The former Knight-Commander of the Order of Demonhunters, who was Governor Arcturus’ younger brother, had only one daughter. If Cloudhawk couldn’t use this information to guess the rest, he would have to have his brain checked.
He fiddled with the token, passing it between his hands.
A face so beautiful it could almost be called superhuman appeared before his eyes. Now he understood how important her gift was. She’d given it to him like it was no big deal.
Cloudhawk’s immature face slipped into a solemn expression. He didn’t know how many wastelands there were or how many holy cities throughout the elysian lands, but Skycloud was the closest one for hundreds of kilometers around.
It sat at the heart of the elysian lands, one of its most prosperous and bustling cities. It was thick with people and was the business, authoritative, and ideological capital of the realm. The illustrious family that ran it had a background and ability that was hard to fathom. Between a Knight-Commander and a Grand Marshall, they commanded the full might of the demonhunters in Skycloud.
The daughter of this mighty master demonhunter was possessed of stunning beauty and a marvelous bloodline. What’s more she was the most talented member of the family to emerge in hundreds of years. Since birth she’d carried the hopes and expectations of a brilliant future on her shoulders. If she’d remained on her set path, she would very likely have taken the governor’s place when she was old enough.
Why would she go against the wishes of her family?
Why would she betray the laws of her order?
Why would she take such a risk and venture into the wastelands alone?
Whatever, it doesn’t serve anything to think about it. Nothing to do with me. All I want is some money, safety, and a nice place to call home. All this battle between good and evil shit can sort itself out without involving me!
In this era, moral integrity was a luxury. The rise and fall of the times? Saving the world and helping others? Fuck all that noise.
Heroes can go do all of that shit. If the world was counting on him, it was in for some disappointment. Cloudhawk’s plan was simple; sneak into the holy territories, meet the governor, get some money and maybe a small official position after showing his proof of conquest, then live out his days in comfort. Right, maybe hire a few pretty handmaids. That sounded good to him.
Night fell on the third day of their journey.
The single-horned horses that pulled the cart began to slow, and the gentle sway of the cart eased. When Squall climbed on he saw that Cloudhawk and Asha were already asleep.
One could tell their experiences by how the two slept. Cloudhawk was curled up in a corner so he couldn’t be attacked from behind. If something were to happen he could respond immediately. Asha slept like the dead, face up without a care in the world.
Squall reached out his arm.
Cloudhawk was up in a flash and his left hand had Squall by the wrist before the guy knew what was happening. His right hand whipped around with a dagger already in his grip, the tip pointed at Squall’s throat. It happened in less time than it took to blink. No thinking, no hesitation, just instinct.
“Hold on!” Squall cried out in alarm. “Man, you’re way too vigilant.”
“It’s you? How come I didn’t hear you coming?” He peered through the dark and saw that it was Squall. With his brows knit he retracted the dagger. “I thought someone was up to no good. Pay attention next time, sneak up on me in the middle of the night and I don’t know what’ll happen.”
Squall had never seen anyone with reaction times like Cloudhawk’s. It wasn’t a skill you could train, it was a custom from living for a long time in dangerous situations. He slept so lightly that the wind moving a blade of grass awakened his defensive reaction.
Squall and Cloudhawk had roughly the same amount of training, but Cloudhawk had far more experience. If they ever really had to fight, Squall would be no match for him. Besides, Cloudhawk had the power of the demonhunters!
Their talking had awakened Asha. She rubbed her eyes and stared blankly at the pair. “Have we arrived?”
She was pure hearted. She’d lived through the trauma and terror of being enslaved and had watched as her adopted father was viciously murdered, however she was still just a young girl. She didn’t know anything about fighting.
The first glimmer of dawn’s light peaked over the horizon. A moist and chilly wind rolled over the barren landscape, a cold breeze to dispel the fog of sleep. It was refreshing.
Cloudhawk removed his armor, setting it and his weapon aside. The Sandbar wasn’t really part of the holy territories but it was still likely he’d come across elysians. The armor was too conspicuous and his cover too flimsy. He was going to have to give up the fancy equipment to avoid other problems.
An elysian elixir from the doctor enhanced his natural healing abilities, so Cloudhawk’s wounds were basically healed. At least they weren’t going to stop him from getting around.
The Sandbar was brilliantly lit, but not by electric lights.
Anything having to do with the bygone era, including electric lights, gas, guns… all of that was very difficult to find here. The followers of the gods believed that ancient man was the architect of his own destruction by relying on these evil tools. Their proof was the fact that mankind’s knowledge grew out of control in the latter days of its reign. Ultimately, the world ended because of it.
Endless hunger was what lead to mankind’s downfall. When desire grew out of control there was no more progress. There were only two paths remaining; left or right. Both led to the depths of hell.
The faithful were steadfast in this belief.
As such, anywhere where elysians could be found was absent of these old technologies. The Sandbar might have been out here in the borderlands, but it saw many merchant caravans from the holy territories, as well as demonhunters passing through on missions. So they obeyed this strict elysian policy.
The settlement’s scale was enormous, built within a semi-circular structure left over from the ancient days. There was no giant gate or guarded entry because out here the denizens didn’t need to worry about roving bands of mutated monsters. There was no threat of destruction by sweeper raids. As such defenses were lax.
This was a special place, whether you were coming from the holy territories or the wastelands.
Rampant tyranny from elysian justice wasn’t a threat to wastelanders here. Likewise, elysians weren’t as constrained by the demands of Skycloud law and lived out here without a master. In fact the Sandbar didn’t even have a leader. Talented men and women were hidden throughout the sanctuary and their presence alone maintained a lasting peace. No one dared to upend the balance, so things have kept stable.
Cloudhawk followed the caravan into the settlement.
This place was obviously very different from other settlements of the wastelands. Its construction was similarly crude, but from time to time Cloudhawk spied merchants like Old Thistle milling around, or soldiers from the holy lands about their various missions. Sprinkled among the crumbling buildings were also a few elegant skyscrapers. Elysian-style masterpieces, Cloudhawk assumed.
Old Thistle suddenly stopped thumbing the beads of the bracelet he always carried.
“Stop! Everyone stop where you are!”
“Who are you? Do you have your papers? Present them immediately!”
A group of ten or so elysian soldiers blocked their path. Their armor was that familiar chiseled jade that glinted in the torchlight. Long bows were in their hands as they hurriedly marched their way.
Old Thistle was puzzled by their appearance. He’d never been stopped before, but something did seem different about the Sandbar this time. But suspicious or not, Old Thistle didn’t dare ignore the soldiers’ demands. He ordered his people to produce several pieces of proof concerning their identities and purpose.
A few of the soldiers poured over their documents while the others searched the carts, weapons in hand. Every cart was carefully searched, even going so far as to open and remove their cargo to check for contraband.
“You two, your identification?”
The guard captain used his bow to point toward Cloudhawk and Asha. A few of the other soldiers began to gather closer. They looked different from the other members of the caravan, so they weren’t merchants.
“Who are you! Speak up!” The portly guard captain stood tall and threatening before them. Cloudhawk didn’t react, but Asha shuffled backward a few steps. Seeing her reaction the guard captain’s eyes glinted malevolently. “You’re acting suspicious. Arrest them!”
Old Thistle hadn’t seen this coming. The Sandbar wasn’t part of elysian territory, they weren’t supposed to have troops stationed here much less checking people at the entrance. If they were going around arresting anyone they thought were suspicious there wouldn’t be anyone left in the settlement.
“Come now, don’t be hasty.” Old Thistle thumbed the beads in his left hand while amicably pleading with them. “There’s nothing suspicious about my new recruits. I can vouch for them.”
“New recruits? The Skycloud army has suffered a defeat out in the wastes. Lord Augustus Glory was injured and still hasn’t awakened. Only three of the demonhunters that went with them still live, and Skycloud is in chaos! Damn merchants… the only thing you care about is money. Pagh! You actually have the balls to bring on new recruits at a time like this? Careful that you don’t end up wiped out! Do you hear me?!” The anger in his voice was fevered and out of control. “Now get out of the way!”
The soldiers lifted their weapons and pointed them at Old Thistle. Bowstrings were pulled back, ready to fire.
Old Thistle could feel the murderous intent of these men. Even a man with his turbulent past shuddered at the scene, yet still he faced them as calmly as he could muster. He didn’t know what to do, he couldn’t offend this man but he couldn’t rashly reveal the identity of his stowaways either.
Cloudhawk spoke from behind in a low voice. Old Thistle let loose a shaky sigh.
Leaving this sort of thing to the honorable demonhunter was best. He was afraid he might speak out of turn or say something improper. After all the business of the demonhunters – especially one with a master’s token – was more important than he had any right to insert himself in.
When Asha saw the Skycloud soldiers she was so frightened her legs were like jelly. She could hardly stand.
It was a fear she could not control, like a volcano erupting in the depths of her heart. In an instant it overcame her fragile will and she was struggling against the urge to run. However, despite being young Asha knew the way of these men. If she tried to run now she wouldn’t get three paces before they killed her with their bows.
Cloudhawk reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. The sound of his voice was strange through the mask. “Don’t be afraid. I’m here.”
Just hearing his assurances eased her terror, but it was followed quickly by a bitter pain. She tightly pursed her lips while tears glistened in her eyes. It took all she had not to let them fall. Such a sad and delicate thing, even the most hard-hearted man couldn’t bear to harm her.
But not the fat man. He just looked at them with hard, soulless eyes. “Arrest them, then question them under torture.”
Cloudhawk’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly, glaring through the mask. The commotion had already gathered a group of spectators who stared and pointed at the scene. They looked like locals.
Maybe now was the time to send a message. Asha was so scared of elysians and soldiers especially. This was a new place and she was an outsider. He couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t be bullied or molested.
Cloudhawk decided something had to be done, not just to help Asha shed her fear but also to make sure she wasn’t taken advantage of.
Two of the soldiers closed in. As they reached forward to tie them up, the unexpected happened.
Cloudhawk’s fist plowed into the first guard’s face,
His nose folded as the bone broke. Clutching his face, the unfortunate man wailed and fell backwards.
Cloudhawk immediately moved on to the second. His foot shot out and caught the man square in his crotch, which elicited a shrill squeal.
Both men hit the ground crying at the same time. The young outsider’s flurry of attacks stunned everyone, not just the fat guard captain. Old Thistle, Squall and all the onlookers stared in open astonishment. It was a scene that was absolutely unthinkable.
This guy was crazy! He was beating on Skycloud soldiers, in public no less! Didn’t he know they would burn him at the stake for this?
The guard captain and the rest of his cronies gaped for a moment, hardly able to comprehend what they were seeing. When it dawned on him that it was real, the fat man snapped back to reality and shouted. “Kill them!”
But the cry caught in his throat.
Sand around Cloudhawk had stirred, coiling up his arm and coalescing into a brawny limb of gravel. Coarse fingers closed around the captain’s throat and lifted him clear off the ground.
The rest of the guards stared in dumb amazement.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Force (sand) choke, bitch! Use your inner Vader, Cloudhawk! Or your inner Gaara!