Adder’s brass lantern illuminated the entire cavern. Strangely, Cloudhawk could actually feel the photon particles striking his body – not with any weight, of course, for they wouldn’t even bother a normal person much less one with Cloudhawk’s constitution.
What a dirty trick!
The light wasn’t intended to harm him, rather Cloudhawk knew right away that his invisibility had been robbed. At first he was a blotch of shadow among the light, and before he could figure out what was going on Adder attacked with his crossblade. He swung it at his slippery foe, heaving a blast of energy in Cloudhawk’s direction.
Cloudhawk stumbled out of the way, but in that instant Adder raised his hand and fired another searing beam from his ring. He was already on his back foot, so he did the only thing he could think of and tried to block the light with his Silver Serpents. The force from the beam was strong enough to overcome his phase field.
It struck. Cloudhawk was flung against a stone pillar hard enough to cause cracks to form all over it.
He wiped the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth while inwardly struggling with the surprise. So that was the trick, his lantern was a probing relic. Much to Cloudhawk’s chagrin it’d been able to sniff him out without issue, even easier than Claudia’s Seeker’s Torque.
The invisibility cloak he wore was a high-grade relic that Claudia’s relic was unable to detect. Not so for Adder’s lantern.
He wasn’t just invisible, either. He was half-phased from reality. For all intents and purposes he didn’t exist, a fact which should have been him outside the ability of most relics to detect. Why was this brass trinket the exception?
Of course the lantern was special. The particles of light that it produced were especially large and filled the space. This special property interacted differently with Cloudhawk’s phase field, which folded space around him. Since the particles were large enough to be visible disturbed by the field, Adder was able to determine where Cloudhawk was.
He could no longer rely on being unseen, not against Adder.
The exiled demonhunter stood tall, like a divine effigy, glaring at Cloudhawk with a pair of calm, cold eyes. All of a sudden he jumped into the air, striding twice to cover the distance before bringing the crossblade down on Cloudhawk dozens of times with incredible speed.
Adder wasn’t just mentally strong. His physical capabilities were no less impressive than Cloudhawk’s. He was truly a rare caliber of warrior.
The holy crossblade was a relic that did damage through high powered, condensed energy. It was exactly opposed to Cloudhawk’s phase abilities. It could cleave right through his field in a single blow. He couldn’t just let attacks happen anymore, he would have to actively evade. As the dozens of hissing strikes rained upon him Cloudhawk was forced to fight back. A cold and dangerous light clashed against the crossblade. Deadly as vipers, fast as lightning and strong as a tempest, Cloudhawk’s Silver Serpents’ slipped from his sleeves.
Gold and silver clashed over and over. Their contest illuminated the chamber with flares of energy. Columns were cleaved apart, as in their conflict formations thousands of years old were torn asunder.
The others watched as they fought this epic battle. Wide eyes and gaping mouths abound, they were struck not by flashy moves or technique, but by the sheer force each combatant threw at their foe.
Adder, wielding his crossblade, attacked with a straightforward and unadorned style. Thrust, hack, parry. No flourishes, just simple brutal strikes that were impossible to ignore. Every swing of his arm was deadly, with speed and force enough to chop Cloudhawk in half.
By contrast, Cloudhawk’s Silver Serpents danced like cunning vipers. His style was that he had no style, attacking in a thousand different ways from a thousand different angles. It made him difficult to read; sometimes a strike would be slippery as an eel, followed by a thunderous direct blow. Cloudhawk was inferior to Adder in every sense, and the only way to beat a better opponent was to try and outsmart them.
One of the serpents knocked aside the crossblade. The other swung around to try and exploit the opening.
Cloudhawk was fighting with all of his might, holding nothing back and giving Adder no mercy. Like a sudden storm he pummeled Adder with a torrent of blows, even landing on target. But instead of the satisfying squelch of steel of flesh, it felt like he was striking an iron statue.
Clang-clang-clang! The chamber rang out with the sound of metal on metal.
Adder’s mirror revealed another function in the middle of their fight. It was enveloping him in an egg-shaped shell of protection. Incredibly strong, Cloudhawk’s flurry of blows hadn’t even left a mark. On the contrary, much of the force he threw behind them was reflected back at him.
Bringing the crossblade back around, Adder knocked the Silver Serpents away and hacked at his opponent. Another simple attack, nothing complicated. Just fast, accurate, brutal and strong.
It struck, forcing Cloudhawk to stumble backward. His cloak was torn from the impact, and it’d even cleaved through his armor to split the flesh beneath. A sickening stench invaded his nostrils, the smell of his own flesh burning.
Adder wasn’t the sort to mince words. He wasn’t going to give him prey any mercy, especially when he had them on the ropes. So he attacked against with the crossblade, going in for the killing blow. His weapon seemed to burn brighter in anticipation of cleaving Cloudhawk in two.
Burning golden light was reflected in Cloudhawk’s eyes. He had no choice, now was the time to release the energy he’d been storing. His phase stone shone, the light causing reality to ripple. Cloudhawk then blinked out of existence, reappearing a hundred or so meters away.
Basilisk was in his hands.
Cloudhawk did it all in less than a blink, evading Adder’s attack then drawing his bow for a shot. Adder didn’t even have time to turn around, so when the cursed arrow was released it struck his shell of protection.
Basilisk’s cursed arrows were like potent acid, eating through the shield. But half a second later Adder’s shield reconstituted itself without issue. An attack like this wouldn’t be enough to overcome his defenses, much less fatally wound him.
Adder’s lips curled into a mocking grin once again. His words were tauntingly frigid. “Cloudhawk, you still aren’t good enough.”
As he finished the sentence, another shadow rose from the mirror surface.
His copied crossblade was allowed to fade as Adder grasped the bow that had emerged. He pulled a bundle of arrows from the mirror as well. The bow was a typical bow, nothing special – it was the arrows that drained all the blood from Cloudhawk’s face.
The Lifedrinker Arrow! Many Lifedrinker Arrows! How could Cloudhawk not recognize them?
All those years ago, running through the wastelands. It was the first time he’d fought a demonhunter. He’d almost been hunting down and killed by this relic.
Of course he remembered the demonhunters that had been dispatched to kill him. Claudia, and Atlas Umbra’s younger brother Raith. The image of that terrible arrow coming at him was burned into Cloudhawk’s mind. It never stopped, not until it took the life of its target. That’s how it earned its name.
So many of them, and he’d struggled so much to protect himself against one. Fear and surprise welled up inside him.
Other than the lowest grade of relics, most were unique. It was rare to find even two relics that were exactly the same. The real Lifedrinker Arrow was singular, otherwise every demonhunter would love to have a weapon that could claim a life from a thousand meters away. They would be unstoppable by that point.
If he had it stored in the mirror, it must have meant that Adder had seen the Lifedrinker Arrow before. Through the power of the mirror he was able to overcome the singularity of it and make several copies, twenty or thirty even. All of a sudden Cloudhawk felt like this fight was several times more deadly.
He’d always known Adder was strong. He’d prepared himself for it. But this outrageous display was more than he expected. For the first time Cloudhawk felt doubt grip him, and he felt out of his depth. The damn guy’s abilities seemed limitless. Attack, defense, probing, support -
Adder was able to quickly copy any relic he could attune to within the mirror. And what had he shown so far? Cloudhawk had encountered many demonhunters, most of which could resonate with one – maybe two classes of relics. Demonhunters that could use more than that were exceedingly rare. Someone like Adder, who seemed able to use whatever relic he pleased, was entirely unique with the exception of Cloudhawk himself.
Back in Skycloud he was lauded was equally as talented as Selene, Frost, or Dawn. Since he was the oldest of the new generation of geniusus, he had often been considered chief among them. Now Cloudhawk could see that it was not idle praise.
Such a pity. If he hadn’t defected with his father, Adder – Zephyr – would have been a lauded champion of Skycloud for decades to come. His prospects would have out shined even the likes of Frost. He had more talent, more cunning, and more strength. In every way possible he was superior to his contemporaries.
“How long do you think you can survive?”
Adder fired the arrows all at once. His hands worked like a machine, firing them one after another after another – pinch, pull, release. Before he could react there was a wall of arrows whistling through the air toward Cloudhawk. The faint light of the chamber made them glint with a hungry light.
Cloudhawk’s first instinct was to use his cloak. He remembered that was how he’d protected himself last time. The arrows would keep coming until they thought their target was gone.
But shit! The cloak was torn.
It’d been damaged protecting him from Adder’s crossblade. Unfortunately for him the blow had destroyed the artifact, and Cloudhawk couldn’t use it to hide himself.
The arrows were getting closer.
He was forced into a corner with nowhere to go, all Cloudhawk could do was hope to deflect them by flailing his swords. But if the Lifedrinker Arrow was so easily dissuaded, it would not have such an ominous name. Even if Cloudhawk wielded his blade so expertly that nothing could reach him, they would just keep coming. He couldn’t keep it up forever.
The arrows stuck to him like maggots to a corpse. He knocked them away, only for them to swing around and come back. Cloudhawk suddenly found himself in the midst of a gleaming hurricane of steel he couldn’t escape from.
Hundreds of attack came from every direction. They were as cunning as any assassin, probing his defenses and exploiting every flaw. Before long, Cloudhawk felt a stinging pain catch him in the back. Two of the arrows were lodged into his skin. They burned like red-hot iron, he could even feel his blood boil in the area.
A third, then a fourth… His defenses were faltering, and it would only get worse. Cloudhawk was about to get turned into a pincushion.
“You have lost.”
Adder showed him no mercy. His right hand rose, bearing the brilliant crossblade, and held it high. A beam of light several meters long erupted from it and with lightning speed, he brought it crashing down on Cloudhawk’s beleaguered body.
1. You’ve seen this before, a loooong time ago.