Book 3, Chapter 84 - The Primeval Weapon

Four exorcist staves, two for each Cloudhawk, clashed with bone-jarring force. 

The Warden and his mirror image had identical fighting styles. As they met again and again, kicking up gravel, it was hard to determine who would come out the victor.

What an incredible ability. Everything was a perfect copy; Cloudhawk’s speed, power and fighting style, even his relics were imitated perfectly. It was like a second Cloudhawk had stepped out from the ether.

Cloudhawk knew Adder was dangerous, but this was something else! How could such an amazing item exist! With such a relic, was there anyone who was his equal?

Against Selene, he could make another Selene as an ally. Against the Crimson One, the same. Would Arcturus be able to survive a fight against himself? If he could turn any enemy against themselves, how could he be defeated?

No! No one was invincible!

This power came from a relic, and relics relied on the demonhunter for their power. Cloudhawk was sure Adder couldn’t create a perfect copy of just anyone. He was sure that there was so flaw in what looked like a perfect weapon.

His mirror image raced at him, sliding across the ground like it was ice. He had an exorcist rod in each hand, which he whipped at the real Cloudhawk from both sides simultaneously. An advantage the mirror image enjoyed was singular purpose – it would not be distracted, unlike the real thing. It wasn’t human, either, so a single well-placed blow wasn’t likely to put it out of commission. With single-minded fury and without fear for one’s life, the fake Cloudhawk was more ferocious and threatening than the original.

No time to dodge.

Phase!

The exorcist staves past through. Tremendous force ripped through Cloudhawk’s incorporeal form, nearly causing him to lose control of the phase field. When the danger had passed he dropped the stone’s power, turned, and whipped his own staff at the mirror image. He knew his own style, and at this range mirror Cloudhawk would definitely have to use its phase ability to avoid getting hit. He held back in anticipation of this, saving some strength for a follow-up.

However, much to his surprise the blow landed. His mirror image went sailing through the air and hit the ground a few meters away. Its clothes were tattered and wisps of something like steam seeped from cracks in its body. That hurt it pretty bad.

Strange… it didn’t phase?

The mirror image was perfect. Wait… almost perfect. Every hair was there, every pore, every relic – except the phase stone. There was nothing hanging from the copy’s neck.

There it was. With that revelation, Cloudhawk’s confidence was restored. Without the ability to slip between dimensions, his mirror image didn’t pose anywhere near the kind of threat he did. His copy didn’t appear frightened or frustrated, in fact there was no expression on its face at all as it called on the invisibility cloak to summon several copies. Its aim was to confound enemies, but Cloudhawk knew the tactic and how to overcome it.

“A fake is by definition fake – never as good as the original. Die!”

A streak of golden light descended from above as Oddball appeared. It dashed through the copies head first for the true copy, and though it dodged out of the way it gave Cloudhawk the opportunity he needed to close the distance between them. With his staves raised high, he came crashing down on the copy with everything he had.

The copy saw a flaw in his headlong rush and tried to knock him aside with its staves. But it was a ploy, and as they met Cloudhawk slipped through the copy to materialize behind. He twisted around, poured his mental energies into the weapons and unloaded it into his foe.

Once again the mirror image was knocked away. This blow was momentous.

Cracks appeared across the copy’s body like it was made from glass. Smoke poured from the fractures. It was obvious that an ability like this would need a lot of mental power from Adder, enough to keep the mirror image mobile for a while. The more damaged it became, however, the more of that energy was released, reducing how long it would be maintained. At this point his doppelganger was on its last legs.

Cloudhawk didn’t have any more time to waste.

Oddball continued to flutter around the mirror image to distract it, while the Warden came charging forward against with his staves. They blasted through the copy, and finally it was more than it could bear. It exploded into a hundred thousand shards like a shattered mirror, then disintegrated into nothing.

“If that’s all you got, Adder, let’s see how far you can run.”

Free from his own troubles, Cloudhawk helped Vulture quickly dispatch of the black-clad invaders hounding him.

There was a conflicting light in the Dark Atom lieutenant’s eyes. He didn’t like the kid, and in fact if he had half a chance he might kill him for consigning his fellow rebels to the executioner’s block. But Cloudhawk had become strong, and in an unexpected turn the demonhunter responsible for his friends’ deaths was here helping them against the elysians. 

Cloudhawk sensed the confusion and uncertainty. He glanced at Greenscale, who looked back at him while alert for any sign of threat. His lips turned in a disdainful, mocking smirk, and with a dismissive air said, “If you two still have a problem with me then you’re free to start shit later. For now, I need to get to that dipshit Adder. You can either help, or get the fuck out of my way.”

What an arrogant little shit. He was talking like he’d already beaten the invaders. If it wasn’t for the Dark Atom agents he probably would have turned tail and run.

Vulture and Greenscale exchanged a silent look, but one that said they were determined to see this through. They didn’t know Adder, or what he was here for, but it was obvious the men in black were a threat. They definitely weren’t here for anything good.

Meanwhile Adder was pushing deeper into Nucleus. He had a defender by the throat, which he snapped as easily as a fist full of dry twigs. He threw the corpse aside like a piece of garbage.

Bodies were littered all around.

Revenant was nearby, with his swords pressed against the throat of a lone survivor. He was the commander of this unit, the only one who could open the doors to the warehouse before them. The invaders’ cruel and ruthless techniques had ruined him, to the point where he looked less than human. Begging for mercy, he complied with their demands to open the way forward.

Yet once the doors had been unlocked Adder stopped. He sensed something, something that made him scowl. “That annoying child is still coming. Make sure he doesn’t get through.”

Revenant briefly nodded his head. He and a group of invaders took up position along the hall in preparation for an ambush.

Adder took what remained of his people into a top-secret storage facility. The commander opened up the several barriers blocking passage further in until they reached the heart of the warehouse. Adder’s typically dispassionate gaze took on a seething light when he saw it.

Two meters long, ancient in construction but with obvious modern adjustments. Its cylindrical structure was encased in a metal shell, thick and heavy.

Adder’s information was right. Here it was, an ancient weapon that countless Dark Atom scientist had toiled over until it was repaired. Signs of that were obvious with patchwork metal and exposed wires, but it was serviceable.

Yet while he always suspected it was true, seeing it here before him… Adder muttered almost to himself. “Is this it…?”

Much to his surprise, someone responded.

“Heh heh heh… of course it is.” The laughter slithered through his ears and wrapped itself around his spine like ice cold fingers. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, simultaneously far away and right beside him. The other men in black surrounded their leader and brandished their weapons, peering into the shadows for hidden threats. But they saw nothing, and the voice continued. “An ancient weapon from a bygone era – an atomic weapon, discovered by the humans of a long-dead civilization. This is where the name ‘Dark Atom’ is derived from, this one metal tube. Up to now it is the only one they’ve managed to repair. Two meters tall, and powerful enough to erase a million souls in an instant.”

Dread clung to Adder like the stench of death, a dread the likes of which he had never felt before. An enormous, almost feral-looking humanoid figure, black as pitch, appeared before him. Its dual red eyes burned like coal and its mere presence filled the area with the palpable sense of oblivion.

Adder’s eyes constricted as he looked upon it. At the instant their eyes met the powerful and mysterious man felt his heart seize. The thing before them was no ordinary man. It was the essence of destruction, an avatar of calamity, and much more powerful than he could hope to contend with.

A demon!

Adder was not a man to be trifled with, but before a demon he was like a child. An idea completely outside even his best laid plans, that a demon would appear in the course of their mission.

His immediately instinct was to raise his hand, and with that motion a crystal orb extended from his sleeve. It traveled for a short distance before the solid object flattened out into a mirror surface. It was the same that blocked Cloudhawk’s path, and from it a field of energy sought to envelop the demon.

“The antipole crystal is a fine relic. It is said to be capable of perfectly replicating powerful foes and their relics. However...”

The demon didn’t move. Instead, it looked back at the mirror as though enjoying a piece of fine art. Contrary to Adder’s wishes, no mirror image of the demon stepped forth. Instead the demon was the one to step into it, and caused the mirror to shatter into pieces. 

Adder stumbled backwards in alarm. His forehead was dripping with sweat.

The demon’s strange and sinister voice arose once again. “It cannot emulate relics more powerful than itself. Likewise, you cannot copy a foe with power so far above your own. Am I not correct?”

The enigmatic bar owner scowled. They had yet to trade blows but he already knew he was beaten. There was no way he could take on a demon. Instead he tried to calm himself down, keep his composure. “Who are you?”

“Abaddon is my true name, but wastelanders have given me a title by which I am better known... the Caliph of the Sands.”

Abaddon rose its twisted hand as it spoke and pointed a spiked digit toward Adder. He felt something being ripped from within his clothes, flying away as though it had a mind of its own. It was a book with a metal binding. When it returned to the Caliph of the Sands, it burst into a cloud of yellow grit then disappeared into his body with a raspy hiss.

“Fret not. I am not here for you. I have only come to reclaim what is mine. As for the atomic weapon, take it. If you think you can put it to good use.”

Adder had been certain their mission was a failure. The color had drained from his face as his very life was in question. Yet, that was not the case. In a chance of circumstance he would not have believed, the demon called Abaddon was not here to kill him. Upon delivering his final words, the demon began to crumble away like an ancient sculpture. Winds kicked up around it, creating a whirlwind of sand and floating away.

One of Adder’s subordinates stood on unsteady feet, but eventually found his voice. “B-boss… are we taking it?”

Adder stood in silence, looking around the now empty warehouse. “Yes.”

It was too important to leave behind.

 

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Xiao Lai's Thoughts

So we finally learn the name of the Caliph.  This was a fun one - his name was '苍冥 ', which literally translates into 'Vast Abyss' or 'Vast Nether'.  We settled upon Abaddon - the Angel of the Abyss who is generally considered a demon.  Meanwhile...

Adder was here for the freaking nuke!  What's he going to do with it?!