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The invisibility cloak reacted once more. Cloudhawk vanished from view.

He couldn't completely avoid his enemy's attack, but by hiding from view perhaps he could force the attack off target. The soldier's dagger was aimed for his throat but missed and struck his shoulder instead. Cloudhawk had grown tough, so when the dagger dug into his flesh he reacted by kicking the soldier square in the chest. The man's sternum shattered and he was thrown away.

Cloudhawk deftly eluded the other attacks aimed his way.

Most of these men were too weak to be a problem. If he fought without concern for safety he could likely take out most of them without much trouble. But it wasn't worth it, he didn't want to die with these assholes. So… he looked for a way to escape.

 The vibrations of a relic hummed louder. He didn't need to see it to know the demonhunter's relic bow was ready to fire.

Cloudhawk could tell from the demonhunter's aura that he was stronger than the one he'd fought and killed before. This guy's bow could blow apart a steel plate with a single shot. Free from the captain, Cloudhawk grabbed another one of the soldiers and yanked him in front as a meat shield.

Tang! The exorcist staff loosed its arrow.

Cloudhawk watched as a hole opened up in the man before him, like he was the target of a massive rifle shot. There was nothing like watching your own attack tearing a friend apart, but the demonhunter still kept fighting. The man he shot didn't scream or protest - he understood.

These fucks are crazy! I'm so tired of fighting these zealots!

Cloudhawk held up a shield of sand. The blood and bits of flesh blown out of the soldier splattered on it with such force that the shield fell apart. He was tossed into the air but wrenched around, using the momentum to run along an adjacent wall. With his bearing regained he used the cloak to vanish from view and escape.

The demonhunter lowered his bow. His face was downcast, angry.

The ambush looked complicated but it happened in a matter of seconds, only enough time for him to fire one shot. Their target was quick, agile, and his psychic energy was stronger by comparison. That's how he was able to escape.

The demonhunter galvanized the power of his relic but found no trace of the culprit. His invisibility relic shielded his presence and made him quick. Following him would be a tall order.

Cloudhawk got a clean escape, but it brought him no joy. These lackeys had caught his scent and found him fast. He worried next time things could turn out much worse. Now that they spotted him they were going to call more to the area, and although Cloudhawk had gotten stronger they were going to get him sooner or later if he got trapped here.

Run! He had to find a way to run far from here!

Cloudhawk's mind raced for a solution. If he ran where would he go? It was a life or death question and he didn't have any time to think of a good answer. The guards here were not to be trifled with and the demonhunters were unpredictable. If this were the wastelands he might have had a chance to get away, but this was Skycloud Domain. Who knew how many soldiers and demonhunters were after him.

Frost de Winter was the governor's disciple, so gathering a bunch of demonhunters who could track him wasn't unthinkable.

The last one was able to hide a whole group and get close without him even knowing. That alone was a problem. Demonhunters had all sorts of strange abilities, different from any of the ones he fought before. He didn't like having to contend against them.

Right! Didn't he find a map in the Sandbar?

He hadn't shown it to anyone when he went to the governor's mansion. He'd spent some time on the way into the city studying the map and found that it had a very complete architectural record. It even described the area under the Skycloud which was a series of interlinking pipelines. If he remembered right they should lead him out of the city.

Skycloud City was covered in an energy field that kept out those of unknown origin. No one could leave without proper authorization, either. If Cloudhawk wanted to get out of here the city pipes were the way to go.

Suddenly he remembered the toxic weapons the Dark Atom had prepared. Hadn't they been planning to use them in these secret tunnels and attack Skycloud?

It was more than likely. If they were going to use the tunnels to attack the city why couldn't he use them to escape? He was planning to find a safe spot to study the map when all of a sudden he was splashed in the face with some unidentified liquid.

He was invisible but still corporeal, so when the liquid hit him it traced out his body from head to toe. It was followed by an intense burning that made him yelp in pain and surprise.

Son of a bitch! What the hell?!

Cloudhawk stopped. A delicate and attractive figure blocked his path with a spinning exorcist staff in her hand. A pair of burning eyes alive with hatred stared at him, and with a voice thick with loathing she hissed. "It is you!"

There were enemies around every corner! He couldn't catch a goddamn break!

Cloudhawk recognize Claudia right away. He knew what they had was a blood feud that would only end in someone's death. She was the one responsible for wiping out Lighthouse Point. He had answered by killing a bunch of them - her compatriot and a dozen or so soldiers. But a failure like she suffered, for a citizen of the elysian lands who honored glory above all else, was a fate worse than death.

There wasn't time to think about it. His body had started to go numb and the liquid she'd thrown on him smoked and stained him with color. His cloak turned anything it touched invisible so any normal fluid would have vanished as well. However, the stuff Claudia used evaporated fast and the steam that rose off him wasn't affected by the cloak. A colorful cloak of smoke hung over him that left no question as to where he stood. His cloak was useless now.

Worse still, whatever this shit was she'd infused with some kind of numbing agent. Cloudhawk felt like he was turning into wood.

"The potion will paralyze you, it's strong enough to knock a bull out for three full days." Claudia's ice cold eyes never left Cloudhawk's steaming outline. "Do you have any last words?"

Cloudhawk shook his head. "I'm going to die sooner or later. But not today."

Claudia grit her teeth. "Is that right?"

"Frankly, you aren't any match for me."

Claudia was already angry and his words threw her into a fit of rage. She rushed at him with her exorcist staff.

Cloudhawk threw the Gospel of the Sands at her. However, it dissolved in midair, into a clump of yellowish sand. The grains grew in number until they became a wall of gravel that blocked her path.


She struck the wall with her staff hard enough to break it apart, but much of the sand fell onto her. They clung to her like a magnet, getting thicker by the moment. No matter how she raged, the layer of sand only got thicker, but still she struggled forward like a lioness. Each step came slower than the last yet she got close enough to swing her staff at Cloudhawk's head. Just as it was coming down to split him in two the sands held her fast. She'd become a sand sculpture.

Cloudhawk hadn't moved an inch since the start. Claudia's exorcist staff was frozen five centimeters from the top of his head.

With a wave of his hand, streaks of glimmering sand coalesced in Cloudhawk's palm. They gathered into the shape of a book. She couldn't see it but sweat had started to accumulate on Cloudhawk's forehead. He smirked at her. "You aren't strong enough to kill me."

Claudia was sealed up tight, as immobile as a snowman. But her burning eyes were open and she watched with immeasurable hatred as Cloudhawk walked over, picked up her staff, then swing it around like he was getting ready to use it.

Why? Why does it have to be this way? Why does he have to be so strong?

Cloudhawk could see the despair in her eyes as he slowly pushed the exorcist staff into her body, inch by inch. Blood permeated the gripping sands and as the pain wracked her body Claudia's pupils contracted.

"Remember this pain, remember this humiliation. Remember your failure." Cloudhawk relinquished his grip on the staff and stepped away. "I'm not going to kill you this time, but if you still want vengeance feel free to come find me."

Several minutes later…

People appeared all around. The soldiers discovered Claudia locked up in her prison of sand. They were stunned by the bizarre scene.

All together they chiseled away at the sand until she was free. Cloudhawk had pierced an artery, but luckily the pressure of the sand had prevented her from bleeding out. Once they could get to it the soldiers used medicines to stop the hemorrhage and save her life.

The fires in Claudia's eyes had turned to dying embers.

In sparing her life had Cloudhawk shown her mercy? Was it meant as an insult? Was he mocking her? Her loss in the wastelands could be almost forgiven since her enemy was cunning and sinister. But this time, this loss… she was beaten. Cloudhawk not only won, he had destroyed her confidence.

Claudia's insidious toxins hadn't fully paralyzed Cloudhawk, and he knew why. His blood burned as factors inside dissolved the poison working through him. It was 'Trespasser', the final gift of the Academician from his time in Blackwater Base.

Somehow it was able to determine if something was harmful and devour it. Put another way, the more infected Cloudhawk became with Trespasser the less poison was an issue for him. Was he now effectively immune? He didn't know whether it was something to celebrate or fear.

He didn't kill Claudia not because he was softhearted - he wasn't. He didn't kill her because he clung onto hope.

He didn't know what was going on so he still held on to the hope that he might live here someday. Killing a few soldiers while defending himself might be pardonable, but killing another demonhunter… there probably wasn't any coming back from that.

Trespasser was busily cleansing his body of the toxin, but its speed was limited. He was finding it difficult to move so he had to find someplace to hide, and fast, otherwise the next group of enemies he ran into would mean his end.

What was close where he could get out of sight? He went and fought with the question over and over again in his mind until it struck him and he slap his forehead.

Moron! The most dangerous place is the safest, hide where no one will expect. They could tear Skycloud down to its foundation and never find me there.

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