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Book 7, Chapter 8 - Meeting Challenges

 "I challenge you to a duel!" Jupiter waggled his spear at the handsome stranger. "If you consider yourself a man, if you have any shred of honor, then you'll fight me!"

This one was full of piss and vinegar. Cloudhawk had left that phase of his life behind a long time ago.

He recognized the young man's actions as childish. He really thought beating Cloudhawk would win him back his love. Maybe the plan was to kill him and save the woman from what he thought was a terrible fate.

He didn't understand a damn thing. Didn't he know that nothing forced turned out well? Was he so blind that he couldn't see Idonea wasn't at all interested in him?

"Heh, I didn't expect Miss Idonea to be so popular." Cloudhawk didn't have any reason to accept this bullshit duel. To try and diffuse the situation he poked fun at Idonea instead. "Look at this brave, handsome young man willing to put it all on the line for you."

She ignored him completely. "Jupiter, I'm asking you to stop this right now. You're embarrassing me!"

"This is quite enough!" Noah stepped out from the crowd, no longer able to tolerate this nonsense. "Think of how you're representing your family. I will forget this ever happened if you leave at once and stop making trouble!"

"I will not!" Love had addled the young man's brain. Nothing mattered except his headstrong desire to impress Idonea. So he thrust his spear toward Cloudhawk like an accusing finger and shouted angrily. "Don't hide behind a woman! Step forward and fight me!"

Cloudhawk couldn't keep the smile from creeping into his lips.

Idonea and representatives from the Nilam family seemed to sense his intentions in the same moment. The steward rushed forward to try and settle things down. "You musn't do anything foolish! You aren't his match, Jupiter is one of the Mighty Ten!"

The Mighty Ten was a moniker given to a very specific group. Older than ten and younger than twenty, it was a group of young people with surprising potential. They were the most outstanding youths throughout the realm and the future of Fulmulta.

Jupiter was only eighteen or nineteen, but was nearly as strong as a veteran demonhunter. He was also a passable martial artist, further proving his excellence. How was Lance - a piddling lesser noble from some backwater city - supposed to stand against him?

"What's wrong?" Jupiter continued to taunt him. "Are you too scared to accept the challenge? If you don't even have the courage to face me then you should just run back to your hovel!"

"Get out of Fulmulta!"

"Flee! With your tail between your legs!"

Several others from Jupiter's retinue shouted jibes. The Argyris family members glowered in anger.

On the surface it looked like this had been an impulsive effort from Jupiter, but that wasn't necessarily the case. The men he'd brought with him were capable members of the Merlo family guard. They wouldn't be here without the family patriarch's blessing.

This whole thing stank of trickery. The Merlos didn't want to see the Argyris family gain support from Byzantium. They were trying to undermine the wedding.

"Coward! Come on and fight!" Jupiter continued to shriek at him with bulging red eyes like some sort of wild animal. He was willing to die on this anthill he'd created.

"Young master, you can't," the steward warned.

Idonea also leaned in and spoke to him in low tones. "The Mighty Ten aren't called that just for show. You can't beat him, if you fight it will end badly. Don't let him get to you, let the family leaders handle this."

Cloudhawk wasn't at all interested in fighting the mouthy youth. It was like a rabbit trying to irritate an elephant; an infant flinging insults at a grizzled warrior. He wasn't the sort to pick on people weaker than himself.

The Mighty Ten? You could bundle them all together and Cloudhawk wouldn't spare them a glance. Even if all the strongest people in Stormford were brought together they'd only amount to a mild challenge for him, hardly a threat.

Cloudhawk had risen to heights greater than any human before him. He didn't need to prove anything by spanking a child.

That said...

"Alright!"

Everything stopped as a sea of shocked faces turned toward Cloudhawk. Was he crazy? Accepting a challenge from one of the Mighty Ten? He was asking to be humiliated!

Cloudhawk's eyes were trained on the young man. "If I beat you do I become one of these 'Mighty Ten'?"

Jupiter didn't respond right away. Frankly he hadn't expected Lance to accept the challenge.

"You think a piece of trash like you is worthy of the title?" He was almost insulted by the suggestion. It wasn't just a slight on him, but on the Mighty Ten as a whole! "Yes, if you beat me you will take my place among the Mighty Ten. But don't imagine it's possible! What a laughable concept!"

The Nilam family steward, knowing the Young Master's temperament, was nonetheless surprised by his actions. He was acting like this duel meant nothing! Like a stroll through the local brothel!

"Ridiculous!" Noah scowled in frustration. "In three days time there will be a wedding, how can you think of fighting now? Jupiter, enough is enough! I have held back out of respect for your family, if you continue this childish tantrum I will lose my temper!"

The Elder's warning rolled off the youth. "Lance has already accepted. As a demonhunter he is bound by his word. To do anything else would make him unworthy."

"He has a point." Cloudhawk stepped out from the crowd. "A real man keeps his promises. I never backed down from a challenge back in Byzantium, and I'm not going to be intimidated by this child. I will beat him, take his title as one of the Mighty Ten, and then marry his girl."

All of a sudden everyone was in an uproar. Members of the Nilam entourage were on the verge of tears. Of course he wasn't afraid of anyone in Byzantium! His father was the Governor! The strong were as numerous as clouds back home, no one dared to get on his bad side. But this wasn't his territory. And his opponent was known for his abilities!

Idonea was also at a loss. She didn't care at all for this outsider, but their talk yesterday had proved that he wasn't like all the stories claimed. Only now he seemed as conceited and short-sighted as she'd heard, and he wanted to make his name fighting in the crusades?

Noah Argyris didn't say a word. He just wanted to put an end to this farce.

As everyone was shouting Lance stepped forward, pulling something from his sleeve. With a flick of the wrist it became a whip roughly three meters long. It flickered with purplish red light that crackled ominously. This treasure was an heirloom of the Nilam family, Flamevolt.

It was a dual relic of fire and electricity, capable of dealing considerable damage. Yet strong as it was, no one had seen Lance use it since becoming a demonhunter. Now was the first time it was making an appearance.

"What can we do? We must stop this now!" One of the Argyris family leaders quailed. "If he's injured - or worse, killed - it will surely ruin our relationship with his family!"

Noah stared hard at Lance. For some reason he felt that there was something off about him. The Elder had spent years reading people but this one was a mystery. "Let's wait and see. We'll act when it is necessary to act."

Jupiter was surprised that his opponent would step forward right away. "Look at this little frog, leaping out of his well and hoping to become one of the Mighty Ten. Let me show you which one of us is worthy of Idonea."

"Yeah? Well allow me to let you in on something. Even if I never came here, you would never have a shot with her."

Jupiter flew into a rage. He launched himself forward like an arrow, both hands on his weapon. The black blade belched fog all around, filling the chamber. Cloudhawk was suddenly assailed by a series of stabbing attacks.

Not bad! There had to be over a hundred attacks every second.

Jupiter's weapon was called the Spear of a Thousand Shadows. It bore the rare power of darkness, both powerful and hard to create.

Idonea watched with her breath held as this dandy boy happily kicked the hornet's nest. Members of the Nilam family grappled with the thought of getting involved. How would they ever face Byzantium's Governor if they let his son be cut into pieces?

Cloudhawk, meanwhile, completely ignored the loftily named Spear of a Thousand Shadows. With a quick flick of his wrist, Flamevolt came alive.

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