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Book 6, Chapter 71 - Testing the Waters

 Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes. He ignored the immediately situation and peered down into the fort below. Inside he saw a crystalline column that was the source of the light. It was embedded in a huge stone frame with several dozen Seraphs busily at work.

No doubt about it, that crystal was the focal point that the realm's energy came from. Cloudhawk could feel the waves of power coming from it. That meant it wasn't anything from this world. Like the Miracle Towers of his own make, this was a special sort of relic. By comparison his water towers were child's play, of course - like trying to compare a rocking horse to a fighter jet.

The sky was suddenly full of warships, stretching toward the horizon.

Selene's mystical eyes showed her that Cloudhawk would be here, robbing him of his sneak attack. She had prepared for his arrival with a cadre of demonhunters garrisoned around the focal point. Their combined resonance was able to interfere with his spatial powers and lock them down. Escaping would be difficult.

In addition, Selene had erected several layers of defensive enchantments. They were strong enough to repel a formidable invasion. Then of course she was here personally, with a number of powerful allies. Cloudhawk quickly discovered that destroying these focuses and stopping the Avatar from repairing the energy field would be more difficult than he'd thought.

A mocking smirk touched the corners of Phoenix's lips. Her long, powerful legs kicked off the ground with such force that bits of stone were flung every which way as she tore into the air. She spread her arms and they burst into flame, forming breathtaking wings of heat and light.

"Come! Show me what makes you so arrogant!"

Phoenix hung in the air, beating her fiery wings. She looked half woman and half beast, an angel of vengeance who challenged Cloudhawk in defiant tones.

"We don't have to fight!" He could tell that this new foe was strong, on a level with Judas judging by the looks of things. What's more, he knew nothing about her abilities. Dealing with her would be trouble, even for Cloudhawk. "Sooner or later you're going to realize the gods are using you. They cultivate humanity for their own selfish reasons!"

Phoenix answered with a scornful chuckle. "You think I'll believe a word of your clumsy lies?"

Cloudhawk shot back. "I've found the ancient humans we are descended from. I've seen records of our history. It's nothing like what the gods have told us, they've tricked you into serving them. We need to stand together as a species and fight back. It's the only way to free ourselves!"

The Avatar frowned, a silver light flashing in her eyes. Her beautiful features were ice cold. "Mistress Phoenix. What are you waiting for?"

The Dragenmere warrior paid Cloudhawk's words no mind. Her fiery wings spread even further until they were dozens of meters across. With a heave she sent a wave of fire at her foe. Like a rolling tide the fires consumed everything in its path, liquefying air and rock.

Watching from a distance, Dawn's eyes were wide in alarm. This strange woman was frighteningly strong. With one attack she'd consumed a huge area, cleansing it in terrible fire. Nothing within range of her ire survived, living or not. If it didn't melt then it turned to mist and evaporated.

Phoenix looked out across the ravaged landscape. "Is he finished already?"

Selene's tepid voice replied. "Above."

Phoenix's eyes shot up. An instant before her attack he'd managed to teleport to safety. Her terrible fires hadn't singed a single hair.

"So you managed to evade my firestorm." She seemed genuinely surprised, but more than that she was excited. Perhaps there was something to this man's reputation. "After all these years, finally an interesting opponent!"

She punctuated the words with another blast of flame toward Cloudhawk.

He hadn't come here to tangle with this woman. Teleporting several more times, he let her fire off several more attacks before an opportunity was revealed. He hung just above the fortress with a pitch black rod in hand - the Arbiter's Staff.

At present, Cloudhawk had two major combat weapons. The first was Ruin, and the other this staff. Both were relics of incredible power but had very different effects. Ruin was an energy weapon when you got to the root of things, meaning it was especially effective against living targets. The Arbiter's Staff was better suited against fortified structures and positions. Its powers were particularly useful against sturdy defenses.

In short, one was for fighting and the other was for pure destruction. Ruin was a tool for murder, the Arbiter Staff tore things down. One blow from the latter could raze this fortress to the ground.

Yet moments before Cloudhawk could deliver the blow, Selene ordered Bruno to activate their defenses. With his daggers held in a reverse grip, the spatial master suddenly appeared before Cloudhawk and deflected the staff.

He was strong! The surge of power that ripped through Bruno threatened to blow him to pieces. With his left arm he flung his dagger off to the side.

All at once Cloudhawk felt a familiar energy surround him. It was... space. Caught off guard, he felt himself being pulled through space and slammed into the ground. The Arbiter's Staff struck earth, tearing open a crevice. All around the wastelander the earth had caved it as though struck by one of his meteors.

The gouge he'd made from the staff stretched for hundreds of meters. With a single strike Cloudhawk had altered the realm's landscape.

His attack had failed? Cloudhawk looked down at his staff and saw a dagger embedded in the haft. Not the one Bruno had used to deflect it, but the one he'd thrown.

Using his spatial powers to redirect an attack...

As he stared in shock, the dagger dissolved into light and vanished.

It blinked back into existence within Bruno's hand. His weapons were special, capable of folding space and moving things from one place to another. Each dagger served as a coordinate marker and communicated with one another.

When Bruno had appeared in front of him, he'd blocked the attack with one and threw the other. Cloudhawk was forcibly teleported a short distance with the second dagger. That's how he'd appeared on the ground.

Dimensional relics. After years of traveling through worlds it was the first time he'd been bested with his own skills. This spatial master was also going to be a difficult enemy.

A trickle of blood dripped from the corner of Bruno's mouth, but he paid his wounds no mind. Clicking his tongue, he called out to his Cloudhawk. "The Riftshards teleported you away in time, but you still managed landed a decent blow. No wonder Skycloud is in such a state - you're quite the foe."

Phoenix glowered in anger. "Come fight me if you've got the balls!"

Selene's calm voice chimed in. "Phoenix, bring the fight to his allies."

At her command the warrior woman beat her wings. She shot forward like a bullet, stopping before Cloudhawk's allies with a huge tidal wave of fire on her heels.

Cloudhawk's face was dark and angry. "Bitch!"

Dawn and the others weren't strong enough to withstand Phoenix's firestorm! Cloudhawk immediately teleported over to them with his arms raised. Pale white light sprang up, shielding his allies from the fires that crashed over them. They were a single unmoving boulder in a raging torrent.

But the heat was intense. Strong enough to burn parts of Cloudhawk's skin black.

With Cloudhawk as the target none of their efforts would succeed. However, if their wrath was directed to other members of the Green Alliance, Cloudhawk would be forced into a defensive and reactionary role. Selene had seen this and relayed the commands to Phoenix. The Avatar knew what Cloudhawk would do before he did it.

Dawn saw the tactic and glowered. "No good, if this keeps up we'll always be on the back foot. We need to retreat!"

They couldn't destroy the foci, but they'd done at least some of what they set out to do. As Cloudhawk and the others launched their attacks, they'd managed to capture the attention of Skycloud's forces. With the realm's strongest occupied, Phain could escape with any Elysians he'd managed to convince.

Another flash shuddered through Selene's eyes. "They're planning to escape. Cut off their retreat."

Like her namesake, Phoenix seared a path through the air and landed behind the wastelanders. The earth shook as her long legs slammed into the ground. Arms wide, her fiery wings spread out in denial. She continued to beat them, spawning countless orbs of flame which were cast at her enemies.

At the same time, the Elysian soldiers began to react.

The situation was turning against them, Cloudhawk had to respond. He teleported in front of Phoenix with his own body awash in green flame. He threw a full-armed punch at her. In defense, she wrapped her wings around herself.

He connected with her wing and immediately the green flames began to spread. Orange tongues turned to sickly green and inched closer to her arms. Before long half the wing had changed color.


Phoenix had not known Cloudhawk possessed this sort of power. With her distracted, Dawn took the opportunity. "Aim! Fire!"

The guns these Green Alliance soldiers held were not for show. At her word each one began to belch beams of harsh light toward Phoenix. Hundreds, even thousands of shots fell around her, punching holes in her infected wings.

Next, electric light crackled in Cloudhawk's hand. Selene saw what was to come, but it was already too late.

Quick as lightning and deafening as thunder, he shoved Ruin through Phoenix's wings and into her chest.

"You piece of shit! You think this is enough to stop me!"

She was badly wounded, but the master warrior's reaction was quick. Heaving her wings, Phoenix was thrust away from her attacker and of range of the eboncrys rifles. As she retreated her fires swept across her body, and all at once her wounds were healed.

What amazing regenerative abilities! Like the beast she was named after, was she able to come back from near death? She was a terrifying enemy to face!

Dawn continued to shout orders. Her team covered Cloudhawk and began to withdraw. Cloudhawk followed suit. With the situation as it was, continuing the fight was not a wise move.

"Trying to run?" Bruno called after them.

Selene called him back. "No, we must focus on opening the Boundary Portal."

She knew that giving chase would not win the result they were after. At best they would kill a few of the Alliance soldiers, but that meant little.

In exchange Cloudhawk would likely injure Phoenix and Bruno, perhaps even gravely. There was a limit to the things she could see, and if Cloudhawk was quick enough he could overwhelm even her prodigious abilities - a fact he knew well.

The Eyes of Time worked in a relatively small area. They were not infallible. In the end, they were merely a special sort of relic that allowed Selene to see the most likely outcome within a brief period of time. As variables were introduced the effect was diminished. Her mighty artifact was not perfect so she did not dare press her luck.

"Bastard! We're just going to let them escape? I haven't had my fun yet!"

Phoenix had underestimated Cloudhawk and paid for it. Now she realized his mental powers surpassed her own, but still did not believe him to be her better. Hatred burned in her eyes as she watched him flee.

"Don't be hasty. The future has already been written." Selene made her way to Bruno. "Are you ready?"

Bruno brought Selene to an open plot of land, where a circular portal had been created by his daggers. Selene stepped through, and Bruno's relics pulsed with intense power.

Ten seconds later, she emerged at another focal point.

With the spatial master by her side no distance was too great. Selene could travel almost instantly anywhere Bruno's daggers had been prepared. It was also how she planned to restore the focal connection.

When she stepped across the threshold, she found that they'd instantly traveled thousands of kilometers. This fortress had already been attacked. She looked out over the broken expanse, toward a man with a spear in hand and numerous swords bristling across his back like a peacock's tail.

Ash Farran greeted the Avatar with a bow.

Selene barely acknowledged him. She looked out over the destruction and saw that the clash here had been fierce. The formation of her soldiers was still tight, which meant the destruction had been caused largely by Ash. Clearly he was as dangerous as Phoenix.

With the help of warriors like these, the focal points were well protected. The Boundary Portal would surely open soon.


Elsewhere, Cloudhawk had already led his troops to the border of the realm.

Dawn was out of breath. "We don't stand a chance!"

"No, that's not true." Cloudhawk was not disheartened. "After two encounters I know Selene's weakness. Those eyes of hers aren't as terrible as they seem. We can get around them."

"How do we do that?" Dawn asked.

But Cloudhawk didn't immediately answer. "It's not easy. We'll discuss it when we get back."

1. These weapons sure sound familiar, don't they? Can you remember who else used something similar?

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