Atlas Umbra did not become second in command of the Court of Shadows by chance. Even young, he was brimming with potential and was widely considered to be the future patriarch of his family. He was the right hand man, both for his family and for the Court, but he was not second strongest of the Umbras.
Something happened in the past three years that had catapulted him to new heights.
Were it not for Cloudhawk’s anti-assassination abilities, and his body’s special condition which protected him from Deathstalker’s poison, his death at Atlas’ hands would be all but certain. He didn’t think he had the faintest glimmer of a shot against that asshole’s boss. So he submitted himself to the Court of Shadows, and watched helplessly as they took all of his equipment.
Nearby the mist gathered, and within was a silhouette. No one could see his features, much less his age, but it was obvious who this man was. If there were a list of the most terrifying people in Skycloud, this person ranked in the top three.
Shadowmaster of the Court, a man with a name as strange as his legend: Janus ‘Many-Face’ Umbra.
Janus ‘Many-Face’ was a name as well as a title. He was a man of many faces, though none knew his true visage. Upon materializing in this dark corner, the great assassin raised his head to the sky. He sensed something. Reaching out, he languidly extended his palm as though to pluck a falling leaf from the air.
Overhead there was a flash of yellow. A small, pudgy bird with a stone in its mouth was in flight. Suddenly it faltered and came shooting down as though caught in a vacuum. Before Oddball knew what was happening, it found itself caught in Janus’s grip, and could not get free despite a valiant struggle.
The man’s face was inscrutable, but there had to be a look of ridicule somewhere in those shadows. This sort of trickery might work on the young and inexperienced, but him? Laughable.
Pale fingers reached forward to pluck the stone free, when he was interrupted by Atlas and the innocent-faced girl. “Patriarch, these are his things. Should we take them all?”
Felina stared at this near mythical figure, her heart thudding with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. For as long as she could remember she had held Janus aloft as an idol. It was her first time being so close to the Shadowmaster.
It was just like the legends said. His face was hidden behind the mist, so that nothing of his features could be gleaned.
Nothing of Cloudhawk’s was particularly rare or interesting, besides perhaps his cloak which might come to be of use to the family. After all, the Umbras were masters of stealth, someone would certainly find it helpful.
With Skye Polaris assailed from all sides, Atlas was certain he wouldn’t come to Cloudhawk’s defense. This time, his brother’s killer was destined for death.
There was no enmity between them but for that, but it was a fact he never forgot. There was no love between them, but at least he could appreciate the unwitting gift of a decent cloak.
Janus was about to nod his assent, when suddenly he paused as he something caught his eye. A lone syllable wafted from the mist. “Mask.”
Felina’s eyes glimmered as she drank it all in. He was impenetrable, mysterious. Nothing about the voice – from gender to age – was discernible. Its raspy hiss was uncomfortable, like it wasn’t coming from a human throat.
Among Cloudhawk’s things was indeed a mask. Atlas plucked it from his other belongings and handed it to the patriarch. He didn’t ask why. Apparently, ‘taciturn’ was a shared trait in their family.
Janus held the mask in his hands and regarded it in quiet contemplation for a time.
Felina didn’t know if it was her imagination or a trick of the mist, but for a brief moment she thought she glimpsed her idol shiver. He gently stroked the mask as though reliving old memories before eventually throwing it back. He apparently had no intention of keeping it for himself. “Skyden.”
None of the orders were questions. Atlas simply complied, leading their quarry away.
Janus raised his head and looked toward the sky. His hand loosened, allowing the small bird to go free. Oddball raced off in a headlong sprint, desperate to get as far away as fast as it could. The assassin made no effort to stop it. The mist he hid within danced in the breeze, and then as a gust came through it carried it all away. The Shadowmaster was gone, as though he had never been.
Skyden was no ordinary prison.
The dungeons were a place where ordinary offenders were housed, but those who needed special accommodations were brought here. Many of the unfortunate souls in Skyden were demonhunters or other powerful men. Years ago it was the place Gabriel had called home, before Frost came to offer him a job. Because of its dangerous clientele, the prison was much more heavily guarded than the city dungeons.
In recent days, the Skyden had come under new management.
The new Overseer was very young, but strong and from a noble family. He was gallant of visage, and his station as Overseer spoke to considerable personal aptitude. His other… idiosyncrasies were a closely guarded secret. Some of the more handsome guards – and even a few of the prisoners – were known to receive the Overseers special attention.
It was no surprise that a man like him would be delegated to watching over a prison. Engaging in such hobbies elsewhere was asking for trouble. If word got out his family could never walk the streets of Skycloud with their heads held high.
Of course, he was also capable at this profession. He was an adept interrogator with particular skill in physical and mental torture. So far none of the prisoners under his care had managed to withstand his methods. His effeminate features belied the cruel techniques he favored. He was crueler than any of the previous Skyden wardens.
Many wondered where the Overseer had learned his trade. Once, in a brief moment of carelessness he spoke about a place called Hell’s Valley. None of the prison guards had heard of the place. With a name like ‘Hell’s Valley’, how was it a part of Skycloud?
“This job is getting rather tedious. I’m beginning to miss those old days.” The Overseer idly cleaned his nails while complaining of his boredom.
“Overseer. The Court has brought in a dangerous criminal. A girl with them wanted to ask you to come personally.”
“A girl of the Court of Shadows? Why, that must be the Demon Kitten! She’s one to hold grudges. Her prey was probably someone who offended her long ago. I’m sure she’ll want me to pay him special attention. How bothersome. Does she imagine I’m so easily ordered around? I might consider it if the request came from Gabriel. Or, perhaps Cloudhawk. But her? Hmph!”
“O-Overseer… I don’t understand.” His muttered rants made no sense to the prison guards.
“Never mind. Take me to her.” He stopped picking at his nails. There wasn’t anything for him to do anyway, he might as well see if he could have some fun.
The guard led him to the furthest reaches of the Skyden, which surprised the Overseer. In his time here they had never consigned a guest to one of these cells. More and more it appeared the girl’s enemies were becoming serious. He had to admit he was somewhat titillated. “Are we here?”
“In front,” the head guard timidly answered. “Anyone locked up back here is dangerous, relics or not. Regulations state we should them chained around the neck to prevent escape. Do you want to wait until he’s chained or would you just like to go in?”
“It isn’t necessary. I’m certain it is impossible this fellow will escape my grasp, especially without relics.” The Overseer rolled his eyes and swaggered into the cell. “Now let’s see who our unlucky-”
His words trailed off. Stunned, he swallowed the rest of his thought. He merely stood there, staring at his latest charge.
Surprise took the jailors too, who stood nearby with hooks and chains. They were all acutely aware of the Overseer’s peculiar hobbies, and they looked at each other with uncomfortable stares. This newbie was young, and reasonably good looking. Probably…
The Overseer snapped back to reality. “W-what… what did he do?”
The head guard placed a stack of paper into the Overseer’s hands. “This is the report. He’s a special case, it’s been three years since we’ve had someone like him. We need to keep him under the strictest guard, to make sure there aren’t any problems.”
The Overseer glanced over the documentation. Beads of sweat broke out across his forehead. “This can’t be right. That… we’re fine here. Disperse, I need to ask him some questions.”
Everyone was aware of the Overseer’s hobbies. They fled the moment he gave the word.
Once they were alone the prisoner opened his mouth and spoke. “I was wondering why Felina sent me here. This place is being watched over by a fuckin’ sissy boy now, huh?”
Anyone else, and the words ‘fucking sissy boy’ would have inspired the Overseer to snap every single bone in their body. But from the mouth of this man it just made him smirk. “Not because of my reputation, I assure you. Still, they’ve left me here to rot just like the rest of them. I guess the real question is when the Boss started working with demons. This… my my, this is quite a serious offense.”
“Bullshit! You believe this nonsense too?” Cloudhawk heaved against the chains that bound his wrists. “I am under direct orders from the commander in chief, General Skye. I’m being framed by those shitfucks in the governor’s mansion. Go on, ask Drake if he would still be alive if I didn’t get involved at the Blisterpeaks. Ask who he owes his life to!”
Of course Caspian didn’t believe Cloudhawk was a spy. After the tragedy at the Blisterpeaks, General Skye had taken a serious blow to his influence. It would be no surprise if the governor took this opportunity to try and snatch up more power for himself. Besides, Cloudhawk had a somewhat sour history with some members of Arcturus’ group – a fact which lent even more credence to the claim he was being targeted.
“I see, I see. Obvious those… shitfucks?… in the governor’s mansion are jealous of the Boss’ talent and good looks.” Caspian cooed the words with a strange smile on his lips.  He leaned in and lowered his voice. “By the way, how is my dear Gabriel? It’s been so long since I’ve heard word and I miss him terribly.”
“Look, I don’t have time to reminisce.”Cloudhawk rolled his eyes at the brazen words of his old squad-mate. This guy wasn’t going to give up his sinister plans for Gabriel. Wasn’t he afraid Naberius might take offense? But whatever, he didn’t have time to tease the sissy anyway. He came right to the point. “Listen, sissy, do you not trust me?”
“Nonsense, the Boss is our glorious leader. Do I look like the sort to play false allegiances? Speak, what do you need from me? Come hell or high water, I won’t balk at any request.”
“Let me go.”
“Ah?!” Caspian balked.
Cloudhawk didn’t have time for any of this shit, and had no intention of sitting around waiting for a sham trial. If it weren’t for the fact that the Court’s boss had been present, Cloudhawk was sure he could have escaped from Atlas. He definitely wouldn’t have allowed himself to get thrown in here! He would rather be hunted all through the city than let it get blown to pieces.
“Boss, my hero, my lord. Don’t play with me like this! You’re an enemy of the people. I don’t care about being Overseer but the fact is these charges against you can’t be substantiated. I can look after you here, and we’ll just wait for the general to handle all of this himself.” He paused for a moment. “Do you understand how serious of a crime it is to try and escape from here? Even if you’re completely innocent, I cannot let you do that.”
Cloudhawk fixed him with a grim stare. “Cut the shit. Are you going to help me or not?”
Caspian scowled. “Are you sure you’ve thought this through?”
“I’ve got my reasons, and those reasons won’t wait for me to stand trial. If I don’t do something now then everything is going to hell in a hand basket, do you understand?” Cloudhawk’s voice was thick with sincerity. “Relax, I’m not going to get you in any trouble. Just tell me where they put my shit, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Caspian was still unsure.
“Hey sissy boy, you make up your mind yet or what? I am out of time!” Cloudhawk’s irritation was bubbling over and he raised his voice. “And if you don’t do me this small favor I’ll make damn sure you never see Gabriel ever again!”
Caspian smirked. “Our dear Boss… always causing trouble. Alright, alright. This time I’m the one who takes the bullet. Who put you in charge, anyway...”
The Overseer made sure Cloudhawk’s gear was stored in an easy-to-reach place. He then went back to his room and slept like nothing had happened.
In the middle of the night he was awakened by a pealing bell.
“Damn! A prisoner has escaped! Hunt them down!”
The Boss knows what he’s doing. Even under tight observation, lock and key he still managed to sneak away.
Caspian turned over and went back to sleep, paying no mind to the chaos outside. Trouble was sure to come his way, but far more of it would fall on Cloudhawk’s head. If the boss wasn’t scared, then what did he have to be frightened of?
His stints in prison are shorter and shorter... meanwhile, good to see Caspian again.
Janus was named 千面, literally 'Thousand Faces'. We elected to go with Janus, the two-faced Roman god, but keep the title 'Many-Face' and will use it as a title/name that can be used in tandem.