Adder’s mirror crystal was a relic that could rival the Gospel of Sands, Selene’s Holy Vestments, or Castigation – nothing short of epic quality. Part of its power was that it could copy any relic of equal or lesser strength, as well as people.
Cloudhawk heaved a tired sigh. This fuckin’ guy. Monsters, him and his dad both.
Holding the crossblades, Adder and his copies slowly strode forward. The remaining Lifedrinker Arrows hovered in the air, still but poised to strike at any moment. With an ominous glow the arrow heads themselves began to spin at high speed like an exorcist rod.
Adder was summoning all the strength from the arrows in preparation for a final blow. They were more deadly now than ever before.
But the demonhunter himself retained that emotionless façade. He was cool and composed, like he had everything under control. After all, Cloudhawk was still too young and immature to really be a threat to him.
“Unless I’m mistaken, a surge of power like that can only be used once in a short period.” It was less of a question and more an observation, as Adder fixed Cloudhawk with that dispassionate stare. “I am curious whether you’ve prepared anything for what happens next?”
After a brief moment of shock Cloudhawk regained his composure. He was always the practical sort, and never had he encountered a relic that was wholly invincible. At the very least, the more powerful the relic the more mental energy it demanded to maintain.
Incredible and varied as the mirror was, it was limited by the one who bore it.
For Adder to summon so many copies – both of himself and these relics – it had to be taxing. For an average demonhunter he suspected they would be so spent they couldn’t even use an exorcist rod by this point.
Even if Adder had the talent and capacity of someone like Selene, he still couldn’t keep this up for long.
As far as Cloudhawk knew, he didn’t have a tool that stored energy, like the Holy Vestments. He was convinced that Adder had to have used most of his stamina already. How much longer could he fight at peak strength? What’s more, he’d split his focus between himself and three copies. Intimidating, for sure, but gimmicky as well. The new mirror-Adders had to be much weaker than the one he’d just fought. How many times could they attack before their energy was spent?
Cloudhawk figured that they would collapse on their own after just a few minutes.
Beyond that, there were restrictions to what the mirror could do. It didn’t take much to recognize the connection the copies had to the relic, and that the mirror was constantly feeding them energy. Without that constant supply the copies couldn’t manifest.
In other words, the more copies one made the more unstable they were individually. In addition, the further the copies got from the relic, the more energy was needed to keep the connection strong. 
Cloudhawk shook his head regretfully. “You’re certainly an extraordinary guy, boss. That’s obvious considering what you’ve done. Such a… pity. You would be awesome at anything you decided to do, but you just had to pick this.”
He wasn’t just buying time. Cloudhawk wasn’t much for fawning over others, but after fighting Adder he had to give respect where respect was due. He was strong, collected, and the scope of what he’d done was admirable regardless of which side of the war you stood on. Sooner or later, he would grow to be a man every bit as impressive as his father.
Of course, unless he died. It was a cruel twist of fate that the most brilliant stars burnt out fastest – like Belinda.
Adder replied. “Actually I envy you. Free to live and die as you please, unburdened. And yet, I cannot call you a man.”
Cloudhawk was grateful for every second, so he looked back at the older demonhunter with a look of curiosity. “How’s that?”
Adder took a step forward. It was slow, impactful, filling the space between him and Cloudhawk with a choking aura. “A real man finds his path and sticks to it. No matter how hard he must fight, how bloodied he may become, he never turns back. A real man will die without complaint in service of his purpose.”
“And what about you and your purpose?” Cloudhawk retorted. “Have you ever stopped to think it was all worthless?”
“When I was young I scoffed at the idea that the beat of a butterfly’s wings could change the world. Now, as I’ve gotten older, my views have changed. Each generation has its heroes, but these are not the ones I look up to. I reserve my esteem for the bleached bones that carpet our path, the hundreds of thousands of people who died and who will never have their names spoken again. The heroes we love to worship stand on their shoulders. These forgotten victims are the backbone of our species.”
He took another step. His presence seemed to fill the whole chamber. Fearless, resolute.
“Perhaps you find our methods laughable. Maybe you sneer at us just like you’d sneer at that little butterfly and its ridiculous, lofty delusions. But me… I would be proud to be that butterfly. I would cherish being another pile of nameless bones that lifts others up! I may fail, but at least my corpse will bring humanity closer to inevitable victory.”
The two men regard one another in a brief and uncomfortable confrontation.
Cloudhawk respected this man, really. Adder respected him in turn. But the two were destined to stand on opposing sides of this conflict.
Adder slowly raised his hand. “I’m not finished. I can’t stop. But here your journey ends!”
All four copies of Adder fired searing bolts at him. In that instant the remaining Lifedrinker Arrows also burst into motion.
“I’m sorry.” Cloudhawk’s keen senses helped him dart away from the beams. He jumped up and over the net of deadly light. His Silver Serpents gleamed dangerously in his grasp. “I’m not ready to die yet.”
An ear-piercing sound rang off the stone walls of the cavern as the arrows raced his way.
They were moving faster than the speed of sound, but Cloudhawk caught them with one of his swords. When the blade impacted with the arrow he felt an explosion of force release into his arm, making it numb. But the arrows were deflected, and were sent careening through a group of stone pillars before getting lodged in a wall.
What amazing power! It was like trying to deflect a missile!
Adder wasted no time in launching a follow-up attack. He poured more of his mental prowess into the arrows, increasing their lethality. Not all of them were aimed toward Cloudhawk, though. Some had their gleaming arrowheads trained on Autumn.
An assault like this was nearly more than Cloudhawk could handle. How was Autumn supposed to protect herself?
At the same time all four Adders began to move. Four identical crossblades, burning with divine light, lashed out in unison. They came hacking toward Cloudhawk with lightning speed on the heels of the arrows to create an impermeable wall of force.
It was flawless. Cloudhawk had nowhere to go.
His plan had been to kite the arrows; keep just out of range and lead them around while simultaneously wasting Adder’s mental strength. It seemed that wasn’t possible anymore as the connection moved with Adder, keeping the flow of energy stable. Cloudhawk once again found himself surrounded by an angry and impermeable onslaught.
He felt like a leaf caught in a hurricane, and the buffeting winds threatened to tear him apart at any moment.
Meanwhile the elder bore witness to their conflict. It was a shock to see first-hand what these men were capable of. There was also a zealous blaze in his eyes. He’d heard of demonhunters, but for the first time he saw that the stories didn’t do them justice.
Woodland Vale had been closed off from the rest of the world for too long. Were they too far behind everyone else?
Thankfully, the dragons the Shepherd created – in all her wisdom – were resistant to the power of demonhunters. There were more than a thousand of them now and they would keep the Vale safe. Not even the elysians could fight their way passed them.
A little more… just a little more and they would be through the seal. Shepherd’s greatest treasure was nearly in his grasp.
Real power would come when he had it, the elder was certain. Enough power to lead his people from their verdant cage to freedom, and to turn their warriors into a force that would rival Elysian demonhunters.
The young man Autumn had chosen as her champion was clearly no match for Adder. His death was just a matter of time!
Autumn saw two of the Lifedrinker Arrows fix on her position and close in. Winds from their rotating arrowheads tugged at her hair and clothing, while shards of debris peppered her lily-white skin. It felt like she was staring into the face of death, its cold hands on her trembling shoulders, making her feel small and helpless.
She’d tried so hard to save the Vale. She had desperately tried to be a good leader. Why, then, was she always a burden?
Cloudhawk’s situation was dire, and he was barely holding on. He wasn’t going to save her. The gleaming light of the arrows filled her vision when suddenly Autumn’s heart filled with denial.
Trembling hands pulled Shepherd’s flute from her belt.
In a final act of protest, she put the flute to her lips and released a single clear note. The note shuddered through the area, more than just sound. Its echoing ring seeped into the hearts of everyone within earshot, capturing them in waves of mental energy that spread out in all directions.
The arrows shuddered.
They actually stopped.
Adder was staggered by the psychic blast, and a look of shock spread across his face. In an unbelievable turn of circumstances, his connection with the Lifedrinker Arrows was severed.
As such, the impenetrable wall that had sealed Cloudhawk in was riddled with flaws. Dodging Adder’s crossbloades, he had just enough time to teleport several dozen meters from harm’s way.
He looked up. The Lifedrinker Arrows were suspended in mid-air, unmoving.
Somehow, Autumn had exerted influence over them with her flute. Even she didn’t know the artifact could do that. Since getting the flute she had only know it to be capable of controlling mindless animals with its psychic pulse.
Who would have believed this? The waves were interrupting the connection between the arrows and their master, depriving them of direction. As an epic-grade relic itself, the flute was proving more than merely a way to bend animals to one’s will.
Cloudhawk shouted at her. “Break the mirror!”
She suddenly understood what he was saying. Autumn blew into the flute once more, and this time the arrows flew according to her will. Adder tried to stop them from reaching their destination, but Cloudhawk blocked his path.
The mirror-Adders launched themselves at him angrily.
As the crossblades seethed with maximum power Cloudhawk felt the heat wash over him. Closer and closer they came, but the arrows reached their target first. As the mirror shattered, so did the crossblades, mere inches from his face. They exploded into a hundred million shards of light, and then vanished; the swords, the mirror-Adders, the arrows. Everything.
The mirror was destroyed! Unmitigated rage swelled up inside Adder.
In an immediate reaction he thrust his fist toward Autumn and fired a death ray at her from his ring. It struck, burning a path through the center of her chest. She was flung through the air like a discarded doll and struck the stone floor hard a dozen meters away. Her body sported a hole the size of a fist, with the edges and viscera inside burned black from the heat of the ray.
Cloudhawk roared in fury and flung himself at Adder, heaving his Silver Serpents with all his might.
That dull glint passed through Adder’s left wrist like it was made of paper and severed his hand. A spray of hot, bright red blood sprayed out in a gruesome fan. Cloudhawk followed up with a vicious kick to the center of Adder’s chest, which struck hard enough to cave it in. His ribs were crushed and shards of bone dug into his lungs. More blood started to pour from his nose and mouth, and pooled around him as he fell backwards onto the ground.
The elder’s eyes went wide with terror. Desperately flashed in his gaze as he looked at the altar and the crystal. Whatever was inside could almost be seen. A little more. Just a little more!
Previous Chapter Next Chapter