Book 2, Chapter 17 - Entering Skycloud City

Cloudhawk rode into Skycloud City inside a merchant’s cart.

Setting the stupendous and seemingly commonplace miracles aside, Skycloud was still an incredible city.

The buildings came in many styles. The ones with steepled roofs were homes, but there were also ovals and rectangular buildings strewn without. The most common colors were white for holiness, silver for purity and golden accents to represent divine glory. When the sun shone on the glimmering architecture it was like walking the streets of heaven.

They picked their way through the city until the cart reached a crossroads. There, stretching all along the block, was an arcade that had to be ten thousand meters long. It was so wide that eight horses could ride abreast through it, and on either side was a procession of beautiful sculptures. They were tall and dignified and full of majesty – images of the gods as imagined by master craftsmen.

All throughout the city there were idols, altars, fountains, markets, and doves to populate them. Every corner had a unique style, and every building, paving stone, mural and statue had unique flavor.

Cloudhawk could exhaust every word he knew and still couldn’t describe one one-thousandth of the holy splendor that showered him.

Squall sighed deeply. “It’s always so chaotic out there. It’s good to be home.”

Cloudhawk couldn’t help but respond. “Have you ever been to one of the other domains?”

“Other domains? Never even heard of them!” Squall shook his head. “There’s nothing but wastelands for thousands of kilometers in all directions outside of Skycloud. How could normal folk like us cross that kind of distance? I just want to be a demonhunter like you someday, then maybe I’ll have the chance to see other places. Really though, Skycloud’s great in and of itself, I doubt there’s any place better.”

Truth be told, Cloudhawk was pleased with what he saw as well. He could tell by the people walking the street that they were different from the outside. From their clothes to their bearing the people were elegant and noble, and their eyes were full of spirituality.

Yes, spirituality.

Cloudhawk believed that a person’s eyes were a window into the truth of their soul.

In the eyes of a wastelander you could see blood and madness, but in these people he saw tranquility and peace. They were eyes he’d only ever seen in old pictures from the ancient times. The people here were similar. Maybe this was the place he’d been looking for all along.

Cloudhawk trundled along the road surrounded by the vitality of the city. It wasn’t just that the streets were busy, he could see all manner of family crests, shops, and artisans prospering on every corner. It was clear green spaces were also an integral part of the city’s designs. There was everything from small potted plants to towering trees that filled the streets with life.

There was a sense of harmony in every building, tranquility in every street. From the color to the style to the materials, everything was in balance. A single, unified work of art that needed nothing added nor taken from it. Simply exquisite.

The flora around the city was also unique.

Cloudhawk saw a tree slender as a mushroom a hundred meters tall whose canopy tickled the clouds. Its surface was etched with lines which pulsed like veins, full of a glowing fluid. It was veritably gushing with vitality.

The plants were chiefly for decoration and lent a vibrancy and beauty to every corner. However, they also played an important role in the city. During the day they gathered both light and warmth so that at night their peaks glowed like street lights. They turned Skycloud City into a golden paradise when darkness fell.

In addition, some of the plants discharged water into the air to regulate humidity. A few of them with big leaves and thick branches bore fruit. They grew amidst the flowers, glittering and juicy, coming in any number of colors, so numerous it could feed an army.

 All of them were edible. Sweet, tasty, and practically endless. All could be picked today and by tomorrow they would return. As such they were a principle part of the peoples’ diet.

A waterfall tumbling from the heavens, a beautiful holy city, inexhaustible food… Cloudhawk didn’t know how many incredible surprises this place had in store, but what he saw already was more than he could fathom.

He’d spent so long fantasizing about a promised land. Now that he was here he realized how inferior his dreams really were.

Cloudhawk’s eyes suddenly went wide as before him was revealed the center of Skycloud City. Therein rose a soaring temple that was so large it took up a tenth of the total area of the city. It was pure white and whatever it was made with had the texture of polished jade – a colossal white-jade pyramid. The space around it was empty, a large public square lined with smaller churches and magnificent buildings of all sorts. Scores of devout surrounded the structure, kneeling in prayer.

And the pyramid itself? The whole thing floated a hundred meters above the ground.

That’s right! It flew!

This grand and magnificent structure, silently dangling overhead, cast a light over the whole city. It served to deepen the feeling that all were in the presence of the divine. No wonder the citizens revered the gods, they were gifted this magnificent city to display their glory. Even the least pious would shake and fall to their knees in awe.

“Eh?”

Cloudhawk hadn’t made a sound, afraid that he would give away his ignorance and surprise. However what he saw next forced him to voice his shock. People… or, something. They surrounded the floating temple awash in halos of golden light. Held aloft by iron wings, they flew back and forth above them.

To the citizens of Skycloud City this was no unfamiliar sight.

They were the seraphs; defenders of the temple sanctuary, keepers of the peace, and guarantors of safety. They were also the holy city’s greatest artisans and technicians. After establishing the holy city, the gods left these treasured servants behind to maintain their creation. They did not age or grow weak, and were eternally loyal. So long as the holy lands existed they would watch over the city.

Cloudhawk felt them even from far away. The seraphs – they were relics.

He could hear the resonance from the bodies of the automatons, there had to be some special power directing them. However this did not in any way make them less capable city guardians.

“Ahead is the temple square. No vehicles are allowed to enter. The governor’s castle is beneath the sanctuary, we can only bring you this far.”

Old Thistle and Squall brought Cloudhawk to the entrance of the temple square where he climbed out from the cart. He peered up at the pyramid-shaped sanctuary and it made him speechless. It was beautiful. He didn’t care what reward he was given, if he could live her as an ordinary citizen Cloudhawk would praise his lucky stars.

“Thank you. This is fine.” Cloudhawk said his goodbyes to the old man and his ward. “Don’t tell anyone about me or what I was doing. When things are settled I’ll make sure to find you.”

He had to be careful, he was no elysian. Just the fact that a wastelander was here in the city was a big deal and he didn’t want to involve Bloomnettle Company in any possible consequences. It was important he disassociate with them as much as possible to make sure they didn’t get into trouble.

Squall took Cloudhawk’s hand and shook it vigorously. He was clearly envious. “You’re going to meet Lord Arcturus, whose name rings across the elysian lands! I have to say I’m jealous!”

It was no secret Squall saw the demonhunter governor as an idol. He wasn’t alone, probably eight out of ten young men in the city worshipped the man as well. The prestige and station he held in the city was evident.

Cloudhawk said so long to the other members of the merchant company and went on his way. The governor’s castle was not difficult to find, sitting right below the temple just like Old Thistle told him.

Cloudhawk had to admit he was surprised and a little curious. If the city’s governor lived in the castle below the temple, who lived inside the floating pyramid? If the governor was relegated to the shadow of the sanctuary was there someone more important than him?

“Halt!”

Cloudhawk yelped in surprise, and amidst the sound of clattering armor a squad of soldiers marched his way. He was quickly surrounded.

“The temple square is sacrosanct land. You tarnish its glory, dressed as you are. Masks are also prohibited, take it off!”

Cloudhawk hadn’t expected he would be challenged.

He looked down at his clothes and though it was a little sullied he was at least fully covered. In fact, Cloudhawk could count on one hand how often he’d had a clean pair of clothes to change in to. As for the mask he hadn’t been aware there were rules against them.

Judging by the look of these soldiers they were itching to teach him a lesson.

Under the circumstances Cloudhawk didn’t have many choices. He had to rely on his secret weapon, the token of the high order. He fished it out of his clothing and called out to them in the most authoritative voice he could manage. “This is a token of the high order. I demand to see Governor Arcturus, I have important demonhunter business to report. Who dares impede my mission?!”

Without the token, Cloudhawk couldn’t have entered the Skycloud Domain, but with it he was ushered across the wall like royalty. It had to be some sort of all-access key. One could only imagine the clout its true owner possessed.

Only, this time things were different.

After flashing the token, the soldiers were unmoved. Their leader shouted back. “Even demonhunters must show respect here. Flaunting your token here is an affront to the glory of the gods. Take it off!”

Cloudhawk was struck dumb. The token wasn’t going to help him here?

As the soldiers were preparing to pounce on him a cold and solemn growl arose. “Have you forgotten where you are? What is this ruckus?!”

A young man in non-standard white armor walked over to them. There were at least a hundred soldiers in his wake, different from the kind Cloudhawk had encountered before. They were even better equipped, they had to be Skycloud’s elite!

The young man looked like he was in his early twenties, maybe a hundred and eighty centimeters. He had big eyes with thick eyebrows and handsome rugged features, a dignified bearing, and looked regal in his fancy armor. His stony visage carried with it an arrogance that seemed to cut everyone he looked upon down at the knees.

For a young man to command so many elite soldiers, he definitely wasn’t just an ordinary man!

“Milord Frost de Winter, this man is making a scene. I was about to arrest him for interrogation.”

“A scene?” The one called Frost de Winter scowled. He stared at Cloudhawk with a glare like jagged icicles. “It’s been years since anyone’s dared cause trouble in this holy place. Your impertinence is extraordinary.”

“I want to meet the governor! That’s all I ask, then I can explain everything!”

Frost’s response was frigid as an icy stream. “The High Priest has summoned him to the Temple on official business, he is not in the estate. In any event, who do you think you are, that you have the right to meet him?”

The first soldier to accost him repeated his command. “Remove your mask!”

Cloudhawk’s heart began to thud.

Frost then noticed the token clutched in Cloudhawk’s hand. Suddenly the chill of a thousand blizzards melted from his face. “Where did you get this token?”

Cloudhawk realized then that he didn’t actually know the real name of the token’s owner, but he was clever. He didn’t answer the question directly, instead choosing another strategy. “Since you are Lord Arcturus’s disciple you must already know who this token belongs to. What’s the point in wasting time asking?”

Frost de Winter’s face darkened once again. Cloudhawk wasn’t sure whether he imagine it or not, but he thought he felt the temperature drop several degrees. The ground even seemed to develop a film of ice. He also didn’t know if it was due to his attitude or something else: “Where is she?”

Cloudhawk didn’t hesitate this time. “There are some things that aren’t appropriate to say here. I must see the governor.”

The soldiers around them were unsure what to do. Where they supposed to grab this troublemaker?

“Stand down.” Frost de Winter lifted his hand, waving the soldiers back. He fixed Cloudhawk with a penetrating stare and a light he couldn’t place flickered behind his eyes. “You. Come with me.”

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RWX's Thoughts

Taking bets on how well things work out for Cloudhawk here.

This was another fun name to devise.  冬归雪 is the name in Chinese, and it literally translates into 'Winter Belongs to the Snow'.  He's a very arrogant, cold, distant aloof character, and so we decided to give him the name 'Frost' and the Dutch surname 'de Winter'.  The end result is Frost de Winter, which is a good name that fits him very well.  This was the final chapter of last week; sorry it came a bit late!  New week and new set of chapters coming tomorrow.