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Book 3, Chapter 97 - The Mysterious Wolfblade

 After the war for the Blisterpeaks, Nucleus was like an ant-hill someone kicked over. For the most part, however, Wolfblade acted as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He spent most of his time in the library, just as he had before they were almost annihilated.

The library was an elegantly constructed building, constructed of sound-proof materials that kept the din of the outside at bay. The moment you walked inside it was like stepping into another world.

Towering shelves stuffed with books rose all around. For all this massive space, there was only one singular occupant.

Wolfblade was perched high upon a ladder and looked out over the library. The books were spread all over like a whirlpool of knowledge. They seemed to have some sort of magic that diffused through the room and swallowed up any eager soul who entered. Among the towers, Wolfblade's meager form was almost insignificant.

This collection of books were a microcosm of all human history. What remains of all the collected knowledge of the world at his fingertips. It was society, and culture, distilled into words on a page and placed here for safe keeping.

A single man standing before all the collected works of mankind throughout the ages... it was impossible not to feel small.

As Wolfblade was busy contemplating this, tendrils of yellow sand invaded the room and started to gather. A few moments later they formed into a familiar image, with red eyes and dark bark-like skin. The demon's presence immediately brought with it the stink of fear and destruction.

Wolfblade sensed the demon's arrival but didn't even turn his head to look. He gently closed the book in his hands. "Every time I'm here, I am confronted with the idea that there is no other place like it in all the wasteland. There's more knowledge here than a man could hope to learn in his lifetime. And yet, all of these books represent just the tiniest fragment of a civilization we'll never know. A glory that will eventually be forgotten. For such a small people to have such a vast history... it's funny that the so-called gods and demons do not even know their own history."

The Caliph of the Sands was not opposed to Wolfblade's wry comment, though he did not agree. "Ten thousand years is a long time, be it for humans, gods, demons, or any other living creature. It is enough, however, to seize the moment. The past doesn't matter, it is the future that is important."

A somewhat derisive smirk spread across the human's face. "So we remain in ignorance from birth to death. If we do not know ourselves, then we cannot know how vulnerable our beliefs are. We cannot know how laughable our pursuits are, or how worthless our sacrifices are. If you never take time to know the past, how can you be sure the future you seek is the one you desire?"

A flash of light flickered in the demon's crimson eyes. "You can see everything?"

"No. I am an ordinary being, one of many. Chance and circumstance are to thank for reaching the heights I've acquired. But the altitude does afford me a longer view."

"What do you mean?"

"Like a man who sees a shadow cast over the world, but does not know why they form - for beyond it is a vast and inscrutable sky of darkness. And I was careless enough to catch a glimpse."

Wolfblade's words were as profound as they were enigmatic. Abaddon mulled over his meaning for a time in silence.

What did it matter, none of this was worth consideration. This one had always been strange, and his style of thought was never Abaddon's proverbial cup of tea. The demon was merely interested in doing what he had to. So he stopped waxing philosophical and changed the subject. "Are you becoming accustomed to your new vessel, ancient one?"

"It is adequate, though too weak. At present, my strength can only return to this piddling degree."

"Heheh... but it is the most incredible power in the world. You are indeed the maddest fiend I've ever met. If word reaches Gehenna that you're alive, it will definitely cause a stir among those fools." Abaddon once more changed the subject. "Speaking of Gehenna, it appears they have begun to stir. There is one among the wastelanders with the Hellion Arm. It seems they've begun to court disciples, but I do not know for how long."

A seldom-seen grim expression crossed Abaddon's hideous face. If those cowards were stirring, then it meant this world's troubles were just beginning.

But he was certain the fiends of Gehenna were incapable of doing anything noteworthy. Abaddon had long abhorred their company and had never wanted to call himself one of their number. Now that the ancient one and his unfathomable mind was here, he had even less inclination to bother with them. He was not going back, and if they chose to get in his way then the Caliph of the Sands was not disinclined to eliminating trouble in the wastelands.

"You should not underestimate Gehenna. There are several among their ranks who fought in the great war and have survived to today. The scope of their vision is far beyond the ken of those who came after, like you. You are too impatient, and do not understand the cost in blood and effort that must lay the foundation for a grand victory. The more eager one is for glorious success, the more likely that they are brought low."

Abaddon took exception to the scolding, but before he could respond something caught his attention and he stopped. Plucking something from its dark clothing, he threw it toward Wolfblade. "Enough for now. Someone comes."

His words hung in the air as the demon's body melted away into dust and floated away on the wind.

Wolfblade snatched the item Abaddon had given him from the air.

"What are you still doing in here, milord Wolfblade?" A slightly raspy yet alluring female voice filled the library. A woman in a crisp researcher's overcoat with goggled perched on her head walked in. Her long, silvery-grey hair and alluring figure never failed to stir the dark passions of the men she encountered. "Our honored guest from the wasteland has been kept waiting for some time. If you keep them in suspense for much longer we might make them angry."

The Dark Atom was the only organization in a hundred years that stood up against the full might of the elysian army and survived. It stood to reason that many would come to seek entrance, and curious glances won from the hidden powers of the wastelands. Now was the time to come seeking audience for negotiations. After all, defeating Skycloud would require a collaborative effort.

Wolfblade descended from the stairs with slow, deliberate steps. Without a note of hurry, and in an almost languid tone he replied. "It's fine. Now that they are here, they won't deign to leave so easily. There is no sense in rushing. Let them wait."

But the wastelanders waiting for an audience weren't just anyone!

Hellflower's rise through the Dark Atom was hard won. As part of the leadership she now took its future seriously. Skycloud wasn't going to simply forget what happened in the Blisterpeaks, and repelling another attack like the last was by no means a given for the rebel organization. These potential allies were integral for Nucleus' continuation.

How could Wolfblade not recognize the importance of this?

Hellflower had more words of advice to give, but they died in her throat. Truth be told, whether it was the wise Roste or the powerful and unpredictable Caliph of the Sands, Hellflower was not one to bow her head in reverence. Her master had always been knowledge. If there was anything in the world she respected it was the pursuit of truth.

To her, staring at this casual-looking man, with his book of poetry and strange demeanor, was like trying to peer into a fog. She couldn't guess who it was she stood before, but it wasn't the same Wolfblade from before.

Wolfblade changed the subject. "I have been told that unruly youth you brought to me escaped the battle and saved a fair number of elysian soldiers in the process. Many of our people look upon him unfavorably. He is certainly adept at causing headaches, isn't he?"

Hellflower paused. "You knew? You aren't going to punish him?"

The gall of the wastelander in saving those elysians didn't seem to bother Wolfblade much at all, which was uncharacteristic of what one would expect from the Dark Atom leader. Rather, he seemed to view it like the irritating actions of a naughty child, willfully releasing a host of ants.

"It is of no great concern." Wolfblade even chuckled. "But you must understand that he cannot be allowed to become a lackey of the elysians. Perhaps in the future he may be one of us. I have prepared something for him - a method I have concocted that will both improve and mitigate the Trespasser virus. Bring it to him."

The item he referred to looked like a small metal box. It was finely crafted, and inside rested a very peculiar looking syringe. The outside was metallic, which hid the contents from view.

The surprise this caused Hellflower was easy to imagine.

Cloudhawk's condition was complicated, and Hellflower was still trying to puzzle out a solution. Trespasser had permeated deep into every part of him, so removing it was bound to leave Cloudhawk crippled or dead. Was this magical solution Wolfblade was offering really an answer to his problem? When did he work it out? Hellflower didn't know.

"What is this? How is it able to improve Trespasser? Where did you get it?"

Hellflower was bursting with questions, a trait that was not surprising in a woman who had spent her life looking for truth. After acquiring all the collected wisdom of Roste and Three-Eyed Spider, Hellflower was confident there was no one else in the wastelands more knowledgeable than her. Yet she was proven wrong when Wolfblade flippantly presented her with this syringe, which purportedly was able to solve a problem whose answer eluded her.

How could this not surprise her?

Wolfblade shook his head as he replied. "It is a little unorthodox. This medicine will only benefit Cloudhawk. Used on any other, there would be no effect."

Questions continued to bubble up from inside her. "What's so different about Cloudhawk's body?"

But Wolfblade was already stepping out of the library. "That is a question you do not need to know the answer to."

His infuriatingly cryptic responses made her feel strange. For good or for ill, she had spent some time with Cloudhawk. Even physically! Yet apparently her knowledge of him was far inferior to the man before her.

Obviously, he knew Cloudhawk very well. Why, then, did he insist on pretending like he didn't?

She couldn't hold it back any longer.

"What are you?"

Wolfblade stopped, turned his head slightly to the side, and for the briefest moment something flashed across his one revealed eye. Something she'd never seen before.

It wasn't cold, or cruel. More... majestic, completely foreign to the Wolfblade she'd once met. Hellflower felt her throat close up, and the prick of a thousand daggers pressing against her skin covered her from head to toe. She knew that if she made the slightest movement, her body would be torn to pieces.

"Do what you're told, and do not ask questions about things that don't concern you."

Hellflower felt an irresistible force claw into her mind, forcing her head down. "Y-yes," she muttered obediently.

The change was instantaneous, and gone just as fast. Only Hellflower knew. She didn't know what the Dark Atom leader had become, but there was no question that he was very... very dangerous.