Cloudhawk had knocked Blaze away with a single blow from his sword. Cosmo Thane pulled his sword free with an ominous sound of ringing metal.
The veteran officer knelt down, then pushed himself into the air with his powerful legs. Craters appeared below where his feet had been, and he vanished from view. Cloudhawk looked up to see him, overhead and dropping fast. It was obvious by his moves and power that Cosmo was a capable martial artist, and his muscles swelled with true power to the point where his armor was creaking. All of that power was gathered into his arms.
His sword screamed toward Cloudhawk in a deadly arc – Avalanche Strike!
Cloudhawk raised Ardent Wrath in defense.
What was the strength of a veteran Elysian General? Just like Aegir Polaris displayed in the Blisterpeaks, they were stronger than an average demonhunter. Blow for blow, he probably could deal as much damage as Selene.
CRACK! As their swords impacted the entire precipice beneath Cloudhawk’s feet split! Cosmos’ strike had caused a real avalanche!
Cloudhawk felt his joints pop and his bones creak. While he was also using true strength to defend himself, it was like a child trying to protect himself from an abusive father. All he managed to accomplish was to spread Cosmo’s power down through the mountain and cause the rock to split.
Cosmo reared back and swung against in a horizontal arc – Crescent Cleave!
Cloudhawk could feel the power coming his way, and it was more than he could handle. His sword was knocked out of his hand and went tumbling across the ground.
The General followed up with a third maneuver, so fluid it seemed natural. It was a thrust directed right at Cloudhawk’s heart, quick as lightning and ten times more deadly. Cloudhawk had no way to protect himself against Cosmo’s Piercing Star attack!
His status and station were clearly deserved. His skills were refined, and his strength was impressive. Of all Skycloud’s martial artists he was certainly in the top ten.
But would Cloudhawk admit defeat? Never!
As Cosmo thrust his blade forward for the killing blow, Cloudhawk lifted his hand. From within his palm flashed a silver light, which caught Cosmo by surprise. How could this young fiend summon a relic’s power with just his body? He wasn’t sure how, but he recognized the power as the Polaris family’s Silver Serpents.
Ardent Wrath was at his feet in the dirt. The Silver Serpents were dexterous, but relatively weak. Cosmo was confident Cloudhawk could not deflect the attack.
Yet what followed was something no one expected. Cloudhawk’s right palm released two streaks of silver. As they stretched out the lights intertwined to form a stronger, thicker beam.
“Silver Dragon, break him!”
His Silver Serpents were formed into one. One beam of glimmering light flashed through the air between them like a thunderbolt. Filled with Cloudhawk’s will and strengthened by the sea of mental energy, it struck with incredible force. Cosmo felt it ram into his weapon like an extension of the man’s rage, slamming him with a power that overpowered his forward momentum and force him back.
Cosmos’ sword broke apart inch by inch until only the hilt remained. The blowback ripped through his body and dealt damage to his tendons and muscles.
Cloudhawk defeated his second challenger, again with just one move!
Cosmo was a senior general, a man with the credibility to stand as a member of the Temple council. He was a lauded veteran of the older generation, yet he still was unable to gain victory over this greenhorn.
One might imagine what was going through his mind at this point. His soldiers of the Retribution Battalion could only stare in open shock.
It was a brief encounter, but the stone around them was cracked and boulders had been sent tumbling down the mountain. Cloudhawk was looking for an escape, but before he could another surge of lethal intent caught his attention.
His eyes searched for the source.
He found it among the Templars, with their light armor and imposing stances. A number of them had stepped forward to join the fight. With singular focus they drew their weapons, and charged through the broken stone to strike at Cloudhawk in perfect unison.
The streak of silver split into two, from one silver dragon to identical silver serpents once again.
His attackers danced among the broken landscape, evading his counterattack. As they came at him, suspended in air, Cloudhawk was left with no choice but to rely on his last resort.
Tendrils of ominous green fire leaked from his pores and danced around him.
Castigation Fire was too deadly for the Templars, and they were forced to retreat or be consumed by the evil fire. Nearby, Phain could no longer stay silent. He drew his sword.
The light of his sword bloomed, the essence of its sharp bite given form! The streak of light split sky and stone! So incredible was Phain’s draw technique that even the light from his sword could kill a man thirty meters away.
Cloudhawk retracted the streaks of light and stooped down to pick up Ardent Wrath. He arose just in time to bring the weapon up and cut through the streak of energy. While he was distracted, Phain darted forward with incredible speed, seeming to reappear in several locations at once. Once again the deadly light emerged from his sword, but this time from several directions.
Phain’s attacks came screaming toward him with a vengeance. The Grand Prior was too fast.
Castigation fire was wrapped all over Cloudhawk’s body. One of the blows caught him across the shoulder and cut through the flame. It was too fast to take anything with it, but did leave a nasty wound behind.
Phain attacked again.
The sea of power inside him boiled, and though the effort caused him considerable mental pain the Castigation Fire around him grew in strength. The fires detonated, spreading outward. As Phain sword came in contact the devouring fired blew it apart.
Wide eyes, filled with fear and surprise, watched from the sidelines. Blaze and Cosmo were one thing, but even the Grand Prior of the Temple couldn’t put this mongrel down?!
Was this criminal a man or some sort of monster?
Before the fight even started, Cloudhawk was already like a spent bullet. Still, he had managed to win advantage over three formidable adversaries, and with Phain’s sword destroyed he seemed certain to escape with his life.
Phain’s face was a thunderhead of fury. He was not upset that his weapon was destroyed. He simply couldn’t understand how the injured, exhausted Cloudhawk could handily overcome three of Skycloud’s elite.
As far as he knew Cloudhawk didn’t have a legendary relic like the Holy Vestments to support him. Were his mental powers endless? It defied logic!
It didn’t matter, nor was it important right now. Two Templars threw their rapiers toward the Grand Prior, and he easily plucked them from the air. He dashed over the broken rocks like a bullet, using both weapons to hack at Cloudhawk with a pincer strike.
How long could this outlaw resist?
Cloudhawk was still recovering after knocking away the first series of blows. Immediately there were a dozen more for him to contend with. He managed to through himself from the path of the deadliest few, but he still felt the swords bite into his chest, abdomen and thigh. While Phain’s strength couldn’t compare to the likes of Cosmo, his speed was otherworldly. Even Cloudhawk couldn’t match it.
Surviving even one onslaught from Phain was already difficult. There weren’t many in Skycloud who could boast the same.
Cloudhawk continued to draw on everything the sea of mental energy could provide. But as the battle continued, the pain and consequence of his mental injuries increased. His vision blurred, his thoughts were sluggish and his reaction time suffered as he continued to lose ground.
Were it not for inhuman levels of willpower, he would have already passed out from the pain.
Phain was a battle-hardened warrior, so he recognized it immediately when his enemy left an opening. A quick thrust was delivered at the spot between Cloudhawk’s eyes. It was evident he had no intention of letting Cloudhawk live. Rather than allow him to cause more trouble for his realm and his people, it was better to end his pitiful life here.
Suddenly, a blast of dazzling light fired at the Grand Prior. He was forced to throw himself to the side in order to avoid it. From above, a peerless sword of deadly power came crashing down. Phain blanched, for his swords were like toys against this epic-level weapon.
CRACK! Phain’s rapier snapped like toothpicks.
A white-clad figure swept by, clear for all to see. It was the Temple’s Apostle, Selene Cloude. She had a handful of Cloudhawk’s cloths and was dragging him to safety.
Phain watched wide-eyed. She was mad! The woman was absolutely mad!
Cloudhawk was just as shocked to find Selene here, saving his life. Didn’t she know openly protecting him like this would certainly come back to haunt her?
“Do you know what you just did?!” Cloudhawk struggle to free himself from her grip to no avail. “Mind your own fucking business and get out of here!”
Selene’s beautiful face was as stubborn and insistent as ever. Nothing in the world could make her change her mind when it was made up. No matter what Cloudhawk said, she was deaf to it. She dragged him out of harm’s way, with her Holy Vestments glowering. The power within bolstered her speed and soon they took off into the air.
Phain couldn’t fly. There was no way he’d catch up to them. He could only watch as Selene and Cloudhawk vanished into the horizon. She’d saved Cloudhawk, right under his nose, then rose and soared away. The demonhunters and Templars pulled their long-distance weapons free and took aim, but Phain raised a hand to stop them.
The Temple’s losses were already too great. They couldn’t afford to shoot down Selene, or the Temple would be in danger of being crushed under Arcturus’ boot. Another method would need to be thought up for how to deal with Selene’s betrayal.
Besides, it wasn’t going to be so easy for Cloudhawk to escape. The Temple had issued its highest proclamation for his arrest.
From below a thunderous crash arose. The avalanche Cosmo had caused had finally reached the bottom.
Cloudhawk’s clash with the three warriors had lasted mere seconds. They stood around and looked at the aftermath.
Selene flew through the air like a fairy from the lands of myth. Strands of silken black hair flowed around her like a waterfall. Eyes peered into the distance with majestic determination. Her bearing – flawless and heroic, sorrowful and strong – was heartbreaking to behold.
The two flew over mountain peaks and boulder-strewn valleys. Eventually they reached the edge of the Elysian lands.
Cloudhawk once again tried to question the obstinate woman. “Why did you do that?”
“How could I just stand by and watch?” She gradually began to slow. “All those years ago, you came here on my suggestion. I have an obligation to make sure you leave in safety.”
The two of them shared a quiet look. Selene’s beautiful eyes glimmered like stars, like the eyes of a newly married woman. She did all of this and gave her reasons in perfect calm, without pain or hesitation.
It wasn’t a difficult choice for her. She had to do it.
“I’ll hold them off,” she said quietly and they reached the ground. “Don’t waste any more time. Run.”
Cloudhawk’s mood felt like the tide. There was a need to give in to his impulse, and he grabbed tightly to her hand. “Come with me.”
“Idiot, I can’t go with you.” She shot him a charming smile and continued gently. “I have a destiny I still need to fulfill. I can’t leave yet. But remember this: I don’t know what happened back there, you’re still you – and the most important person to me.”
Warmth spread through Cloudhawk’s chest. “Even if the whole world turns on me, those words are all I need.”
Cloudhawk and Selene looked at one another for a few seconds, neither speaking a word. It was just an instant, but it stretched for what felt like an eternity. Both of them knew what this meant.
The bitter realization that all things must end turns Cloudhawk’s mouth into a frown. He heaved a sigh, eyes briefly closing in exhaustion. “I’m going.”
Suddenly he felt something soft and slightly cold against his lips. A heady fragrance filled his nostrils and made him dizzy. By the time Cloudhawk recovered, Selene had already pulled away from the kiss. He felt the hot tears she left on his cheeks slowly start to dry.
“No matter where you end up, please remember me. I’ll wait for your return.”
The tell-tale hum of a nearby relic itched at the back of Cloudhawk’s mind. He knew their pursuers were closing in. He took one final look at Selene’s back before teleporting away, with great difficulty.
The Apostle of the Temple tightened her grip on her crossblade and began walking forward. “Come out!”
A figure shimmered into existence, appearing from nothing. He stood a few meters from Selene, cloaked in a suffocating aura of death and malice.
Skycloud’s ultimate assassin, an avatar of death. Any living thing this man chose to kill died without exception, for he was the patriarch of the Umbra family and lord of the Court of Shadows.
Janus, the Many-Faced!