On the road, near Skycloud’s prison.
Two young boys tussled in a street corner, each with a sugar sculpture in hand. Suddenly there was a flash, and a masked man fell out of thin air right in front of them. No warning, no way for them to prepare – a moment ago there was only empty space and now there was this stranger.
The two boys screeched and turned to run.
After returning to reality Cloudhawk doubled over and gasped voraciously for air. His muscles screamed and threatened to give out, and fighting exhaustion he reached out with bolds hands and grabbed the kids before they could get away.
Both the little boys were only about five years old, they’d never met anyone as dangerous and aggressive as Cloudhawk. What’s more the way his voice made him sound was like something out of a nightmare.
“If either of you tell anyone you saw me I’ll squish your heads until they pop!”
He let them go after delivering the threat, but not before snatching the sugary treats out of their hands. The kids couldn’t believe it – not only was this guy gonna kill them but he stole their candy too! Looking forlornly at their empty hands, they threw themselves on the ground and began to wail.
A couple came over to see what the ruckus was about. “What’s going on?”
“We saw a monster!”
“Monster? What are you talking about?”
“Really, we did! A candy-stealing monster!”
The men and woman exchanged a questioning look. What sort of monster was this?
The candy stealing monster brazenly walked down the street a little ways up the road with his mask perched on the top of his head. He munched on the brittle sugar sculptures while deftly avoiding passersby. Man, he thought, this place sure it different. These candies are delicious!
But what now?
His recent troubles had been a blessing in disguise. His psychic energies had improved by leaps and bounds, at least several times stronger than ever before. By now he had to be more capable than someone like the two apprentice demonhunters he had first fought. He’d also learned out of necessity what his stone could do. Being able to phase through things was going to come in handy, both in a fight and sneaking around.
But Frost de Winter wasn’t going to let the matter drop once he discovered Cloudhawk had escaped.
It didn’t matter that the young wastelander had been empowered by the stone, he still wasn’t Frost de Winter’s equal. He had to think of a way to put some distance between them. But what he really wanted to know was whether the governor’s disciple was working alone, or on his master’s behalf.
Lord Arcturus was Selene’s uncle. It didn’t make any sense for him to distrust his own niece.
Cloudhawk thought it might be a good idea to go back to the manor. Maybe he could find a way to meet the governor face to face.
However, no sooner had the thought crossed his mind than Cloudhawk’s old instincts took over. He’d spent long years in the wastelands and didn’t trust strangers easily. . Since he didn’t know anything about Starlight’s stance or attitude, he decided not to put himself in potential danger. Frost de Winter was strong enough, if Starlight caught him Cloudhawk didn’t think even phasing through walls would save him. After all, the governor was a master demonhunter!
Clang! Clang! Clang!
The sound of clattering armor reached his ears, moving quickly. A man in white with a silver spear was coming his way with several dozen soldiers.
Cloudhawk immediately flung himself around a corner. He didn’t see his face but Cloudhawk knew that sound – it was Frozen Dirge. The one who led the group had to be Frost de Winter. They were headed for the prison, oozing with the threat of murder.
Heading over to execute me? Fuck I was in more danger than I thought!
If he’d been even a few minutes later he’d be a dead man.
When they found out he was missing the soldiers would definitely seal the streets and start looking for him. The city was going to get very dangerous for him very quickly. Slipping the mask back on his face he tapped it gently. A foolish grinning face in white appeared and his voice took on a comical warble.
The clothes he wore were the ones they’d given him at the mansion. It was definitely something the soldiers would be on the look-out for, so the first place he looked for was a place to find a new outfit. He found one quickly and helped himself to a simple overcoat without any trouble. It helped him look more the part of a typical citizen, out for a stroll.
Now that was settled, where should he go? He didn’t know, he needed help. But the only person he knew in the city that he could trust was Squall .
That wasn’t an appealing option, though. It would almost certainly mean disaster for the Bloomnettle Merchant Company if he involved them. Cloudhawk was drowning in a sea of uncertainty.
Those locked in up Skycloud’s jails were all offenders who’d dared ignore the laws of the holy city.
Even in a place of unified faith and ideology like the elysian lands not everyone was good or devout. There were always those who violated the law, those who stole or fought or sometimes killed. It was an inevitable flaw of humanity, and even though faith could weaken the urges they wouldn’t always be wiped clean.
In this section of the prison most of the incarcerated were marked for death. As such the security was higher and the guards more numerous. In all the history of the prison they had never had a single prisoner escape. Unfortunately, however, today it seemed that sterling reputation would be broken. Seeing as this was no small matter, Frost de Winter immediately sent for his master.
Lord Arcturus stood before the cell. Inside a block of ice in the shape of a thin man stood, radiating cold vapor. However, the previously flawless exterior was now covered in cracks and the features of the one it used to hold were unclear. What was clear was the man-shaped cavity inside.
Cracked, but not broken, the statue remained. The cell itself was undamaged. No signs of struggle were evident.
This cell didn’t have a drain much less a window. How could someone simply vanish from what was essentially a stone cube?
Arcturus stepped into the cell with an attendant in tow. It was Augustus. He stood outside while the governor took a closer look. He had to admit, it’d been a very long time since he’d seen Arcturus at a loss. His deep, wise eyes were fixed on the statue with great interest as though he was appreciating a piece of art.
Frost de Winter stood to one side, hanging his head in shame. “I didn’t think he could escape.”
Lord Arcturus’s response was gentle as ever. The low volume didn’t sacrifice any of his majesty. In fact, at the levels of prestige he held he didn’t need to try to be dignified. It had seeped into every fiber of his being, every movement he made. His royal bearing was difficult to describe but easily felt. “Interesting,” he murmured, “Very interesting.”
Puzzlement evident in his voice, Frost de Winter went on, “I’ve never heard of a method like this. How did he do it?”
Lord Arcturus Cloude slowly extended a finger. At once the ice sculpture skipped liquification, became a cloud of chilly vapor then vanished on the stagnant breeze. “Only phasing relics can do this, as far as I’m aware. Only, such rare and powerful relics haven’t been seen since the end of the god wars. Even if that were the case, a young man like him should not be capable of employing its powers. There are secrets we are not aware of at work, secrets we must come to understand.”
“I’ll gather my men and hunt him down!” Frost de Winter promised.
“Hunt him down? How will you do that? You rush ahead blindly in pursuit of what you can’t grasp. We must lure him out, something large that is sure to get his attention. Only, if it comes to involve the sanctuary this matter will be difficult to explain.” Lord Arcturus spoke to his disciple. “Whatever the plight you must never abandon the light of reason. This young man still does not know the true reason for our actions. Even if he should escape, insignificant people such as him can do us no harm. But if he should be moved to seek answers as a result of your pursuits, then he could threaten everything we’ve built.”
“What should we do?”
“Quietly establish a cordon around the nearest streets. It couldn’t have been more than half an hour since he’s escaped. A penniless outsider who knows nothing of our city won’t be able to find transport, so I suspect he’ll be contained to a five thousand meter area. He is in unfamiliar territory so he will be reticent to assume risk. Prepare a small squad of demonhunters and pick up his scent. When we know his next target we can be there to meet him.” He paused, then continued after a moment. “He went to the mansion you say. Go and bring me everything he’s touched.”
“I felt that the things he came in contact with were sullied. I had them disposed of.”
Frost felt Lord Arcturus’s eyes swing toward him and instantly every hair stood on end. The governor had no reproachful words for him, but his look alone caused the disciple to break out in a cold sweat. All of a sudden he remembered something then hurriedly spoke. “Right, the clothes he was wearing when he arrived should still be there.”
Cloudhawk had been forcibly made to wash and change his clothes once he was brought to the governor’s mansion. The outfit he’d been wearing for a week or so hadn’t been destroyed yet.
Augustus Cloude left to retrieve them. He was back in a few short minutes.
Arcturus looked them over when they were delivered. “This will be enough.”
The expression on Frost de Winter’s face said he did not understand. “It’s just a set of clothes…”
“You must learn to be observant and to see things from different angles.” Lord Arcturus lifted the clothes higher to illustrate. “Look closely. Marks on the clothing reveal that he’d worn them for roughly five days. This would also be the last time he washed and changed. Working backwards with this time frame in mind it isn’t difficult to ascertain that he came from Sandbar Outpost, in the borderlands; a two-days journey from the mountain pass and another two traveling by airship.”
Frost de Winter drew himself up, ready for action. “Then I’ll go immediately to question the crews of all the ships that’ve come to Skycloud in the last day.”
“Your proposal will accomplish nothing. Listen until I have finished.” Lord Arcturus then pinched the fabric between his fingers. “This material was made in Skycloud Domain, exceedingly cheap but both practical and durable. Most importantly, it is designed to keep out sand. Judging by the pattern it was made in bulk. If we look at a combination of the workmanship, material and style, we learn that only someone who often traverses the borderlands would order something this cheap and convenient.”
Lord Arcturus spotted a stain he couldn’t rub out and took a closer look, whereupon he found small traces of an herb. “The stains and the presence of these herbs suggest a connection to merchants, specifically those who trade in herbs and minerals. What you should be looking for is a small group of merchants arriving today from Sandbar Outpost with a cargo of minerals and herbs. Augustus, accompany Frost de Winter.”
Augustus responded with a slight bow.
Lord Arcturus had given them a target using nothing more than a set of clothing. He’d shrunk their scope of focus into something far more manageable. Frost could not admire his master any more than he did in that moment.
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Get used to this. Arcturus is a fucking beast.