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Book 3, Chapter 90 - The Dark Atom's Trump Cards

 Raven led Three-Eyed Spider and less than a hundred of their people through a secret route. Only a dozen or so of them were actually equipped to fight - the rest were scientists who followed Three-Eyed Spider in his defection. Vengeance was forefront in the old man's mind, but he wasn't going to do it with the skeleton crew he had now.

They were no threat to anyone, and escape was only more difficult the farther they went. The Blispterpeak mountains were a deadly and inhospitable place. If a handful of them made it out alive they would count themselves lucky.

Even at considerable distance from Nucleus they could still feel the ground shake from explosions, and see lights flashing in the cloudy sky. Those were blasts from elysian warships, and the roar of defensive cannons from the city under the mountain.

Three-Eyed Spider himself had been wounded in his conflict with Wolfblade. He sagged under his own weight, nursing his grievances with an angry and dismal countenance.

For more than half his life the scientist had sacrificed for the Dark Atom, only to be cast away in the end like so much refuse! It was so unfair!

You deserve to die for what you've done, Wolfblade!

Suddenly they stopped as Raven drew to a halt. His angry red eyes glared at the path ahead, and in a cold voice he called out. "Show yourself!"

One... two... three figures stepped out, then whole groups. A few moments later there were thousands people blocking the way forward.

A frigid hand gripped Three-Eyed Spider's heart. Even in the midst of all this, had Wolfblade sent people to hunt him down? No, that was impossible. These weren't Dark Atom members... but who were they?

Several figures stepped ahead of the battalion.

The foremost among them was a young man with a bit of straw jutting from the side of his mouth. His left arm was covered in bandages, and an exorcist rod hang at his waist .It was obvious by the look of him that he was this group's leader.

Another was a heroic, albeit strangely expressionless man with inky black skin. His presence was odd, and looking at him one didn't get the impression he was human at all. There was a distinct sense of death and destruction that followed him. Next was a man with a battleax that would have seemed huge except for the fact that it's bearer was also far larger than average. The malicious looking fat man hefted his weapon, putting the etched runes along its surface on full display. Obviously his battleax was no typical tool of destruction.

Aside from them there were also a young-ish looking man with a pale face and a thin sword, and a young boy carrying a gourd on his back.

They traveled with a group of two or three thousand, who were obviously from two different camps. One group consisted of considerably rougher looking men, many of them mutated. The other was clearly well trained and equipped, with a white-haired swordsman standing at the fore.

What an odd collection, the scientist thought.

Squall didn't pay any mind to Three-Eyed Spider or his insignificant party. Standing in the middle of the road, he raised his bandaged arm to his eyes and peered into the distance. "Ah... it looks like we're early. We should wait for a while, let the two sides beat on each other for a time."

Although he was a new addition to the Highwaymen, Ravenous Tiger's influence was perhaps just as weighty as Squall's. He didn't like having to take orders from a child, but he was afraid of whatever benefactor he represented. For the time being it was wiser to play the role of obedient henchman.

Indeed Squall was young, but his time and experiences in the wilds had made him shrewd and ruthless.

When word got out that war had erupted in the Blisterpeaks, he gave the command to make for the mountain range as quickly as possible. OF course now that they were here, according to Squall it wasn't their place to get involved.

Elysians, wastelanders, the Sanctum... it didn't matter. They were all enemies.

Skycloud was a given, an ancient foe to the wastelands. The Dark Atom was a wildcard with tremendous influence, which made them a threat. Once Boondock and Fishmonger's Borough joined they had the strength to vie for control of the whole northern barrens. It was only a matter of time before they came into conflict with the Seekers. Saving them from destruction was like cutting off his own foot.

The Sanctum of Judgment was a different sort of adversary. Putting aside the fact he razed Fishmonger's Borough, the Crimson One's goal was to unite the wastelands. This put him at odds with the Highwaymen. The bishop was a terrible foe, so if there was a chance that the elysians could take care of him and his people before Squall had to, then all the better.

Ravenous Tiger finally turned his attention to Three-Eyed Spider and the other escapees. "Where are these rats scurrying off to? We should run them down and be on our way."

As he spoke his ax started to glow, eager for blood.

Seeing the threat in the fat man's posture Raven lifted his cyborg arm, ready to react. However Three-Eyed Spider quickly told him to stand down. They were outnumbered, and these strangers before them were strong. If they tried to fight they would certainly die. Instead he tried another tactic. "A moment, gentlemen!"

Squall half-heartedly motioned for Ravenous Tiger to relax. "If you're skulking around here it means you aren't ordinary folk. Tell us who you are, then we'll decide what to do with you."

"I am called Three-Eyed Spider, and I am the lead scientist of the Dark Atom!"

"Lead scientist..."

Squall's eyes sparkled. A title like that certainly carried a lot of clout. The Dark Atom was the biggest Seeker organization in the wastelands, and if what this man said was true then he was a rare talent. Even without any fighting capability, he would not be a man to underestimate.

Three-Eyed Spider was a tiger driven from his cave, and out in the open he was vulnerable. He dare not push his luck, and meeting this motley crew was potentially catastrophic. In order to save their lives he shared his tale, and in the process offered a way out for him and his people. "Obviously, you lot are not a typical group of hoodlums. We have fallen on hard times and have nowhere to turn. If you accept, my people and I would like to join your organization - with the stipulation, of course, that we are treated well and with respect."

Squall shared a wordless look with Ravenous Tiger. It was a great deal.

Strong fighters were a dime a dozen out in the wastelands, but men like Three-Eyed Spider were rare. If the old scientist really was willing to join them, it would mean a great boon for their group's development.

"You are defectors. I represent the Highwaymen, and this man leads Fishmonger's Borough. I'm sure you've heard of the Highwaymen and their recent growth. We've got the muscle. Fishmonger's Borough is one of the richest towns in the wasteland. I've got people, and he's got resources. If you choose to join us, we'd be a real threat to the current balance of power. Don't you agree?"

Three-Eyed Spider rejoiced. "Absolutely! Just as it should be."

So it was that a great mind of the Dark Atom defected to join a budding power of the wastelands. First Squall annexed the strength of Fishmonger's Borough, now he had the aid of Three-Eyed Spider and his man Raven. The cards were increasingly being dealt in his favor. Radical expansion came with dangers of course, for both Ravenous Tiger and Three-Eyed Spider came with their own people. However there was no reward without risk, and though they might be hard to manage there were turbulent times ahead. Now was the time to consolidate strength.

He would deal with those problems when they arose. For now it was enough to bring them into the fold.

Three-Eyed Spider made a show of submitting to their direction. "I understand you were thinking of joining the battle. In my estimation, this would be unnecessary."

Squall didn't understand. "What are you saying? You expect that the Dark Atom can withstand Skycloud's assault? Word has spread and other wasteland groups will come, but they're still a far ways off. They won't be here in time, the Crimson Church and my people are all there is."

Three-Eyed Spider crooned a laugh. "The Dark Atom may be no match for the elysians, but do not expect them to be destroyed in a single attack. Everyone has underestimated them. The organization is almost a hundred years old, and the city under the mountain has existed for several centuries - do you honestly believe they have nothing else to aid them in their troubles?"

"So you're saying," Squall interrupted, "that they still have a trump card to play."

"That's right, two in fact, and either one is capable of annihilating their enemies. The only reason they haven't used either yet is because they haven't captured enough prey in their trap! Things will be different when enough elysian support troops and their mighty commanders arrive!"

His assertions took everyone by surprise. The Dark Atom couldn't be that audacious, even if they were twice the size. Were they expected to believe that with the power to wipe out the elysian army, they wouldn't use it right away? Instead, they would take the risk of waiting for an even higher body count? It was ludicrous!

Ravenous Tiger pressed for more information. "What tricks do they have up their sleeves?"

Injured though he was, Three-Eyed Spider drew himself up with a regal air. Neither fast nor slow; neither rushed nor sluggish, he revealed the Dark Atom's greatest secret. "The first is a weapon of the ancient times, forged in the zenith of humanity's destruction. A nuclear weapon that, upon detonation, atomizes everything around. Nothing can survive. Nucleus was built deep underground to protect against destruction should one go off nearby."

The ancient people created weapons this powerful? And the Dark Atom had control of one?!

Three-Eyed Spider went on. "The second is a defense system built into Nucleus during its construction. 'Nirvana.' If Nirvana is activated then everything within several tens of kilometers around the city will be destroyed. The valley they battle in is ground zero. That is why you mustn't go - entering that valley would only lead to your inevitable destruction!"

Both Squall and Ravenous felt a chill go up their spines. No wonder Nucleus had survived so long. Their defenses were as terrifying as they were incredible.

Squall offered a slight bow toward the scholar. "We appreciate your guidance, elder. You've prevented us from making a mistake we would regret for eternity. In that case, what do you suggest we do?"

"In this old man's estimation, the chances of them using the atomic weapon are small. It is powerful, yes, but as far as I am aware the Dark Atom has only discovered one. If in a single use it doesn't slay the likes of someone like General Skye or Governor Arcturus, then it would be a pity beyond measure. In addition, the weapon does not pick sides. Using it in your own territory would have dire consequences. It is far more likely they will choose to activate Nirvana!"

Now that he was committed to Squall and his Highwaymen, Three-Eyed Spider held no information back. After all, in saving Squall's life it was an investment in his own standing. Earn favor now, and later his counsel would be all the more welcome.

"We establish ourselves in a valley stragglers are likely to pass through. Once Nirvana is activated, those who manage to escape will be forced to come our way, where we will be lying in wait. They will be unable to escape, and everything that comes through will be destroyed, be they elysian or wastelander."

"Good, good, yes! A fine plan."

Squall applauded the cunning scheme. If it all unfolded as he claimed, then they might be able to eliminate all of their foes in one fell strike without risk to themselves. Squall had to appreciate his luck. Fortune had decided that instead of being obliterated on a mountain side, the power of the entire wasteland might be delivered on a silver platter.

1. Alright, considerable change here. From the beginning we've mistaken the phrase for exorcist staff, when in fact it is actually more of a cudgel or mace. The confusion arises because the final character, , can mean both a stick or rod, and a bludgeoning instrument. Especially in recent chapters - i.e. with Cloudhawk dual wielding them, and the fact that everyone wears them on their waists where a staff cannot be worn - it was clear that these are intended to be mace-like weapons, not staves. This is further confirmed by their size, as mentioned in chapter 36, where it is described as three feet. A staff would be closer to six, whereas many styles of medieval maces were between two and three feet in length. Looking back it makes quite a bit of sense. We'll be using 'rod' as these are fairly slim weapons, almost baton-like. Henceforth I will be translating this weapon as intended, and eventually some heavy editing will be needed. One day, like some time before I die. Maybe.

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