Book 2, Chapter 26 - Shattered Faith

In the heat of the moment Squall let his mouth lead the way. It was too late to take it back now.

Old Thistle didn’t know why this was happening. He didn’t want to know the story and how it involved them. All he knew was that Frost de Winter was one of the most capable men in all of Skycloud, and was Lord Arcturus’s disciple. The governor had to know that he was here, and what he was going to do.

That meant that everything Frost de Winter did was a reflection of the will of the governor. If Frost de Winter felt that the young man was a demon spy, that meant Lord Arcturus shared his idea.

As this realization dawned on him, a cold sweat broke out on Old Thistle’s forehead. It didn’t matter what the truth was. Who would dare contradict Lord Arcturus’s decree? His people were responsible for bringing an enemy agent into the city, and whether or not they did it consciously didn’t matter. There were going to be consequences.

Banishment. Death. At the very least his family would be cast from Skycloud.

Old Thistle was an old man so he didn’t mind shouldering the ramifications, but he did fear for Squall. If this matter ruined the young man’s prospects to become a demonhunter, what effect would that have? He would rather die than to have to watch the future splendor of his adopted son cast into the mud.

“No! No, this is all a mistake! We didn’t know anything!” Old Thistle stepped forward, putting himself between him and the boy. “Master Frost de Winter, I am a moral businessman. Squall is just a boy. If there is any fault it lies with me, you cannot unjustly punish a faithful servant!”

Frost de Winter’s face turned deathly cold. “Unjustly punish?”

The accusation hung in the air between the two men when suddenly a carved blade flashed. As it traveled its intricately carved surface refracted the light and traced a beautiful arc, somehow whipping around Frost de Winter’s neck and straight for Old Thistle. The old man’s head was flung into the air where it tumbled end over end. Shocked and stricken, his family watched as it struck the ground with an empty thud.

That sickle blade was thin, sharp and blindingly fast.

It happened so quickly the blood didn’t start to flow from Old Thistle’s neck until his head hit the floor. It spurted into the air like a grotesque fountain.

Father!”

Boss!”

Horrified cries rang out from Bloomnettle Company.

Squall scrambled over to his dad’s body and gathered it into his arms. A few feet away the old man’s head stared blankly into the sky. His mouth opened and closed, working desperately to speak but no sound would come.

“No!… NO!”

Squall wailed at the sky, clutching his dead father.

Augustus stood nearby, unblinking. The sickle blade returned to his pale and slender hand like it had a mind of its own. The weapon, exquisite and thin as a cicada’s wing, spun in his palm.

“Why act so quickly, Uncle Augustus?” Frost de Winter was clearly dissatisfied. “I hadn’t even had the chance to question him.”

“Your method of questioning is too slow.” The man’s face, fair and rich in dignity, maintained a cool expression. He spoke without hurry. “They have admitted to consorting with the spy. That is enough. Putting them all to death isn’t even sufficient punishment. But the spy is hiding somewhere and we don’t have time to waste on traitors.”

There was a murderous fire in the hearts of these men. Cloudhawk’s capture and escape was revealed by Augustus’ words.

So far several soldiers and one demonhunter had been injured. One soldier was dead. The matter was still under wraps, but it was impossible to hide flames behind paper. Eventually news would get out if the situation wasn’t contained, and if Lord Arcturus’ enemies catch wind – or if word got to the sanctuary – other powers would become involved. Things would become far more complicated.

It was just as Lord Arcturus said. Rules existed for the sake of convenience, but when they got in the way of real work they needed to be broken. That was what Augustus was doing. These were critical times that demanded critical measures and they couldn’t afford the luxury of doing things the ‘right’ way.

Augustus lifted his left hand and the spinning blade rose into the air as though on cue. Its shrill sound was like the voice of death. He looked out over the crowd. “Our patience and time are limited. Tell us everything you know, or pray for mercy from chakram.”

A demonhunter, killing the faithful without a word? This was Skycloud City! Even sinners had the right to judgment under the law before being convicted!

Under what authority was Augustus allowed to cut down a pious believer? In the face of this heartless act, Frost de Winter just frowned and let it be. He understood the gravity of what they faced. There wasn’t going to be any public trial. All of these people knew too much. They all had to die. Killing a few earlier meant nothing.

“You animals!”

Squall sprang to his feet and ran at them. It was unthinkable that his father would die at the hands of an esteemed demonhunter.

It was undeniable that Old Thistle was a businessman, one who curried favor and had a lust for wealth. But for decades he was a devoted follower of the gods. He prayed every night, observed every tradition and was never consciously wicked. 

Why? Why!

Squall was especially hurt by the fact that these men were the trusted agents of Lord Arcturus! The man he respected the most, idolized above all others. Was all of this his will?

In a blink, Squall had the person he loved the most stolen from him. In that instant, whatever faith he had shattered. His eyes were red and wild from fury and though he knew it would mean his death he ran at the men responsible.

Lotus shouted after him. “Squall!”

Bullshit! This whole world, it’s all bullshit! Kill me, just kill me!

Augustus flicked his left wrist and in response his wisp-thin crescent blade shot out once again, its cold silver light marking out its path. Augustus was outstanding even among the great demonhunters: he was known as the Moonlight Crescent that could overcome all defenses, while his Celestial Sphere was a weapon a hundred crossbows could not pierce. Be it offense or defense, no other demonhunter came close. How could Squall stand a chance?

Venting his pain and anger through a bestial scream, Squall rushed forward. When the blade came his way he threw himself to the ground and the deadly weapon swept by. It missed.

Augustus was a man of ability; for him, killing Squall required no effort. Without any hurry he flicked a finger and his weapon responded by whipping around in midair. Two more heads were severed as easily as plucking the tops off dandelions.

Augustus’s bloody methods were meant to inspire the others to comply. “The rest of you still have nothing to say?”

“We’ll talk! We’ll all tell you!” The caravan guards dropped to their knees. One of them flung himself bodily to the ground cravenly. “Don’t kill me, please don’t kill me!”

Maintaining his dignified scowl Frost de Winter looked on. He disdained killing those without the means to defend themselves. Augustus’ unmitigated murder wasn’t something he agreed with, but he couldn’t argue with his results.

Augustus called his chakram back. “Where did he go, what did he do? What did he tell you? Tell me everything and don’t leave out a single word.”

“Don’t say a thing!”

Frost de Winter turned his eyes toward Squall who was picking himself up from the ground. Beneath his lacerated clothes where the blade passed he could see strange tattoos. The sight made Frost de Winter’s pupils contract, as the situation suddenly changed.

Squall hefted an automatic crossbow. A hail of steel-tipped bolts screamed through the air.

Was he actually lifting his hand against a demonhunter? He was signing his own death warrant!

Augustus was still recovering from the wounds he’d earned out in the wastes, but even injured a crossbow posed no danger to him. He fished out another relic, this time an exquisitely fashioned metal sphere. It hovered over his hand for a moment before flooding the area around him with an invisible power. The instant Squall’s crossbow bolts crossed the border they stopped dead, frozen.

Augustus stood before his young attacker, with the sphere of defense in his left hand and the chakram blade suspended above his right. Both relics hummed with intense power. Skycloud’s illustrious demonhunter bore family relics that were just as storied. The likes of Selene and Frost de Winter were demonhunters of unparalleled talent, however in the face of this man – twelve years in service of the order – it was unclear whether either of them were a challenge to him.

A dozen crossbow bolts hung in the air before Augustus, jutting out around him like the spines of a hedgehog.

A flash erupted from the orb in his left hand and the steel bolts were blasted outward with hurricane force. They pierced trees, walls, the floor – everything, and with unthinkable force. More than a few of them became buried in the unfortunate merchants.

These sons of bitches! Why is this happening?! 

Were these really what demonhunters were like? Was this the ‘glorious’ order he’d yearned to join? Squall was overcome. Cruel reality shattered his dreams, in the unkindest way possible.

Augustus’s chakram blade didn’t rest either, and whipped out with incomprehensible speed. Squall couldn’t get out of the way this time. Yet just as his life was about to be carved out, a beautiful silver spear inlaid with a pale blue stone flashed before his eyes. It, too, was too fast to follow. With the majesty of a dragon it swept forth, the perfect representation of speed and power!

Clang!

The mirror-like blade of the spear and the petal-thin crescent blade collided. Their point of contact was a fraction of a centimeter for how thin the crescent blade was, too small a target for any normal man to deflect. One could imagine the level of skill the spearman would have to possess to accomplish such a feat.

The crescent blade was knocked away, covered in frost after just a moment of contact.

Augustus scowled. “Nephew, what is the meaning of this?”

“They have agreed to confess. Leave a few alive to testify. This young man in particular seems to have associated the most with the spy. We don’t even know the culprit’s name. We need to gather more information.” Frost de Winter stood before his elder and spared him no words of respect. He served only one man, and that was his teacher: Lord Arcturus. As for Augustus, his master thought highly of him but that was all. “I imagine Uncle Augustus wouldn’t refuse this order.”

The demonhunter didn’t know what had gotten into Frost de Winter, but he respected the younger man’s talent. Blocking his relic proved it; were it not for the glory of Selene’s abilities, Frost de Winter’s light would shine all across the holy lands.

“Very well. He lives.”

“All of you, come with me!”

Squall tried to resist until an officer came and knocked him out with a vicious chop to the neck. The rest of Bloomnettle Company cried and shouted as they were rounded up.

Four people had died in the raid, including Old Thistle. Once everyone was gone a group of soldiers set about cleaning the aftermath. Every trace of blood was removed and in the end It was like the raid had never happened.

Two days later.

Skycloud’s government disseminated a bulletin, indicating that Bloomnettle Merchant Company had violated city laws by trading in illegal goods. Word spread that the whole outfit had been taken into custody.

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RWX's Thoughts

Rest in peace, old man...

This concludes the chapters for last week.  Now we'll be back on schedule for this week's with a double release tomorrow.