Sunlight crept over the desert, dispelling the darkness. Wind cleaved the night's cloud cover, allowing shafts of blood-red light to peak through.
The moment day broke temperatures began to rise. The heat sent creatures of the night scurrying for their nests and in only a few minutes hot air warped the horizon. It was hard to see anything more than a few hundred feet away.
Cloudhawk struggled over the dunes while the wind whipped around him. He clutched his gun and leaned against the biting gusts, trudging at an even pace. What he experienced at Blackwater Base had made him strong. Now, he recovered faster than his energy was spent. So long as he had energy to spare, he could keep moving.
He made sure to keep a safe distance between him and his enemies. Whenever they were poised to catch up he would lose them in the ruins. They continued like this, over and over again for six hours, never clashing but never losing track of each other.
Cloudhawk knew where he had the advantage, and he knew how to make use of it. His enemies were many, but that made them slow and unwieldy.
The trail of blood they'd found? Cloudhawk had planted it on purpose. For one thing, he had to get them away from Lighthouse Point. Otherwise, they would have continued killing those poor people. It also gave them the mistaken impression that he was hurt. The aim was to make them feel overconfident. It was the same reason he didn't use his relic cloak to escape.
The young demonhunters aimed to exhaust their wounded prey by keeping up the chase. However, they were starting to question their decision as they struggled back and forth to gain ground without catching sight of him.
He still hadn't collapsed. On the contrary, his pursuers began to tire while Cloudhawk just kept going. Luna, who had been using her senses to track him this whole time, was quickly becoming exhausted.
Both of the demonhunters were far stronger than Cloudhawk, and the soldiers they brought were each about his equivalent. It was a sharp disparity in strength, but out in the wastelands it wasn't always strength that won fights. Experience, patience, and luck were one's weapons. Often times the weaker beasts of the wastes could take on a foe vastly stronger and win handily.
Eventually Cloudhawk's intentions became clear to the elysians: pretend to be weak and force them into exhaustion!
Like many wasteland creatures he was pretending to be weak so as to confound his pursuers. At the last moment he would turn and attack, taking them by surprise. Much like a pack of wolves Cloudhawk would take a bite out of their forces, slowly chipping away at their strength. Then when they were exhausted he would strike - expending the least and maximizing the damage he could cause.
The wastelands were a cruel and effective teacher. Cloudhawk was a talented student. Over time the Skycloud soldiers slowed to a crawl while he hadn't weakened at all.
Luna turned her head and looked at the soldiers. Stragglers were falling farther behind, stretching their group out. She could tell at a glance they were tired, not at their best. Their prey was more cunning than she'd given him credit for, more tenacious than predicted. Their soldiers wouldn't be able to keep this up for very much longer.
Stragglers were left behind to try and catch up, while the demonhunters pressed ahead. However, this spread them thin. Was this not the traitor's intention?
"I think we've been tricked. The turncoat isn't injured at all!" Raith had come around to the realization as well. Though he was dripping with sweat his eyes were as hard and as cold as ice. He regularly scanned the horizon. "He's clearly skilled at traveling through the ruins. But if he thinks that will be enough to save him, he's gravely underestimated us."
He reached to his waist where an elaborate arrow had been strung through his belt and pulled it free. It was unclear what the arrow was made from, it was about the length of a hand and arcane runes had been carved all along its surface. The marks of a relic.
Luna looked at him with the light of surprise in her eyes. "You're going to use the Lifedrinker?"
The Lifedrinker arrow. Raith's heirloom relic!
He'd only acquired it recently, and as such he wasn't very proficient in its use. Employing it cost him a lot in energy and psychic power, making it unsuitable for most situations. Now appeared to be the time.
The arrow emitted a crisp and melodious sound, then like an extendable baton its ends snapped out to make the arrow three feet long. The runes on its surface glowed mysteriously and shrouded it in a cocoon of light - an indication that the relic had been awakened.
"Our group is too slow getting through these ruins. If we continue, when will this chase end?" He slowly lifted the arrow in his hands. "It is a disgrace to use the Lifedrinker on this turncoat, but we are beset by dangers all throughout these blighted lands. Our enemy is cunning. It is worthy to use this arrow to ensure the safety of our holy warriors, and to end this farce quickly!"
Once the arrow was loosed, the turncoat would surely die. The result was indisputable!
Luna produced a small bottle, within which was Cloudhawk's blood they'd gathered from the dirt back at Lighthouse Point. A single drop was extracted, then spilled onto the Lifedrinker arrow's triangular head. The moment the blood touched its smooth surface, it vanished. Archaic runes shimmered hungrily in response and turned red. The arrow had its target.
Raith and Luna exchanged a wordless glance. She nodded and stepped back.
The young demonhunter placed his foot atop a nearby rock and adopted a bowman's stance. He drew back the bowstring with a deep sigh. Energy gathered quickly around him, causing the dirt and gravel below his feet to tremble, even the rock beneath his feet began to crack under the strain. Inch by inch the exorcist bow, bearing the Lifedrinker arrow, was drawn back toward its limit.
Nearby the Skycloud soldiers looked on with envy and admiration.
The young demonhunter's bow was a relic that did not need any arrows. By itself the bow could lay an enemy low, but with the arrow together these two relics could do truly frightening things. Young though he was, Raith commanded such impressive power. He was an outstanding talent among the younger generation of demonhunters.
Slowly he drew back the bow, face red and veins stark and throbbing on his forehead. He wasn't pulling on a mere string, instead it felt like he was trying to hold back a thousand pound weight. It took five seconds just to draw it half way.
His Lifedrinker arrow was becoming brighter. The force field around him was becoming more intense.
At last he reached his limit. With his heart filled full of bloodlust and rancor, he released it all with a single shouted command. "Go!"
The Lifedrinker arrow vanished in a streak of red light. Silent as death, faster than the eye could follow.
Raith swayed and nearly fell over, but Luna had been ready. She stepped forward and made sure he kept his feet. She looked even more excited than he did, for witnessing the use of his heirloom was a special thing. "You did it!"
When she caught him Raith's heart began to flutter. It made him proud and filled with manly vigor that he was able to manage the act of using the arrow in front of her.
The two of them had known each other for ten years. Chosen as children, they had trained together, grown and improved together. Both were young, barely twenty, and trusted one another implicitly.
Luna was a year younger than Raith. She looked up to him like an older brother, while he had long ago developed feelings for her. All of his bluster, all of his bravado, all of his great effort was just so that she would see him.
Filled with pride and self-confidence, Raith was sure the turncoat had been slain. "The rest of you wait here for our orders. Captains, come with us."
Ten soldiers separated from the crowd and made to follow. These captains were much stronger than the typical holy warrior. Leaving the burden of the others behind this smaller group could move faster. With Luna and Raith in the lead, they left in search of their prey's body.
As the Lifedrinker arrow was released a flood of foreboding swallowed up Cloudhawk. It was a terrible sensation, like something tore open his throat and pierced his spine. He couldn't imagine what sort of thing would make him feel this way.
Then the ripples of a relic's power reached him.
His face fell when he knew what was coming. Without looking back he threw himself to the side.
An arrow, moving faster than he could fathom, screamed past. It was frightening enough that he could hardly follow it with his eyes, more terrifying still the arrow didn't make any noise at all. Not even the sound of rustling wind as it swept by. Cloudhawk had survived solely because of his danger sense and the sound of the relic's resonance. Anyone else would have died on the spot.
Missing by mere inches the arrow raced by, only to spin in midair a few dozen feet away and head back toward him. Left with no recourse, Cloudhawk hit the ground hard enough to make his vision blurry.
Whatever relic this was, it sure was difficult to deal with! Once it locked on to a target it would adjust trajectory until it struck. If the first pass missed it came around for a second, then a third, and a fourth. It would only stop once he was dead.
When had Cloudhawk ever encountered a weapon like this? It was too strange, too wily!
The second pass missed. It was coming by for a third, still moving fast as lightning!
Cloudhawk pulled himself forward with his hands, but with every movement the arrow followed like the specter of death hungry for his soul. His eyes went wide as it headed right for him, but he flopped behind a low-lying wall just in time. A fraction of a second later the sound of splintering rock assailed his ears as the whole wall crumbled. The Lifedrinker arrow pierced his cover, searching for his rapidly beating heart. Rrrrip! His armor split like it was made of paper, and it was the Gospel of Sand beneath that saved his life.
It ricocheted off and rocketed into the sky. He'd hoped the wall would protect him but it might as well have not been there. The arrow soared high overhead before turning back one hundred and eighty degrees and beginning its descent.
It was coming right for the top of Cloudhawk's skull. Too deadly, too frightening! Nothing seemed to slow it down!
He was so frightened that his whole body was drenched in a cold sweat. He wrenched the iron dagger from his waist and, with a scream, swung it wildly at the arrow. He put all his power behind it for if he failed to stop it, the arrow would take his life!
Half the dagger's blade lodged itself in the sand. Cloudhawk was left with only the hilt.
But the Lifedrinker arrow was knocked aside. It continued a few feet into the distance before turning around and picking up speed once more.
He was left stunned, at a loss. What the fuck was this goddamn thing?! How was it so hard to escape?
There was no other avenue of escape left to him. He activated his cloak. Perhaps if he disappeared, the arrow couldn't follow... but if it could, he was out of luck.