One second. Two seconds. Three seconds!
Cloudhawk anxiously searched himself with his hands but found no wounds. The Lifedrinker arrow hovered in the air less than a foot away from his chest, frozen in air. Its razor-sharp tip was pointed directly at his eye.
The sanguine runes etched on its surface flickered then dimmed. As he watched, the possessed arrow turned and flew into the distance.
The Lifedrinker arrow deftly maneuvered through the ruins. It avoided obstacles, retracing its route back to where it'd come from. Eventually it found its way back to Raith.
He snatched it from the air. With his chest puffed out the young demonhunter proudly proclaimed. "Moon, don't worry. The traitor has already been dealt with."
Yet she peered at the arrow with doubt. "So quickly?"
"Don't underestimate this relic! This is one of Skycloud's greatest hunting relics!" Were anyone other than Luna to question him, Raith would have flown into an imperious rage. He might have even killed the offender. Yet before her there wasn't even a hint of anger. On the contrary, he patiently explained the relic's power. "This relic was created by a master demonhunter a hundred years ago. Shot from his hand, this arrow would hunt its target relentlessly for five days and five nights. Once his target was more than three miles away, but in the end the arrow still took the life it intended."
The others blanched at the story. It hunted its target for five whole days? Killed it from three miles away?
How could such a deadly tool exist in this world? Only the gods could have created such a righteous and powerful thing.
"This relic has three special qualities. First, it's able to locate its target and attack with extreme precision. Second, it's silent so as to take its target's life before they even know what's happening. And third, if somehow its first attack misses it will just keep coming. Either the relic's holy powers are used up, or its target dies. Those are the only outcomes." He flicked his wrist and the arrow contracted, back to the small rod it once was. He slipped it back into his belt. "It had enough power to return to me, so that means the job is done. If you need confirmation you can use your perception to try and find him yourself."
Until a life was taken, the arrow would not come back. That was what made the relic arrow so special.
Raith did not possess the skill or power of a master demonhunter, but the ten minutes he could manage was more than sufficient. Actually only a couple of minutes had passed since he fired the Lifedrinker arrow and it was back already. Their target had to be dead, Raith was confident of this.
Luna nodded then focused her psychic energy into the torque necklace around her throat. The tracking relic hummed to life. Just like her companion promised she could not find any sign of their prey. In all likelihood he was dead.
"Do you believe me now?" He wanted to maintain a level of modesty before the girl he admired, but it was difficult for him to hide the arrogance behind his eyes. "Let's hurry, before some monster makes a meal of our prize."
The twelve hunters from Skycloud picked up the pace toward Cloudhawk's last known location.
Before long the terrain became a complex maze of buildings, thousands of them in various states of disrepair that towered like ancient sentinels. In the center was an enormous ship that had crashed to earth. It was phenomenally large, and half was buried in the rubble with parts strewn all around.
So this was their prey's chosen cemetery?
Luna shut her eyes and channeled her focus once again into her relic necklace. It shimmered in response to her call. Waves of invisible resonance reached out like a radar in all directions and in an instant she knew the terrain as well as if she'd walked the whole thing herself.
"There's nothing dangerous nearby."
Strange. No corpse, either?
Both demonhunters were young and talented, outstanding members of their class. Luna's expertise was investigation and probing, while Raith was a gifted hunter and assassin. Together they were a frightening pair, made all the more formidable with ten Skycloud captains at their back. It was probably better for the traitor that he was already dead before they found him.
"He has to be nearby." Raith looked around the dilapidated surroundings. "This place is a mess. Spread out and search!"
Cloudhawk hid in a fissure along the mothership's hull. Once the girl's probe swept by, he cautiously allowed the power of his cloak to fade. He perched amidst the ruins, so well matched that he might as well have been a chameleon. With slow, deliberate movements he pulled his rifle off his shoulder and loaded an armor-piercing round.
This guy is way too overconfident. Egotistical prick.
He wasn't downplaying how dangerous the Lifedrinker arrow was, but every relic had a weakness. Cloudhawk's invisibility cloak masked everything; his sound, body heat, and aura just vanished. Any indication he was alive had vanished as well. Without any means to find its target, the arrow assumed its mission was complete.
Luna's tracking was troublesome, too. It didn't seem to tire her out too much but was very effective. All this time it was through her that they were able to pinpoint his location. However, with some effort and time Cloudhawk was able to find her weakness as well.
She couldn't sustain the pulses for long. They came in waves, roughly three minutes apart.
Once Cloudhawk saw the pattern he started to take advantage. When the pulses were due to come he hid beneath the power of the cloak. Her powers seemed to act similarly to the Lifedrinker arrow, so once he was safely erased by the cloak her tracker relic was rendered effectively useless. He knew their tricks, and because of his cloak these demonhunters were lulled into a false sense of security. Now was the time to strike back.
Cloudhawk tentatively crept out from his hiding spot and inched forward, using the ruins as cover until he found a good spot. A choke point where both demonhunters would have to cross.
He was ready, but who was his target this time?
The girl's relic could pin him down, and she had a strong awareness of danger. If Cloudhawk chose her she would be able to feel it, so he wasn't absolutely sure his sneak attack would land. The boy was quick, nimble, and well trained. After using the arrow he would be physically and mentally drained. He was at his weakest… making him the right call.
Both of the young demonhunters had made a fatal mistake. They shouldn't have left their entourage behind. They were scattered around the complicated terrain and couldn't quickly reorganize if something happened. It gave Cloudhawk all the time and opportunity he needed.
He saw them coming, still vigilant. They thought Cloudhawk was dead, but this sort of place was the perfect hunting ground for other beasts of the wasteland. They were on high alert for any danger that might be lurking around the corner.
Three hundred feet.
Two hundred and fifty feet.
Cloudhawk slowly exhaled, then held his breath. He controlled every pore, controlling his body to the point where he was practically stone. Below, the demonhunters picked their way through the ruins slowly, carefully examining everything they came across. Meanwhile Cloudhawk's focus was running short. Deal with one, then face the other, that was the plan. He had to save as much energy as possible for that fight, or an escape if he failed.
Demonhunters had to be more than just excellent warriors. They were relentlessly trained to be killers. Even against two relatively young and inexperienced members, Cloudhawk didn't dare underestimate what they could do. Every ounce of concentration, every bit of power had to be put into these critical seconds.
A hundred and fifty feet… A hundred thirty…
Cloudhawk remained still. He had one chance. He had to wait for the perfect moment.
Something must have seemed off, for both demonhunters stopped suddenly. They held tight to their weapons and scanned their surroundings.
They somehow felt the danger.
Suddenly a series of shrieking barks echoed off the crumbling walls as six or seven mutated rats slithered through the cracks. Their beady red eyes glared at the two intruders, ready to tear them apart with their dagger-like claws.
That was what they sensed, the monsters!
Luna brandished her exorcist staff which hummed with power, then launched at their attackers. She moved with incredible speed. Before the rats could get close a blast of power knocked them into the air and ripped their hairy bodies apart. A rain of blood and gore showered the area.
The moment the rats appeared Raith felt a frigid sensation bubble up from deep inside.
It caught him off guard for it was the first time he'd felt something like that. By sheer coincidence he turned his head, and a hundred feet away he could clearly see a figure rising from the ruins. Time slowed, he saw every grain of sand as it fell off the figure's shoulders. His gun was the same color as the grit around them, except for the dark maw of the barrel. A magnificent bloom of fire reached for him from that darkness.
No! He went cold, all over his body and deep into his soul. He could even feel the friction of the thick bullet as it ripped through the air, the sound of it leaving the barrel, the promise of death in its wake. Raith tried to get out of the way, but the sneak attack was too sudden, his murderer too close. He couldn't escape.
He watched in excruciating detail as the bullet entered his chest. It slipped through his cloak before collapsing his leather armor. Although it was of the best quality, there was nothing his armor could do to stop the bullet. Skin split, muscles tore, bone shattered. A spray of blood followed as the bullet exited his back.
It all happened in the blink of an eye. Pieces of mutant rat still fell around them.
A wail, filled with inconsolable anguish, spilled from Luna's mouth as she watched the bullet pass through him. She reached out and grabbed him, almost immediately drenched in something hot and slick. The wound in Raith's chest was the size of a fist, gushing like a fountain of blood.
Cloudhawk reloaded the rifle with his left hand. His window was mere seconds as he aimed for another shot toward the fallen demonhunter. He was not the target, however. Cloudhawk was hoping to hit the girl behind him.
Cloudhawk was fast but his luck was limited. Luna sensed the bullet coming and leapt into the air to avoid it, but so far things were still under his control.
He flung the rifle to the side. It was too slow for his needs. He reached back and pulled two revolvers from his waist, then fired a series of shots at the surviving demonhunter. Each bullet exited with a spat of fire and traced a blazing line through the air. Each one was aimed at Luna, who would find it difficult to dodge while in midair.
In this fatal moment Raith summoned the last of his strength to throw himself at Luna. He shoved her out of the way, but not before two of the bullets struck her, though neither hits were effective. Cloudhawk's revolvers weren't strong enough to get through her armor.
Raith took the rest of the shots. One hit him in the side of his face and blew off his ear. Another hit him in the throat and tore out a huge chunk of flesh.
Failure! Cloudhawk scowled and made to flee.