The old drunk knew it. His life was done, but it wasn’t lived in vain.
As for Arcturus? The bastard wouldn’t win, not when the final tally was counted. Selene, Cloudhawk and the rest of the new generation would make sure of that. Each generation was destined to overcome the last – otherwise, what progress would there be in humanity?
As the drunk waited for the lightning to destroy his body, the unthinkable happened. A shadow dashed in front of him, as though to protect the resigned drunk from his inevitable demise.
Deep shadows played on his shocked expression.
Cloudhawk?! What was this crazy son of a bitch doing?! How did he think he could withstand Arcturus’ attack! It was suicide!
The blast of power bore unparalleled fury, and it slammed into Cloudhawk’s body like a train. He could feel it as his flesh and bones were charred from it. Time slowed as death crept up to take its due.
Then lightning arced away at a ninety degree angle. It was redirected into a nearby hillside, which it blasted to pieces.
Where Cloudhawk had stood, now there was a blackened statue of a man. He managed to give the drunk a pained, lopsided smile before grabbing him. His charred hands tugged the old warrior away from the battlefield. Arcturus watched the scene play out, absent any visible emotion. His only reaction was a slight crinkling of the skin between his brows. Cloudhawk’s actions were… unanticipated.
“A clever child, that one.”
The old drunk loudly lost his temper. “You damned fool! Are you trying to die?!”
“Of course not, smelly fuckin' hobo! I just can’t let you die yet!” Cloudhawk felt Arcturus’ power had burned deep into his body, injuring him on several layers. A lesser man would surely have died, but Cloudhawk was as stubborn and tenacious as a cockroach. Of course he’d been afraid, but in the end he was elated at making the right bet. “That piece of shit can’t kill me yet. He still needs me!”
That’s right. Why else would Arcturus have come to get him personally? And why hadn’t he just burned Cloudhawk to a crisp the moment he had the chance?
If the Governor wanted him dead, Arcturus would have taken one of a million chances he’d had over the last four years. Instead, he’d allowed Cloudhawk to live as a perpetual thorn in his side, and even now elected to try and capture him alive rather than charring him into ash. The only reason for it was that Cloudhawk had some importance for Arcturus’ plans.
Cloudhawk had figured it out at the last instant. Just as Arcturus was launching his lethal attack on the old drunk, he decided to put the theory to the test. If the Governor wanted to turn Vulkan to ash, he’d have to burn through Cloudhawk first.
But he wanted Cloudhawk alive. It was the only reason Vulkan was still breathing.
Smoke rose off of Cloudhawk’s body from head to toe. The excruciating pain was obvious in the glare he shot toward the old drunk. “You fuckin’ owe me for this! And you can start by making sure we get out of here still breathing.”
The drunk rolled his eyes in exasperation, while Cloudhawk turned his head to look back at Arcturus. “And how about you, you stuck-up sack of horse shit? Kill me if you’ve got the balls!”
Ruin continued to crackle dangerously in Arcturus’ grip. He brought his hand back to prepare for another strike. “You’ve guessed correctly. I don’t want you dead, but you can live without your legs.”
Aww, fuck. Cloudhawk shoved the drunk aside, and the air came alive with dancing tongues of green fire.
“You want to take me alive? You want something from me? Well, fuck you, I won’t let it happen. I’ll kill myself before I you get a goddamn thing.” Cloudhawk fixed him with a dark glare. “Take one more step and I’ll do it.”
But Arcturus shook his head, only slightly vexed. “These childish posturings are unnecessary.”
Cloudhawk answered with a voice full of determination. “Try me.”
Arcturus Cloude was known for his intelligence. He was able to read Cloudhawk’s character and intention, and knew his weaknesses.
He was a born rebel, and prided himself on doing the very thing no one expected. But he cherished both his life as well as the lives of his friends. But even for those same friends, he wouldn’t give up what was most precious to him. He would risk his life, but not throw it away. Suicide wasn’t an option.
Arcturus wasn’t afraid Cloudhawk would go through with it. He stared at the young man with keen interest, however, because he knew he would persist in this ploy at least for a while.
Of course, Cloudhawk knew his scare tactics might not work on a man like Arcturus. No one had managed to trick this old fox, and he wasn’t likely to be the first. He wasn’t half as clever as the Governor, it was like the difference between a clear pond and a mud puddle.
Alright, what to do. What to do. Cloudhawk’s mind raced for an answer. He was losing his advantage with every moment, and his body was giving up.
The last poke from Ruin had been no joke. He didn’t know how much longer he could even stay standing. Despite Cloudhawk’s formidable will and tenacious character, he was way past his limits. He felt like he could collapse at any instant.
In this moment of distraction, Arcturus dissolved into tens of thousands of lightning bolts. Like a host of writhing snakes they lashed out at what seemed like the speed of light. By the time Cloudhawk recognized the danger, it was too late.
Dozens of electric ribbons, thick as a man’s thumb, wrapped around him. Cloudhawk was wrapped up tighter than a dumpling.
He struggle, writhing in agony, but the harder he fought the worse the burning became. It didn’t take long for him to submit. It was over in an instant, swift and furious. Arcturus hadn’t given him any space to react.
He was caught, but Arcturus had to admit how much effort it’d taken to snatch up this wayward fish.
In one hand Arcturus supported Cloudhawk’s limp body. With Ruin in the other, he pointed it toward Vulkan. Although he knew the old drunk wasn’t long for this world, he was not in the habit of leaving loose ends untied. Better to sever them when the opportunity presented itself, so he raised his sword to finish the job.
Only, much to his frustration, Arcturus was once again disrupted.
Hundreds of sandy arrows tumbled toward him from above. Each one seemed able to pinpoint his location, and move as needed. However he was still protected by his grid of electricity, which easily destroyed the arrows as they fell.
Moments after the barrage ended his electric shield was attack by a sand spear.
Arcturus narrowed his eyes, and in their depths there was a flash of cold anger. He flicked his wrist, throwing Ruin out toward the spear. They collided, and the sandy weapon became a cloud of grit. Ruin continued toward the hidden figure who’d sneaked up nearby.
The Caliph of the Sands?
Indeed, hovering above them was the demon Abaddon.
Ruin’s angry bluish-purple length was inserted in the demon’s body. It had struck him in the chest, and jutted from his back. A brief pause ensued, before the demon’s body burst apart with a deafening thunderclap.
“Impressive, impressive… luckily it was merely a copy.”
The familiar, hoarse voice slithered through Cloudhawk’s ear, like frogs croaking in a sandy pit. The sound alone made his skin crawl. Such was Abaddon’s presence.
Cloudhawk felt the presence of several figures, some of them frighteningly strong.
Several dozen dragons alighted around them, and the air was suddenly filled with a host of flying mutated beasts. Their beating wings were causing a small tornado as they circled overhead.
Arcturus was strong, but he was not invincible. He did not possess limitless energy, and he was significantly outnumbered. That did not mean, however, that he was in any danger from these beasts.
The Governor looked toward the source of this new annoyance. “What are you doing here?”
Wolfblade stood on the back of the great crystal dragon king. He called to Arcturus as though hailing an old friend. “My deepest apologies. Cloudhawk cannot go with you.”
Arcturus swept his eyes across the field.
Autumn, who was also present, and Abaddon were formidable enemies. But the two together – even with Vulkan’s help – were still only likely to hold out for a time against the Master Demonhunter. Their display was exaggerated and dramatic, but none of it gave Arcturus any pause.
No. The only person who really captured his attention was the man of middling capability, standing on the divine beast.
Wolfblade, a mere human and terrorist leader. But not really, for Wolfblade was more than he appeared. A mysterious creature, living in a human shell.
Even if he was stronger…
Arcturus was not so foolish as to believe himself unbeatable. Nor was it possible for him to defeat an army on his own. In fact, Arcturus had always believed that force was only one facet of a well-rounded strategy. A man could be weak, but he could not be foolish.
Skye was a perfect example.
If this was a group of strong but brainless foes, Arcturus would have no issue dealing with them. The reason Skye Polaris had risen to his status over the years was not because Arcturus feared dealing with him. The Polaris family simply wasn't worth his attention, until the day it was. That was the day its patriarch died.
Skye survived into his eighties, not because of his impressive power, but because Arcturus didn’t care to cut it short. The Governor needed a counterweight. The moment Skye no longer held value, it required only a little ingenuity to have him eliminated. Skye had never been the sort of man to threaten Arcturus or his plans.
The world had no shortage of players for the Governor’s game. Arcturus, his disciples, Skye, Vulkan, all the many lauded men and women of Skycloud… of all of them, who could accomplish something truly great?
In truth, throughout the whole of the world there were only two:
One was Arcturus Cloude.
The other, Wolfblade.
Arcturus finally answered in his typical calm personage. “If I object?”
“I think it’d be best if you played things my way.” Wolfblade’s voice was equally composed. “He is in bad shape. If you bring him back to Skycloud, you’d simply be returning with a fugitive and a public enemy. Only we are capable of aiding him in recovering. I’m certain you wouldn’t like our young friend to be permanently disabled.”
After a moment, Arcturus nodded in a considering manner. “Fine, then. I’ll give you some face, as you request.”
The crackling bindings slithered away from Cloudhawk. Arcturus said nothing further.
With no further interest in speaking, the Governor’s body dissolved into a flood of blue light before vanishing before everyone’s eyes. Cloudhawk was completely stunned at seeing this powerful man simply leave, but he still sighed in relief when he did. At last the pain and exhaustion took its toll and he collapsed to the ground, unconscious. Whatever happened next, he wouldn’t know.