Cloudhawk’s body was covered in burn marks, however they were healing even as he scrambled back onto his feet. He had to admit the Crimson One was stronger than he thought. Without the timely arrival of his two friends, he definitely would have been put down.
With the sudden change to their conflict, the Crimson One did not immediately make any further attacks.
The day finally came.
The seed that was planted was finally bearing fruit. Baldur’s daughter and his best friend stood shoulder to shoulder, facing their shared enemy in solidarity.
The Crimson One first turned his eyes to Selene.
In her left hand she clutched Baldur’s weapon, Transcendence. In her right, the holy crossblade. One radiated with holy energy, and the other glittered with crystalline beauty. She stood with her shoulders back and head high, a blade in each hand. Her white vestments reflected the red and green fires that surrounded them. Her raven black hair fell straight to her shoulders like a silken waterfall. The contrast between her pale skin and dark hair was especially striking. Her gradually maturing features highlighted the beautiful woman she had become.
“At last you inherit your father’s legacy.” While the Crimson One’s face had a natural air of compassion, there was no great emotion at the sight of his brother’s daughter. “Like father, like daughter, it would seem. Both such incredible people. A pity you do not come to me now as a friend.”
Deadly ferocity overtook Selene’s moon-like eyes like an eclipse. She became a beautiful and deadly beacon of righteous vengeance. Slowly her right arm raised, poising her blazing sword of light toward the man. “You are unworthy to even mention my father.”
“Whether you believe me or not, I promise you that I have no greater regret in my life than killing Baldur. It was the most painful thing I ever had to do. I did it anyway, and if you knew the truth you would rejoice in his death. Otherwise-” He paused for a moment. “Otherwise it would not be me you face today. It would have been him.”
All three of them stood in silence, letting the words hang in the air.
Anger overtook Selene’s senses. She threw herself at him, her blazing sword of light thrust toward his chest. The righteous light burned the pupils, but for all its fury the blow suffered the same fate as the several before it; upon striking the golden aura around the Crimson One, the sword was easily deflected, like a toothpick trying to pierce a diamond. The shell was left unscathed while her crossblade shattered into pieces.
Immortal Defender! One of the Cloude family’s most treasured relics.
During their battle in the wastelands, the Crimson One had been beaten to the point of exhaustion. Injured and spent, it was this relic that saved his life and allowed him to escape. Since it came into possession of the Cloude family, Immortal Defender was considered one of the strongest relics to have ever been unearthed. It was capable of deflected any attack thrown at it so long as the Crimson One had a shred of energy remaining.
“You all know in your heart that the order to kill Baldur came from Arcturus. I was simply doing as I was commanded!”
The stones scattered around the Crimson One’s feet began to tremble. Gravity in this strange city was already weaker than the world outside, and under the influence of the Crimson One’s power it failed entirely. Stones rose like they had a life of their own. Flecks of sickly green Castigation fire also emerged, giving more weight and power to the former Knight-Commander’s words.
Rock and flame danced around them, turning into a pulsing tide. The stones caught fire and glimmered like the night sky, everywhere they looked.
“If you respected your father, if you loved your friend, then you would not stand in my way. You should be helping me complete this important work. If I fail then everything that Baldur went through will be for nothing. Raising your swords against me does not earn vengeance for Baldur, it insults his memory!”
Selene slowly raised the crystalline blade in her other hand. Transcendence, the sword of her father. The air around it warped threateningly, and as she hacked it at their foe the ground split before a tremendous flood of energy. It smashed against the Crimson One’s defenses with so much intensity that it splintered stone. Still it caused him no harm.
Inwardly Cloudhawk cursed their continued failure. His defenses were too strong!
Sterling wasted no more time on words. Yes, Selene and Vulkan had begun to doubt, but nothing he said would push them beyond questions. They suspected that the Elysian leaders weren’t as righteous as they pretended to be. They doubted this Elysian cause they championed was as noble as they were lead to believe. Perhaps – perhaps – their holy mission had nothing to do with divine justice after all.
But it was all just suspicions. At the end of the day, all of the tragic things humans had suffered at the hands of the gods were tempered by their blessings. Others were forced to live in squalor, but not them. They were the fruit of Skycloud, the Elysian lands were home.
They’d never truly experienced the blood and death and violence. How could they understand the Crimson One’s position? How could they join him in his zealous pursuit?
Selene was strong. She could lift her hand against the Crimson One. She might even be able to make Arcturus nervous. But the gods? No – she was no threat to the gods.
For all her doubts, Selene knew one thing; that her father was the greatest demonhunter to wander the wastes. He traveled the world, bringing justice where there was none. A prideful, powerful defender of the righteous!
The drunk felt similarly. It had been years since he’d gone to Skycloud, and it was unlikely he would ever go back. But it was a place that still held sway, and the ties he felt to it would remain forever. IF ever the Elysian land came under dire threat and his service was needed, he would be the first to stand before their enemies.
This was the pride of a warrior, and the commitment he had made. It was a responsibility that he was sworn to bear. For her.
Sterling was urging a war between the wastelands and Skycloud. Neither side could see eye to eye, nothing about them offered a road to harmony. With the addition of all the enmity suffered through the years there was no chance of reconciliation today.
The Crimson One had no choice. This battle was inevitable, and once they were dead no one would remain who could stand in his way.
Meanwhile, Cloudhawk could feel the rising determination on both sides. Buffeting waves of energy crested around them, and with each passing second his face darkened. The old zealot meant business this time. While it was true all three of his attackers were stronger than when they fought after Fishmonger’s Borough, the Master Demonhunter was ten times – a hundred times the stronger after recovering from his old wounds.
Today there would be death, and while the outcome was not certain, Cloudhawk did know the Crimson One was far stronger than they were prepared to deal with.
The three would-be assassins wasted no more time, they attacked in unison. Three attacks landed from three different directions, yet still the golden aura held. The Crimson One raised the crosier in both hands while green fires danced above his head. All the while they’d been talking, the disparate spurts of Castigation fire had been gathering above him.
Whatever invisible dam holding it back crumbled.
Deadly green fire surged toward them like a waterfall from the depths of hell, submerging the area. Anything the fires touched was dissolved, leaving nothing but a scoured landscape in its wake. Inch by inch, the fires crept forward in an insatiable need to consume.
The old drunk called for the protection of Dawnguard. Blinding rays of light shot out like the glory of the morning sun. The three invaders were wrapped in a circle of protection.
As the tide of Castigation fire reached them it crashed against the golden light. Vulkan’s defenses dimmed almost immediately, for he was not a demonhunter specialized in mental fortitude. At best he commanded relics as well as a veteran, so how could he hope to stem the fury of a Master Demonhunter?
But it bought them enough time.
Cloudhawk summoned the power of his phase stone. Just as the golden light was overwhelmed he and his two companions blinked to a location several hundred meters away.
He found himself standing atop a nearby building looking out over the sea of fire. The spot they once occupied was engulfed in flame, along with a vast swath of the surrounding area. Towers and buildings caught in the crossfire were slowly beginning to fall apart. It was a nightmare to behold.
It was almost more than he could believe. Was this the power of a Master Demonhunter?
The endless fires rose up into the air, heedless of logic or gravity.
The Crimson One’s golden outline was barely visible beneath the torrent of Castigation Fire. Tendrils of it curled around him like angry dragons, changing directions at his whim. He was like some unimaginable horror, with whipping tentacle arms of all-consuming fire.
“Since you refuse to obey, then you will die!”
The Crimson One’s hand shot up, and in response a column of Castigation Fire rose toward his attackers. Though not overly fast and weak in appearance, no one doubted the destruction the fires could cause. Everything caught in its path, even whole buildings, was erased. To the Master Demonhunter the whole world was made from paper, eager to burn.
Plumes of fire were belched into the air and began to fall around them like fire from the heavens.
At the same time the Crimson One lashed out with several tendrils of flame. They whipped toward Cloudhawk at the others from the front and both sides, each one the size of a bull. A glance was enough to know these spears of fire could pierce even the strongest foes.
Tongues of fire descended from above, and a sea of flame raged below. All around were whipping tendrils like spears of broken jade. They were caught in a raging deluge, as though the apocalyptic war between gods and demons had been summoned once again to this place.
Nothing could bear the touch of Castigation, and whole buildings collapsed under the assault. It was as terrible as hellfire and threatened to cleanse all worldly things from reality. At the heart of the torrent was the Crimson One, sparkling in a shell of golden light and commanding a horde of green tentacles. To any who witnessed he was no different than a God or Demon.
Denizens of Fallowmoor saw the conflict from far away, witnessed their leader become an avatar of destruction. Ever soul was left breathless by the scene. He had to be one of the world’s strongest living creatures – someone who could contend against the divine and unholy with nothing but his own power!
Dawn, locked in combat with Dumont and the others, lifted her head to witness the scene. Panic crept into her pretty eyes. There was no question that the Crimson One had returned to full strength, which meant even her grandfather was no match for him.
What was Cloudhawk, Selene and that old drunk supposed to do? Against someone like this, their whole team didn’t even have a forty percent chance of escaping with their lives. Just those three? Ten percent at best.
Dawn needed to help them.
Her distracted allowed Dumont to catch her with another violent collision. She couldn’t get free, not when these enemies had her pinned down. All she could do was pray.
Cloudhawk. If you can’t beat him, you have to run. That’s what you’re best at, right? Don’t get hurt. Please don’t get hurt!