Book 2, Chapter 29 - Home Invasion

Obviously, this slipped out of his mouth before passing through his addled brain.

Frost de Winter was one of the top five most outstanding people in Skycloud City and he was still young. Now that Cloudhawk was in his sights, the wastelander’s capture was preordained. He didn’t fear anything Cloudhawk could do to him, only that the coward would escape before he could be killed.

Be it strength, experience or influence the two young men were leagues apart. As such the chances of dealing with Frost de Winter were monumental – even the thought was absurd. So what made this kid think he had any right to hoot and holler at Arcturus Cloude? He was asking to die.

“Listen to what I have to say,” Majjhima began in low tones. Even a sinner with his experiences had to bow their head in awe of the governor. “Arcturus Cloude is one of the most illustrious people in all of Skycloud Domain. He didn’t get to where he is today with luck and family ties. Everything he’s done is the stuff of legends, and if you had even the slightest inkling of what he is capable of you wouldn’t be stupid enough to challenge him. Just drop the idea right now.”

Just the title of master demonhunter was enough to make common demonhunters drop to their knees in awe. 

Master demonhunter wasn’t just an honorary title. It meant the bearer was one of the strongest people alive, capable of facing demons on their own. The might behind someone like that could only be guessed. What’s more, Arcturus Cloude wasn’t all brawn and no brains. His wisdom, foresight, depth of consideration and keen insights were of rare quality. Simply put, Skycloud City would not be the grand and prosperous city it was today without years of his leadership.

He was a man who occupied the jade throne of the governor with deft control. A man who had the blessing of both the Temple and the people.

Didn’t it make sense? If a scrub like the young wastelander could challenge their governor, Skycloud’s current status would be nothing short of a miracle. They couldn’t expect any better future built on a fraud.

But Cloudhawk wasn’t convinced. “Is he really that awesome?”

“I promise you he is.” Majjhima was deadly serious, for Cloudhawk’s idiocy could squander his one chance to escape. “The governor hasn’t dealt with this situation personally yet. If you run into him, I promise you won’t survive to tell anyone about it.”

Lotus looked sick with worry.

Even without the governor’s direct involvement, how was someone with such limited strength and influence as Cloudhawk going to save a hundred of her people? They were putting a huge task on his shoulders. The prisons were heavily guarded and they didn’t have any near the manpower to storm it. Trying to free Squall out from under the noses of these powerful men seemed impossible.

Cloudhawk was tired of arguing over it. “What are our chances of escaping using these tunnels?”

“If you can get these people out and into the tunnels, they’re complicated enough that we have a good chance of shaking any pursuers.” Majjhima pored over the map for a few moments committing the escape route to memory, especially the places where it opened to the surface. His eyes burned with anticipation as they scoured the paper. “There’s an entrance close to the dungeons. That’s where we can make our escape. What do you think? Let’s give it a shot!”

Lotus certainly didn’t agree with the idea of Cloudhawk facing the governor, but the thought of Squall being executed in public forced her to speak. “What about young master Squall?”

“We don’t have the time.” Majjhima pressed Cloudhawk again. “Frost de Winter is obviously trying to bait you. Governor Arcturus or others will be waiting, and the minute you show your face you’re dead. Think it through.”

The task was hugely difficult. How could Cloudhawk not understand the implications?

Cloudhawk had only known Squall for a few days. No matter the reason it didn’t make much sense to risk his life for someone he barely knew. Leaving him wasn’t the wrong decision, but Cloudhawk’s heart wasn’t in agreement. He’d worked so hard to get here, but in the end the holy lands wouldn’t have him. This deception stoked the rage and despair within him until it was a raging pyre. He couldn’t tolerate the thought of slinking out of here with his tail between his legs like a beaten dog.

He couldn’t stay here, but this wasn’t how he was going to leave.

Cloudhawk was determined that something had to be done. At the very least these arrogant fucks had to know how much they’d pissed him off. He would make them remember his presence here – so Squall had to be freed. What’s more, he’d do it and leave the governor with a slap in the face!

Cloudhawk didn’t answer, but the light in his eyes spoke volumes. Majjhima scowled, wanting to say something more, but bit back his objections. “What do you need me to do?”

He thought on their predicament for a moment. The biggest problem was time and the fact that Cloudhawk didn’t know the city. He made up his mind. “I need men.”

This wasn’t difficult.

Majjhima had been locked up for a long time, but he still had significant clout among his people. All he had to do was drop Majjhima’s name and secret cipher and he wouldn’t have any trouble getting help.

“Most of these people are the lowest rung of Skycloud society, the homeless. They have channels they use to trade contraband and a well-informed network of informants. If you want them to do something for you, it’s as easy as paying their price.”

Majjhima gave Cloudhawk all the details of where to find them and how to get in contact.

It was very useful information. Cloudhawk instructed Majjhima to look after Lotus, then filled his stone with psychic power. The stone responded immediately, creating a translucent field of energy. Cloudhawk floated up into the air, his grey cloak flapping, and then suddenly he was gone.

Cloudhawk’s head collided with the roof of the cell. It was like the walls of an enormous balloon pushing back at him. It offered stiff resistance, but Cloudhawk still managed to force his way through and escape the prison.

Lotus and the others gaped at what they’d just witnessed.

Demonhunters were capable of all sorts of strange feats, but a display like this was rare. To escape from total enclosure… there wasn’t any demonhunter they knew of with that sort of ability.

This guy was definitely different.

***

Cloudhawk made his way back to the temple square, eluding the guards while his mind raced. He didn’t have much time to get things in place, so he had to take advantage of every second.

The foes he squared off against now were different from any time before.

He’d faced all kinds of dangers in the past, but they’d mostly been sweepers or wild creatures of the wastelands. In those cases all he needed to do was face them head on. This time it was a battle of wits and courage, his enemies were a prominent disciple and one of the greatest demonhunters to have ever lived.

He had a hundred people to save, and one of them was under the watchful eye of those two bastards.

It was completely different from the pitched battles he’d fought before. He wasn’t even in the same class as his enemies this time, and a single mistake could spell his doom. His first order of business was to get Squall out of prison before his execution, but he didn’t know where the guy was being held. Beyond that, Squall was definitely being closely guarded so going in the front door didn’t seem like a good plan.

He needed to find another way, and the first step was finding some funds.

Coins were the stuff you needed out here. Those glittering metal things bought you whatever you needed, and without them getting anything done was difficult. But how was he supposed to get his hands on some? He didn’t have any marketable skills except fighting, but he was quite confident in his ability to steal.

Cloudhawk wasn’t burdened by moral imperatives. He did what he had to do according to his own terms. Besides, pocketing some riches from these affluent folks wasn't such a terrible sin. With that thought in mind, he made his way to the biggest house he could find.

The place was similar in scale to the governor’s mansion, just maybe not as opulent. It was a combination of several large towers with flags on their spires displaying the image of an eagle. Their wings were outstretched in an imposing and impressive manner. Cloudhawk had no idea who this house belonged to, but he knew at a glance they weren’t hurting for wealth. Whatever he grabbed from inside was sure to pay for everything he needed.

That’s the place! His phasing abilities were used once again.

Cloudhawk barely got his head through the wall before he was struck dumb by the scene. The entire place was crawling with well-armed guards. From the floors to the rafters, yard to the dinner room, they were practically coming out of the woodwork. There were even more men than there were in the prisons, and each one could clearly hold their own. They looked more capable than your average Skycloud soldier.

Cloudhawk nearly swallowed his tongue. Wherever he was, judging by the guards this had to be one serious family! 

The phasing stone demanded a lot of psychic power so he didn’t have the energy to find somewhere else to loot. He wasn’t thrilled with his pick but he’d just have to toughen up and bear it. He’d made up his mind to steal something so the bigger the haul the better.

Cloudhawk stole into the home under the cover of his invisibility cloak. The place, besides crawling with guards, also had several patrols wandering from room to room. He could even feel the resonance of relics coming from them.

Demonhunters! And more than one!

Demonhunters as patrols? Who the hell had that kind of clout! Cloudhawk could tell that some of them were good trackers, too. He’d have to give them a wide berth and that meant the main tower was off limits. After watching the patrols for a little while he decided on the right tower as his target, where security didn’t seem as tight. Maybe there was something there he could sneak off with.

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RWX's Thoughts

I have a bad feeling about this...