Dawn frantically dragged Cloudhawk back to the commander’s mansion. When she got there she heaved a sigh of excited relief. It felt good to give it to that ice cube, Frost de Winter.
“You’ve brought him back fast. Damn right you’re my granddaughter. Ha ha ha ha!”
Skye Polaris charged at them like a grizzly bear, with the valorous posture only a general could command. He peered regally down at the unconscious form of Cloudhawk and his face hardened. This idiot thief who dared to steal from him was going to be taught a painful lesson.
“Wait… this one’s different.”
“I don’t care where he came from. He chose to mess with my family, he has to die.”
Skye Polaris was getting on in years, but his explosive fury was no less potent. It was so powerful it imprinted on the soul of his family, intractable and eternal.
“Let me finish first, will you?!”
Dawn barked the sentence at her grandfather. It caused him to freeze but resentfully grow quiet. She went on to explain to him in detail everything she’d heard and seen and his face gradually swapped anger for surprise. A lot had happened in the city and he was just now hearing about it.
“Get someone, call Mr. Ink!”
An oddly dressed man appeared in the mansion’s main hall. He didn’t look very old, maybe thirty or forty years old. A mask covered half of his face and he was dressed in all dark grey tones. As he walked toward them not a single sound arose like he was hardly more than a spirit.
Mr. Ink approached Cloudhawk and gave the unconscious man a cursory glance. He reached out a hand and gently slapped his kneecap, retracting with it a hair-thin needle caught between his fingers. Mr. Ink then brought the needle close and inspected it for a few moment. “These are Arcturus Cloude’s lightning needles. He’s the only one who can do this.”
The old man already knew that answer. He pressed for more personal concerns. “How is he? Crippled?”
Mr. Ink examined Cloudhawk more closely and then answered. “With wounds like this the chances are significant. However, it appears Lord Arcturus was not deliberately trying to butcher him. Also this young man has a unique constitution – certainly not typical. His wounds are serious but nothing out of the scope of a little treatment. I suspect he can be repaired with minimal permanent impact.”
“Fine, then I leave him to you.”
While Mr. Ink plucked out the remaining needles, Skye Polaris scratched his beard and looked at Cloudhawk. Interest glimmered in his eyes, there was something special about this one if Lord Arcturus got personally involved.
“This one’s got balls. He broke into the Polaris family home to steal, then turned right around and burned down the governor’s mansion.” Dawn thought she was the most lawless and reckless person in the city. Compared to this one she was a master of etiquette. “Unique at least. It would be a shame to waste him. Leave him with me to play with for a while, what do you think?”
“Play, what the hell is he a toy?” He fiddled with his beard and shot her a sidelong glance. “If we want soldiers we have soldiers, horses we got horses. But the one thing that’s hard to come by is people of real talent. The Cloude family has all of them. You’re right that killing him outright would be a shame. He’s rough, but he makes a good sculpting block. Actually…”
Just then a sound arose from outside. One of the soldiers burst and immediately went to his knee before the commander. “Sir, Governor Arcturus is here!”
Dawn’s pretty face revealed surprise. “This fast? How?!”
Her grandfather rose to his feet with a grunt, lumbering like a great big bear but with the stately command of a dragon. “I’ll deal with him, bring the kid below. Let me greet our friend from the Cloude family.”
A few minutes later Arcturus Cloude strode into the room. He was flanked on either side by Augustus and Frost de Winter. Augustus’s expression was dark and intractable, while Frost de Winter was seething with fury. The governor led them, clad in a simple grey robe and with the same professorial calm as always. His salt-and-pepper hair was meticulously groomed without a strand out of place, and he looked at them with soft but penetrating eyes – as deep and unfathomable as the ocean.
The commander and the governor, two men in stark contrast, faced each other from across the room.
Skycloud’s chief military commander wore his emotions out in the open, and most who caught his eyes immediately started trembling at the knees. He wasn’t a man, beneath the skin he was a wild beast. Up close it felt like he could bite them at any moment.
The governor stood as light and lazy as the clouds. Everything about him showed perfect self-control and constraint. To anyone that didn’t know him the governor was the image of an amiable scholar.
Bathed in the imperiousness that flowed from Skye Polaris, Augustus and Frost de Winter both felt they were pierced by needles. In fact walking toward him was like fighting a current, it sapped the energy from you and the sense of danger was stifling.
If the two other men were described as boulders suffering the surge of a river, then Arcturus Cloude was like a net. All the force of the commander’s presence washed through him like he wasn’t there. The net didn’t budge, especially when it was closing in.
“Haha, governor! It’s been quite a while!” Skye Polaris bellowed at them as he lumbered forward, his face wide and inviting like he was greeting old friends. “I heard your mansion burned down! Ahh, terrible thing. News of it is all over the city. All those tax records – what a mess. They didn’t all go up in flames, did they?”
“Be at ease, commander. There was some slight damage but nothing worth mentioning. We always keep backups of important documents so the matter isn’t serious.” Lord Arcturus smiled graciously and nodded his head. He certainly looked as unconcerned as he sounded, treating it more like someone had broken one of his cups. He went on. “Actually I’d heard someone broke into your home a few days ago and stole some things. Young Miss Dawn suffered no insignificant loss. Has the culprit been found?”
“Hah hah, ah! Our governor surely is well informed. Just a petty thief, eh? If we wanted we could snap him up without a problem, but what concern is it of a commander?”
“On the contrary you shouldn’t take this lightly. Stealing into the home of an official puts sensitive government documents at risk. An intruder in the home of our highest military officer puts our whole domain at risk. As governor, I’m duty bound to see to this matter personally.”
“Relax. I’ll make sure I find this thief.”
That wouldn’t be a problem. Any scapegoat could be conjured up.
“Actually I’ve already managed to trace the contraband. It was found with a group of seditious renegades, though under the direction of a mastermind. I also heard that there was some trouble at the prison, that all of the prisoners escaped through the city’s tunnel system. More than a few of them were decreed public enemies by The temple. I have reason to believe that the one who stole from you is the same person who instigated these terrorist acts.”
Skye Polaris’s face darkened.
“That is a matter I promise the Temple takes very seriously.” His tones were even, never fast nor slow. Sincerity seemed to coat every word. “I look forward to the commander’s help in apprehending this criminal. We must be vigilant. We wouldn’t want to learn of mistakes – for instance, harboring criminals. That would certainly draw the ire of the Temple and they would demand an explanation.”
The last few words stripped the jovial mask from Skye Polaris’s face. The old fox was clever as he ever was. It’d taken him no time to learn of the break in, even tracing it. He even brought it to the Temple. It wasn’t a serious problem, not yet. He had to wait and see what the governor chose to do with this information.
Theft from the home of the commander was a real threat to national security. What’s more, evidence of that break in was found in the hands of an illegal organization. It was enough to fuel suspicion that important military documents had been leaked.
The same person was also responsible for the jail break.
It was perfect fuel for whatever Arcturus Cloude’s aim was.
“The governor speaks and the commander listens, what else can we expect? But there is something else, I hoped I might ask for some help.”
“Speak your mind, commander.”
Skye Polaris danced around it. His tone became thoughtful. “I did come across a young man, one I thought could be turned into someone useful. I wondered what could he have done to earn such hate from the governor? Kid’s barely an adult, not a day in Skycloud City. A man of your stature, I’m surprised you took such a personal interest at all. I figured he must know something he isn’t supposed to. Just… something that makes me curious.”
Frost de Winter could no longer restrain himself and stepped forward. “Cloudhawk is an agent of a demon. Shielding him is an affront to the gods!”
“A demon agent? That’s quite the accusation! If you say he is, I guess I’d have to ask for proof. Do you have any? Proof? Has he been afforded any trial? Maybe ‘I am a demon spy’ is carved on his forehead? I must’ve missed it. It seems to me he’s condemned on your word alone – you say he’s a spy and that gives you the right to make him disappear. Is that right?”
Frost de Winter took another half a step forward as his anger boiled over. “You-!”
Lord Arcturus cut him off with a wave, then turned his eyes on the commander. “Are you sure you want to protect him?”
“Your family has always been rich in talent. Three masters in one generation, leaders of their field and knitted into the city’s landscape, even the Temple. And at your side is more than just Augustus. You have Selene, Zephyr, Frost de Winter, and more. Your family has control of eighty percent of the domain’s demonhunters and more hidden agents than I can count. My family only has Dawn to put forth. Good seeds are hard to come by, do you think I’d let one go? I’ve already thought about it – he should be sent to Hell Valley. The gods will decide his fate. If he dies then so be it, but if he lives then he belongs to the Polaris family!”
Beyond expectations Lord Arcturus did not seem to take long to consider. “Very well. Seeing as the commander is adamant, I’d be happy to oblige. We’ll be going.”
Frost de Winter couldn’t believe it. “Master, but-“
Frost de Winter couldn’t grasp what had come over his master. He had the upper hand! No one was a match for Lord Arcturus in this sort of verbal contest, so why did he give in?
(Xiao Lai is now on twitter and instagram! Follow him @xiaolaiwxw for insights into translating and Chinese medicine theory.)Previous Chapter Next Chapter
That's an interesting recruiting technique...