Cloudhawk didn’t get all of the answers he sought, but the soldier indirectly revealed something important. He was considered a traitor for living among blasphemers.
He understood being labeled a traitor. These visitors from the holy city assumed he was a demonhunter. ‘Blasphemers’ must mean the Seekers who dabbled in old technology, something they thought to be sinful. Excavating and using these tainted things was, to them, an unforgivable slight.
The ‘blasphemers’ Cloudhawk was supposedly in league with had to be the Seekers from Blackwater Base. Was that their target? Had they already been there? Was Hellflower alright?!
Cloudhawk had played a tiny part in something much bigger, and still they’d sent two demonhunters and a hundred soldiers to track him down. Cloudhawk didn’t want to imagine what had befallen the base, nor was now the time. The young soldier, with his dying moments, had given him away to the others. His compatriots would be here soon.
“I’m sorry.” Cloudhawk looked to the two dead soldiers in silence for a moment then began to strip them of their equipment. Luckily, the smaller guard had been roughly Cloudhawk’s size, although he was stockier so his armor didn’t fit perfectly when Cloudhawk slipped it on. Strangely, after Cloudhawk put on the last piece the armor began to reform itself with a series of clicks and snaps. Afterwards it fit snuggly around his person, almost as if it’d been tailor-made for him!
As he was moving the bodies to hide them, a slip of paper fell out of one of their clothes. Cloudhawk picked it up and gingerly unfolded it. Drawn in luminous paint was the image of a girl. She was dainty, delicate and beautiful, with flowers all over her body. The painting released a pleasing scent, and though it was only a picture it was as detailed as though she were right there before him.
On the left side something was scribbled: For my love.
It was a present, one the young soldier would never send. Cloudhawk felt conflicted with its discovery.
When the girl discovered that her lover was dead she would certainly be sad. She would be yet another person who would hate Cloudhawk for the rest of her life. It brought a bitter smirk to Cloudhawk’s face. Something else for me to bear, another person’s hatred to add to the others that only seemed to grow with time. But what could he do? He was just a minor figure, one who only wanted to live. That was all he wanted!
But there was no such thing as a minor figure in this world, not really. Strong or weak was only measured by comparison. To lovers, family and friends, even the smallest person was a giant. When such a giant fell, all the world they held on their shoulders fell with them.
Cloudhawk pocketed the picture, then dealt with the bodies. Shortly after the sounds of footsteps preceded the arrival of two soldiers who had seen the flare. They spotted Cloudhawk’s bloodstained armor before noting his face. It was too dark to tell anything else besides. “What’s going on? Where’s the traitor?!”
“Right here!” When they got close enough, he buried a pair of daggers in their throats. Their deaths were quick and uneventful, and suddenly there were two more corpses to hide. He looked over their twitching bodies blankly.
Since when had his heart become so numb? He remembered the grief he’d felt the first time he killed another human. Now it felt so natural…
He was disgusted with the change he saw in himself. Only, they were changes that ensured he stayed alive. Perhaps everyone who survived out here turned into something despicable.
Several minutes later, Captain Brontes arrived at where the flare had gone up. The first thing he saw was the corpses, neatly lined up on the ground, nine of them in all. All of them were his soldiers. Anger flooded him, made him tremble. “What is this?! Can someone explain to me how these soldiers were all killed so easily!?”
One of his subordinates approached and gave the report. “They all seem to have been caught by sneak attacks. I’m almost certain the traitor is disguised as one of us and attacks our people while their guard is down. It’s the only way he could have killed so many.”
Captain Brontes’ hands were curled into white-knuckled fists.
The turncoat had been hit by Mistress Claudia’s exorcist rod, that they knew. He’d never heard of anyone being able to take such a blow and keep fighting so vigorously. This scum wasn’t strong, but he was an adept scoundrel – there wasn’t an ounce of honor in him, no line he wouldn’t cross. His main tactic was to attack from the shadows, and Brontes' men were dying because they were unprepared.
“If he is dressed like us, we can’t know if he’s still here or not. Should we keep searching?”
Captain Brontes shut his eyes in frustration. Skycloud’s soldiers were not pushovers. Their target shouldn’t be able to completely escape detection or injury, even relying on underhanded tactics. There had to be something special about him. He had to be more more than just a simple renegade, and he also couldn’t have been as injured as they thought. Brontes’s people were tired. If they continued the search under these conditions it would only lead to more dead.
“Return to the outpost!”
Captan Brontes' eyes popped open. He gave the impression of a desperate gambler, going for broke. “Do you remember what Master Raith did to draw him out? The traitor is obviously fond of those despicable worms. If we go back and exterminate them maybe we can flush him out of hiding!”
Cloudhawk was lurking nearby. When he heard the man’s plan, his face fell. This was bad. He didn’t have any particular affection toward Lighthouse Point, but he was tired of all the death.
Killing. It was the choice of the weak and pitiful. It was the most final means of dealing with a problem, and the most lamentable.
Cloudhawk didn’t even think, he simply vanished into the night. He wasn’t going to give his life to save Lighthouse Point, but to the best of his ability he was going to save as many as he could from pointless tragedy.
He reached the outpost before the soldiers did, and when he got there the scene shocked him.
The small, quiet community had changed beyond recognition. The central lighthouse was in ruins, homes were ablaze. Everything was in chaos and blanketed in a haze of acrid smoke.
“Y-You… what are you doing back here!?”
“Haven’t we suffered enough!”
Cloudhawk’s wounds had not entirely healed, and his hasty return left him both tired and weak. When the citizens of the outpost saw him they were angry, frightened. They stared with wide eyes as he passed.
“What happened here?” Cloudhawk propped himself up with the help of the sturdy Skycloud weapon he’d stolen. He tried to speak with some authority. “Where is Coppertooth!”
“Coppertooth? He deceived us!”
“The elysians are nothing but brutal demons!”
“Convincing us to worship those animals… he deserved a far worse death than he got!”
It was then Cloudhawk lifted his head and was dismayed to see the corpse dangling from the lighthouse’s ruins. It was none other than the honest, kind, cunning Skycloud veteran. He’d been terribly injured by the soldiers, but since then something even more terrible had happened. There wasn’t an inch of him left untouched, and his body was covered in burn marks. He hung from the lighthouse by his neck, swinging sorrowfully in the breeze.
No one knew his real name. They only knew what he’d been called: Coppertooth. He’d been their leader, the one who had brought them faith and safety. In the end it was his own people who brutalized him, tortured him, and hung him from the building that was meant to signify their undying faith.
“You aren’t welcome here!”
“Get the fuck out of here! Leave, as fast as you can!”
A group of young agitators had gathered round. Anger had clouded their minds and they brandished crude weapons with the intent to use them on Cloudhawk.
“All of you, calm the hell down!” All manner of bitter emotions raged within Cloudhawk, especially once he saw what had become of Coppertooth. He hated them for what they had done, but he forced the words out through gritted teeth. “It’s done! Your hatred isn’t going to change anything, and right now those soldiers are coming back to finish the job. If you want to live, get the hell out of this place!”
Two arrows sprouted from Cloudhawk’s body. The arrows might have done him in if not for the armor he’d pilfered. The sneak attack was like a call to arms, and all of a sudden the crowds were charging at him with their crude weapons.
He was cast from the town, pummeled by the angry masses the whole way, their faces twisted with despair and anger. They’d beaten him black and blue, even through the armor.
In that moment, something in his heart died.
Out in the desert he turned back to stare at the burning remains of Lighthouse Point. Orange flames and belching black clouds rose over it, a haunting image. The heat made the air twist around it like something evil had taken hold. He wiped the blood from his face and stared with fists shaking at his side. Then he turned and prepared to leave.
He turned back to see a bit of rock being pushed aside from the outpost’s walls. A small figure slipped out of the hiding place, small and frail and covered in filth. A girl.
“Coppertooth is dead. Everyone went crazy, so I hid in the tunnels. I’ve been too scared to go out all day.”
“Don’t be afraid. I’ll take you away from here.”
The two of them trudged into the distance, eventually disappearing across the horizon.
That night, Cloudhawk and Asha camped on the top of a tall set of ruins. Looking back toward Lighthouse Point, they could still see the smoke and fire even from this distance. Sometimes, when the wind turned, they thought they could hear screams. The stench of blood was unmistakable.
Cloudhawk tenderly rested his hand on the girl’s head. “Do you hate me?”
But Asha looked at him and shook her head. “I hate this world.”
Could Cloudhawk say he never felt the same? But now, his time in this world was coming to an end!
They were close to the elysian lands now.
Asha looked at him in curiosity. “Where will we go now?”
“Somewhere far, far away.” He looked back at her. “We’re going to leave this place. We’re going to leave it and never, ever come back.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
The end of this chapter tugged my heartstrings, especially the line 'something in his heart died'. Do you believe him when he says he's never coming back?
Changed Luna to Lunae