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Book 6, Chapter 39 - A Fallen Star

 Chapter 39: A Falling Star


He lashed out at another member of the Cloude family, but Frozen Dirge was deflected by a sword of light.

Frost glared icily at the elder who had gotten in his way. He was a little overweight and his normally cordial expression was twisted in anger. Clay Cloude, chief steward of his family.

In his darkest dreams such treason would have been unthinkable for Clay. He'd watched Frost lay Taron low with a sneak attack. Master Arcturus was spent and couldn't defend himself. Before them was this evil shadow of the demons while behind was Cloudhawk, surely closing in. Their troops outside had been ravaged by a nuclear blast.

Wolfblade must have planned it all. Escape seemed impossible.

But Clay was not willing to give up. Losing to Wolfblade or Cloudhawk he could accept. Not this. He wouldn't suffer watching this child he watched grow up under his care - the boy brought up like a son by Arcturus - betray them all. He had risen from an outsider to the leader of the expeditionary force and he got there using all the skills and knowledge the Governor had taught him.

Today he was helping to push the family who raised him to the brink of destruction.

In his rage, Clay thrust his sword at Frost's chest. Frost deftly knocked it off target with his spear and answered with a riposte. Frigid energy burst from the end of it and into the body of his foe.

Clay felt the air around him begin to solidify.

He was swept backward by a cold front. Hoarfrost coated his clothes and hair, the freezing energy seeping into his organs. Every breath and movement was agonizing pain.

Frost's attack was savage and overwhelming.

He'd progressed much in a short time. Two years ago he had been strong enough to overcome Wyrmsole, second-in-command of the Conclave. In the years that followed he had risen like a guiding star - all that time hiding away the full breadth of his potential.

Frost had been hiding it for this moment. All of his strength was released in a stifling torrent. Clay, more than anyone, thought he knew Frost. This deluge of power proved that he knew nothing.

Frozen Dirge stabbed dozens of times, each strike empowered by icy energy. Clay saw nothing but the flash of silver metal coming his way and knew he was no match for Frost. All he could do was defend himself as best he could and curse the traitorous man.

"Your strength, your position - everything! Everything was given to you by the Governor! If he hadn't taken you in you'd have died a worthless street wretch! You spit in the face of his charity! You ungrateful thug!"

Frost's face was cold as the dead of winter. Clay's cutting words had no effect. Each attack continued to cause Clay's body to stiffen. The Cloude family steward managed to deflect a dozen blows before Frozen Dirge eventually caught him in the shoulder. The flesh crystallized and shattered. A follow-up attack caught him in the knee, breaking it into pieces as well.

Clay lost his balance and collapsed onto his side. Frost wrapped both hands around the haft of his spear and drove it into the man's throat. Blood spilled forth, steaming against the frigid air before freezing in his veins. Clay's head hit the ground and broke apart like a frozen watermelon.

Another dead. Ruthless, cruel. He was giving vent to twenty years of hatred.

As steward of the family, Clay had spent many years helping to raise Frost from a young boy. He never imagined he'd end up raising his killer. Frost's spear was cold, but his heart was colder.

An empty haze filled his mind, as though he were snow blind. It was as though nothing existed for him but vengeance. While he had been handling Clay, members of the Hand of Gehenna had also attacked the survivors. Though they were desperate to stay alive, the cornered Elysians could not escape their doom. Exhausted, beaten, their numbers dwindling, they could not resist for long.

It was at this point that Arcturus rose on unsteady feet. When they saw him stir, Inkspecter and the others halted their attack. Vigilant and full of dread, they waited to see what the Master Demonhunter would do. Even the mysterious and powerful Inkspecter had genuine fear in his eyes.

The worm was as good as dead, but whatever his condition the name Arcturus Cloude summoned terror in the hearts of all.

Arcturus paid the Hand of Gehenna no mind. Fallen from grace, oppressed by the weak, he was still the mighty Master Demonhunter. How could someone so insignificant like Inkspecter be worthy of his gaze? His eyes instead were fixed on the young man slowly walking toward him.

Frost de Winter stared right back into his eyes.

This dictator who had ruled supreme, this conspirator who had nearly succeeded in unifying the wastes under his banner, this man who had seemed so absolutely invincible... now he looked like a disgraced vagabond.

His hair had all gone white and patches of it were burned black. It was tangled around him, unkempt. Injured in more than a hundred places, several dozen of the wounds were so bad they would churn a healer's stomach. Only his legendary will and perseverance was what kept him standing.

But while his body was a wreck, the Governor's eyes had not lost one iota of their steel. They were unfathomable, full of wisdom, and confounded all who tried to read their depths.

Frost rested a hand on the pommel of Rimeshard and slowly drew forth the treasured blade his master had given him. He lifted it up and pointed the mist-wrapped blade at Arcturus' forehead. Even from several centimeters away, the Governor could feel its deadly power wash over him.

All Frost had to do was lean forward and the sword would split his skull. Then the Master Demonhunter would be no more. Was this not the moment he'd been building toward for twenty years? Yet now that vengeance was in his grasp, Frost hesitated. Twenty years of history swirled in his head, holding back his hand.

"Why do you hesitate? That is not like you." Arcturus addressed his disciple calmly. "Do it."

Frost grit his teeth. "Don't you even want to ask me why?"

"What does it matter? The things I've done in my life have had effects rippling all across the realm. There's been so much blood, and such things never end well. If I am meant to end at the hand of my disciple, then I see it as a gift from fate."

"If you thought this would happen then why not stop me?" Frost's sword arm began to tremble. "The ship that delivered the primeval weapon into the armada did so with my authorization. It was my seal that allowed them to pass unmolested. I was the one responsible for leaking information to the wastes so they knew how to counter your moves!"

Would Arcturus really have missed Frost's malcontent? He might have been able to keep it from others, but not from his master.

Arcturus was not a soft-hearted man. He even orchestrated the destruction of his own brothers. Why, then, did he not act against Frost? It was his own disciple who has given these wastelanders the tools they needed to succeed, after all.

Why? In truth Frost had hoped to be cut down by his Master's hand. He could have died happy to have fought for his maligned parents yet never betraying twenty years of care. Why did Arcturus put him in this position? On the surface it appeared that Arcturus was giving Frost what he wanted, but in truth it was the cruelest result.

"Hatred is a sort of power. When you let it drive you, you are focused. No obstacles can stand in your way. You are firm, persistent, and strong because hatred make you so. It's what makes you what you are today."

"Having a dormant viper by my side causes no fear. It keeps me vigilant. Besides, so long as you find the right methods you can get along with poisonous snakes. All I wanted was a disciple. All I cared about was whether he grew - not whether one day he might kill me."

Perhaps the only person alive who could say such things was the Governor. He knew Frost was a vicious threat, yet kept him by his side day by day. It came from confidence and pride, for Arcturus believed the only person who could defeat him was himself. In fact it was his decisions that put him in this precarious state. Indeed, it was all his choice.

"What are you waiting for?" Inkspecter watched from one side, brows furrowed. "We've put this off for too long!"

"Brother, let me!"

Squall stepped forward, but Frost acted as though he did not hear them. His mind was at war. Memories a cold night twenty years ago, the sound of his parents' cries, mingled with the decades of training and attention this man had given him.

He felt like they were tearing him in two.

"Allow your teacher to give you one final lesson."

Frost stiffened as he felt his sword meet resistance.

His eyes were so side the skin around them nearly split. Arcturus had stepped forward, angling Rimeshard to pierce him directly in the heart. Already weak, the wound was surely enough to end the Governor's life.

Ice began to slowly creep across his body. But even as it took him he looked at Frost the same as he always had in their twenty years together. "Hatred is a double-edged sword. It hardens you, but it holds you back from your true potential... My disciple is greater than this. It's time to let it go."

Arcturus' eyes slipped shut.

"The world is in the hands of you young folk now. The road you must walk is difficult. But remember, no matter how dark - how filled with despair the road is - do not abandon hope. You are... humanity's... future."

His words hung in the air as the light of Arcturus' life flickered out. His body stood, frozen and majestic before his killers. This was how a legendary demonhunter with a controversial life came to meet his end.

Frost released a hysterical wail into the sky. He filled the space with rage and despair. It was then a voice intruded.

"They're coming. We cannot be exposed, take him and let's escape."

Inkspecter, Squall and the others gathered Frost and made to flee Fallowmoor.

1. The chapter's title plays on Arcturus' Chinese name, , or 'Cherished Cloud Starlight.'

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