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Book 7, Chapter 9 - Total Tyranny

 Quick as lightning! A flood of cutting darkness descended on Cloudhawk. Jupiter was as skilled as people said, and that made the Nilam family members nervous.

Idonea didn't care much for this Lance character but she didn't wish him harm, either. As for Jupiter, he was rash and immature but they had grown up together. If he murdered Lance it would be no small matter.

A blood feud would erupt between three families. People would come after Jupiter for vengeance and the Argyris name would be dragged through the mud. If Idonea understood only this much about the potential political turmoil, it was enough. She didn't want any of this. The consequences would be irreversible.

Noah and the other family leaders were about to intervene when, much to their surprise, the whip in Cloudhawk's hand began to move. Like a bolt of lightning or an angry snake, the whip lashed into the dark fog. There was a deafening CRACK, like lightning striking a tree.

What did Flamevolt hit?

A second later the fog dissipated. The power of Jupiter's spear faded away and its bearer was revealed. He'd been knocked several meters back and a stinging pain burned across his chest. The young man looked down to find a black mark across his front. His armor had been split apart and the surface radiated with red heat.

"He was knocked back?!"

Shocked mutters rippled among the crowd.

Instead of battling recklessly against Jupiter's attack, Lance had bypassed it all and struck right where he knew the younger fighter would be. In the midst of the onslaught the whip caught the Merlo family youth square in the chest.

It made sense. Why fight so hard? There was no point in charging through an attack when you could cut it off at the root.

Cloudhawk's rapid attack hadn't been strong, but the speed and precision were enough to surprise everyone. His steward fumbled over the words, "Y-young Master, what a shot! Has he been hiding this skill all along? I heard that before we left for the capitol he defeated his older brother. It seems the stories were true!"

Cloudhawk wasn't stupid enough to unleash his full strength. Just a fraction of his ability was enough to thoroughly embarrass this child. His earliest memories were of struggle and bloody survival. He came to Stormford a grizzled survivor.

What's more, he was absorbing more of the Demon King's memories every day. Mysteries of how to use relics and more effective ways to kill flooded his mind. And what of Jupiter, this member of the 'Mighty Ten'? It was a fancy name, but given to a bunch of children who'd grown up in an era of peace and plenty. Stormford hadn't seen any conflict in centuries. He was a noble's son, which meant there was no chance that he was trained like a real soldier.

Jupiter wasn't discouraged. It was luck, that's all! This time he would cut the bastard in half! Bolstering his pride he lashed out with his spear once again. Innumerable cuts filled the space, threatening to envelope the foreign noble.

Cloudhawk was moving even before Jupiter's attack began, like he knew it was coming. His arm whipped up and Flamevolt wrapped around the branch of a nearby tree. It contracted, pulling on the sturdy bough and launching Cloudhawk into the air - and out of the way of Jupiter's attack.

"Where are you running!"

Jupiter wrenched around and stabbed toward the sky. In response Cloudhawk disentangled Flamevolt from the tree and whipped his arm around. The slender weapon slithered passed the flurry of blows to strike Jupiter in his right hand where the Spear of a Thousand Shadows was being held.

Crack! A pained yelp followed.

Cutting shadows disappeared in an instant. The most dangerous of them, aimed toward Cloudhawk's forehead, vanished mere centimeters from its target. Nevertheless Cloudhawk never showed any signs of fear. Once again he easily disarmed Jupiter's attack.

That difficult to avoid thread of fire and electricity was causing Jupiter no end of trouble. Its position was changing constantly, even during an attack. It made it difficult for him to lock down his target.

How?

Cloudhawk didn't offer Jupiter any chance to save face. He lashed out again and again with the whip reaching a full ten meters toward the target. Every strike was different and fell upon the young man like a lightning storm. Scorched whip-marks peppered his body.

Noah was stunned. Members of the Nilam family were, too, as well as Idonea.

They watched the oft maligned Byzantium dandy almost whip his opponent to pieces. Jupiter's attacks were far stronger than Cloudhawk's, but somehow the older challenger saw right through each of them. Likewise, while Cloudhawk's attacks weren't strong they were so precise as to be unavoidable.

In a handful of seconds Jupiter had been caught by twenty lashes.

Black burn marks criss-crossed his entire form, but especially his hands. His metal gauntlets were in tatters and dripped blood. Jupiter's hands were too mangled to hold his weapon.

Anger welled up inside of him, so intense that Jupiter wasn't thinking straight. His attacks grew more and more imperfect while his foe's superhuman perception picked out even the slightest flaws. He felt helpless.

No, it didn't matter! He would crush him under his full strength! Idonea would not be stolen away by this foul man!

Jupiter howled like a beast caught in a trap. Mental energy poured from him in an unmitigated flood and his spear launched into another set of attacks. However, this time they were not spread out across an area. They coalesced into a single stream.

"No! Jupiter is going to kill him!"

Everyone could see the young man was throwing all of his strength into this attack. It reached up to a hundred meters and was shockingly wide. If it struck, there wouldn't even be a corpse to bring back to Byzantium.

Jupiter's eyes were wide and bloodshot. "Diiiee!"

The Spear of a Thousand Shadows stretched unsettlingly until it was eight or nine meters long. It screamed toward Cloudhawk, yet he remained calm. The whip in his hands never stopped its dance, spiraling around to form a vortex before him.

When the spear reached him he pulled. Cloudhawk's whip wrapped around the spear's shaft and tugged it to the side. At the last instant the spear's trajectory shifted, just as it released its energy in a deadly torrent.

The thick wall of the Argyris family mansion was blasted to pieces! Jupiter's impressive strength was on full display. But the attack had taken nearly all of Jupiter's power to execute. After using it he was tapped for the moment. While Jupiter was catching his breath, Cloudhawk pulled his spear back.

The younger man felt a sharp tug, more than his beaten hands could contend with. His spear slipped from his grasp and was flung a hundred meters away. It buried itself in a small hill on the mansion gardens.

The outcome was clear.

Cloudhawk looked over at Jupiter who was nearly mad with fury. "A soldier's weapon is ten times more important than any lover. If as a soldier you can't even hold onto your weapon, how are you supposed to protect the people you care about? As far as I can tell, these Mighty Ten are only mighty in name."

Members of the Argyris family looked on with confused expressions. The Nilam family entourage looked sheepish. Beating the poor boy was enough and some banter meant nothing. But insulting the Mighty Ten? This young outsider certainly didn't mince his words.

Noah interrupted with a gentle cough. "Jupiter, you've lost."

The beaten youth looked up at Lance, then over to Idonea. Like a broken man he turned away and left, even leaving his spear behind. Today he'd lost not only the girl he loved, but his pride.

Cloudhawk watched him go with a smirk. Shame was important, if you allowed it to make you stronger. Experiencing defeat was what made a real warrior. Jupiter was young, he would bounce back.

"Congratulations Young Lance!" Noah strode forward. "You have won victory over Jupiter and have the right to count yourself among the Mighty Ten."

The steward joined in excitedly. "When your mother and father hear the news they're sure to be thrilled!"

Idonea watched Jupiter slink away. Only once he was gone did her eyes turn back to the mysterious noble who had come to marry her. She felt... strange. If Lance was able to defeat Jupiter then they all had underestimated him.

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