When Dawn approached, there was surprise in her platinum eyes. She’d expected at least a heated exchange, maybe even the promise of a long-standing conflict between their families. Instead it all was resolved in a few words.
Lord Arcturus seemed cool and refined, but in reality he was a difficult character. Dawn followed her own rules and paid little care to authority. But even though there were many in the city without clout and prestige, the one she never dared cross was Arcturus Cloude.
She could hardly believe their exchange, it seemed uncharacteristic of the governor. Could Lord Arcturus have other plans?
Skye Polaris said something the young woman didn’t understand. “You’re too young to understand Arcturus Cloude. His decision shows he thinks things can still turn his way. It’s fine, go check on the kid.”
Cloudhawk gradually awoke from the coma, and the first thing he saw was the ornate ceiling. Gold dust had been used to draw out beautiful pieces of art, canonical scenes that were skillfully and beautifully made.
Where was he? Cloudhawk wanted to get up but the wounds Arcturus had caused were not gone. He felt like a thousand ants were crawling over him, biting his skin.
Three people were standing by the foot of the bed talking. He recognized Dawn at a glance – but hadn’t he been captured by Frost de Winter? Why would he suddenly be here?
Mr. Ink cast a sidelong glance toward where Cloudhawk lay, then spoke to the older master. “My medicine has already begun to have an effect. It looks like he’s awakened.”
Skye Polaris clearly had deep respect for the man who addressed him. “Thank you for your efforts.”
Mr. Ink clasped his hands respectfully before his chest, then retreated a few steps.
The elderly man didn’t immediately speak. It was Dawn who approached Cloudhawk first, giving him a chance to see her more clearly. She was about a hundred and seventy centimeters tall and shunned armor for a simple white warrior’s robe. Her platinum blonde hair hung loose and orderly around her shoulders.
She was so white.
Unnaturally white, but not sickly.
A beautiful woman’s skin was oft described as alike to creamy white jade, but she seemed carved from it. Not only was she abnormally white, but there were no visible pores either and her skin shone with a gentle glow.
This beautiful woman, standing there unmoving, was like a noble and tempestuous goddess. Her arms were folded in front of her chest as she glared daggers at Cloudhawk. “You’re in my hands now, little thief. If you have anything to say for yourself, say it now!”
Cloudhawk still hadn’t regained his bearings.
“Don’t make a fuss, Dawn.” Skye Polaris’s towering form appeared beside her. As he approached, Cloudhawk felt his aura wash over him, like he was being crushed beneath the weight of a mountain. He was making an effort to be friendly, but his fierce features made that difficult. “You nearly died. Luckily, Dawn brought you here and we saved your life. You’re in the home of Skycloud’s commander-in-chief. I believe you’ve been here before.”
Cloudhawk didn’t know what a ‘commander-in-chief’ was and his face showed no change in expression. “Oh,” was his response. Then he closed his eyes and laid back. “Are you going to kill me?”
“Kill you? That would be far too simple! I could kill you with one finger, but if I was going to do that why would I risk offending that old fox, Arcturus?” Skye Polaris paid no mind to Cloudhawk’s lack of respect. “Alright, tell me what is going on. Why cause all this trouble for the governor?”
Saving him from the hands of Arcturus Cloude was no small thing, but Cloudhawk had to wonder what his motives were. He had no way to tell what the old man really wanted, but by now he had no reason to hide what happened out in the wastelands. So, he told him.
“So that’s what all this is about…” Now he understood. The old commander heaved a breath. “From now on, don’t give any more thought to Selene. This matter is much more complicated than you know.”
“How has she not died yet!” At the mere mention of Selene’s name Dawn’s whole body went rigid. Like a snake coming face to face with a mongoose, or a spider freezing under the shadow of a bird. Her hands clenched tight into fists. “She ran from this city because she was afraid to face me. She never gave me a chance to break our stalemate when I got back from the sanctuary, but I am the greatest talent in the whole domain!”
Clearly there was something going on between Dawn and Selene, but Cloudhawk didn’t give a shit. “Lord Arcturus really is working with demons, isn’t he.”
“As I said, it’s complicated and way above your pay grade. The answer wouldn’t mean anything to you.” Skye Polaris knew something, but he wasn’t going to say it. Still, his reaction was interesting. “Alright, I’m not the sort to beat around the bush. Let’s get to the point. You stole from my family and the fact that you’re still breathing goes against my usual temperament. Saving you might also have put us at odds with the governor – I hope you understand how serious this is.”
“Well I’ve lived a pretty shit life,” Cloudhawk replied. How was he supposed to repay him? “If you want it, just go ahead and take it.”
“Gladly! But it isn’t your life I’m after.” The grizzled man chuckled. “You seem like a gifted kid, that’s why I kept you from Arcturus. From now on you’re a soldier. I’m going to send you to Skycloud’s best training outfit to get you polished, then when you get back you’ll serve our family to pay back what you stole.”
Any pretense of friendship was gone.
Skye Polaris definitely seemed like someone with influence and had a breadth of talented people at his command. Why save him? Cloudhawk had some real skill but it was limited. He felt like finding someone more capable than him here in the city was as easy as plucking someone out of a crowd.
The old man had called him a soldier. Did that mean they were going to put him in the army? Any way you looked at him Cloudhawk wasn’t the army type, nor was he one of the faithful. So how was he supposed to make a good soldier?
“I’m a wastelander, I don’t believe in your gods.”
“That’s why you aren’t joining the conventional troops. Instead, you’re going to be a hand in the shadows. There are regulars and irregulars, those who live in the radiance of the gods and others who have never seen the light. In this world justice needs to be protected, but there are some evils that are necessary.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Put it this way. There are some less glorious missions a normal soldier can’t do, and a member of the family can’t be involved in. That’s where people like you come in. Any family or organization has a group that do what others can’t. Sometimes special situations require special tactics.”
“You aren’t afraid I’ll escape?”
“Feel free! Only, there’s a slow acting poison I had Mr. Ink inject you with while you were unconscious. It’ll stay in your system for five years or so, and every six months you’re going to feel a reaction. Without the antidote, it will kill you. You’re going to pay me back one way or another. Either you work or the poison will make sure you pay another way.”
Dawn was clearly displeased with his punishment. “Why rely on such sleazy methods? It’s disgraceful!”
Skye Polaris disagreed. “This is us handling the matter once and for all. Five years is practically nothing!”
“I’m not strong enough,” Cloudhawk responded.
“You are just unpolished, that’s all. It doesn’t matter. With the right materials you can cast a fine sword.” He went on. “This training is the perfect furnace. You could throw the most useless piece of trash inside, and so long as they live they come out able to hold their own.”
He’d had this planned all along!
Refusing the old man’s ‘generous’ offer was the same as accepting death by poison. Anyway, could he carve a place out for himself in the elysian lands any longer? If he left Skycloud, where would he go?
He thought he was going to die, and once he stopped breathing all his problems would be over. But he didn’t and there was no reason to go out looking for it.
“I have one condition.”
This idiot had the gall to make demands? He’d be dead if it weren’t for the old man!
Skye Polaris was clearly annoyed, but he still asked. “What is it? We’ll see.”
“The Bloomnettle Company is innocent. Leave them alone.”
This took Skye Polaris by surprise. He’d expected the kid to demand something that would benefit him, but instead he used his last bit of leeway for others. The grizzled soldier scowled as he thought it over. It wasn’t an easy request, but after a few moments he answered. “I can think up ways to pardon everyone except that one called Squall. But they won’t be able to stay here in the city. They’ll have to live the rest of their lives out in the villages.”
That was enough.
Cloudhawk knew there was nothing but darkness in Squall’s future. He was publicly convicted of crimes against the domain and was saved by a suspected demon spy. Nothing was going to clean those stains off his name. The rest of his family knew nothing about it and could be forgiven. Cloudhawk would never forget the image of Squall disappearing into the darkness of the tunnels. The guy’s world had been turned upside down overnight, but there wasn’t anything Cloudhawk could do to help him.
His quick and quiet acceptance pleased Skye Polaris. Young men like him were increasingly harder to find.
The city was full of soldiers, but they were inflexible. After studying Cloudhawk’s actions over the last few days he knew the kid was the sort that would do whatever it takes to reach his goal. This sort of diamond in the rough was exactly what Skycloud’s army was lacking!
“Dawn, take him to go get ready. Tonight we’re bringing him to meet someone.”
“The governor’s mansion. We have an appointment with Arcturus Cloude!”
Cloudhawk froze solid. Was this old man insane? Arcturus Cloude wanted to kill him and they were going to march him right through that bastard’s front door. Nevertheless, Skye Polaris seemed unconcerned. He knew the governor wouldn’t do anything untoward.
Dawn didn’t care one iota what Cloudhawk thought.
Once he’d recovered some, Dawn dragged him toward the family carriage. They left directly for the governor’s mansion. Skye Polaris explained that this wasn’t his idea, but that they were coming at Arcturus Cloude’s invitation. He wanted to meet this young wastelander face to face.
(Xiao Lai is now on twitter and instagram! Follow him @xiaolaiwxw for insights into translating and Chinese medicine theory.)Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Anyone care to guess at the reason behind this meeting?