Cloudhawk looked into exactly what Hell Valley was about. Put simply, it was a secret training location.
Reputedly, it was a dangerous place where every year the best families and organizations sent their brightest young members. Some were family heirs with great potential, others were particularly talented members of an organization’s lower ranks.
There was only one thing that was certain.
Everyone who was sent to Hell Valley was more than just capable, they were ready to die. The rate of deaths during the cultivation process was staggeringly high, but anyone who survived emerged as a finely honed tool for whoever sent them.
The hope that Cloudhawk would survive to become a powerful soldier was the reason Skye Polaris saved him. A decision like that for a man like Skye Polaris wasn’t made off the cuff. Advantages and disadvantages were weighed, and in the end he chose to make the investment.
Cloudhawk figured the training camp would be dangerous, but to what degree took him by surprise. Skye Polaris wasn’t doing Cloudhawk any favors, for if he died out there it wouldn’t make any difference. If he lived the General was sure to find some way to keep Cloudhawk under his thumb.
But he had no choice.
Cloudhawk wasn’t about to change sides and join Arcturus Cloude. If he tried to run from the Polaris family he was burning bridges with no way to make amends – no one in Skycloud would take him in. Skye Polaris was leader of all the armed forces, so Cloudhawk had no reason to suspect there wasn’t any method the commander would use to get what he wanted.
As for this poison they injected him with? Cloudhawk wasn’t too worried. Over the last couple days he felt the trespasser virus activate inside his body.
Whatever this stuff was, he felt confident it could halt the poison’s spread. He didn’t know whether it could neutralize the toxin entirely, but at least Skye Polaris wasn’t going to use this trickery to control Cloudhawk so easily.
Escape wasn’t going to happen anyway. Where would he go?
At first, his goal was driven by the goal of escaping from the wastelands. He’d been desperate for somewhere without murder or cruelty, only to discover that his assumptions of the elysian lands was a pipe dream . Whenever there were people the environment was the same. The only way he was going to escape it was to live a life of seclusion, otherwise it was bound to follow him like a curse. There was no way to escape.
The realization filled him with depression and he sat sleeplessly up in his bed.
For some reason an item in his pocket caught his focus and he reached in. When he pulled his hand out the golden egg from his last phase adventure was nestled inside.
He’d almost forgotten about it. Cloudhawk remembered when he found the bored egg in that strange land. Carrying it all this time it was easy to overlook – small and inert, but somehow he knew that it had a connection to relics.
Cloudhawk believed that demonhunter relics had to be created by some mysterious practice he knew nothing about. It was something maybe only gods and demons really understood, destined to remain a mystery to humans. Each relic he’d encountered had a special cadence and sound which Cloudhawk could use to determine where they were and how they were different.
There were all sorts, it didn’t seem like relics had any shape requirements.
Cloudhawk could feel a similar resonance coming from the egg so he figured it had to be some sort of relic. Only it was much different from any other relic he’d encountered. He’d been carrying it around for two months already and still had no idea what it did.
Maybe, he thought, it was time to give it a try.
Cloudhawk settled cross-legged on the floor and cradled the egg in his palms. He focused his psychic energy to hum in tune with it but no matter how he tried the egg drank up his energy like a sponge. It swallowed everything Cloudhawk directed at it but offered no response. He was getting no feedback at all.
Still the same? He’d tried before over the last two months with similar results.
Every time, his efforts were met with silence, the egg just drank his psychic energy and kept it trapped inside. This fist-sized egg acted like a bottomless vessel.
Cloudhawk was skeptical. Sure it didn’t respond to his attempts to use it but he tried nonetheless. For several minutes he persisted, pouring all of his focus into it until Cloudhawk had to stop. He slumped, dizzy from the effort and at his limit. The egg still did nothing.
What the hell was the point of this egg?
Cloudhawk was so frustrated he wanted to chuck it at the wall.
Just then, he felt the stone hanging from his neck awaken. A surge of energy spread out from within like a sea of clouds, ten times stronger than anything Cloudhawk could produce. Cloudhawk sat in stunned silence. He knew there was more to the stone than he realized and it only revealed this power under certain circumstances. He wasn’t sure what had awakened it this time.
The strange script etched all over the egg began to glow.
It was finally reacting!
Now Cloudhawk understood that the problem wasn’t the egg, but his psychic energy had been too weak. He didn’t have enough to reach the needed threshold, but after several attempts and with the stone’s help that appeared to have changed. At last it was working!
Cloudhawk could feel the psychic energy from within the stone gushing out like a raging river. At the same time the tumultuous sea of energy began to evaporate. As the egg was bathed in this power the etching glowed brighter, it became hot to the touch, until at last Cloudhawk was forced to drop it.
The dark bronze-colored eggshell became a brilliant gold, then shimmering white. In the end it radiated illumination like a lightbulb. This didn’t continue for long, maybe three or four minutes. Then the crisp sound of cracking arose and fissures appeared in the egg’s surface, spreading quickly.
Cloudhawk had even tried breaking the egg open once.
He’d shot at it, hacked at it with an ax, and nothing left a mark. Seeing the cracks on it now shocked him, but he quickly found his surprise had only started. Something inside started to move. Something in there was alive.
Cloudhawk rubbed his eyes and stared like he was staring at an apparition.
It was a creature, something he’d never seen the likes of before. It was about one third the size of his palm and naked from head to toe. From the moment it hatched from the egg Cloudhawk felt a resonance he’d never experienced before. Different from all the other relics he’d encountered, this creature had a rich emotional air. It filled Cloudhawk with a sense of affection.
The first thing this bald, ugly, tiny little thing did after it was born was begin to peck at the egg shells scattered over the floor. The pieces of it, harder than iron, still glowed with a faint light like they’d come fresh out of a furnace. The heat had made them brittle, so now each time the strange little bird pecked at a piece the eggshell broke apart and it gobbled them down.
The bird was slow and meticulous as it ate every single piece of the shell. Five minute later there was nothing left.
All the while Cloudhawk sat silently by, watching. Surprised, he stared as while the bird ate its shell glimmering golden feathers sprouted all over its body. Immediately the ugly thing was clothed in gorgeous plumage. A pretty little mystery bird.
It tried its wings for a moment before eventually taking off into the air. Its maiden voyage was clumsy but it flitted before Cloudhawk’s face leaving streaks of golden light. Then there was a loud bang like a bullet fired from a gun, and when he turned to look Cloudhawk saw the bird had crashed into a column.
The thing was fast!
He looked closer and saw that a chunk had been taken out of the pillar and the goofy little bird’s head was lodged in the hole. Its little legs churned and struggled as it tried to get free, eventually managing to yank its head out after considerable effort. From that point on it flew with more caution, taking a few circuits of the room and getting the hang of its new wings.
It settled on his shoulder. The bird bobbed its head, looking at Cloudhawk first with one eye then the other.
He was taken aback because he’d seen what happens if that bird didn’t stick its landing. It hit the column like a bullet, imagine what it would do to his shoulder. If it could punch most of the way through stone and come out alright the bird’s body had to be like steel. This little guy had the potential to cause some damage.
Once again that strange flood of energy emerged and Cloudhawk knew that bird bore no hostility toward him. In fact the bird seemed to depend on him, like a puppy would its master.
Something caused Cloudhawk to subconsciously feel at ease. As he looked down at the small bird on his shoulder the light from it dimmed and Cloudhawk could get a better look at it.
It was a tiny thing, which was to be expected since it’d just been born, about one third the size of a fist. Besides that it was a very strange little thing, unlike any other bird Cloudhawk had ever seen.
Firstly, it had mammalian eyes that were bright and filled with intelligence. Its skull was perfectly round, sort of like an owl but with a wide duck-like beak. It was a little on the puffy side but its wings were short which made it a mystery how it was even able to fly. With its wings folded back it looked like a little dust bunny on stilts, really rather cute.
It was a bird that actually hatched from a relic! It must consider Cloudhawk his master because he’d been filtering his psychic energy through it.
Cloudhawk didn’t know anything about this little creature, but that didn’t stop him from speculating. The relics he’d seen so far didn’t have a standard shape; books, swords, stones, jewelry, cloth – why not an animal?
Cloudhawk thought that maybe this bird was a special sort of relic. Like the difference between a knife and a trained beast. A guy with a sword could kill, so could an animal. Knives were tools of war and creatures could be trained to fight too, only they were living weapons. This little bird had come from a relic egg, so it had to be some sort of special relic itself. Just, one that was alive and intelligent.
(Xiao Lai is now on twitter and instagram! Follow him @xiaolaiwxw for insights into translating and Chinese medicine theory.)
Of all the things an egg births... of course it would be a bird!