detail. Fury rose up in him like a volcano. Never had he encountered a fiend like this traitor. There were other more powerful, but none had ever given Oren such a shock.

The inherent strength and violence of wastelanders gave them a crude advantage. Each moment they were locked in close combat with the demonhunters, they were gaining the upper hand. Where the Demonhunter Corps excelled was in their many different sorts of relics. The mutants had only exorcist rods, so in terms of equipment they were far inferior to the Elysian fighters.

However, equipment wasn't the only determining factor in war.

These mutants were once throw-away wasteland fodder. Each of them had clawed their way to prominence through a world of blood and corpses. Every jump in strength, every moment of growth was earned through life and death situations. Such a life had taught them to fight as ferociously as the mindless beasts that stalk the wastes. Once the Demonhunter Corps was forced into close combat, they began to lose out against the mad bloodlust of their wasteland foes.

In a fit of rage Oren released a wave of gravitational force. A Goshawk warrior caught in the area was smashed flat as a pancake, armor and all. But the grizzly scene did not deter the other mutants. On the contrary, they roared a challenge and charge ahead.

Cloudhawk flung an orb of Castigation fire at Oren. The Knight-Commander was familiar the Crimson One's power, enough to know not to dismiss it. He manipulated gravity to force to ground some distance away. A moment later, Cloudhawk's figure burst forth from empty space with the Silver Serpents gleaming thirstily. Zoren wasn't here to protect the Knight-Command any longer. It was unlikely he would survive another lethal blow.

Oren screamed in angry protest. His gravitational field spread far and wide, increasing weight a hundred fold dozens of meters around.

Caught within in the field, Cloudhawk felt himself instantly grow heavier. It was so intense he found it difficult to move at all.

But Cloudhawk was no grunt. He quickly retreated from the scope of Oren's power and replaced his sword with a bow. He started to blink from one location to another, shooting an arrow each time he appeared. In the space of an instant eight arrows were converging on Oren's position.

Basilisk was a dangerous relic to face! Oren was forced to knock the arrows away with his staff. He managed to protect himself from the arrows, but before he could catch his breath a shadow fell over him from above. Sunstroke lashed at the Knight-Commander, causing him to shuffle backward out of its range.

"Leave him to me!" The drunk looked over his shoulder at Cloudhawk. "Don't waste time. Save Dawn!"

In all the chaos, Cloudhawk had almost been distracted from the reason they were here. Freed from his clash with Oren, he reached out with his mind to Oddball. The bird had been scouring the battlefield at Cloudhawk's command. It spied several demonhunters closing on Dawn, ready to light the pyre. She was tied fast to the stake and could only watch her doom approach.

Sons of bitches! Cloudhawk took control of his beast companion. Oddball went into a nose dive, streaking through the air like a golden bullet. The demonhunters were not prepared for the small creature and had their guard down. When the streak of gold struck them, they were flung off the dais like rag dolls.

Oddball came to rest in from of Dawn and used its steel-like beak to begin pecking at her bindings. One of the thick chains holding her fell away. Dawn watched with trepidation, a smile on her tear-streaked face.

As Oddball was working on the next chain she shouted a warning. "Cloudhawk, watch out!"

A gust of frigid air followed in the wake of Frozen Dirge. It was aimed to run the little bird through.

Oddball belched a streak of golden lightning at the weapon. Cloudhawk's divine beast was no match for Frost, but it could protect itself from his spear. However, the bolt only managed to slow Frozen Dirge somewhat, not stop it.

Chirp! Oddball released a shrill sound and the rotund critter swelled to five or six times its girth. Its wings spread to a span or two or three meters. Dagger-like talons snatched Frozen Dirge as it closed in.

Frost's face darkened like a winter storm. Holding onto the shaft of the spear, he spared no strength in trying to wrench it free.

A burst of power bloomed from Frozen Dirge which launched Oddball away. The bird found itself encased in ice, unable to protect itself from a follow-up attack. But Frost's ire was turned from Oddball and his spear stabbed at Dawn.

She could do nothing. The icy light of his spear was reflected in her wide eyes.

An instant before the weapon skewed her, a figure - both familiar and foreign - appeared in the space between them. Frozen Dirge was held fast in her savior's hand.

Frost felt a surge of power sweep through him. His spear would go no further. The Commander-General of the expeditionary force raised his head.

He was a mess of rags, bandages that dripped with blood. All that could be seen were his dark eyes that burned with an inner fire. Frozen Dirge was caught in a gauntleted hand. In a hard, grim voice the man growled: "You dare try to kill one of mine?"

Cloudhawk had appeared at the apex of Sanctuary, alone. Did he not know that most of Skycloud's strongest were seated only meters away? It was suicide!

When Cloudhawk's words reached her ears, Dawn couldn't help but feel even more moved. How desperately she wished she was his, and not just as an ally!

Frost did not respond. The murderous intent in his glare said enough. He released the wintry power from Frozen Dirge.

The burst of energy washed over Cloudhawk but was quickly dispersed by some unknown defense. Flecks of ice and snowflakes burst into bloom ten meters all around as though a bomb had released a blizzard around the two men.

In the instant Frost had released his power, Cloudhawk had galvanized his gauntlet's repulsion field.

Rimeshard appeared in the general's hand. Ardent Wrath smoldered in Cloudhawk's own. Frozen Dirge was caught between them. With one hand each man pulled, and with the other hacked at his foe.

Two swords - one delicate as an icicle, the other fractured and wreathed in flame - collided in midair. Opposed powers of fire and ice battled for supremacy. All the ice crystals in the air turned to mist and a rainstorm was born in the space around them.

"With the paltry strength you have today," Cloudhawk sneered, "You can't hope to kill me."

Frost felt a huge force bearing down on him through Rimeshard. He was losing ground.

The two men inched closer and closer. Half a year ago, Frost could have struck down Cloudhawk in one blow. But it was different now. With the help of powerful outside forces, Cloudhawk could face the Commander-General face to face and win the upper hand.

When these two first met Frost could have killed Cloudhawk without a second thought. It'd taken only a few short years for the scruffy wastelander to grow into a man Frost struggled to defend himself against. Cloudhawk left Frost no time to dwell upon the past. He planted his foot into the Commander-General's chest hard enough to dent his armor and sent Frost sprawling, then hacked at him with Ardent Wrath in the same moment. A wave of fire chased after his long-time foe.

This traitor had the gall to knock Frost on his ass in front of the Governor. He wouldn't stop there, either. He planned to murder Arcturus' chosen right in front of his eyes!

The Master Demonhunter would not sit idly by. His hand flashed and a metal needle was released. The moment it left his hand it reached hypersonic speed, allowing no chance to dodge. It screamed through the air toward Cloudhawk's throat.

If it landed Cloudhawk would surely be paralyzed! He couldn't see the attacks' trajectory but he could sense it. He had only time enough to move an inch, so that the needle caught him in the left arm instead of his neck.

Ting! This needle - no thicker than a hair - packed one hell of a punch. It pushed Cloudhawk off balance and gave Frost the space he needed to get safely away.

Fuck it! He's not worth it.

Arcturus was as dangerous an enemy as there was and this square was lousy with his henchmen. Cloudhawk couldn't afford to waste time here.

While they'd fought Oddball had succeeded in removing Dawn's chains. Once her arms were free she looked up just as Cloudhawk was tossing a sword her way. She plucked it from the air and once the hilt was firmly in hand she felt that intimate, familiar thrum of power.

Terrangelica! Dawn had thought she lost her cherished weapon forever.

"Let's get out of here!"

Cloudhawk was reaching for Dawn but caught an agile form leaping his way. He didn't have time to move out of the way, only engage the stone to become incorporeal. Deathstalker still carved a wound in his abdomen.

Templars and Clerics were closing in all around him. Assassins from the Court of Shadows had their target in sight. In an instant, Dawn and Cloudhawk found themselves surrounded.

As he whipped around, looking for any way out, a familiar silhouette strode into view.

She was more beautiful than an early morning snowfall. Her white clothing, spotless and stately, flapped in the winds of war. She stood before Cloudhawk with a burning sword of light held loosely in one hand.

When he saw her, the pang in Cloudhawk's chest was thunderous and painful. Why such a sensation? Because he knew his decisions would bear a price like this. The sort of price where even if he survived this battle, he would barely want to live.

He was no longer afraid of death but that did not mean he was without fear. What he feared the most was this moment.

Cloudhawk knew that this might be the last time they met face to face. But how could he explain everything? "Selene, you-"

"Shut up!" Selene cut him off and wasted no time, driving her crossblade toward him. Her attack was at full strength. The light that poured off her sacred weapon was blinding.

The ground split apart beneath her, stretching for several meters. Her power surged across the distance between them like a tidal wave. Her father's relic - the Holy Vestments - was among Skycloud's most potent relics. It was nearly as great as Arcturus' weapon, Ruin. Even a Master Demonhunter would be forced to dodge this attack or risk being slain.

Cloudhawk's eyes went wide in disbelief. Why would she do this? Had even she decided to fight him to the death?

As the holy light washed over him, Cloudhawk felt sorrow and despair. Why did it always seem like his closest friends were destined to turn into enemies?

1. This is some cover art level shit right here.

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