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Cloudhawk leapt out of the way. 

Adder’s beam of light streaked by, right through where Cloudhawk had been a moment earlier. It struck a column of stone and instantly reduced it to slag. Woodland Vale’s elder gaped at the display – was this the power of these demonhunter outsiders? Incredible!

Luciasha lunged at Adder, grabbing at his cloak as though to stop him. She kept screaming at Cloudhawk. “Please! Don’t fight! I’m begging you to leave!”

But he couldn’t leave. This was a fight long in the making. He was only willing to back down if Adder agreed to flee from Woodland Vale and leave Asha with him. Ridiculous demands, of course, so he didn’t even bother to make them. Both men were set, they were determined. The only way this was going to end was in combat.

He really didn’t understand these people. He refused to take the side of the wastelands this time.

In the short term, if Adder succeeded here then Woodland Vale would join the Conclave of Judgment. No one here now would be able to escape; Dawn, Selene, Atlas, Frost; any one of them were incredible in both leadership and individual skill, but was it enough? Adder wouldn’t give any of them quarter, not even his own cousin Selene. Cloudhawk had to do what he could to preserve the lives of his friends.

Then there was the long view. Cloudhawk was confident in the expeditionary forces’ chances against the conclave. He wasn’t an ambitious sort, and high-brow ideas of honor were bullshit as far as he was concerned. It afforded him the ability to look at this situation soberly, and objectively. However, he didn’t know what sort of effect this war would have on the future of humanity. All he knew was that while the elysians would suffer, but it was the wastelands that faced potential extermination.

Skycloud. Wastelands. Woodland Vale. Millions facing the threat of death, countless more displaced. This was the vision he had for their future, and it sure seemed the most likely.

As for the Crimson One and his lofty ideals? This grand utopia of human unity and liberation? To Cloudhawk it was fucking nonsense. Say he succeeded; say he managed to reverse a thousand years of history, and defeat the strongest demonhunter to have ever lived. Had he thought about what would happen next?

Were the gods just going to sit up on there on their holy mountain and watch the show?

Maybe. Over the last thousand years, the only proof they had that gods once existed were the miracles and relics they left behind. But what if they did return? How strong would they be? What would they do if they were forced to come and deal with rebellious humans? Did this father and son duo think that humanity could protect itself?

Wishful thinking! It was suicide!

If those two dumb fucks wanted to kill themselves who cared, but their careless actions were putting millions of lives at risk. If Luciasha kept following Adder around then eventually she would get wrapped up in it as well. Cloudhawk had to stop it – now, today, no matter what!

Revenant pulled her sword free without a word, and was about to react when Adder reached out to stop her. Adder could feel the intensity coming off of Cloudhawk’s form. His cold eyes grew sharp, like a slowly drawn blade. “It looks like you’ve improved even more since the last time. Almost enough to be a worthy opponent. Truth be told, I always knew fate would put us on opposite sides. A fight was forever in our cards.”

Cloudhawk remained on high alert. He wasn’t sure exactly what Adder was capable of, but he did know he came from the same family and was revered in the same way as Selene. He was certainly no one to take lightly. What’s more, he was older than his more revered cousin. More experience meant he was probably just as deadly as Baldur’s daughter.

Luciasha was caught in the middle, unsure of what to do. Her foster father was a good man, she was sure of it. So was Cloudhawk. Why were two good men trying to kill one another? They both were important to her, so to her it didn’t matter who won this fight. In the end she would mourn.

Adder then looked her way. With a simple flick of a finger the young girl crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

Cloudhawk glared daggers, unsure of what the older man had done.

Adder then turned to the black-clad woman at his side. “Take her and the medicine and go. It’s time the differences between the two of us were settled. You can’t help here.”

Revenant paused to look deeply into his eyes. Within her own something lurked just beneath the surface. While she was fully confident in Adder’s abilities, for some reason she couldn’t shake a sense of discomfort and uncertainty. 

But she’d never refused Adder, and she wasn’t going to start now. Any word, any order, she followed without question.

Her soft voice intruded on the tense stillness. “You’re coming back to Asha and I, right?”

Adder faced her, locked by those cold eyes that hid a burning passion just below. He couldn’t meet her gaze, and merely nodded. “I will.”

That was enough. Revenant knew Adder never broke his promises. Once he made a commitment, he stuck to it. Revenant’s job was to take his adopted daughter and the herbs they’d come for and find somewhere safe to stash both of them. There she would wait for his return.

“Asha stays here!” Cloudhawk squared off to try and stop her, but Revenant was too fast. She gathered Luciasha in her arms, then dissolves into smoke and vanished.

The woman wasn’t much of a face-to-face combatant, but she sure as hell could flee and sneak around. With Adder keeping him pinned here, Cloudhawk could do nothing but watch as the young girl was spirited away.

Cloudhawk let out an impotent sigh, clenching his fists. He then eyed the crowd he was stuck here with. Several red priests were gathered, but they were focused on dealing with the seal on the Shepherd’s tomb. Beyond them were a few of Adder’s fodder, and a couple men from the Vale. The latter in particular were no concern, since Woodland Vale had no fighting prowess to speak of. There was only one person here he needed to fear, and that was Adder.

The Vale’s elder had no idea who this man was who’d appeared from nowhere. It didn’t matter – his heart was set on getting to whatever was locked beneath the crystal. Time… just a little more time! Whoever this intruder was he couldn’t stop them.

The elder spoke to Adder. “What are you waiting for? Deal with him.”

“You don’t need to rush, good elder. Today, there’s nowhere for him to run.”

Adder produced an orb. Light played off of its surface, and though smooth there appeared to be some kind of runes etched into it. At a glance Cloudhawk recognized it as the same relic Adder had used against him in Nucleus. The copy it produced would force Cloudhawk to expend a lot of energy to defeat.

This shit again? Adder was enough of a pain to deal with. If he had to deal with a copy of himself, then the fight would be ten times harder.

Cloudhawk wasn’t going to let Adder have any more chances or advantages. He galvanized his cloak and instantly vanished from view. Appearing in one spot, then vanishing to appear somewhere else a moment later, Cloudhawk deftly sped around Adder. The latter couldn’t focus enough on his target to use the mirror crystal.

Yet after producing the mirror, Adder did not adopt an offensive posture toward Cloudhawk as he’d expected.

Adder threw it onto the ground, and the mirror orb spread out in an instant. His three-dimensional crystal suddenly became two-dimensional, creating a sort of silhouette that was barely visible behind the man.

What the hell is he doing? Unsure of what he was up to, Cloudhawk didn’t rush in to attack.

The mirror rippled. Innumerable disparate lights and shadows overlapped on one another, until he reached into the mirror surface and pulled something free.

It was a single white cross.

As Adder held it tight in his grip it began to emanate blinding light. Eventually it formed into a blazing sword nearly twelve meters long. A crossblade? Yes, the same sort of holy crossblade Selene used.

It didn’t take long for Cloudhawk to figure it out. Another one of the mirror’s abilities was to remember things it’d seen. This allowed Adder to stockpile copies of relics he’d encountered and produce them as needed. 

This damn relic was unbelievable! It gave him the abilities to dozens of relics, all of the highest grade. It made Adder unlike any other demonhunter in the whole of Skycloud.

He swung the saber of light back and forth, searching for Cloudhawk’s form as he flit through the chamber. A savage, taunting smirk split his features. “What’s the matter? You’ve gone through hell to track me here, now you don’t have the courage to fight like a man?”

Cloudhawk wasn’t the young, inexperienced hothead he’d once been. Fighting the right way wasn’t about getting pissed and throwing caution to the wind, especially when you were contending against someone much better than you. So instead of letting Adder’s taunts get the better of him, he continued to probe his opponent for a way in. And he found one.

At first glance, Adder’s mirror relic seemed insurmountable. It could copy people and even relics, but there had to be limits. He noticed that Adder couldn’t copy his phase stone, for example. Cloudhawk also figured there had to be limits to how long Adder could use a copied relic, or how strong it was.

For instance, it was probably an exhausting process. In addition, the crossblade he wielded wasn’t the real thing. Even if it was an exact replica of Selene’s, it was just a mirror image. As a mirror image, it needed to be maintained. So he was using two relics simultaneously; the mirror, and the crossblade. That meant if he wanted to continue using it, the cost in mental energy was at least doubled.

Recognizing this, Cloudhawk was even more convinced not to throw himself into the fight.

Adder was strong, but Cloudhawk’s own mental prowess had to be comparable. Every second he goaded his foe into wasting his energy, the more likely he would win the fight.

On the other hand, Adder was far more experienced in the ways of battle than Cloudhawk. To him, the boy’s skills were insignificant, nothing to fear. Did he really think his stealth was insurmountable?

Without saying a word, Adder called upon the mirror once again. This time another relic came into being, something that looked like an old brass lantern.

Reaching out with his mind, Adder resonated with the antique. Immediately it gleamed with a blinding splendor, casting its light dozens of meters all around.

The fuck is this?

Cloudhawk felt the light stab his eyes. The beams poured over him and clung to his body like water.


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