Cloudhawk was in a sour mood. He felt like he was locked in a cage.
After saving him from the clutches of Arcturus, Wolfblade brought him to the Vale. While he had not made any demands of him, the mysterious man had forbidden Cloudhawk from leaving. Hellflower was at his side all day, serving as his keeper.
She also served as his personal nurse, looking over his recovery twenty-four hours a day.
Everything he did every minute of every day was witnessed. She was nearby even when he ate, showered and slept. There was no chance for him to escape, because he was never alone.
Hellflower was the most mature, enchanting and manipulative woman Cloudhawk had ever met. However, after a long few days she was desperate to show her foxes tail. Cloudhawk suffered her teasing and seductions several times a day.
While he was gravely wounded, Cloudhawk hadn’t lost his natural urges. As a man in his early twenties it was a time of great need , and inciting those primal longings didn’t take much.
Strangely, however, Cloudhawk managed to bring himself back from the brink every time. At key moments, a beautiful figure dressed all in white intruded on his memory.
He would close his eyes, and feel those cold lips against his. He could feel the hot tears against his cheeks. In all his life no one had ever made him feel like that…
Was this what it felt like to truly care for someone? The next image to cross his mind was Dawn.
Although Dawn was no threat to Selene in appearance or talent, both women were incredible. Dawn wasn’t the same cold, aloof presence of Selene. She was the kind who always went right for what she wanted, and did exactly what she thought was right.
Cloudhawk wasn’t an idiot.
The difference in Dawn’s persona over time was obvious to anyone, as were her feelings for Cloudhawk. But their relationship was different, more like what he had with Luciasha. He and Asha had been like siblings – he loved her like a sister, and she filled an emptiness in his heart that was left by a lack of family. To him, Dawn was like a dear and important friend.
Cloudhawk hardly had any romantic experiences, and now suddenly he felt like he was drowning in them. Those lurid thoughts Hellflower summoned within him vanished, leaving her with scowls and eyes filled with resentment.
But Cloudhawk wasn’t sure how long this would go on. Day after day with a woman like her, eventually his defenses would crumble. So, he cut to the chase and just asked her directly why she wanted him to remain in the Vale.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Bullshit question, of course I do. Are you going to keep me here forever?”
He was beginning to get better, most of the time he no longer needed the wheelchair. Hellflower knew it was time to come clean, but it would be difficult to explain directly the mission Wolfblade had set upon her. So she took him to her laboratory.
“Let me show you something. Then you’ll understand.”
Woodland Vale boasted a population of around a hundred thousand people. Forty thousand or so were young and healthy. After the Dark Atom came, many of them were selected to harvest the Vale’s most precious asset, the eboncrys fruits growing on the god tree.
Every day most of these fruits would be delivered to the Dark Atom’s temporary workshops. There, special equipment extracted the fluid from the fruit and condensed them into high-energy eboncrys. They had uses for the husks as well, as nourishment for the dragons.
Cloudhawk was made familiar with the process, but nothing about it seemed strange. The whole reason the Dark Atom came to the Vale was to have access to eboncrys, wasn’t it?
“Look.” Hellflower walked into the lab, donning a pair of goggles and gloves. She plucked up a small cube of eboncrys with a set of tweezers. “This small cube releases the equivalent of ten tons of fuel, if you know how to extract it. Do you know what this mean?”
“If you can retrofit your vehicles to run off eboncrys, you won’t need to refill nearly as often.”
“That’s right. It would completely revolutionize how we get around. Our world is massive, but we only know so little of it. The farthest any wastelander has traveled is about five hundred kilometers – even Elysian maps only measure out about five thousand. The primary reason for this is because fuel is so difficult to store and accumulate. The wastelands are dangerous, expansive, and convoluted, with no way to get energy along the way.”
Cloudhawk nodded to indicate he understood.
Elysian warships used eboncrys powder, which was a highly efficient fuel source that allowed their vehicles to cross vast distances. It also produced the energy necessary to power their pylons, both for attack and defense.
However, Elysians rarely explored the outside world. How big was this place, really? Was Skycloud the only godly realm around?
Cloudhawk was willing to boldly suggest that was not the case. When he was connected to the Cloud God’s consciousness he could feel the other gods. Most were very far away – probably in the place legends called Mount Sumeru. However, there were also many that were separate from them, spread out in distance places. What’s to say they weren’t just like the Cloud God, patrons of their special realm?
The world was big. Humans had a small view of it. Woodland Vale had a means to show humans how little they really knew.
“Of course, in addition to powering the Dark Atom’s manufacturing industry, it can also be used to create and power many powerful weapons.” Hellflower paused to open her coat, revealing her long milky white legs. A pistol was strapped to her thigh. “Look here, my latest invention.”
The gun’s construction was simply and straightforward at first glance. It looked much like any other crude wasteland weapon. However, the body of it was unique, as it was not in any way polished or refined. It made the weapon look especially crude by modern standards. A faint green hue was visible in the black gun metal.
This was the Dark Atom’s latest military invention, made from a combination of alloy and powdered dragon scales. The combination created a metal thirty percent stronger than average, and twenty percent more fire resistant.
Hellflower went on. “We call it a crysgun, and right now it’s the only one we’ve managed to make. It’s a pure energy weapon, created through wasteland ingenuity, powered by an eboncrys cell. Try it.”
Cloudhawk took the gun from her and aimed at a stone not far away. When he pulled the trigger he didn’t feel any kickback, or hear the rapid expansion of gas from a barrel. Instead he saw a streak of energy streaked from the front of the weapon, which blasted the rock into gravel.
It packed quite a punch, comparable to a large caliber rifle in handgun form.
Hellflower stared at him with a satisfied smirk on her face. “Much better than your average weapon, don’t you think?”
She wasn’t wrong. Quiet, low waste, no need for cumbersome bullets or gunpowder, and strong. If they managed to mass produce these it would make wasteland fighters a lot more dangerous.
“And this is just a small sample of what we’re capable of. There’s a lot we can change and improve.” Her words were haughty and excited. “I’ve got three hundred scientists working day and night to develop new weapons. Soon we’ll have crys-rifles, crys-missiles, crys-grenades – you name it. Beyond weapons and transportation, this practically limitless energy has the potential to change the life of every wastelander.”
No wonder people had been fighting so desperately for control of this place. Its store of eboncrys was beyond priceless.
After the Cloud God lost its connection to the rest of the gods, the realm it lorded over was left in a state of uncertainty. It made for the perfect opportunity should an organization like the Dark Atom mean to strike.
“You’ve spoken a lot, but I still don’t see how any of this has anything to do with me.”
“What are you in such a rush about? I’m getting to the best part!”
Hellflower returned the gun to its holster before leading Cloudhawk further into the lab. They crossed a number of checkpoints as they penetrated deeper into the more secret areas.
“We’re still in the very early stages of understanding eboncrys and what it can do. I’ve looked through our archives but there has never been mention of this incredible source of energy. All that can mean is that it has never been encountered in the world prior to now. It only appeared in our world after the cataclysm, making its history and origins very mysterious.”
“Well, we know that the Temple uses eboncrys to repair broken relics. By extension it’s clear that eboncrys is a fundamental component in their creation.” She paused and gave Cloudhawk a searching look. “We have enough of it now to attempt to make our own relics!”
His eyes were as big as saucers. “What are you saying? You’re telling me you can make relics?”
“The process of relic creation has been a closely guarded secret,” she explained. “Part of the reason for Skycloud’s supremacy is their many demonhunters. You only need to look at Arcturus to know what that means. Looking further, much of the reason why humans worship gods is because they bequeath these incredible artifacts to them as divine gifts. If we can delve into the forbidden knowledge of these creatures and learn to master their secrets, we can undermine their tyranny and become our own gods!”
Shock was an understatement.
If she could actually do what she said, it could mean a fundamental change to the world as they knew it. Who knows, perhaps one day the wastelands would have its own army of demonhunters… No. They wouldn’t be demonhunters, but godslayers.
“So you’re trying to create relics.”
“That’s right, but we don’t yet have the methods.” She stopped and fixed him with a pointed stare. “What we do have, is you!”
For a moment he thought he heard wrong. When did he learn how to make artifacts?
“This is what Wolfblade says,” she explained. “You are born with the innate talent to sense a relic’s resonance. There are few people anywhere in the world who understand them better than you do. So, you are the only person capable of breaking the mystery. You’re our only hope at learning how to make relics of our own.”
Indeed, Cloudhawk had a rather unique skill. He’d always had the ability to hear relics, sort of like someone plucking a string. Different relics had different frequencies, and over time he’d learned to recognize their various melodies. Through it he could determine a relic’s type, attributes, and whether or not it was intact. Maybe she was right, maybe in time he could learn to use this skill to pierce the very essence of what made a relic.
He had to admit, the prospect was exciting. Imagine if one day he was able to build any artifact as he pleased. He would hold the secret to incredible power and wisdom. But how?
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