Wind kicked up clouds of dust, whipping across a barren mountain. There wasn’t a spot of green to be seen in any direction.
Scenes like this were as common as death out in the wastelands. A figure trudged up the mountain side and through a narrow canyon, stark against the light of the setting sun, leaning against the untamed wind. Though dim and obscure, there was something magical about the figure. Everywhere they went, the earth seemed to glow with vitality.
Ever since she appeared in the wastelands, those who looked upon her thought all the beauty of the world had been given to her. Her ragged clothing did nothing to detract from her stunning presence. Skin pale and soft as a thousand miles of snow, touched with holy purity. Hair as dark as a raven’s wing, a life-giving waterfall amidst the choking dust.
Someone like her seemed out of place in this mortal world. So refined and alien to the blasted landscape. She was like an angel walking among craven devils, bringing light to lands where evil lurked. Wind sucked at her tattered cloak, making it snap and whistle. Delicate fingers were hidden in finely crafted gloves. A silver cross dangled around her neck.
Her steps slowly ceased, though the wind gave her no quarter. The leather of her gloves creaked as she lifted them up and pulled down her hood. The face that was revealed would make the gods jealous. A pair of sharp eyes peered ahead through the canyon, sparkling like twin stars, cold as the moon and bright as the sun. Her gaze reached out like it could penetrate time and space.
Fierce and indescribably beautiful. An angel in the service of the gods.
“Enough hiding. Show yourself.”
Her voice was cold and otherworldly as it echoed off the rocks. A pair of figures emerged from behind boulders, one of whom was covered from head to toe in bandages. A single eyes was all that was visible. Three odd weapons were strapped to his back. The stranger was cloaked in a dangerous aura, and there was a feral sense to him that was as wild as their surroundings. The second one wore nothing but a large black cloak that hid him from view. There was nothing human about that one that she could sense.
Wolfblade, and his golem.
The Dark Atom’s leader spoke first, his voice carried on the harsh winds. “Lady Selene. You prove to have the same strength of character as Master Baldur.”
Selene pulled her hood down, revealing a face stunning enough to eclipse the sun. I’d been four years since she forsook the elysian lands for this evil place, but all her hardships hadn’t left a trace. On the contrary, more than ever she was like a flower growing amidst the fetid swamp waters. Tribulations had scoured away all the excess, leaving only her most perfect beauty.
She stared at this man, this terrorist who deserved death, yet her face betrayed no feeling. She calmly rejoined. “Take me to him.”
“Don’t be in such a hurry.” Wolfblade slowly unsheathed one of his swords. It was a strange weapon with three edges that began to rotate as she looked upon it. An energy gathered in its center until it culminated in a beam of intense light. “I’m curious to know just how strong the most talented woman in Skycloud really is.”
This was the sword that cleaved open the walls of Hell’s Valley. One could only imagine what it was capable of doing to a person.
Selene’s face was as unreadable as a statue’s. The silver necklace slipped from around her delicate neck of its own accord, and she caught it in her left hand. She flicked the charm to her right palm and a smear of pure white light shot out, carving a trough through the dead earth. Her necklace became a sword of holy light ten meters long. More frightening still, the gash was so deep its bottom could not be easily seen.
Wolfblade leapt into the air, both hands on the hilt of the energy weapon. As he brought it down Selene did not move. Instead, she smoothly brought her sword of light up to meet him.
The two mighty weapons met.
A blast of wind and force ensued, kicking up sand and shoving boulders. As the flood of power washed over her, Selene’s tattered cloak disintegrated like petals in a bonfire. The ground beneath her feet cracked from the strain but she did not move. For a moment the two were locked in conflict, neither winning ground over the other, before a fanatical light began to burn behind Wolfblade’s eyes. Gradually the power coursing through his energy sword grey until it was a searing beam of fury bearing down on the demonhunter.
Every minute saw its terrible power grow!
Yet, never once did Selene’s stoic expression crack. A shell of holy light embraced her, and her dark hair danced on the whipping winds. She stood unwavering like a goddess, filled with majesty and grace.
Suddenly her gloved hands blazed with red light, and flames swallowed her holy sword from hilt to blade. With its addition the power coursing through her weapon surged by several orders of magnitude. A thunderous noise arose, as though the whole mountain was groaning in protest. Stones split and jagged rock pelted the canyon floor.
Wolfblade was forced to disengage and retreat.
This young woman had stared down his energy sword and didn’t blink. Her improvement since leaving Skycloud hadn’t slowed in the least! But he wasn’t done testing her.
His mind turned.
The black-cloaked golem stretched out a hand and released a pulse of magnetic blue light from his palm. It blasted toward Selene like a bombshell. Without breaking stride, Selene slapped it barehanded. Her burning angels released a gush of fiery energy at just the right instant, consuming the pulse entirely.
A loud, shrill sound rang through the canyon!
Wolfblade’s face was lit by a column of fire that shot from Selene and into the skies overhead. As the fires raged higher they transformed into a phoenix eight meters wing to wing. Each feather was clear and distinguishable, a lick of flame that fluttered in the wind. The bird was obviously a thing of fire, but it seemed as alive as any other creature.
The blazing phoenix dove right toward the metal man, smashing into his chest with a shuddering blast. The intense heat immediately reduced his black cloak to ash!
The fires raged as they engulfed him, blackening the canyon walls. The slate first turned angry red then began to drip like wax in an oven. Soon the sides of the canyon bowed outwards like they were trying to escape the fires. Magna gathered underfoot and the air warped from the intense heat.
Selene was wreathed in flame. Slowly, she raised the burning sword in her right hand and pointed it at her opponent. “Do you wish to go on?” 
Wolfblade conceded without a fuss. “I’m beaten. I underestimated you. You aren’t the next Baldur, you’re better. Anyone else, and I would spare no effort to make sure you died now before you became a problem later. But you… tut-tut, well. We shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
Dark Atom’s leader returned his weapon to its sheath. His golem trundled over, unscathed though he’d just waded through a lake of fire.
The slightest frown pulled at the corners of Selene’s lips. She knew what her fires could do. The strongest steel became liquid, but this metal monstrosity seemed unfazed. It made sense – for the Dark Atom to cause Skycloud so much trouble for so long, they had to have many secrets.
The two walked into a small crevice that smelled of sulfur. Rivers of magma lazily flowed through it. Colder air turned the surface an angry black, but one could easily see the molten rock through the cracks. Its unstable coating often fractured and rearranged itself. A careless step would be a dire mistake in this place.
A small path intersected by burning rivulets meandered toward the center of the magma lake.
Wolfblade picked his way carefully along, leading Selene deeper in. He stopped before the entrance to a grotto and slipped a strange token into an indentation. A grinding sound answered, the sound of stone on stone, as before them emerged a thick metal door. When Wolfblade pulled it open, he revealed a pitch black maw leading deeper into the mountain’s heart.
A voice whispered from the darkness, sinister and magnetic. Ripe with charm and wisdom. A tall and voluptuous figure slipped from the shadows as though she were shedding a dress. Long, silver-grey hair tumbled down her shoulders, the same color as her eyes. Their pale color did not detract from the sharp gleam that twinkled in their depths, in fact they seemed to radiate a hazy beauty. Hard to define. A pair of complex-looking pistols hung from her waist, which were oddly paired with the researcher’s goggles perched on her head.
“You’re Selene? As elegant as I expected. My name is Hellflower.” This mature, intellectual and attractive woman flashed a captivating smile. “His Excellency, the Caliph of the Sands, awaits inside. He’s expecting you.”
Selene followed without a word.
“So calm, knowing you’re about to meet a demon. The young demonhunter has grown a lot in her time out here in the wastelands. It makes me wonder how he’s doing…” Hellflower stared absently at Selene’s back, lost in thought for a moment. Her eyes then turned to Wolfblade – or more specifically, the weapons strapped to his back. “Your bodyguard is an interesting fellow. I’ve picked through countless ruins and I’ve never seen toys like these before.”
Wolfblade cast her a look over his shoulder with his one exposed eye. “Does it excite you?”
She grinned at him, a flirtatious smirk that was both dangerous and alluring. “I’m not like the two of you. I’m just a Seeker, so all manner of technology excites me.”
Wolfblade nodded. “Then you can have it.”
That was not what she was expecting. “What?” Hellflower blinked at him.
“It’s the last time we’ll ever meet,” Wolfblade replied.
When he said it the metal golem stopped in his tracks. Wolfblade handed her one of his precious swords – artifacts of immeasurable value – without a second thought. He didn’t even give it a longing glance as he walked further into the cave, disappearing into the darkness.
Orange light flickered off the dark walls, giving the unsettling impression that magma would burst from them at any moment. Waiting in the deepest recesses was a ferocious figure whose eyes burned like coal. They were fixed on Selene. “If you’ve sought me out, it means you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. What do you think so far?”
She stood calmly beneath the demon’s gaze. Slowly, her hands curled into fists but then relaxed. “I need to know the truth.”
“If that is your reason for coming, then I’m afraid I must disappoint you. I cannot give you the truth. That is something only you can find.”
“What can you tell me about what happened?”
The creature’s voice was strange, both echoing and coming in layers – a dozen voices whispering over one another. He never moved an inch. “Both Baldur and Sterling were tasked with hunting me down. However, it seems they discovered something else in the process. It killed one and maimed the other, but what it was… I do not know.”
“But you must have some clue.”
“If you really desire to discover what happened, then it will do no harm for me to reveal it to you. Your fallen father had a very unique relic. It spat green fire that devoured the body and consumed the mind. I have heard tell that information as to its whereabouts can be found in the borderlands. Perhaps that is where you should begin. What’s more, your uncle Sterling disappeared after returning to Skycloud. If you were to find his whereabouts, then he could tell you what they found.”
A relic of green fire, devouring body and mind? She’d never heard of any relic like that. But she didn’t spend too much pondering it, either. Selene turned and made to leave.
Wolfblade was next.
The Caliph of the Sands remained seated on his stone dais as Wolfblade placed several shards of something before him. With some inspection one could tell it used to be a skull.
“I see.” The Caliph never moved, but the shards of the skull seemed to react to his will. They rose up off the floor and pieced themselves together. As the fractured bone hovered before him, the demon looked into its empty sockets. It was as though he was peering back a thousand years, eye to eye with the giant this skull once belonged to. “My splendid king. Ever since you fell our species has waned. Why have you chosen a human?”
The inert shards floated before him, silent. No response was forthcoming.
“But I have faith in my king’s judgment.” The dark-robed monster swiped its clawed hand, and the skull disintegrated into dust, borne away on the stagnant wind. All the while Wolfblade stood speechlessly to one side. Retrieving that artifact had not been easy, only for the demon to smash it apart moments after its delivery. The Caliph’s smoldering eyes turned onto him. “Have you considered the offer?”
Wolfblade did not hesitate, dropping to one knee. “I accept.”
The demon nodded approvingly. His rumbling voice bounced through the shadow-shrouded cavern. “Very good. There will be things you must forfeit, but all sacrifice has value. You will reap much in return.”
Wolfblade knelt before his master in silent gratitude.
1. A note from Tipsy Wanderer:
I’d like to take this opportunity for a brief chat. Several readers have expressed dissatisfaction with our protagonist, saying he is too weak in strength and character. If we confirm to mainstream writing tropes then the main character should be able to overcome any challenge, defeat any challenger. Women should throw themselves at him in droves. While this may be more marketable and appeasing – and frankly easier for me – it would make for a ‘comfortable’ story instead of an ‘excellent’ one.
The style I’ve chosen is more challenging, more probing. I am hoping to find a marriage between good story-telling and a crowd-pleasing narrative.
The hardest part of the creation of this novel is not its theme or conception. It’s being asked to confirm to a prescribed way of thinking. Anyone who’s ever written a story will know that it’s a very subjective process. Infusing a product with the ideas of several people is counter-productive. Truth be told, there are many characters and settings I’m not pleased with. I would have preferred replacing them with other, frankly more inspired ideas. However, they had to be changed in the interest of working with a director and sticking to the script. It has definitely made things more challenging, but I’m still confident that the eight hundred thousand words that will comprise this tale are just beginning. I continue to strive to compose a grand epic, and I hope to have everyone’s support. The next installment will probably appear online next year. Something for you to look forward to.
I'm starting to fucking love these epilogue chapters, they are absolutely incredible and some of the best work I've seen in building hype for the next book. Fucking awesome!
Meanwhile, I fully respect Tipsy Wanderer's footnote as well.