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Book 6, Chapter 35 - Settled

 Cloudhawk stood tall and still. Vulkan and Selene drew their weapons.

Across from them, Frost brandished his silvery spear and Oracle Taron dropped into a combat stance. The Arbiter's Staff glowed ominously.

Arcturus stood with his hands clasped behind his and an expressionless face. He acknowledged Cloudhawk with a question. "What have you done with Natessa?"

Cloudhawk's response was dismissive. "Instructor Windham? She's safe, no longer a part of our conflict. We should be happy for her."

Slowly, Arcturus nodded. His plain robes fluttered. "Then let us commence."

Wolfblade, Abaddon, Aquaria, Phain and the others were enough to keep the Elysians busy. At least for the time being, they wouldn't be going anywhere. Arcturus wouldn't get involved if Cloudhawk didn't, but the circumstance demanded otherwise. While in the short term no victor was clear, Skycloud clearly had the advantage. The longer this fight dragged on the worse it would be for the wastelanders. As such, Cloudhawk was forced to act.

"We've never had the chance to really test our test strength against one another. Usually you beat me around a little and I run away," Cloudhawk said, annoyance on his face. "There's no running this time. Only one of us is going to walk away from this place."

"Setbacks are a non-issue for the young," Arcturus replied. "Show me how much power you've been holding back."

Cloudhawk released his energy out in all directions. The air warped and twisted under the strain before ultimately shattering like a mirror. Reality became a mess of fragmented pieces. A direct attack against space itself? His aim was to injure his opponent by fracturing the world around him.

Common knowledge was that all matter existed in the confines of reality. Like a table full of glasses. Cloudhawk was not striking the glasses, but rather destroying the table they sat upon. With nothing for them to rest on they would shatter as a consequence.

Had his command over space really advanced to such a degree? It seemed so, for the rapidly fracturing field stretched around Arcturus. Once it was complete, nothing could escape. Movement required space. It didn't matter how fast you were if there was no space to move through.

Arcturus unhurriedly raised his left hand. From his palm exploded thousands of electric bolts. As they spread out through the fractured sections of reality, they were consumed.

Cloudhawk's attack was vicious and strong, but so too was the Governor's defense. The wasteland leader's aim was to destroy everything. Arcturus was clever enough to know that this unmitigated destruction meant that the more there was to destroy, the more power was needed to destroy it. Through infusing the area with more energy, he forced Cloudhawk to expend more energy to erase it. Since the Governor's mental fortitude was greater than Cloudhawk's, in essence he could negate the attack.

But this was only the beginning, for from the fractures more figures emerged. They looked like ordinary people but for the magnificent white wings extended from their backs. They were as majestic as the angels of legend. Brandishing various relics, they filed into the area.

In the blink of an eye there were ten newcomers on the field. They roiled with the powers of fire, wind, earth, water, light and darkness. It was a storm of disparate energies that descended on the area like a meteor. The whole city shook.

A crater dozens of meters in diameter appeared where they made landfall.

After their joint attack, the winged beings retreated to Cloudhawk's position and arranged themselves for another offensive.

So powerful! Selene felt her heart skip a beat after witnessing it. From nothing to an earth-shattering blow - in a matter of a couple seconds. It was a potent display of what Cloudhawk could do. However, was it enough to overcome Arcturus? The answer was a definitive no. He would not be Governor if defeating him was that easy.

Clouds of smoke and walls of fire obscured the view ahead. Despite this, Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes and growled. "Careful!"

Selene and Vulkan tightened their grips on their weapons and gathered their strength. They were ready to stand against any attack from the Master Demonhunter. Suddenly a dozen glimmering silhouettes appeared through the smoke. Radiating light, they broke passed the flames.

They were... Seraphs!

Selene and the drunk recognized them immediately. They were none other than those puppets created by the gods. Through mysterious processes they were effectively immortal, fighting until their owner's mental energies were exhausted.

No ordinary human could command them. How, then, was Arcturus able to?

It was during the battle for Sanctuary that he first revealed this unexpected power. It was through them that he'd handily defeated the demon Elder Judas. In this conflict against Cloudhawk the Governor would surely pull out all the stops, so the number of Seraph in his service here were more than were at Sanctuary.

As the eighteen Seraphs charged into the fray, laser-light burned in their eyes.

Pale white light sprang up around Cloudhawk as a scowl touched his lips. The beams from the Seraph's eyes were deflected by the shield, but the combined might of a dozen was enough to force him to stagger backwards. Even someone with Cloudhawk's strength struggled to defend himself from eighteen Seraphs!

He started to fight back. High Highblood burst into action, launching attacks against their Elysian counterparts.

Although the Seraphs were stronger and immortal, they were much fewer in number than the Highblood and could only focus on a single target at once. Cloudhawk used these limitations to his advantage, removing the Seraphs as a threat for the moment.

The smoke stirred as suddenly two astonishing blasts of energy pierced through it. One was cold to the bone and murderous. The other was overwhelming and ruthless. Two weapons, one silver and one black.

Selene and Vulkan moved to intercept!

With Sublime Transcendence in hand, Selene knocked Frozen Dirge away. Vulkan, holding Sunstroke aloft, dashed with incredible speed at the bearer of the Arbiter's Staff.

Cloudhawk paid the raging conflict around him no mind, for as Frost and Taron launched their attacks Arcturus emerged from the flames with Ruin in hand. As though cleaving the world itself in two, he hacked it toward Cloudhawk's face.

The Master Demonhunter would take matters into his own hands!

Glimmers of silver light snaked form Cloudhawk's hands. They intertwined to form a singular weapon, doused in green fire. Cloudhawk held it tight and met Arcturus' attack.

A weapon of blue and white electricity. Another of silver and green flame. The two collided.

Thunderous was their contest. Ruin prevailed, shattering Cloudhawk's weapon into dust. Motes of fire and tongues of lightning danced through the sky. Ruin kept coming. Once again the pale light sprang to life, deflecting the attack. Arcturus' power caused blackened tendrils to slither every which way along the ground and dissipate through the air, but Cloudhawk was unscathed.

Cloudhawk called the Silver Serpents again and hacked at his foe. Arcturus thrust Ruin at his chest.

Another tempest of energy was released as the weapons met. So intense was the blast that air around them was condensed into liquid and left a vacuum behind. The two men were too strong, no one else dared become involved.

While Cloudhawk and Arcturus stood toe to toe, Selene, Frost, Vulkan and Taron were also locked in combat.

Frost's growth over the years had been staggering. In regards of pure mental ability he was not inferior to Selene. However, the tools he bore could not compare. Frozen Dirge and Rimeshard were high-tier weapons, but were no match for Sublime Transcendence. Furthermore, Selene benefited from the Holy Vestments constantly replenishing her mental powers.

The two collided, backed away, then collided again.

Selene's weapon blazed dozens of meters like a waterfall. She brought it crashing down on Frost and his spear with such force it slammed him into the ground. His armor broke to pieces and there he lay, badly wounded.

Selene didn't even spare him a second thought. Her attention shifted to Vulkan's contest with Taron.

The Arbiter Staff Taron bore was a relic on the same level as Sublime Transcendence - one of the most powerful relics to be found in Skycloud. What's more, Taron himself was a mighty foe comparable in strength to the former War Saint. Vulkan would not find it easy to defeat him.

Selene fighting by his side, however, changed things. A concerted offensive from the both of them quickly forced Taron to fall back.

The drunk looked at Taron, defeated, and grinned. "Ah, my old companion. Back when I was with the Temple I always thought you were a strange one. But even so I never took you for a traitor. You better hope Arcturus wins, otherwise you will be nothing!"

Fury burned in the Oracle's eyes. In a cold voice he answered, "I support the Governor's efforts. Not for fame or position, but for reasons you short-sighted fools would never understand."

Selene's face was dangerously cold. "Don't waste time on this one."

She hacked at him with her blazing weapon, which Taron deflected. Vulkan then launched his attack. He moved so quickly the eye couldn't follow, giving the impression that five him were attacking at once. Again Taron defended himself, but one of the War Saint's attacks found purchase.

Vulkan's strength was well known. His attacks - though simple and unimpressive on the surface - in fact possessed frightening power. If it struck just right the Oracle would have been carved to pieces. Luckily for him, Taron boasted many relics. One released a shield of force at the last minute which Sunstroke pierced, but even though the blow dug into Taron's chest it would not claim his life.

"Cloudhawk can't do it alone. We have to help him fight Arcturus!"

With that, the two raced to his aid.

By this time Cloudhawk and Arcturus had already exchanged several rounds. No clear victor had emerged, but it was obvious Cloudhawk was on the back foot. Arcturus was gaining the advantage. Once Selene and Vulkan became involved it helped to bridge the gap.

Arcturus glared at them. "Tilting the odds in your favor?"

"You know it's funny... several years ago it was the three of us against a single person. Right here, right in this spot." Vulkan mused aloud. "He was the founder of your Conclave, your brother Sterling."

Nothing of what the old drunk said made an impact on Arcturus. It was as though he'd heard nothing.

But the drunk kept his eyes fixed on the Master Demonhunter. "Of you three brothers, Sterling was the most honest and least conniving. He used to worship you, had nothing but faith - even when you asked him to kill Baldur. He did it, unquestioningly. The result was a lifetime of being manipulated, played with and used by you. He even lost his son to it. Don't you feel anything for what you've done? Do you really have no conscience?"

The calm in Arcturus' voice never broke. "If one's sacrifice means saving millions, then the sacrifice is happily made."

Vulkan tightened his grip on his weapon. "You can't just weigh everything in the world on some unfeeling scale. That's what makes you a monster!"

This was the biggest difference between Cloudhawk and Arcturus.

As a leader, from a logical standpoint there was nothing wrong with the Governor's decisions.

Not only had his own family been torn apart, but his actions had lead to betrayal, hatred and suspicion. He put himself in danger. Arcturus never pursued comforts or selfish desires. The greatest of human qualities was selflessness and sacrifice, and no one knew that better than Arcturus.

Was he a monster? Yes, and no.

He was like a monster in pursuing his aims by fair means or foul. He even violated basic tenets of morality by butchering innocents and betraying loved ones. But monsters performed their evil deeds for profit. Arcturus did them to safeguard his species. He believed himself to be right, and didn't care what anyone else thought.

Was he really so wrong? Arcturus didn't think so. Whether it was Cloudhawk, the drunk or any of his brothers, could they really say what he was doing was incorrect?

Really though, right or wrong didn't matter. Today, here, this battle... the whole of it would be settled.

1. This has to be retconned. Believe it or not, there has been no indication I remember of this character being male or female. I must have thought she was female for some reason when he was first introduced. As a result of discovering later in this chapter that he is, in fact, a man, the name had to be changed. Taron is welsh for 'Thunder', so it was picked as an alternative to the feminine Thora.

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