Adder had always kept things famously close to the vest. Whether in Skycloud, or the wastelands, he rarely tipped his hand and showed others his real strength. That was, until he obliterated Skycloud’s border wall. All of a sudden he was at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
His skills and training weren’t as rich as someone like Wyrmsole. What made him so unbearable to deal with was that fucking mirror relic.
There wasn’t much of a difference between having a dozen or so relics as copies in the mirror and having the real things. It provided him with numerous tools and opened numerous avenues. What’s more, it also allowed him to have more than just one of a certain relic. That was a boon even Skycloud couldn’t match. So it didn’t matter who he fought, or how skilled they were, Adder was ready and capable of handling them easily.
The cloud of Lifedrinker Arrows screamed around Cloudhawk in an endless attack.
A disaster. The frequency of these attacks alone was enough to overcome most people, and they just kept coming. Cloudhawk couldn’t even catch his breath long enough to summoned a phase field.
Once the arrows found their mark, they injected his body with pulses of energy. A normal person would be killed by a single arrow as the blood boiled within their veins. So far Cloudhawk was still standing, but as the attack continued it was getting more difficult and more painful.
And just as Cloudhawk was about to break, Adder added to the pressure by attacking with the crossblade. There was nowhere for him to go, the demonhunter’s brutal series of precise attacks made sure of that.
In truth Adder held Cloudhawk in very high esteem. He was convinced that if given time, the young man would grow to achieve more than he ever did. Unfortunately for him he was a rogue element, an uncertain variable. Whether he would be a friend or foe in the days to come was hard to gauge, and he couldn’t afford the risk. Better to relieve himself of potential conflicts now, before they became a bigger problem later.
The copied crossblade seethed, at the limits of its condensed power. The entire chamber was flooded with blinding light as Adder brought the beam of light crashing down. It was poised to finish the job his Lifedrinker Arrows started.
Only, in this key moment a flurry of arrows interrupted his coup de grace!
Adder felt his heart flutter. More invaders? When he swept his eyes toward the source of the attack, his eyes were met with a frail silhouette draped in green. She had just leaped out from her hiding place and had a crossbow trained on him. Of course, to the likes of Adder her attack was no more than a tickle.
Autumn shouted as she unloaded the crossbow’s barrel. “Cloudhawk, run!”
She’d revealed herself and was willing to die in defense of her people. Firing the weapon at Adder was useless, but that wasn’t where she was looking. Her eyes were pinned on the tomb of her god, rapidly melting away. She jerked the crossbow to one side and aimed its spray at the red-robed priests desecrating Shepherd’s body.
The elder’s frail voice screeched through the cavern. “Stop her!”
Autumn had experienced more in the last few months than she had in the previous decade. She’s undergone the bitter quest to recover Shepherd’s flute, only to discover that it had no effect on the conflict her tribe was embroiled in. It’d been a crushing realization that the source of all their troubles was this old man she once respected so deeply.
She realized how ineffectual and powerless she was. In the face of this poisoned elder there was nothing she could do. But Cloudhawk and his people weren’t from here. The troubles of the Vale weren’t theirs, so she couldn’t let him die for them.
She gritted her teeth. Autumn would use her final moments to foil the Elder’s plans, and protect the body of their patron god. All of this time and effort for her people, only to throw herself on the enemy’s swords…
Adder recognized the Vale’s young leader. The elder had been seeking her for a long time, for she was leading the last of the Vale’s opposition. She was a more attractive target than Cloudhawk, in regards to their future plans for this place.
Did she expect such a paltry effort to save Cloudhawk?
“Naive,” Adder muttered. He bent his wrist, which changed the trajectory of his blade toward the defiant young woman.
Cloudhawk was too busy trying to keep himself alive, Adder was in no hurry to deal with him. Kill this irritating princess of the tribe first, then Cloudhawk was next.
Autumn didn’t even have time to pull the trigger before her entire world was swallowed up by that golden light. She couldn’t even keep her eyes open against the glare. Her breath caught in her throat as the mortal danger swept through her.
Through winced lids she saw the seal on Shepherd’s body continue to erode. Autumn felt buried beneath an avalanche of disgrace, disbelief, helplessness and anger. It filled her up so much she thought she would explode before Adder could kill her.
But the mighty demonhunter had made a mistake, one that might prove deadly. He had put Cloudhawk out of mind. His young opponent was struggling to defend himself against the arrows, but he had deliberately kept his wildcard hidden until the final moment.
Changing targets had given Cloudhawk the split second he needed to react. The phase stone nestled against his chest flared with a sudden light, and then all at once a powerful aura enveloped him. The cuts of his blade became twice as intense without foundation.
“I might suggest you pay more attention, boss. I’m the one you need to worry about.”
With a shout Cloudhawk cut through the air with one of his blades. It caught a copy of the Lifedrinker Arrow right in the middle and chopped it in half.
Adder’s face darkened.
Cloudhawk’s muscles tensed until they were hard as iron. He summoned all his true power and brought it to bear in a screaming Spearhead maneuver. Meanwhile the sword in his left hand was lashing with incredible speed, deliver three blows quick as lightning.
Crack, crack, crack!
Three more arrows shattered.
Another Spearhead. Cloudhawk was getting closer to Adder.
Adder recognized that Cloudhawk had suddenly gotten stronger. He could feel the resonance of his Silver Serpents, humming with intense energy like they had lives of their own. He could tell by their cold, dazzling light that the weapons were much deadlier than seconds before. It was proven by how Cloudhawk was destroying the Lifedrinker Arrows that were still after him.
“A fake is a fake! Your toys can’t stop me! I’ll break them all!”
Cloudhawk heaved his arm and his sword fired out a spray of silver light. It spread out like a thunder wave, precise indomitable. The blast caught the encroaching arrows and destroyed several more of them.
How could such a deadly relic be so easily foiled? It couldn’t, at least not the real deal. But as Cloudhawk had said, a fake was a fake. As incredible as Adder’s relic was, it couldn’t make perfect copies. If it did it the mirror would create, not reflect. Adder didn’t have that kind of power.
For the first time since their clash began, Adder felt the threat. He forced once more to break off his blow mid-swing. He pulled back the crossblade before it could cut down Autumn in order to protect himself, to fend off Cloudhawk’s sudden attack.
Cloudhawk charged into him with unstoppable momentum, through the encirclement of arrows with his blades flashing. He met the crossblade’s column of light head off and dispersed it with a single blow. The blow-back of energy caused Adder’s shield to crack.
He stumbled backward several steps, but that was all. Vigorous as the attempt was it didn’t so much as scratch Adder.
His response was quick, dodging to the side then firing off another deadly ray at Cloudhawk. However, the young demonhunter was ready. It was with his left hand only that he’d broken passed the arrows. Now, right hand poised, he struck.
Empowered by the phase stone, his weapons were not just swords. They darted like naga, alive in his grip.
He stopped his headlong charge and sidestepped Adder’s beam. At that moment he released the stored up power in his right hand, and a dazzling silver serpent lashed out from his hand. It dashed through the air fast as lightning, wriggling in unpredictable patterns and confounding Adder’s attempts to get out of the way.
Finally! Like a raging torrent!
The silver serpent crested against Adder’s weakened shield. Those who witnessed would say the cavern shook with the sound of broken glass. Adder’s shield was overcome. The serpentine blast of energy ran him through and burst open his chest.
It slithered through him, one side to other without losing an ounce of momentum then continued to whip through the room.
Several black-suited figures had surrounded Autumn, but where caught in the serpent’s path. Pieces of them rained down among the rocks as they were obliterated by its passage. Hardly nowhere remained that wasn’t caked in gore.
At the last moment Cloudhawk had accessed the sea of mental energy inside the stone, strengthening himself. Focusing it into that one attack he released a blast several times more powerful than it would be alone. Perfectly poised to take advantage of Adder’s mistake.
It was well executed.
In the end Adder had dismissed Cloudhawk and paid for it. He’d been so sure of his victory that he was caught unaware. Adder looked down at the gaping wound in his chest, eyes wide with utter disbelief. His heart and lungs had been pulverized. The gods themselves couldn’t save him now.
Done. In one shot.
Cloudhawk had him beat with an incredible stroke.
Autumn stood nearby, watching it all happen with a look of amazement. How had he gotten so strong? Incredible!
Cloudhawk was gulping for air, trying to recover from what was likely his deadliest fight. He had to admit Adder was one hell of a foe. If Autumn hadn’t intervened when she did, Adder was sharp enough to have likely caught Cloudhawk before landing the blow.
He opened his mouth to say something but was silenced by fluttering sound. Woosh-woosh, woosh!
The Lifedrinker Arrows halted only for a moment before continuing their dogged pursuit of Cloudhawk. He dodged to one side, and moment later a pillar of stone behind him was broken to pieces by the arrows.
His face dropped from elated to displeased. What the hell was this? Adder was certainly dead!
These deadly arrows were powered by the man’s will, or should have been. If Adder was dead all of his mirror reflections should have vanished immediately. Cloudhawk whipped his head around to look at where Adder still stood, staring at the hole in his chest. But he needn’t be so quick, it only made the shock worse.
There Adder stood, expressionless as blood and bits of organ seeped from his chest. But moments later that gruesome image drained of color and became transparent. Like a pane of glass his figure shivered and cracked, then scattered across the ground in shards.
“I’ve known you had strange powers for a long time. That kind just now gave you a tremendous boost of strength, all in a moment. Do you think I wouldn’t be prepared?”
The cold voice called at him tauntingly from nearby. Adder calmly walked out from the mirror’s surface. Completely unharmed.
Cloudhawk felt his face stiffen as he realized what had happened. His body went cold. All this time, he hadn’t been fighting Adder.
It was a copy, a mirror image. The real Adder had been hiding the entire time. It was never his intent to kill Cloudhawk with the copy, only distract him long enough to spring his trap.
Son of a bitch!
Cloudhawk felt a cold sweat break out across his forehead.
He’d used up the power of the stone, not to mention most of his own stamina. How was he supposed to fight the real Adder in this condition?
The older man’s face remained an inscrutable slate. “At the end of your rope? I’m just getting started.”
Another copy of him walked forth from the mirror, then a second, then a third. This crowd of mirror images of surrounded Cloudhawk, with a burning crossblade gleamed in the hands of each of them.
Three copies, and the real one himself. Four Adders. That’s what Cloudhawk had to face next.