Frost’s ice dragon was split in two the moment it met the shockwave. Cloudhawk’s attack swept by like it wasn’t even there. When Frost saw that his gambit had failed, he threw up his spear between him and the blast. The impending collision blasted him a dozen meters back. He hit the ground with enough force to shatter bone and lay in a heap, covered by his soiled and tattered cloak. The armor that protected him was badly damaged as well.
The knight-commander of the Knights of Splendor no longer had the strength to stand. All he could manage was to heave himself to his knees with the help of his spear. Blood trickled from the corners of his mouth, turning his snow-white clothing red.
He won! Cloudhawk won!
A no-name scoundrel managed to defeat one of the most outstanding demonhunters of Skycloud domain! If this news got out it would create a scandal the likes of which had never been seen in the elysian lands.
Even Cloudhawk was stunned at how well it’d gone. With the help of the stone, Cloudhawk had augmented his powers to a tremendous degree. However, the power was not his, it was borrowed from the sea of psychic energy locked within the stone. It was a font of strength, and yet had many restrictions. Time, for instance. It took time to bring it to bear, and it would be some time before Cloudhawk could call on it again.
This grand source of power was good for a finishing blow, but he could not lean on it too much.
At last Frost managed to fight his way back onto his feet. The winding gusts of cold air around frozen dirge were gone, his power was spent. What’s more the damage he’d suffered was significant. But that didn’t stop him. Cloudhawk had seen what Selene could do when her mental strength was gone, and he figured Frost was much the same. IF he got close, he had enough strength of body alone to cut Cloudhawk down.
The blow hadn’t beaten down Frost’s will completely. The knight-commander was definitely a foe worth fearing.
By now his reinforcements had arrived and encircled the small group. Cloudhawk and Tartarus Squad no longer had the advantage of numbers, both sides were about even. With Frost mostly out of the picture their strength was also comparable. If this fight continued both sides would suffer.
“Captain! We’ll help you!”
Familiar voices called out to him, followed by running footsteps. More trainees from Tartarus Squad were arriving. Before long most of his team was by his side. Thirty fighters, none of them pushovers. Frost and his people weren’t enough to stop them.
A surge of joy rang through Cloudhakw’s heart. They got here just in time.
His team surrounded Frost and his men, whose faces bore scowls of anger and distress. Had all of the valley’s trainees chosen desertion?!
A dark smirk curled Cloudhawk’s lips. “Get ‘em.”
As Tartarus Squad was preparing to comply circumstances switched again.
“HAVEN’T YOU JACKASSES CAUSED ENOUGH TROUBLE?!” A voice thundered over the din.
A blast of cyan energy ripped across the field, separated Tartarus Squad from Frost’s men. The sound sent a shudder through the trainees, and they turned to see a scarred visage glaring at them. He was accompanied by a towering suit of armor stomping their way, as well as a lithe figure treading air. When she alighted among the trainees, a shimmering whip was in her hand.
The trainees had seen for themselves what that whip could do. If Natessa wanted to really use that thing, no one there was going to stop her.
Instructors Windham, Cutter, and Cenhelm had arrived. Cloudhawk’s little rebellion was finished.
“What the fuck have you nitwits done? You won’t help, fine. But this?” Eckard Cutter was absolutely furious. His eyes were fixed on Frost. “And what the fuck are YOU doing here?”
“Tartarus Squad took it upon themselves to disobey direct military orders. They began attacking friendly forces and allowed potential terrorists to escape.” Frost was in a difficult way. He was obviously injured, but fought to keep the dignity and command in his voice. “Unless you want the whole valley implicated in their treachery, I demand that they be executed on the spot!”
The instructor’s faces stiffened.
Frost was injured.
The giants of Hell’s Valley were experienced demonhunters 
. They knew what Frost was capable of. But they could also tell by the signs of damage to the battlefield that someone had used power equivalent to a master demonhunter and that Frost was the target. Where had such power come from?
Natessa followed the cleaved ground, which lead her gaze to Cloudhawk. Her dispassionate expression gave way to surprise. Was it him? Had he done this? How?
Frost spoke again, his voice cold with malice and authority. “Instructors, are you disregarding an order from your superior officer?”
“Will you quit trying to throw your fuckin’ weight around?!” Eckard’s temper finally slipped and he hollered at the battered commander. “Whether or not this shitheads live or die is a decision the valley makes. We can handle our own fuckin’ business! Anyway, they’ve only been in training for two damned months. They haven’t even been taught how to behave on a mission, but you insisted
on having them here. It was shitty fuckin’ planning, so there’s plenty of blame to spread around!”
Frost’s eyes hardened and he mustered all the dignity and supremacy within him. “Do you mean to blame me
for this sorry display?”
If there was any single word to describe Eckard, it was direct. “Damn fucking right I’m blaming you!” 
He was talking to the leader of men lauded as heroes throughout the domain. Frost was still managing to keep his cool, but the others were on the verge of a riot! This ugly barbarian was covering for his subordinates’ mistakes, it was obvious. Given Frost’s connections, wasn’t he afraid he’d be immediately thrown in prison?
“We apologize for troubling you with this.” Natessa’s disarming voice interjected. “Hell’s Valley was established as an arm of Skycloud’s power by the honorable governor himself, and is populated by members of the domain’s army. However, since our inception we have always operated solely under our own discretion. Even Master Arcturus and Grand General Polaris can only issue general orders, they have no influence over our internal affairs. We are not Skycloud soldiers, and we are not subject to the laws and restrictions that would entail. As such, we regret to remind Your Excellency that you do not have the right to demand any action of us. These young men and women have committed a grievous crime, and they will be punished once we return to the valley. As for the villagers who escaped, I will send men into the mountains to make sure they are hunted down. Do not fret.”
Frost’s crystal blue eyes glared at her like icy daggers. “And if I protest?”
“This matter is outside of your control, Master de Winter.” Natessa’s voice remained perfectly tranquil. “Hell’s Army handles business in a very non-traditional way. If we are threatened, or if someone were to try and violate our independence, I’m sure the Governor would understand our necessary response.”
Anger twisted within the knight commander and emerged on his face as a hideous smile. “Are you threatening me?”
Natessa was as noncommittal and dispassionate as ever. “Many of the members of Tartarus Squad hail from noble families. I’d be curious how you intend to explain to them why their children were executed on elysian soil. I imagine you might be asked what manner of mission they were on in the first place. You are an ambitious man, Your Excellency. If you wish to continue climbing the social ladder, than you’ll need the support of these families. These are important matters to consider. You should weigh them carefully.”
Eckard could only glower and grumble. Natessa’s points obviously had more of an effect than his.
“Very well.” Frost stared at each of the instructors in turn. He had come to understand that he would not have his way today. Continuing to press the issue would only embarrass him further. He curtly waved a hand. “Let’s go.”
Frost de Winter led his defeated troops from the field.
The members of Tartarus Squad could hardly believe their eyes. What had happened to these hateful instructors, where suddenly they were acting as defenders? Why would they rather spit in the face of the knight commander and risk angering a future leader of Skycloud?
The rest of Hell’s Army had caught up now. Several hundred soldiers surrounded the trainees.
It was then Eckard turned his fury on them. “Son of a bitch
… grab all of ‘em. You shits are gonna get flayed for what you pulled!”
The mission was over. Teal Ridge had been wiped from existence. There was not a single living soul left in the ruins of the village.
Half a day later a regiment from Skycloud army arrived and began cleanup operations. The story they put out went like this: In retaliation for Frost de Winter’s attacks on the Dark Atom in the wastelands, the terrorists leveled Teal Ridge. Although Commander Frost had hurried to the village’s aid as fast as he could, it was too late. He managed to exterminate the heathen element hidden in Skycloud domain, but the village was lost.
News of what happened to Teal Ridge incensed the populace, and army enlistment doubled in most areas. Enmity toward the Dark Atom reached new heights and curses on the terrorists were heard in every corner of Skycloud domain.
“Enough! That’s it for today.”
Cloudhawk collapsed to the floor, his back cross-crossed with nasty gashes from the whips. He was covered in blood from head to toe. His actions in Teal Ridge had deeply annoyed the instructors, so his team was sentenced to a hundred lashes spread over ten days. Cloudhawk, as the ring leader, was given double the punishment. Twenty lashes a day, for ten days.
He was also removed from his post as captain. Tartarus Squad would be commanded by the instructors directly from now on.
In reality Cloudhawk was happy with the way it turned out. Twenty lashes was certainly no happy thing, but his body was far more robust than the average person’s. The consistent beatings actually toughened him up and sped up the latent potential of that strange virus living in his bloodstream. It made him more tenacious, served as a sort of physical training.
“Damn… you guys don’t know the meaning of ‘go easy’ do you. I thought we were friends.” Cloudhawk was laid out on a stretcher, trying his best to ignore the pain that stabbed him to the bone. It didn’t work. It was so bad his vision was starting to go dark, but he grit his teeth and fought to keep his eyes open. He even managed to give the sour-faced instructors a cheeky grin. “Oh, right,” he said curiously, “How do you think Frost is going to take all this? I hope it won’t cause you all too much trouble.”
The giants of Hell’s Valley were speechless. This guy was absolutely shameless 
. It didn’t seem like their cruel punishment was much of a deterrent.
“How do you think you were able to get those people out of the village?” Natessa spoke softly, but her voice was enigmatic. “Did you not find it too easy? Didn’t it all go too smooth?”
Cloudhawk thought back, and indeed it did all seem to work out well. Frost’s forces had reached the city long before he ran into him, so why didn’t he go straight for Cloudhawk? It was chaotic, sure, but Frost would have easily ambushed him at any time and then denied killing him. He was out there breaking orders, after all, what could Hell’s Army have said after the fact?
He’d snatched up several hundred villagers and swaggered through town without meeting much resistance. He did come across the Butcher, but not Frost. Why would the commander send a subordinate to stop him? There were only two possibilities; one, Frost’s head was full of dogshit and he made the wrong decision or, two, he knew Cloudhawk would win but didn’t care.
It dawned on him. “Why?”
“You shouldn’t underestimate Frost de Winter. Master Arcturus holds him in high regard for a reason. There are many talented young men and women in Skycloud, why should he pour all his effort into him specifically?” Natessa lifted her head and stared into the sky. She thought back to Frost, to the look in her eyes, and for all her insight she couldn’t read what she found there. “I don’t know the reason, but there is always
a reason. Perhaps Frost didn’t agree with wiping out an entire village.”
This was certainly a new consideration.
Frost was a bitter, cold man. Aside from his master, he didn’t spare a thought for anyone. He especially was not one for pity. On the contrary, it was clear he looked on the normal folk as little more than insects. Why would he give the gift of mercy to a bunch of ordinary villagers he looked down on?
“Well, forget it. Hey, tomorrow how about you take it easy on me alright? This really
“Another word and we give you two hundred more!”
“Alright! Alright… so cruel.”
1. This is how it’s written, although it has been explicitly stated that Eckard is not
a demonhunter. However, I’ll leave it as the author wrote it.
3. In Chinese, shameless is called ‘having thick face skin.’ Here the author writes ‘The skin of his face was so thick a knife couldn’t cut it.’