Since Cloudhawk was to be gone for a time, he prepared himself back in the mansion. He’d taken two of the Body-Quenching elixirs already, and he had to say Dawn’s gifts were helpful. Elysian medicines didn’t have the immediate effect that Seeker drugs had, but they were far gentler on his system.
Seekers used ancient scientific methods to create pharmaceuticals, which saw results moments after injection. The panacea injection was an example, which improved self-healing by a factor of ten almost immediately. However, in the end these drugs often pushed the body beyond its natural limits, squeezing every cell for every ounce of potential for a temporary boost. As such these drugs were very good for the short term, but were possibly harmful over longer periods.
Cloudhawk knew this, so he hadn’t wanted to risk his health by taking drugs that forced improvement. On the other hand, the elixirs Dawn had brought her were different. They were refined through special processes here in the elysian lands. The contents of the bottles were small, but they were the potent extracts of rare materials. Their ingredients improved strength, agility and regeneration.
Most importantly, these elixirs were stable and had no side effects. 
After training for a little while Cloudhawk was surprised to find that he was progressing quickly. In only a matter of days since beginning the herbal regimen he was able to comfortably perform thirty postures of the demonhunter exercises. This proved that he was getting better.
For most elysians his incredible improvement would be hard to believe, so to prevent Dawn’s shock and probing curiosity Cloudhawk kept it a secret. At her current rate of progression Cloudhawk was achieving in a couple days what took her a month of training.
Dawn Polaris was no typical person, either! Her talent was maybe only surpassed by Selene Cloude’s.
There was a lot about Cloudhawk that was unique. He could hear relics, for instance, and he improved at a faster rate than most. If the patriarch of the Polaris family found out he’d surely cancel Cloudhawk’s training in Hell Valley. Skye was looking for people to make his family and soldiers stronger – he wanted to forge people to make them the tip of the spear. However with Cloudhawk’s current abilities he would be wasted in the vanguard. Skye would want to make him a pillar of their family’s strength.
Of course from Cloudhawk’s perspective there was no benefit to being a servant of the Polaris family. He’d always valued his freedom, and as powerful as the Polaris family was it also seemed to attract trouble. Cloudhawk didn’t like trouble, so he didn’t want to be tied somewhere where it could easily find him. He’d much rather spend his time away training.
At last the day came for him to go. Cloudhawk packed up the feed for Oddball and his elixirs in a travel sack, slung it over his shoulder, and got ready to set out.
“It won’t do for you to carry your sword in hand all the time. I had something made for you.” Dawn Polaris had tracked Cloudhawk down and threw something at him.
Cloudhawk caught it – a sheath, made from the same materials as his black-gold sword quiet carnage. When he slipped the sword in he was pleasantly surprised at how well it fit. He wasn’t sure how Dawn had gotten the dimensions of his sword so precise.
She smirked at him. “It’s made from elysian tungsten steel . It cost fifty gold to make. Remember to add that to what you owe.”
It seemed like his debt was increasing every day, and he knew it was only going to grow. Oddball’s food was finite and Cloudhawk would need more medicine for his training. Since Dawn was the only one with the means to get these things for him he had to rely on her favor. It was going to be a long road to get out from under what he owed – but that is exactly what Dawn wanted.
Dawn thought for a moment. “Work hard when you get there. When I have time I’ll try to find a way to come and visit.”
Skye ordered a contingent to accompany Cloudhawk, ensuring he was safely on his way to Hell’s Valley. Mr. Ink led the party.
Cloudhawk didn’t get the Polaris family physician, but he knew he was no weakling. He had to be something special for Skye Polaris to reign his temper in around him. Mr. Ink’s presence had to be a way to insure nothing happened to Cloudhawk on his way to Hell’s Valley.
Skye had also explained the do’s and don’ts of Hel’s Valley before Cloudhawk left.
“The environment out there is harsh, but it’s the perfect place to make you stronger. If you survive you’re sure to improve quickly. You’ll learn a lot there that you can’t learn in the elysian lands, so make sure you pay attention.”
The ship was preparing to depart. With his final orders delivered Skye Polaris got ready to leave.
But as he turned to go the sound of a griffon carriage coming from the city reached their ears. All eyes turned to the extravagant convoy as it approached, toward the flags flapping on each one; a crescent moon on a field of blue. It was the crest of one of Skycloud city’s influential families.
Skye’s eyes sparkled. “The Claudia family. Is that upstart Garuda Claudia sending people to Hell’s Valley as well?”
The contingent of carriages from the Claudia family pulled up near Skye Polaris. From within trundled forth a man who was precisely the shape of a meatball but the size of a man. He waddled toward the Polaris patriarch with an amicable look on his face. Easily over three hundred pounds, the rotund individual was clad in immaculate gold silk robes. A slanted mustache sat over plump lips and though he was a respectable fifty years of age, the portly gentlemen seemed comical and harmless.
“General, of course it’d be you. Such a coincidence.” Garuda Claudia only managed a few steps before his face turned red and he started puffing. The happy smile never fled from his face, though. “This humble man pays his respects.”
“You’re full of it.” Skye huffed as he eyed the Claudia assembly. “Aren’t you merchants? What’s all this, sending men to sacrifice their lives in Hell’s Valley?”
“So serious, General. So grave. We are but merchants and cultivating elite fighters is of little use for us.” Garuda’s face was suddenly comically melancholy. “I’m not sure what affliction has come over my third daughter, but she insists on being allowed to undertake training at Hell’s Valley.”
Skye looked back at him with surprise on his face. “She must know the dangers. Children of the aristocracy are especially sheltered, and yet she persists. You’ve raised a good girl, have her come out. Let me have a look.”
Garuda beamed and waved toward the carriages. “Claudia, get out here and introduce yourself to the commander.”
A golden haired young woman stepped out, so thin she almost seemed to float. Her pretty face was worn to the point of almost being called haggard, like a stiff breeze could knock her down. Her face retained a wooden expression as she made her way over to where Skye stood. Once before him she offered a stiff bow. “I’ve met the commander.”
Dawn’s voice broke into the conversation. “Hm? Cloudhawk, why are you hiding behind me?”
Claudia Claudia’s eyes swept Dawn’s way, just in time to see Cloudhawk slink out from behind her. All of a sudden her expression and mannerism changed, and her eyes were dual furnaces of rage. “You!”
Skye looked over, puzzled. Dawn looked at him, confused. Garuda looked at them both, surprised.
Cloudhawk couldn’t help but once again bemoan how small the world seemed. Why was he constantly running in to people who wanted him dead? He couldn’t side so he simply stood there in full view. He pulled his shoulders back and answered. “Damn right it’s me!”
Claudia lifted her hand and from within her palm arose a flower-like relic. From it shot several dozen darts, all headed right for where Cloudhawk stood.
Shocked, her father screamed like a stuck pig. “Stay your hand!”
Dawn’s slender brows lifted, but her sword as on the move. Standing in front of Cloudhawk she stabbed the sword’s blade into the ground, which summoned a wall of soil to rise. The hail of darts were stopped before they got close.
That’s a damn good she-devil!
Indeed, even the likes of Frost de Winter were embarrassed when they tried to face her. Who was this girl, who thought she could harm Dawn’s servant in front of her? Someone in the city was actually more arrogant than she was. Dawn wasn’t about to let that go easily!
“Have you gone insane, girl?!” Garuda hurled his lumpy body between them. “I didn’t spend a fortune to buy you that relic so you could use it on the General’s people! Stand down!”
All three of them were untouchable! Skye Polaris went without saying, he was commander of Skycloud’s armed forces. His position may not have been as illustrious as the governor’s, but he wielded no less power. Dawn Polaris had the backing of her family and the Temple, as well as the likes of Mr. Ink who they didn’t wish to offend. As for the young man, Garuda didn’t know him but he sure wasn’t worth attacking the Polaris family for.
Skye chuckled dryly. “The Claudia family is impressive. Your tracker necklace is nothing special but the tempest flower is quite the relic. You’re definitely willing to spend money on your girl.”
Garuda flopped onto his knees. “This humble man’s daughter has acted improperly. We beg the commander for forgiveness!”
When she saw her father on his knees Claudia Claudia began to sway. She suddenly realized how dangerous a predicament her rash actions had put them in.
Skye paid Garuda no mind. “What’s all this about?”
Cloudhawk shrugged then went over their contentious history.
The General frowned and ran his fingers through his beard. “This child was a friend to the Umbra boy, and in the end you had to kill him? He was no one important and you had no choice. You can’t be blamed, I’ll help straighten it out
Dawn sighed. “Anyone else this would be easy, especially some talentless trash. But that one had a brother we don’t want to upset.”
“Who else? Atlas!”
“Son of a bitch, him?”
The news did not sit well with Skye. Atlas was second in command of the Court of Shadows, Skycloud’s most infamous special operations organization. They got their orders directly from the Temple. Not even the Cloude family could keep them in check, much less the Polaris family. Atlas was not an easy bastard to deal with.
“How do you want to deal with this girl?” Skye Polaris looked Claudia over. Atlas was a problem, but this one was not. Garuda begged for mercy but the commander acted like he could not hear. He spoke directly to Cloudhawk. “Your decision.”
Claudia Claudia stood still as stone and just as silent, biting her lip.
“This is a personal matter, so I can’t ask the General to get involved. But if she still decides she wants to come after me, I’m not going to show any mercy.”
“Good. A man of integrity, decided as it should be. Let the kids work out their own problems. Let the adults deal with family matters and stay out of the way.” Skye stared at Cloudhawk, who’d proven to be quite the troublemaker. “The threat of Atlas’ knife at your back is a good thing, too. It means you’ll have to get strong quick.”
What other choice did Cloudhawk have? He’d just have to accept that fate hated his guts!
Mr. Ink quietly interjected. “Everyone, the ship is preparing to depart.”
1. This is the standard argument for Chinese herbal medicine versus western pharmaceuticals. Proponents of traditional medicine feel that herbal medicine is milder in action, but more complete in their efficacy while having much milder side effects. Here is an interesting article from the WHO that described the state of herbal medicine, and gives an example of how herbs have been distilled into more potent pharmaceuticals.
Temper, temper Claudia...