Cloudhawk was violently coughing up blood. His wild attack had been costly. As the blood trickled from his lips and hit the ground, spurts of green fire leaped out from the boiling liquid as it melted a hole in the rocky ground.
Upon entering his blood, Castigation’s deadly effect awakened the virus that had been dormant. Trespasser and the Crimson One’s fires warred for supremacy, neither winning over. Cloudhawk was thus caught in a purgatory of agony, alive but in terrible pain. If not for Trespasser’s involvement, however, he surely would be dead.
For the blood he spat up to be consumed by fire… one could imagine the dire circumstances he was in.
Killing Adder had been a herculean task. Killing his father seemed impossible.
Selene watched Cloudhawk writhe in pain, grinding her teeth at how ineffectual she was. She was desperate to continue, do to anything. Her eyes were slightly red from fear and anger, and from the pain that stabbed at her heart like a knife. It was a feeling she couldn’t remember experiencing since she learned of her father’s death.
This hopeless idiot! First in Greenland Outpost, and now here! Why is he always so eager to get involved in fights that were beyond him?
Selene could feel him getting weaker. She clutched tightly to his hand, whose flesh was cracked and blackened. Stinging pain assailed her even through the gloves. Castigation was breaking through his skin and reaching for anything it could. If just being near him caused this pain, she didn’t want to imagine what Cloudhawk was feeling.
But the most frightening realization was that the destruction wrought by Castigation was irreversible. There was no medicine known to man that could heal the hellish fires.
Castigation infected his blood, and seeped deep into his marrow. There was no cure! What’s more, the Crimson One’s staff had broken many of his bones in their vicious exchange, and the jagged edges had torn into his internal organs. Anyone Selene had seen with wounds this serious died quickly.
Cloudhawk felt drops of water falling on his face. They eased the eternal agony that was eating him up from the inside, at least slightly. He managed to open his eyes and peer up at the face hovering above his own. His handsome features were hideously scorched, his skin blackened and split. When he smiled the expression was horrific, but it was a genuine smile from the heart.
Selene was crying. It was her second time. As strong and stoic as she was, she was still a woman. Only in these rare moments was the gentle part of her spirit revealed. From the standpoint of a man, any price was worth seeing a woman this beautiful crying over him.
He struggled to speak, every syllable crackling like the fires that danced in his throat. “This fucker is too strong… I don’t think we can beat him.”
Selene’s answer came in a quavering tone. “Did you… do this for me?”
“You carry too much on your shoulders… I can see how tired you are. The pain you hide… I see it every time I look at you. I hate it. But I’m… not strong enough. I can’t help you.”
“No. You helped me find myself again. You made me rethink my life, and showed me that the world isn’t all darkness and hate. You’ve already helped me so much.”
Was Cloudhawk’s suggestion to kill the Crimson One really just for the expeditionary force’s benefit? Even he himself wondered when he’d become so altruistic.
He’d found the answer when he cast aside his sense of self-preservation and attacked the Crimson One. He didn’t really give a shit about the expeditionary forces. He did it because he hoped it might help Selene put down some of her burdens.
But did she need him to do it? No! So Selene left him behind at the Elysian base and took the Temple’s warriors with her to the front. She hadn’t wanted him to be here, where death was a real possibility. Of course, the moron had to stick his nose into everything and came anyway.
All for what? The Crimson One hovered above them entirely unscathed. The hole Cloudhawk had punched into his defenses was already being repaired.
Immortal Defender was more than strong; for all intents and purposes, it was indestructible. Yet Cloudhawk had managed the impossible and tore open a hole. Even the Crimson One’s relic seemed taken aback, for it was slow to seal the fissure. This appeared to be the only flaw in the relic’s function.
Unfortunately Cloudhawk had failed to do more than open a small crack. A breach this small would only require a few minutes for the relic to repair. Once that happen, Cloudhawk’s idiotic but valiant attempt would have been for nothing. The Crimson One would again be wholly invincible.
But what could they do? Cloudhawk, with the help of his incredible phase stone, had only managed to tear open a small hole. What means did they have of trying to break through that golden shield?
Motes of green fire were gathering over the Crimson One’s head. He released another torrent of Castigation toward Selene.
The old drunk’s eyes went wide. “Selene, get out of the way!”
Selene’s Holy Vestments were powerful, of the same caliber as Castigation Fire. Because of this, they were able to withstand the all-consuming fire, at least to some degree. However she had no way to protect the already gravely wounded Cloudhawk.
If she escaped the threat to her own safety, she would be abandoning her friend.
What’s more, the waterfall of green fire was too powerful. Although Selene was as strong as Adder had been, she wasn’t mighty enough to fend off an attack of this magnitude. Choosing to stand against it was a death sentence.
Death and destruction loomed over the two small figures. Selene didn’t flinch, didn’t budge. In her heart she was at peace. Wherever he was, there was always some measure of peace.
Four years ago in Blackflag Outpost, huddled in his small shack. Their meeting was predestined. From that moment on their lives had been inexorably tied. Together they’d fled through the wastelands, fending off death at every turn, and in that struggle had become companions.
Then came the battle at Greenland Outpost. The Bloodsoaked Queen had been struck back down to earth from her lofty pedestal. Both of them cast aside title and identity and saw one another for who they were beneath all that. After that, they were friends.
Four years passed. They’d spent such a brief time together, but the impact they’d had on each others’ lives loomed large.
If Cloudhawk had never met the Bloodsoaked Queen, he would have never learned about demonhunters. He would have known nothing about the Elysian lands or Skycloud city. All of the experience thereafter – good and bad – would never have come to pass.
Selene had spent such a brief time with Cloudhawk, but he was responsible for the single biggest transformation in her life. He had left an indelible mark on her heart. He occupied an important and unassailable position in her eyes.
Cloudhawk was a lone wolf.
So was Selene.
They were two lonely souls, meeting each other at a crucial moment in time. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was divine predestination. Cloudhawk was the only person in the whole world who could open Selene’s eyes to the truth of the world. Her one real friend, and probably her last.
The heavens had delivered a man like this to her side. She would not allow anyone to take him from her!
He risked his life for me. I will give my life to protect him.
They were companions, in life and death! They shared glory and failure, victory and defeat!
Selene was a warrior, down to her bones. She wasn’t much for words, and kept everyone at arm’s length with her aloof persona. She was unapproachable, but when she finally came to acknowledge something or someone she was dogged in her persistence and loyalty. Nothing would sway her.
Selene turned her head toward the encroaching torrent. The sickly green light danced across her resolute face, a hundred million butterflies of flame.
As the deadly fires came crashing toward her there was no trace of fear or apprehension in her. The blazing sword in her grip shrunk until it was once again a small crucifix of pure white.
Was she giving in? No! Of course not! Surrender was not a word Selene knew the meaning of.
She held Transcendence aloft, its crystal blade twinkling in the stark light. Within the hilt of this unsullied, masterwork blade was a small indentation just the right size for a cross. “I made a promise. I will not go back on my word.”
She placed her crucifix in the opening. It slipped right in.
The two relics were a perfect fit, like they were meant to be together all along. In fact the two were forged together, intended to be used as one. Each one individually was a powerful tool, but together they created a relic of epic capabilities.
A burst of power caused Selene’s raven black hair to dance in the wind. Her pure white armor came alive with an internal glow. The tempestuous winds that followed blew the motes of green fire to either side like she was parting a sea. Meanwhile, a single thread of light crept up from the center of the crystal blade.
This was the weapon of a god, capable of sweeping away any mortal thing in its path.
Transcendence, asleep for decades, had finally awakened.
As the light of the weapon split his fiery attack, the Crimson One did not see a twenty year old girl in his path. To his eyes, the figure was a middle-aged man of righteous bearing, encase in pure white light, with this godly weapon leveled against him.
Countless demons had been felled by Transcendence’ crystal edge. So many legends revolved around the man in snow-white Holy Vestments.
A power like that persisted forever, its spirit endless. Especially now that this beautiful heir had risen to bear the righteous tools of her father, the light he bore would never be extinguished.
The Crimson One was distracted by seeing his brother’s glory reflected in the visage of his daughter. The roaring flames ebbed.
Selene raised her weapon, Sublime Transcendence, and shut her eyes. Her mind went blank, her heart silence. “Father… please be with me.”
Selene brought her sword down, and the fires parted. A streak of holy light illuminated everything around them, a beam of pure heavenly energy.
A gully was carved through the torrent of fire, splitting it into two streams. The fierce winds were like a harnessed hurricane. It was fast, furious and unpredictable.
The Crimson One snapped back to the present just as Selene jumped into the air, poised for her second strike.
A crushing aura fell over him, strong enough to shatter mountains and part seas. It came roaring toward his gold-encased form with such power he could hardly believe it.
Sublime Transcendence was one of the most powerful relics in the whole of the Elysian lands. Selene aimed the full might of it right toward the small fissure Cloudhawk had cut in his defenses.
Her strike widened the rift. The Crimson One’s face showed a note of fear.
Sublime Transcendence was just as incredible a relic as Castigation Fire or Immortal Defender, but the threshold required in order to command the relic’s power was high. Even Baldur, mighty as he was, would not have been able to summon the sword’s strength at Selene’s age. It was incredible to behold, that a girl so young could call upon the weapon in such a mighty display.
She delivered two strikes, one after the other. Already the color was drained from her face from the strain, for the weapon demanded much. Her Holy Vestments blazed with the fire of a star as it imbued her with mental energy.
She reared back for a third strike.
“If you’d had another four or five years of training, not even I could say with confidence that I could defeat you. But today, you are not strong enough.”
The Crimson One pushed the shock from his mind and recovered his calm, calculating persona. Selene was a child in her earlier twenties. However vaulted her talent, innate ability only went so far.
Children like her were no match for a man like the Crimson One, a Master Demonhunter who made his name decades ago.
She didn’t let his words distract her. Selene hacked at her foe with a third strike, finally cracking the golden shell. Only, it just barely fell short, like Cloudhawk’s attempts before. The Crimson One was still unharmed.
“That is all you will manage!”
His crosier burst into flame, and came at her with blinding speed. Countless images of it dashed through the air like an impenetrable net.
She couldn’t see a way through this area attack and was struck half a dozen times. The onslaught of blows knocked her ten or so meters back. The beating had left a mark, and fresh blood stained her fine white garments.
The Crimson One shook his head.
Such a pity… the dour reality they faced sapped him of energy.
He felt drained, not from the effort of the battle but from what he witnessed in Cloudhawk and Selene. He felt like his time had indeed passed. All he could manage was a prelude, but the future was destined to be written by young and talented people like them.
This deep, abiding powerlessness made him feel… tired.
If he killed these two rising stars it would be a tragedy for the future of their species. But he had to.
The Crimson One prepared himself to deliver the killing blow.
“It looks like you forgot about me.”
The gruff, slightly slurred voice came from behind. The Crimson One turned with cold, indifferent eyes toward the drunk. Cloudhawk and Selene had been defeated. What could this washed-up old warrior do to turn the tide?