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Book 5, Chapter 82 - End of the Council

 Desmond was blind with vengeance and overconfidence.

He knew Cloudhawk was holding back, but didn't even bother to feel him out before launching into a full attack. He was convinced that any Chosen outside of Imperia would collapse at the first blow. There was no need to waste time being cautious.

As for Imperia's Chosen? None of them would show up here! Even if they'd discovered Desmond's betrayal, Imperia didn't have time to dispatch a team to stop him.

From the moment Desmond revealed his identity, it was a mad dash to complete his revenge. Kill everyone and flee, that was the plan. He would leave the Silver Kingdom forever with his parents' spirits satisfied.

He'd even thought about where to go next. He would make his way to the mysterious city of Nox. With his decision made he would follow it through to the end. Until he could conceal himself in the shadows of the City of Evernight, he would never feel safe.

This idiot... if he is this eager to die, then so be it! He would show Cloudhawk the depths of his ignorance!

Desmond's gossamer-thin gloves began to glow. He waved them in Cloudhawk's direction, which cast forth two rays of light. They screamed toward him like missiles.

Boom! The attack was surprisingly violent. All the ground around Cloudhawk rippled like the surface of a lake. The area around his feet gave way to form a crater. Dirt was spat into the air and rocks were broken into shards.

Was he human? Such incredible power! The power Desmond exhibited shocked not only the crowds but all the Venerated as well. None had ever met a Chosen who could wield strength like this. Even Seventh Leaf, who was renowned for his sturdy frame, would be blown apart by this attack!

Was this power he had taken from Imperia? Desmond was conceited, but perhaps he had good reason to be. Desmond paid no more mind to Cloudhawk. Trash like him couldn't survive his attack. There were several more targets he had to deal with before he left.

He'd waited so long for this day. So long!

At the age of nine he'd been spirited away from Redleaf, saved from death by his loyal house steward. For five years he suffered cold and hunger in the Silver Kingdom, wandering from place to place. Eventually he settled in another city. Having experienced the ups and downs of life, seeing the fickle and cruel nature of man, he decided to cultivate his skills as Chosen.

Those were some of the most humiliating and difficult years of his life. He poured his blood, sweat and tears into becoming stronger. At that time he was so eager to enter Imperia, for it was a beacon of glory and righteousness. Humble, pious, he suffered the hardships of his life and eventually achieved his dream.

Desmond would never forget the excitement he felt the first time he met the king. But those feelings would not last forever. Soon the secrets of the city were revealed. Its false face was peeled back and he saw the truth. He learned in the harshest fashion how foolish his dreams had been.

What utopia could be found in this foul earth? Everything was like snow sculptures built on ice flows. No matter how beautiful the surface, beneath the ice was a cold, inhospitable abyss. Just when you thought you've come to grasp your dreams, fate conspires to send you tumbling into the icy depths. Faith was like thin ice over a lake surface. Dreams sank like a rock.

Desmond and his dreams were already drowned in that dark, cold world. He only began to feel like himself when he let those weighty dreams go. This realization is what inspired him to escape from Imperia and make the long trip back to the home of his cursed family, to finally get vengeance.

Desmond's aim was to hunt down and slaughter everyone who had a hand in his family's destruction. Blood was the only currency he would accept in recompense. So many long years had he kept this poison hidden in his heart that now it was the only thing left in his life to accomplish.

"Die! Today, you are all going to die!"

Desmond's gloves still seethed with dangerous light. Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Leaf gathered together to mount a defense. However before the next phase of this fight broke out something turned their eyes elsewhere, and they were stricken dumb by what they witnessed.

Although one section of the field had been blasted to pieces, the man in rags and a mask stood in the crater unscathed. In silence those cold dark eyes peered from the mask while his ruined cloak fluttered in the wind.

Desmond gaped openly. This worthless village housed someone able to fend off his attack? Well, if one blast wasn't enough then he would eat a second!

Desmond flung his hands toward Cloudhawk once again, releasing the stored energy in his gloves.

This time the blasts were even stronger than the first. Beams of pure white energy slithered through the air like snakes. Halfway to their target the two beams joined and grew even stronger. Snakes had become a writhing white boa constrictor as it bore down on Cloudhawk's location.

Meanwhile, Cloudhawk's cloak rose around his shoulders like someone had turned off gravity. Yet while his cloak danced in an unseen wind he didn't move except to raise his left hand. He rammed his fist into the encroaching beam of energy.

This stranger would not dodge or hide, and instead sought to go blow for blow against such an attack? Did he not understand that even if his arm was made of the finest steel the assault would blow him into pieces?

His left arm was the one encased in the old-looking gauntlet. When he punched the metallic armor gleamed. A repelling force shimmered into existence around Cloudhawk.

When the beam was a food from its target, it stopped dead in the air. It simply hung there, vibrating, as though some unseen polar magnetic force was holding it at bay. Although the power in it could still be felt there seemed to be no way for it to push forward much less destroy Cloudhawk.


The beam detonated.

The energy it released was vomited in a fan-like shape around Cloudhawk. It swept around him, scouring the landscape but causing him no damage. With a single punch he'd completely negated Desmond's frightening onslaught.

"This is the best you got?"

Cloudhawk maintained his cold, derisive calm.

It wasn't that Desmond was weak. In fact, he was roughly equivalent to a veteran demonhunter. Thinking back to his time in Hell's Valley, Desmond would probably be among the top tier of his Tartarus Squad - probably about the same as Gabriel. Even in a place like Skycloud, where talented youth were as numerous as clouds, he'd likely make a reasonable name for himself.

Yet compared to where Cloudhawk was now, there was precisely nothing special about Desmond's skills.

Disbelief was scrawled on Desmond's features. What was someone this strong doing in Redleaf? He wielded more power than Desmond could begin to comprehend.

No... impossible! There was no reason he should be in this piece of shit city!

Desmond saw that his chances of winning dignity for his family was slipping away. He could no longer keep his cool and his relic gloves burned bright as dual suns. In a fit of wild abandon he flung a deluge of attacks toward this cursed stranger.

Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes. As the beams came tearing his way their trajectories were marked clear in his mind. These slow, clumsy attacks were no threat to him. Yet as he was preparing to answer a bone-deep pain took hold.

It felt like an electric current was burning through every cell. It was so intense it caused him to stumble. His heart seized. What a shitty time for his wounds to act up!

Faced with this siege, Cloudhawk was left with no choice but to hide behind his gauntlet. Each one that landed shoved him backward several meters. Five, six, seven blasts struck in quick succession before a final one sent him flying. His bandages were burned from the power and tendrils of black smoke rose off his body.

Desmond stood panting and drenched in sweat. He only relaxed when he saw Cloudhawk get thrown to the ground. This stranger was strong - much stronger than the others - but still couldn't stand up to him. The only reason he'd survived so far was because he had a high-grade defensive relic.

"See what I am capable of! Die!" Desmond tried to seal Cloudhawk's fate with another salvo of four or five beams.

Pain sealed off Cloudhawk's mental powers, but that did not mean he was defenseless. He poured what he could into Oddball. In the instant those two resonated, the small burst darted off like a streak of golden lightning.

Boom! A series of deafening blasts arose. Desmond's attacks all blasted across an enormous set of wings. They were a brilliant golden hue and glinted with a faint metallic sheen.

Oddball was now the height of two grown men. Monstrous in size, it'd finally grown out of the goofy fat phase and into a majestic creature wreathed in golden fire. Each feather shone brightly as the flames danced like sheets of gold in a furnace. Oddball had become a heavenly golden phoenix!

Cloudhawk had always treated Oddball like a pet. From time to time he used the small bird to scout but rarely did he risk harming Oddball in a fight. As such, even he was stunned when his small friend transformed into such a magnificent creature.

Desmond's blasts faded away. They'd done nothing against Oddball's metallic plumage, for it had transformed into a dignified bird of wonder! Redleaf's citizens stared in amazement. What divine beast was this? Incredible!

Errant sparks of golden energy crackled around Oddball's beak. A moment later it released a ray of golden light toward Desmond. With eyes wide he threw up his hands to protect himself, and a screen of pale white met the golden ray. It held, but Desmond's face was twisted in fear and pain. He was defending himself, but it was clear he couldn't hold for long.

"You think you can kill me when you can barely protect yourself from my beast?"

Cloudhawk was beginning to fight through the pain. As he spoke that sinister crimson fire burned in his eyes. He released a powerful blast of psychic energy.

Desmond screamed. The mental assault overwhelmed him, severing his resonance with his relic.

The resulting explosion shook the ground. Desmond was flung away and hit the ground unmoving, his body charred black. Alive. Cloudhawk had held back. He figured the guy could be of some use so he spared his life.

Oddball shrunk back into the pudgy, funny little bird everyone was familiar with. It fluttered back over to its master and alighted on his shoulder, chittering happily as though to say 'did you see how awesome I was?!'

Excellent teamwork!

Cloudhawk's sudden and unexpected injury had forced him to keep his real power concealed. This was a good thing, for if he'd been required to reveal what he was capable of it would have garnered unwanted attention from the king and his men. He was an outsider here, and if he were seen as a threat his chances to enter Imperia could be endangered.

Cloudhawk was tired. He turned to leave the ring, and in that moment a dark understanding rose in the minds of the Venerated.

Cloudhawk was strong. Too strong. If he were allowed to live in Redleaf what space would be left for them? He had to die. It was the only answer!

They were faced with this one opportunity to get him while he was weak. After defending himself from Desmond's attacks he had to be spent, at least according to Seventh Leaf. If they didn't deal with them now when would they have another chance?

Seventh Leaf's face twisted into a fierce and bloodthirsty scowl. "This asshole will bring nothing but trouble. Kill him now!"

The three Seven Leaf fighters knew what he meant and agreed. They dispatched their beasts and summoned the power of their relics.

Cloudhawk was stunned that people this stupid could have survived so long. But they'd attacked him, and he had no reason to hold back.

Fifth Leaf was first. He raised an arm, summoning a protective screen. Sixth Leaf had his beast move around and attack Cloudhawk's flank. Light poured off Seventh Leaf's gauntlets as he prepared for his onslaught. None of them stopped for a moment to consider that Cloudhawk could take them all.

Cloudhawk watched them take their threatening postures with a cold smirk.

From his back he pulled out the broken sword. He spun, whipping Ardent Wrath around and from it was cast a horizontal torrent of fire several meters long. It tore across the field in an instant.

One swipe, that's all it took. He returned his sword to his back then left the field.

Fifth Leaf's shield shattered like glass. The wave of fire swept passed.

When the glare died down, spectators looked back at the field to find three statues. They were charred humanoid figures whose flesh had turned to ashy coal. Nothing remained for them to tell who was who.

Three of the city's ultimate warriors. Dead from one blow.

Cloudhawk had tamped down on his powers as much as he could. Had he not held back there wouldn't even be corpses to mark their passing. Even their bones would've turned to ash.

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