Chapter 134 - Sudden Crisis

Cloudhawk left the small tavern and took a walk around the outpost. Its namesake landmark towered over the rest of the buildings from the settlement’s center.

Cloudhawk had seen it from far away. It was what drew him here. When he went inside he found a stall had been placed at the lighthouse’s base, and several withered old pilgrims shuffled around it. They bowed with hands pressed together and muttered prayers.

Curious, Cloudhawk muttered his question aloud. “What are they doing?”

Asha had followed Cloudhawk from the tavern and still held the large bottle in her arms. She answered him respectfully, “Master Coppertooth believes that everyone should carry faith in their heart. Life is difficult here, but faith can bring us joy. This monument is from the holy city and it was brought here so that we may pray. It represents our faith and respect in the gods.”

Coppertooth may have looked crude and uncouth, but he really was a good man.

Perhaps this is what made this place different from all the other settlements. Lighthouse Point was a feeble place, but its citizens longed for the purity of the elysian lands. Of course they knew that none of them would ever get there, but that knowledge didn’t hamper their admiration and worship of the ideal the elysian lands stood for.

Cloudhawk spoke over his shoulder to the young girl. “Do you believe in the gods?”

“I do!” She nodded and continued in her tiny voice. “Master Coppertooth told us that if the gods hadn’t come, demons would have destroyed all of humanity. The gods saved our world and established the holy cities. Master Coppertooth is a good man, it’s a shame I’ll never meet any more elysians.”

Her regret earned a sigh from Cloudhawk. “Maybe it’s for the best. Not all elysians are like Coppertooth. As far as I can tell they hardly consider wastelanders to be human. It’s probably better if you don’t meet any more of them.”

But Asha emphatically shook her head. “Master Coppertooth said the ire of the elysians only comes down upon blasphemers. We may be lowly wastelanders, but so long as we keep the gods in our hearts, pray day by day and generation to generation, one day our faith will cleanse us of our sins. When that time comes the people of the holy city will appear and take us in.”

What inherent sin did wastelanders have? Cloudhawk harbored no love for this barren land, but he didn’t think that its people were born evil, or twisted, or filthy. If a child from the holy city grew up in the wastelands their noble heritage wouldn’t change anything. They would be the same as everyone else! But Asha’s self-loathing was deeply ingrained. That was the saddest thing about most wastelanders.

With an exile living here perhaps Lighthouse Point was on the margins of the wastelands. It didn’t seem like they had to deal with waves of monsters or roving sweeper gangs. There weren't many people here who would be strong enough to fight back if they did, since most were old and infirm. Instead of signs of fighting there were more traces of elysian influence.

This filled Cloudhawk with hope. He had to be close to his goal.

The northern part of the settlement was a cluster of ancient ruins. Perhaps a hundred collapsed towers interspersed with a ruined fleet of ships create a sprawling junkyard that Lighthouse Point’s denizens crawled through for supplies. Most of the outpost’s materials came from there, it was how they made their living.

Cloudhawk wasn’t enthralled with the camp, not like he would have been before. Months in the wilds had stripped him of his naïvete and he knew that danger lurked around nearly every unfamiliar corner. It’d become habit for him to look around wherever he intended to lay his head for the night. Where were the good hiding places, where could he lose pursuers, if things suddenly changed where were the escape routes… these were important things to know.

Eventually they made it to his room and Asha pushed open the door. Coppertooth’s hospitality was on display, for the room was clean and had its own water supply. He could take a three minute shower, which was a rare luxury in the wastelands.

Enticing as that was, though, Cloudhawk was exhausted. He was getting ready to settle in when he heard the rustling of clothing from behind.

When he turned he saw that Asha had slipped out of her crude gown. She was turned away, the burnished flesh of her back visible in the dim light. Asha was thin and she’d only just begun to grow into her body, immature like a fruit still on the branch. The red in her cheeks showed this was her first time, but she didn’t hesitate. Her gown was down around her ankles, and her fingers hooked into the edges of her underwear.

“I’m leaving tomorrow. I don’t want to waste my energy here.”

She immediately slumped to the ground, flustered and earnest. “Please accept me, sir. I’m clean, I don’t have any tumors. I’ll listen to whatever you say.”

Cloudhawk had no intentions of taking on responsibility for a young girl. “I’m sorry. I’m only staying here for the night, then I’m leaving forever. My life is miserable, spent out in the wastelands drifting from one place to the other. I don’t have the ability or energy to look after someone else. Go back to Coppertooth and tell him that I appreciate his generosity, but I don’t need anything else.”

The expression on Asha’s face was one of disappointment as she pulled her gown back on. With a respectful bow she left the bottle of liquor behind and shut the door behind her as she left. 

A few minutes later Copperooth was surprised when Asha reappeared. He knew she’d been refused.

Such a pity, he thought. The man was young but already possessed surprising ability. If he could be convinced to stay Lighthouse Point would be much safer. That was Coppertooth’s hope when he sent Asha with him. The girl knew it too, she was interested the moment she saw him. Whether for the outpost or just for herself, she’d hoped he would be interested in return.

Coppertooth treated Asha like a daughter. What sort of parent wanted to see their child taken away? Sadly, after losing his leg he wasn’t the warrior he used to be. He was getting older, and he couldn’t take care of this precious young girl anymore. If he could take this opportunity to put her in Cloudhawk’s care then it was for the best, even if she was just his servant. Just so long as she was safe and had a full belly he would be content.

More than that, if Cloudhawk stayed maybe he’d be leader one day. He was young. Lighthouse Point would survive for a long time under his guidance. 

Asha hung her head, speaking in her small and timid voice. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t good enough.”

Coppertooth patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t take it hard, girl. Go rest.”

She wiped the moisture from the corner of her eyes and dutifully took her leave.

He watched her tiny figure retreat and inwardly sighed. If she’d had the fortune to be born in Skycloud, in a few years she’d likely marry a noble. She would become an honored Lady. At worst she would find a wealthy merchant for herself who would give her a good life.

Unfortunately, she had been born in the wastelands, and from the moment she was born Asha was fated to experience all the evils of the world. The fate of women out here was a dark one, and Asha was even refused the life of a serving girl.

Was this her destiny? How could it be so unfair!

This Cloudhawk kid didn’t seem so bad, at least he was responsible. People like him were hard to find. He was a good young man.


***


The night was dark, impenetrable but for the beam from the lighthouse. Below it the outpost was still and silent.

Cloudhawk was jolted awake, his heart beating like a drum in his chest. An electric shock tore through him as though someone had jabbed a needle into a nerve. Even before his eyes opened his body was on the move. A flash of metal and his revolver was in hand, pointed at a shadowy corner.

Cloudhawk’s eyes had grown keener over time. Once the fog of sleep was lifted he could see everything with the help of the moonlight filtering through the window. Nothing was out of the ordinary.

Strange. Outside then?

Cloudhawk got to his feet, approached the door and slowly turned the lock. There were no sounds coming from the hall, nothing moved. He checked out the window to the ground before, even the roof but there was nothing to see. What was going on?

That sense of danger never left.

Every hair on his body stood on end. He felt ice cold. The only time he’d had a reaction this intense was when the danger was life-threatening, like the eyes of a vicious predator were trained on him. He didn’t know where it was coming from, but the danger – and the bloodthirsty intent it bore – was close and getting closer.

Shit! I can’t stay here!

Wherever this danger was, Cloudhawk could at least tell it was closing in on Lighthouse Point. It was coming for him. Defenses here were weak and couldn’t protect him, if he stayed he was putting everyone in the outpost in danger.

It was time to go!

Cloudhawk decided to flee immediately. Forget the jerky and water, escape was paramount. He slung his rifle over his shoulder then dropped from the window soundlessly to the ground below. As he was inching toward the stable to get his mount, he heard a strange sound.

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RWX's Thoughts

Cloudhawk feels like a Cloudcrow, just bringing bad luck wherever he goes...