Hellflower led Cloudhawk away from the lab, stating they were going to meet someone.
Cloudhawk was surprised when she brought him to none other than the new Shepherd god, Autumn. As relics fell under the purview of the gods, who better to inquire about the process of their manufacture than a former Supreme?
Hellflower’s musings rang in Cloudhawk’s ears, stoking his interest. Since he wasn’t going anywhere for the time being, and he wasn’t going to improve his physical prowess until he recovered, it was better to work on other skills than just be pushed around the Vale like an invalid. At any rate, the idea of making his own relics was an interesting one, he had to admit.
But when Autumn saw him her face immediately took on a sour hue.
Seeing the familiar face scrunched in such an expression of distaste, Cloudhawk was similarly bitter. The Autumn he knew was a simple girl, but after the Shepherd god stole her body that face was nothing but haughty arrogance. What he saw in that expression was the deep-held belief that no one mattered but herself.
Did she think she was still a god? Still, he was here to ask for a favor, and sometimes that meant giving up your pride.
Wolfblade’s suggestions rang through Autumn’s mind. She squelched the murderous intent that always seemed to rise when Cloudhawk was near, for she knew it would only awaken protests from the human soul within her. She hated having her domination undermined, so the longer she could ignore it the better. Perhaps, with time, the girl will grow weak and vanish of her own accord.
“You want to learn to create artifacts?” A light flashed through her eyes after Cloudhawk explained their aim. Her lips curled into a derogatory smirk. “Do you think that an insignificant mortal like yourself can wield the power of creation?”
“Hellflower claims I have a talent for it. I’m confident that if a god or demon can do it, so can I.” Cloudhawk was neither humble nor arrogant in his delivery. “Before you left, you were an important god among your race. You must know how to do it.”
“Why don’t you ask Wolfblade. He knows more than-”
Seeming to recognize that she was saying something she shouldn’t, Autumn immediately cut herself off before she could finish the thought. Cloudhawk was of course curious, and her efforts only make him pay closer attention to the slip. According to her, Wolfblade was the one to talk to.
“Mortal, I have no qualms telling you that you will fail.” Autumn didn’t want him to pose any further questions. She denied him flat out. “Although I am a mighty god, even I do not wholly understand the process of creating relics. In truth there are few gods who are privy to this special knowledge.”
“You were one of their leaders, weren’t you? Even at your status, you weren’t allowed to know how to make relics?”
“Foolish mortal!” Autumn looked down her nose at him dismissively. “It is the God King who holds the chief position among the gods. The Supremes are merely his immediate subordinates. We are all possessed of different powers, and though our position may be high in the hierarchy, there are many whose strength are no less imposing than the Supremes.”
Cloudhawk frowned. “Then what sort of gods create relics?”
“There is a small class of gods among us with unique capabilities. They are the ones with the sole power of relic creation. To us, they are known as Artisans. As for demons, my knowledge is limited. However, I know that the Demon King and a handful of the most prominent demons possess this ability. Their most storied Artisan is second demon Elder Belail.”
“Wait wait, hold on.” Cloudhawk cut her off. “I thought you gods shared all your wisdom?”
“Stupid creature. You think that since you’ve learned a little of our ways, you now understand godly existence?” She seemed almost offended. “If the entirety of human knowledge was collected into an interconnected web, would one being be capable of absorbing it all?”
“Stupid, stupid thing. Merely speaking with vermin like you is an offense to my status as the great Shepherd God.”
Autumn had to hold back the urge to slap Cloudhawk’s head off his shoulders. In reality, Cloudhawk felt the same. She was human now, despite whatever lofty bullshit was in her head. It was done when she severed her connection to the other gods. What was foolish was going on calling herself a mighty god.
The total population of gods was relatively small, though they were all born with incredible and unique powers. It was true that they all had access to the unified knowledge and strength of their people, but even for gods there were limits to the knowledge their individual minds could hold.
It was rather like the internet from the ancient age, where humanity’s collected knowledge was easily accessible to anyone. Or, like the expansive library of Nucleus, deep in the bowels of the Blisterpeaks. There was such a vast sea of knowledge, no single person could hope to grasp it in their lifetime.
“Artisanal powers are a rare thing, perhaps one in a hundred among the gods. Among the demons it is even less common. For this reason, in the Great War the gods were able to equip demonhunters to aid in the destruction of their enemies, while the demons were forced to fight on their own. As for humans, it is impossible for them to possess this skill. If indeed it has awakened within you, then only Wolfblade has your answer.”
The awakened talent she spoke of was Cloudhawk’s ability to hear relics. He never thought it was such an amazing skill, except to help him discover relics or when demonhunters were using them nearby. Now, however, he was beginning to understand. It was exceedingly rare to have this skill, so much so that in the whole history of demonhunters there had only ever been a handful. He was beginning to appreciate it more.
“Alright, insignificant one. I grow tired of speaking, so I’ll make this short.” Autumn had run out of patience. “While I do not know the precise methods of relic creation, I am somewhat familiar with the process. If you refuse to accept the futility of it, then the first thing you should learn is how to understand relics.”
“How’s that?” He asked.
“Destruction.” Her answer was simple. “More powerful relics are beyond the ken of you lowly mortals. Begin with an exorcist rod. Dismantle it, learn its properties, then see if you can remake it with your own capabilities. If you succeed then seek me out again.”
Autumn waved at them dismissively, and they left.
It just so happened that Cloudhawk had plenty of exorcist rods in storage. Now was as good a time as any to give them a purpose.
Hellflower pushed Cloudhawk back to the labs. They each set about their individual tasks, with Cloudhawk first retrieving a rod and handing it to Hellflower. She started by running experiments on it to determine its physical makeup.
The exorcist rod was widely considered the most basic of demonhunter relics – to the point it was hardly considered a relic at all. More like a novice’s training tool, a psychic multiplier. It was the perfect object to begin their efforts.
If it was so simple, there was no reason Cloudhawk couldn’t find out how to make them.
Hellflower’s efforts determined that the rods were made from special Elysian alloys. It was especially sturdy, tough, and resistant to both fire and acid. Certainly a material gifted to the Elysians by their gods. No wasteland procedure was capable of making material like this.
She was further able to detect another faint signature of another substance. Eboncrys powder. As she suspected, eboncrys was involved somehow in relic creation, and this confirmed it. In addition to being a stabilizing compound, it was also added to the smelting process. From empowering ordinary metals to repairing broken relics, eboncrys was the key.
Hellflower was preparing to share this information with Cloudhawk, but when she turned she was shocked at what she discovered.
Cloudhawk was seated before an exam table with piles of slag strewn before him. In his hands were orbs of green fire, which burned into a blackening rod. The sturdy material was melting like it was made of ice cream, and dripping onto the table.
Castigation Fire was incredible to behold.
After what she learned about the rod, seeing it appear so fragile was a shock. It just peeled away. She watched carefully, and discovered that while the makeup of the weapon was simple something unique was created as it burns away.
In trying to determine what made up a rod, she had of course cut one apart. In doing so she hadn’t discovered anything out of the ordinary. Castigation Fire, on the other hand, seemed capable of extracting whatever this strange material was. It had a low melting point, reminding her of mercury, but quickly vanished into a mist. As the vapors hung in the air, they quickly gathered into motes of light.
Cloudhawk took up a container made from the same material as an exorcist rod and captured some of the strange material inside of it. It glimmered with light, like he’d managed to bottle a star.
“What is this?”
“Dunno. But every relic has this inside them. It doesn’t seem like a solid or liquid... not really a gas, either. It is present in the core of every relic I’ve encountered – kind of like a… spirit? Doesn’t seem like it appears from any scientific experiments. But Castigation Fire appears to extract it.
Cloudhawk’s ability to absorb a relic’s power seemed tied to this. Castigation Fire extracted the ethereal core of the tool and combined it in himself.
What Cloudhawk didn’t know, was that Castigation Fire was the work of a Demon Lord. It was a relic from one of the few demonic Artisans, designed especially to aid in relic creation.
“It’s hard to believe.” Hellflower picked up the container, pushed aside her bangs and peered through her goggled at it. Her eyes sparkled with the reflection of the stuff. “This is definitely some new technology, used by gods and demons.”
“I suspect it’s some sort of quantum energy humans have been unable to detect until now. A demonhunter’s attuned psyche is able to resonate with this power, creating some kind of mutual resonance. The combination changes the fundamental properties of the world around them, restructuring things on a subatomic level. That’s how they’re able to summon stuff life fire, ice, stone or cutting air from nothing.”
At the very fundamental level, all things are connected through strings. How each string resonated determined their qualities. In a way, while humans saw the world as all manner of different things, it their very core everything was exactly the same. If one had the ability to change a frequency, then in theory they could change water to metal, stone to grass, air to trees – whatever they wanted.
This was known as string theory .
Hellflower wasn’t one for myths and esoterics, she was a firm believer in the infallibility of science. Anything and everything had an explanation, only this mysterious new force was outside the realm of current human capability. That’s what made it difficult to understand, but not impossible.
Cloudhawk didn’t understand much of her explanation. Really all he cared about was that it was this strange substance that he resonated with, and that it was part of the relic creation process.
“Yes, that must be it. First we need a suitable vessel to contain the substance.” Hellflower fiddled with her goggles, something she did when she was excited. “The vessel itself must possess suitable energy, that’s why they use eboncrys in its construction.”
“You can’t imitate the materials the gods use, can you?”
“That would be very difficult, especially since we know so little about it. Even if we understood the composite materials, it would take a lot of experimentation to figure out the manufacturing process. However, just because we can’t imitate it doesn’t mean we can’t find a suitable substitute.”
She pointed at the gun strapped to her thigh as a means of emphasizing her point.
“The alloy we’ve created with powdered dragon scales – something I call dragon iron – only needs a little eboncrys powder to create something akin to this godly material. The results would unfortunately be inferior, but we can see if it passes muster for our purposes.”
This was why Wolfblade liked Hellflower so much. She was a clever and talented woman.
Both she and Cloudhawk were growing all the more excited over their experiments. They began the next phase without hesitation.
Hellflower created a mold of dragon iron, and Cloudhawk was responsible for infusing it with the secret substance. It didn’t take long for a makeshift exorcist rod of their own was forged, which included that mysterious material.
A black exorcist rod sat inert on the table before them.
Their creation methods were crude – but perhaps this was to be expected, seeing as this was a wasteland copy of Elysian technology. Cloudhawk was also just an amateur artificer who did this largely by hand. The gods would of course have a way to mass produce these things. His creation could certainly never stand up to a godly product in terms of precision and quality.
“Let me see how it works.”
Cloudhawk reached for the rod and poured his will into it. The two began to resonate almost immediately. And then -
An explosion ripped through the laboratory.
1. Ehm… not entirely sure about that.