The governor’s mansion. The gardens.
Lord Arcturus stood across from the young man. He was born to a desolate place, lowly and uneducated, and looked at everything like a dullard. However, facing the man who could kill him – in fact, who had tried to kill him not long before – Cloudhawk stood without pride or pretense. Calm, unmoved. He was certainly quite a special child.
“Truth be told, I’m impressed. Your actions yesterday were something to behold.” Lord Arcturus spread his hands, voice even, elegant as ever. There was no fluctuation in the way he spoke. “I know the kind of woman Selene is. Her pride runs to the bone, deeper than even Frost de Winter’s. She also has a good eye for talent. Those she trusts must be special in some way.”
“So you decide to kill me, to keep me quiet,” Cloudhawk tepidly replied.
“That’s right. Killing people like you is, without question, the correct decision.” He said it without an ounce of anger, just matter-of-fact. “This matter with Selene has far reaching implications. I made this choice in order to maintain peace and stability in Skycloud City. A normal citizen can never understand the weight of responsibility that lies on a governor’s shoulders. We must have a view of the whole landscape. Decisions are made based on the big picture – even if they are sometimes contrary to our own desires. Is this not so?”
Cloudhawk frowned. “Big picture? What big picture?”
“You still don’t understand? Selene raced off to the wastelands to hunt her demon. She went alone, without aid or backup. Does this not seem odd?”
In truth, it was a question that Cloudhawk had puzzled over before.
Selene Cloude’s family was powerful, with command of a great many demonhunters. Surely they could have spared a few? Why did they simply sit calmly by as she went out on a suicide mission? Against someone like the Caliph of the Sands, ten or twenty more demonhunters wouldn’t have been overkill.
Admittedly he was curious. “Why?”
“It’s a long story, one that involves the reputation of our family we are not eager to disclose. However, things being as they are, I might as well share it with you.” When he began his tale, for the first time this inscrutable man’s eyes revealed a hint of disquiet. “My younger brother, Baldur, was always an exceptionally talented man. He held the post of Knight-Commander for the Order of Demonhunters and led the entire force. Here in Skycloud, he was a giant among men, with brilliant prospects that stretched far into the future. Then he had a daughter whose talent was just as vast, only later… he was led astray.”
Cloudhawk didn’t understand. Baldur Cloude was a renowned master demonhunter, what could he have done?
“You heard correctly. Baldur was privately in contact with demonkin. More than once he was implicated in plots to have the citizens of our city killed. The Temple had concrete evidence of this, but when they tried to bring him in for a trial Baldur caught wind. He fled, another indication that he’d thrown his lot in with demons.”
Cloudhawk was surprised by the revelation. A demonhunter caught colluding with demons, and fleeing when he was discovered? If this were true the news would have spread all over Skycloud.
“What happened afterwards to my brother remains a mystery. Perhaps he knew too much and the demons saw him as a threat. Or maybe there was some other dispute with his new masters. All we know is that in the end he fought them and lost. This is how this all began.”
Laughable, Cloudhawk thought. Lord Arcturus story was too clumsy. Was he trying to paint Selene’s father as a traitor, now?
The governor continued. “Baldur was my brother and the pride of our family. More than that, he was a celebrated master demonhunter. If word of his betrayal got out the consequences could be ruinous. So, in order to preserve order, we doctored a story that he was lured into a trap and murdered.”
Cloudhawk found it all rather hard to believe.
Lord Arcturus saw it in his face. “Think back to the time you spent with Selene. Recall the details.”
The wastelander knit his brows. He remembered that every time her father was mentioned there was a thirst for vengeance, but also shame. If a demonhunter really did die hunting his prey, there was no cause for humiliation. It would be their highest honor. Why, then, was she so torn up with grief? Why would she violate the laws of Skycloud and her order, give up her bright future and seek vengeance?
At the time Cloudhawk didn’t care, it was none of his business. But thinking back on it now, this had to be the reason.
This sort of thing created chaos. The normal folk could be shielded from it, but Selene had to have known. Yet she didn’t believe it, nor could she bear the disgrace. That was why she decided to leave for the wasteland, so that she could learn the truth and put down her father’s killer. Once she knew the truth she’d reveal it to the whole domain.
The problem was this evidence they had tying Baldur to the demons. It left no room for doubt, and there was no way for her to clear her father’s name. She couldn’t be allowed to come back with anything that contradicted it, or it would only make matters worse!
The government of Skycloud kept the news of Selene’s violation from the public. As far as they knew she’d been locked away in training or had been sent away somewhere on a mission.
Cloudhawk’s return was exactly the sort of news they didn’t want. What he knew was precisely what they feared. Killing him to keep that information from getting out was the only option! It made sense, but something still didn’t feel right.
“I can see that you’re smart and talented. What you lack is training, guidance.” Lord Arcturus spoke earnestly. “Would you be amenable to working for me, as one of my assistants? I can offer you whatever Skye Polaris has proposed and more. I swear to help you cultivate your potential and become one of Skycloud’s most celebrated demonhunters.”
The offer struck Cloudhawk deeply. How could it not?
This calm and intelligent man was widely accepted as the greatest demonhunter in all the holy lands. He was solely responsible for molding Frost de Winter into the powerhouse he was at such a young age. Cloudhawk was human. He yearned for power and capability the same as anyone else.
But faces flashed across his memory then. Squall. Selene Cloude. Old Thistle and the others.
This man who gave off such a sense of geniality and trustworthiness… could he really be believed?
As a child of the wastelands, Cloudhawk had never experienced intrigue like this. But he knew human nature, how ugly and pessimistic they could be. He’d seen enough of that to leave an impression.
Appearances. He wouldn’t fall for it this time. 
The terrible things that happened to Squall were not performed by Lord Arcturus, but he was still responsible. Killing innocent, devout people without a blink – Cloudhawk couldn’t do that.
“I’m tired of this whole mess. All I want is to be a normal guy, living a normal life. I appreciate the governor’s kindness, but I have an agreement with General Polaris. I’ll work for a little while and buy my freedom.”
Lord Arcturus nodded his head, but he sighed and the edges of his eyes crinkled slightly. “It is never a good thing for youth to seek leisure. For some, destiny demands a difficult road. You can avoid it for a time, but you cannot run from fate. However I respect your decision, but know that the offer remains if one day you should change your mind. My door will always be open to you.”
Cloudhawk’s countenance visibly changed. His words were moving.
Governor Arcturus was a man above all others, respected and revered by the people and protector of the city. This man - rich in power and prestige, of title and right - regarded Cloudhawk with patience and an open mind. The young wastelander was struck by it.
However, he knew that manipulative power of the governor, and Cloudhawk rightfully feared him. This fear was different from any other he had ever felt. The difference between them wasn’t just in physical ability. The difference there could be seen at a glance. The gulf of intelligence between them was vague and unknown, but Cloudhawk felt like he was staring out into an unfathomably vast ocean as he stood across from this man. On the surface was tranquility, but who knew how deadly the currents beneath really were, or what dangers hid in the water.
If Cloudhawk agreed to Arcturus’ offer, who knew how long it would be before he was totally brainwashed. He figured it would be only a short time before he was completely loyal to the man.
Something seemed to occur to Lord Arcturus then. “As for the matter with Selene, I’ve been very forthcoming. I hope I can trust you to remain discrete. After all, this is in order to protect the security of our city’s people. Sometimes sacrifices are necessary, but in return the majority gets to live in peace and well-being. It’s as crucial as it is unavoidable.”
Cloudhawk was certainly not interested in causing any more problems for himself. “I won’t tell a soul.”
Dawn tracked Cloudhawk down and gathered him up to go. She asked for information as they walked back out toward the carriage. “What did that old fox say to you?”
Cloudhawk only shared Arcturus’s offer to come work for the governor’s mansion. Her lily-white face darkened into a scowl. “That’s one no-good snake! Don’t forget that you owe the Polaris family for what you stole. You’re not going anywhere till you pay off your debt!”
Lord Arcturus stood alone among the finely cultivated plants of his garden.
The soft sounds of footsteps approached. Frost de Winter stopped by his master’s side and in humble tones ask him. “Master, your student has a question.”
“You want to know why I’m letting him go, and why I tried to bring him into the fold.”
“Even if he is under Skye Polaris’s protection, I have ways to deal with Cloudhawk, but he’s not worth antagonizing the general’s family over. As for my offer? Remember that sometimes the most effective way to deal with an entrenched enemy is to make them your friend.”
Frost did not like the answer. Friend? How was such a base and unworthy person even to be considered?
Lord Arcturus sensed the dissatisfaction in his disciple’s posture. “I’ve told you many times not to look down on anyone, or to underestimate their potential. Cloudhawk has as much aptitude as anyone else in this city. He just had the misfortune of being born where no one would teach him. From today forward, you are forbidden from seeking him out to cause trouble.”
Frost de Winter’s brows furrowed tight. His response was quiet. “I obey.”
(Xiao Lai is now on twitter and instagram! Follow him @xiaolaiwxw for insights into translating and Chinese medicine theory.)
The old man just makes me more and more nervous.