Cloudhawk didn’t really understanding what the fiery ghost was telling him, and truth be told he wasn’t interested in knowing the details. He heard ‘inheritance,’ that was all he needed to understand.
So there was more? How could he turn down the prospect?
When the phase stone absorbed the power of the skull, all sorts of sights and sounds were foisted into Cloudhawk’s mind. Vague memories twisted in his subconscious, too much for him to absorb all at once. What he could grasp was that they were scenes of a war the stone’s previous owner had participated in.
One cut, severing a river. One step, trampling a city. One punch, leveling mountains. One roar, shaking the heavens. Now, in times of peace, none of that was apparent.
Perhaps when he lived the ghost was some terrible overlord – a creature no man could overcome. He must have turned the world upside down.
This stranger might have even been stronger than Arcturus Cloude. No… not ‘might have’. He definitely was. Cloudhawk – a staunch opportunist  – was not going to ignore the opportunity the ghost was presenting to him. He could train bitterly for his whole life and never come close to that level of power. If he could take in everything this ghost had left behind, even the governor wouldn’t be able to stand against him.
Dawn Polaris would have to look at him with new eyes. Atlas, Frost, and all the others would have their day of reckoning!
The fiery spirit trembled, and a host of embers floated out from him. In seconds the humanoid image was a dull outline of what it had been. But although the spirit was weakening, it could still see into Cloudhawk’s heart. His words shattered the young man’s daydreams. “You will never be capable of acquiring all my wisdom. Just as you will never be able to wield all of my former power.”
Power was the first inheritance Cloudhawk gained from this mysterious spirit, locked within the phase stone and released when he took it up. Time erodes all things, so the stone did not contain all of what the spirit once commanded. But if Cloudhawk got even half of it, that was more than enough.
That was not to say he wasn’t greatly disappointed when he realized the truth. The vast sea within the stone was what remained of the will of its former master, and taking in even some of it was very difficult. For now, it was a vain hope to think he could. He would have to one day be as strong as this man had been. He might as well have asked for the moon.
“Do not fret, my successor. This is not to your detriment. Never underestimate your potential.” The man of scarlet fire spoke directly into his mind. It sounded like the crackle of embers. “My mission is to open a portal and guide you through it to your destiny, not make you in my image. You will be greater than I was – you need to be greater than I was. If not, then everything that was sacrificed will be for nothing.”
“Is that even possible? What do you expect me to do…”
“It is possible. Everything is possible. If that day should come, then you will be capable of donning my armor and wielding my relics. Then the answers shall become clear to you.”
What, you don’t trust me yet? Fuck, a halfway decent answer would have been a comfort.
Saying that was not advised, of course. He wouldn’t want to make this deliberately mysterious spirit angry. Best not to say anything at all!
Cloudhawk saw that as the spirit continued, its body kept fading away. What was left? He had to take whatever inheritance he could before the time passed. They couldn’t continue flapping their lips for very much longer. Cloudhawk found himself growing nervous on the spirit’s behalf.
The stone’s dead master sensed his thoughts. “Do you still not understand? All of my memories have been gifted to you. They exist within your mind. The inheritance is already yours.”
The words whispered through his brain, and then the sea of his mind turned over. Terrifying waves of memories crashed over him like tidal waves. He felt like a small boat, watching the wall of water rise.
Strange and unfamiliar visions assailed him. The sheer volume of information was incalculable – Cloudhawk could have lived for decades and it wouldn’t come close to this being’s lifetime. It was too much, he couldn’t parse it all. To try would break his mind.
Coudhawk couldn’t hold back his curses. Had he made a mistake? The knowledge clung to him like a paste, things he couldn’t begin to understand. Much of it was beyond his ability to translate. Overwhelming didn’t begin to describe it, yet it was still only the first few thousand years of the spirit’s life. All the rest of what was contained in the skull was lost. What remained was a motley array of fragments, carelessly jumbled together like a junk heap. Cloudhawk didn’t dare even begin to organize it.
“Within you now are two oceans; one of power, one of knowledge. When – and to what extent – you call upon them will be determined by chance and fortune.”
The spirit extended a fiery hand toward him. The hornets buzzing in Cloudhawk’s skull finally quieted, allowing a few fully formed thoughts to float to the surface. This knowledge was about combat, and relics. What Cloudhawk needed most in this moment.
Cloudhawk released a long, calming breath. That was how it was done? Everything else had been wasted time and effort…
This was a real treasure; the knowledge of proper training, and the means to manipulate and create relics.
“You can never surpass me with just this, eventually you will reach a limit.” It paused, then continued in a warning tone. “Accumulating data is not enough. You must adapt, and initiate – just as you have been in your pursuits for power. But reliance on combat and relics are for the common man. The common man is limited in what he can accomplish. Your destiny must be to go beyond.”
“Heaven and earth are the furnace, where you will be tempered into a relic. You have been richly endowed by fate with the ability to understand relics at a deeper level than anyone. Do not look lightly upon your gifts. Eventually, when you have awakened, you will understand the origins of everything.”
“And thus has my mission been accomplished.”
The spirit had been reduced to a flicker, like a candle flame threatening to go out. It shrunk until it was only a ball then melted back into Cloudhawk’s chest. It sunk into his will, his soul, where the fire’s mark remained. A new flood of memories ensued.
The large bronze doors blew open!
Twenty or thirty elite Dark Atom fighters poured in, but Cloudhawk was not there. All they found where shards of bone strewn about a pedestal, the remains of a skull. Its weathered fragments looked like nothing special.
“Is this it?” One of the soldiers frowned in disappointment. “It sure doesn’t look like it.”
Buzzard was just as puzzled, but now wasn’t the time for second guesses. “Is there anything else in here?”
No, there wasn’t. The pieces of skull had to be what they were looking for. Buzzard gathered all he could and stuffed them in a bag. With a wordless gesture, he and the others filed out.
As they made their exit, the Dark Atom invaders scattered high explosives through the room then left one by one. They hated to leave Hell’s Valley before the job was done, but both sides had already suffered greatly in the exchange.
“Boss, I got it!”
The fighters around Wolfblade all beamed with delight. Their mission was complete, the object they’d come for was in hand. Not only had they managed to invade and destroy the elysian base, but took their treasure for themselves as well. It was a vicious slap to the face to these zealots.
It was time to call everyone back!
The Dark Atom had more people, but a lengthy fight wasn’t going to break in their favor. But even if they did win, it wasn’t worth the cost. Their powerful weapons were the result of tremendous effort, digging them up and repairing them to working order. Their elite fighters were built from years of training. His lieutenants were hand-picked and carefully cultivated. These several hundred men and women were the heart of Wolfblade’s organization, and every loss was costly.
Veterans soldiers were a limited resource for Skycloud as well, but even if they were all wiped out they would fill this place with reinforcements before long. Besides, they’d already brought too much attention to themselves with this mission. If they kept dragging this out, support was bound to come from the domain sooner or later. By then it’d be too late.
Instructor Cutter saw the signs. “They’re trying to retreat! Stop them!”
Wolfblade held his hand high, all five fingers splayed out, then wrapped them quickly into a fist. It was the sign to fall back. The airships released the remainder of their ammunition in a violent and spectacular display. Suddenly Hell’s Army was submerged in a sea of fire and shrapnel.
Dark Atom’s remaining soldiers used the bombardment as cover for their retreat. They got to an area of higher elevation, then put back the jet gliders they’d used to infiltrate the base. As the airships continued to cover them, they descended low enough so that the soldiers could slip back onboard.
Because Wolfblade started the assault by destroying the base’s docks, elysian forces had no way to give chase.
Buzzard grabbed a rope dangling from one of the airships, then fished out a controller and pressed a button. A string of bone-jarring eruptions followed. Below, huge parts of the compound collapsed, others were blew over a kilometer away. A nightmarish mushroom cloud roared over the building and toward the heavens.
The compound’s soldiers made as though to follow, but the world opened up before them before they could. A shockwave tore through the entire valley, leaving them stupefied. Anything left in that building after an explosion like that had to have been utterly destroyed.
By the time the smoke cleared and the soldiers clawed their way from the rubble, the Dark Atom invaders were long gone. Eckard was itching to get after them, but Natessa held him back. On the one hand, their base was in no condition to continue the fight. On the other, their enemy had the advantage. Chasing after the enemy would only put them in an even weaker position.
It was fine. They still had the foundations, they could rebuilt.
The most pressing matter was how to explain this to Skycloud.
1. This one was interesting, and surprisingly hard to track down. The original term was 'borrowlist', and as far as I’ve been able to tell, this references something specific to Chinese history and thought. Borrowlism, or copinism, was a criticism expressed by a respected Chinese writer and thinker named Lu Xun. In the article of the same name he criticized China for copying or borrowing ideas wholesale from the West without thinking about how they applied to the Chinese reality. His suggestion was to combine things discovered from the outside world with the traditions and realities of Chinese life. Here the author, in a very erudite way, is describing Cloudhawk as an opportunist. He doesn’t care where benefits come from, their origins, or their consequences.