The man in red was none other than the founder of the Sanctum of Judgment, the Crimson One. The big man was confirmed as Fishmonger Borough’s governor, Ravenous Tiger.
How could Cloudhawk be so sure? He wasn’t omnipotent, but he did have strong instincts. The most telling where waves of resonance that pulsed from the both of them. Relics. They were demonhunters.
Demonhunters weren’t minions, especially not when they were as strong as these two seemed to be.
Cloudhawk felt an oppressive and dangerous air around the enormous governor. There was no question that he was a practiced demonhunter, which made sense seeing as he was the governor of a massively lucrative wasteland city. The Crimson One was far less obvious, and someone so inscrutable was very likely to be in a leadership position.
Inwardly Cloudhawk praised his luck. He’d slipped in unseen and raided the governor’s vault, only to find his mission target on the way out. The definition of ‘two birds with one stone.’ Now if only he could get close enough to hear what they were saying. Maybe he might learn what the Crimson Church’s real motives were and report right back to Skye Polaris.
There was something very suspicious about the relationship between Ravenous Tiger and this charlatan hiding between a god’s banner. It was worth exploring. And so, holding his breath, Cloudhawk crept closer to try and hear what they were saying.
Fishmonger’s Borough was a wasteland city. Immediately that made it a den of evil in the eyes of any elysian. The Crimson church, in the effort to spread the will of their god, brought with them judgement for whatever blasphemers they encountered. It was strange, then, that the leader of a wasteland city and the leader of the church who wished it cleansed should be having such a civil conversation. Suspicious didn’t begin to cover it, but sadly Cloudhawk had come late. He only caught a portion of their exchange.
The Crimson One spoke with a soft voice. “We cannot afford to delay the construction of the weapons factory. There are over thirty thousand soldiers depending on this equipment.”
“Thirty thousand?” Ravenous Tiger absent-mindedly fiddled with his rings, turning them around his fingers compulsively. He was visibly anxious. “Isn’t that a little excessive? Won’t Skycloud be alerted?”
“I will arrange for Fishmonger’s Borough to receive five thousand blessed castigation arrows. You may use them to your advantage if elysian forces attempt to invade.”
Ravenous Tiger’s face was a dark cloud of displeasure, as though faced with an intractable circumstance. He knew this man’s power, and he feared he’d live to regret it if he tried to set boundaries. The consequences wouldn’t just mean his position, but perhaps also his life. However, standing with him meant unending conflict with a powerful and zealous nation. “Have you considered Arcturus Cloude? If he finds out what we’re doing, he definitely won’t let it stand. Are you really prepared if he gets involved?”
Arcturus Cloude. The greatest demonhunter in all Skycloud, governor of Skycloud City. His station and titles did not come unearned.
“In this crumbling world, men are but puppets. Sacrifice is unavoidable if you want to cut the strings. That senile war hero has lived passed his usefulness, and has made many mistakes over the last few years. He has pledged himself in service of a false god – a puppet himself. If he is unable or unwilling to do what is necessary, then the task falls to us. Should he choose to stand in our way then he will be dealt with.”
Ravenous Tiger drew in a surprised breath. ‘Deal with’ Arcturus Cloude? The Crimson One had to be the only man with gall enough to even suggest it.
“These divisions of wastelands and elysian lands are unnecessary. The world doesn’t need disunity, we must join together. The elysian lands must assimilate, just as the wastelands must merge. Man’s destiny must be returned to our hands – we cannot allow a false god to determine our fate.”
Ravenous Tiger was still hesitant. “But it will be too difficult…”
The Crimson One’s eyes took on a keen bite, and his countenance hardened. A cold fire almost seemed to dance in his eyes as he fixed them on the governor. “Are you losing faith at a time like this?”
Thick, oily beads of sweat began to pop out from Ravenous Tiger’s face. His many rolls of fat quivered. Unable to hold the man’s accusing stare he dropped his head, and replied in meek affection. “I-I am at your disposal. I wouldn’t dare have second thoughts.”
“So you say. It would be good to remember who put you in the position you enjoy today. I am just as capable of taking it all away.”
Ravenous Tiger stared at the ground, deflated. “Of course.”
Hidden in his sleeves, the fat man’s fists curled tight, only to relax a moment later. He feared the man in red, and for good reason. Years ago he’d been set upon this path. It was far too late to change anything now.
Ravenous Tiger had no choice but to acquiesce, and comply.
The awkward exchange was interrupted when a bodyguard rushed forth.
“Governor, sir. Someone’s been sneaking around. Our patrol outside the audience hall found him, but we can’t stop him!”
Ravenous Tiger felt his heart begin to race. The mere thought of someone having the balls to break into his home made him fly into a rage.
Before he respond to the guard, the doors to the audience chamber flew open and a figure stumbled in. A thin, leathery-skinned old man hobbled in with an empty wine bottle in one hand and a walking cane in the other. As he stormed in, his rheumy eyes were fixed straight ahead at the Borough’s governor.
The old man had a cool grin and a hard glare. Murderous intent flooded the chamber as he entered.
Ravenous Tiger paused when he saw who it was. His sudden appearance shocked him more than the surprise of having someone barge into his home. “You? Weren’t you healing back in the sanctuary? What the hell are you doing here?”
The old man steadied himself on his cane and answered tepidly. “You know why I’m here.”
The governor’s face fell. With a distasteful twist to his mouth, he said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Eventually, everyone reaps what they sow. I’m here to collect.” The drunkard slowly raised his cane, then let it clack against the floor. “Have you made your peace with the gods?”
It seemed almost half-hearted, but as the cane struck the ground it caused a thunderous blast of sound to echo off the chamber walls. All of a sudden cracks spread out a hundred meters in every direction from where it struck. As the fine stonework shattered, jagged pieces were lifted into the air by some inexplicable power. It was as though somehow the old man turned off gravity in the area around him.
“Hahaha – you’re here in a suicide mission, aren’t you! That takes courage, I respect that!” Ravenous Tiger dropped the charade and a frigid smile hung on his lips. “If this was before, five of me together couldn’t stand up to you. But it’s been a long time, a lot has happened. You think you have what it takes to kill me now?”
The old drunkard didn’t answer, he let the stones do that for him. Hundreds of jagged fragments shot toward Ravenous Tiger like bullets.
An invisible but potent protective field sprang up around him. The stones were stopped in their tracks five or six inches from the governor, stuck in the air like they’d struck a wall. They then crumbled away and slid to the ground in piles of dust.
He didn’t simply let the attack persist. Lifting his two-handed battleaxe, an eerie glow glinted along its edge. A glance was enough to prove this was a relic, and a powerful one at that. As he slammed it into the ground a tumultuous energy rapped through the earth, kicking up dirt and stone in a straight line toward the drunkard.
The lame old man lifted his cane for protection.
Just then the whole mansion began to tremble. Glass shattered, walls cracked. Even the people in the Borough’s lower levels felt the tremors like a bomb had gone off.
The old man’s unassuming cane was suddenly a grand spear, becoming brilliant gold in hue after warding off Ravenous Tiger’s attack. The drunkard leapt into the air, and as he did his spear took on a life of its own. Writhing like a golden snake, it struck toward the governor.
Ravenous Tiger’s enormous bulk proved to be misleading, for despite the extra weight he moved with startling agility. He dodged out of the way, and instead of him it was his throne that was split in two.
In one fluid motion, he sidestepped the drunkard’s strike and answered with one of his own. Heaving the battleaxe with both hands, he sent it whistling toward his foe.
The old man used his spear to deflect it. All the earth around them was reduced to rubble merely by being in proximity to their clash. Somewhere in this process the drunkard’s spear had gone from gold to blazing white, and knocked away Ravenous Tiger’s ax with little effort. With incredible speed the deflection turned into a counter-attack – and not one, but dozens, nearly a hundred. One jab after another came crashing at the governor like a meteor shower. Fist-sized holes appeared in the walls several meters away.
Ravenous Tiger was struck dozens of times himself, but whatever power protected him stopped them from dealing damage. Even so, the strain of keeping himself from harm was taking its toll. Blood had started to trickle from the corner of his mouth. He’d obviously underestimated how strong the old man was.
The drunkard’s raucous laughter bounded off the crumbling walls. “You’ve sat on your golden throne out here in the Boroughs for years. You haven’t gotten better, you’ve grown soft! Die!”
Another flurry of spear strikes followed.
Unexpectedly, a flash of red streaked in front of Ravenous Tiger. With an easy wave of his arm, the Crimson One used his crosier to deftly knock aside the drunkard’s weapon. The vibration caused by their impact shuddered through the entire mansion.
The old man’s smoldering eyes fixed on the red-robed priest. He’d seen him there, but paid him no mind until now. He took a second to measure him then, surprised at the strength he displayed.
“It’s good you’re here. I’m eager to see whether the Dawnguard of the Temple is capable of withstanding the power of Castigation!”
“Adjudicator?” The old man thought for a moment before a look of fear and surprise painted his expression. “You…”
The priest’s crosier swept toward the lame traveler, and the drunkard was too slow to react. In an instant one attack became five, each one bearing substantial power. As the Crimson One pummeled his target, the drunkard spat up mouthfuls of angry red blood. With the last blow he was cast away and slid halfway across the chamber.
The Crimson One slowly closed his eyes, then plunged the crosier deep into his own body.
His hands pressed together in obeisance, then parted. When he opened his eyes again they were dual embers of green flame. All at once the sage-like holy man was gone. The one who stood in his place had become a demon, birthed from the deepest pits of hell.
The old man’s spear was flung from his hands, plunging into the stone several meters away. Seemingly of its own accord, the white light inside surged out to form a protective wall.
Holding his chest, the drunkard struggled back to his feet. He turned and made to flee, ready to abandon his weapon, but not fast enough. The Crimson One extended his hands, and torrents of green flame emerged. The leaping flames chased after the drunkard like a hundred vipers. Where they touched, even the walls began to melt away like wax. Gathering into a roiling ball of fire intense as the sun, it raced at the retreating form of the drunkard.
There was no escaping it.
But then, at the final crucial instant –
A transparent figured bound from a corner, grabbing the old man and yanking him toward the wall. As the nightmarish fires closed in, both slipped through stone like it wasn’t there. The green ball of flame did not have this power, however, and instead of crashing into the barrier it stopped in midair. There it roared, unmoving.
Ravenous Tiger hobbled over to the priest. “That old man is strong. What a disaster to let him get away!”
The Crimson One’s eye sockets were pools of green flame. He stared without eyes at the place where the drunkard disappeared, and with a voice like creeping darkness he said, “He cannot run.”
At some unseen command the ball of green flame began to break apart. One orb became two, then four, then eight and so on. In no time the chamber was a field of blazing spheres. Like a plague of fireflies they set out, spreading every which way in search of their quarry.