“Finally, I have an announcement I’d like to make.” High Priest Ramiel went on before the council was allowed to disperse. “Due to recent events, it is clear that our glorious, divine realm is facing a darkness the likes of which we have never seen. In order to aid us in preventing further tragedy, I am submitting a name for recommendation on behalf of the Temple. It is a name you may find strange, but if she accepts this mission then she will work together with you as our representative to ensure the safety of our people.”
Everyone’s expressions changed at the announcement.
The Temple didn’t involve itself in military affairs, and it stayed out of Skycloud’s political discussions. It was purely an organization meant to guide the people’s faith, and provide for their spiritual well-being. It was a thousand year tradition, yet it was one that was about to change. What signal was he trying to send by appointing a Temple representative?
Was the High Priest trying to express his lack of faith in the council? Or was this the Temple taking this opportunity to expand its influence on the domain – changing from a purely spiritual body toward more tangible pursuits? Or was there some other plan they couldn’t fathom?
While the proclamation didn’t sound like a big deal, in fact it heralded a great change to the future of the domain. This was naturally of concern to every Skycloud noble and military officer. However, Cloudhawk was more interested in the sort of person the Temple would appoint to such an important post. Was it one of the cardinals? Grand Prior Phain?
High Priest Ramiel did not leave them in suspense for long. “Enter!”
A pressing aura suddenly filled the chamber, as a figure clad all in white came into view. Stunning, majestic. Members of the council felt their breath catch in their throat as they stared entranced. The holy lights of the chamber coalesced around a figure that was full of unbridled elegance and purity.
No – of course not. But it was someone who shared his same bearing.
Clad in white gossamer robes, she had the same presence as the late Master Demonhunter. Long, raven-black tresses tumbled down past her shoulders. When she walked there was a keen presence to her step, like a sword dancing through the air. Every inch of her glowed with a sort of natural quintessence, forming a woman nearly perfect both in form and substance.
Cloudhawk’s eyes went wide. Dawn’s mouth fell open. The whole council stared in absolutely shock.
She was a woman widely known, though had gone unseen for half a decade. In fact, they’d almost forgotten that Skycloud had ever produced someone like her. At eight years old she joined the ranks of the demonhunters, and at fourteen she had been accepted into the heights of the order. Her achievements shattered all previous records, and before her disappearance it was widely believed she would be the first person in history to achieve Master status before her thirtieth year.
She walked through the hall to the front of the platorm, not even sparing a glance for Cloudhawk as though she had never met him. Dropping to one knee in a solemn and dignified salute, she spoke out in a clear voice which rose like a crystal bell among the clouds, cold and crisp. “I, Selene Cloude, come to pay homage to the High Priest.”
“You are worthy of your spectacular bloodline, and are a shining beacon for the future of our demonhunters. I can sense it from you, the determination to break through all barriers. I can feel your indomitable spirit. I can also feel your strength, and noble heart.”
High Priest Ramiel’s saintly voice reverberated through the hall.
“Selene Cloude, with her virtuous spirit and faithful heart, is a peerless representative of her generation. Five years of tribulations in the wastelands has tempered her into the woman that stands before us today, capable and self-sufficient. She is the only person suitable to speak as the voice of the Temple.”
Cloudhawk couldn’t see Arcturus’ expression, hard as he tried to peek.
After five years Selene had returned, but she did not return to her household. Instead, she turned directly to the temple. Others might not be aware of the significance, but Cloudhawk had come to know of the struggles between Skycloud’s ruling factions. Things were never as simple as they appeared.
High Priest Ramiel then turned to address Arcturus. “Our great and noble Governor, Selene is a rare gem of the Cloude family. I should not have tapped her for this position without first seeking your blessing, but seeing as the governor’s mansion already has the boon of those like Frost de Winter, I thought it would be better if she served the gods in a more direct capacity. Have you any thoughts?”
Arcturus gently nodded his head. “With the Temple cultivating Selene’s enormous potential, a glorious future is assured. This appointment is to her good fortune and future. As patriarch of the Cloude family, I am delighted.”
The High Priest smiled, appeased. “Then with that settled… brave and steadfast Selene, do you accept the role of a saint? To become an angel in service of our masters at the expense of your feelings, freedoms, maybe even your life? To defend the majesty of the gods and the safety of our twenty million faithful?”
Selene remained on one knee before them. “I do.”
The old man nodded once again. “Very good. With that, you are anointed as an Apostle of the gods. From this day forward, it is our hope that you valiantly defend the realm on the front lines.”
Selene said nothing further.
The High Priest’s announcement had caught everyone off guard.
Never before had the Temple inserted itself in civil or martial affairs, yet with the state of the realm in critical danger no one objected. After all, their representative was Selene Cloude. She was no ordinary person. Who but she was suitable for the job?
At last, the council was disbanded and the meeting adjourned.
Cloudhawk filed out of the hall with everyone else, but stopped at the exit turn back for a final look. Standing alone in the chamber was that solitary white figure. He was very curious what she was thinking right now, why she had decided to make this choice.
Once they were finally outside of the temple, everyone felt like they could breathe again.
Dawn petulantly stamped her feet. “That bitch shows up and immediately attached herself to the High Priest’s ankles! Don’t think for a minute this makes me afraid of her. Ugh! It just infuriates me to watch her play it so cool. One day I’ll punch all the teeth out of that pretty mouth!”
Once again, Cloudhawk was confronted with the suspicion that something was going on between Dawn and Selene.
They were both beautiful, both talented. Dawn had a drive to exceed over others and Selene was competitive down to her very bones. A fiery volcano and an icy mountain peak – he guessed it was only natural two people so different wouldn’t care for one another.
Neither were women to be underestimated, either.
Dawn could feel Cloudhawk had some kind of connection to Selene. She shot him a sidelong glance. She was definitely going to try her best to win him over to her side. It was a fact that caused him some anxiety. Both women were his friends, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to put himself between two angry tigresses.
Luckily, before she could make her pitch the Polaris family advisor appeared. Mr. Ink approached Cloudhawk and spoke directly to him. “Cloudhawk. The General has requested your presence.”
Cloudhawk sighed, relieved but also nervous.
Facing Skye Polaris still scared him a little. Just a few minutes ago, his granddaughter had pledged her life and honor on Cloudhawk’s innocence. The Polaris family was facing a critical shortage of capable members, so Dawn was more than just a cherished granddaughter. She was the only hope for a renaissance of the Polaris clan.
He wasn’t going to tolerate an outsider like Cloudhawk dragging her down!
Could this man – famous throughout the domain for his explosive temperament, swallow such a risk? Cloudhawk hoped he didn’t lose his cool, after all, the General wasn’t the General for no reason. If that old drunk had been called the Skycloud War Saint in his day, then Skye was the full on War God. Cloudhawk couldn’t protect himself if the old madman lost his temper.
He didn’t have a choice. He had to go whether he wanted to or not.
Something suddenly occurred to Cloudhawk. He summoned the power of the phase stone and pulled from his pocket dimension a broken sword. It was the blade of the fallen Border Army General, Aegir Polaris. Aegir had been one of the few remaining stars of his family, but was cut down in the Blisterpeaks. The broken sword was all that remained. It had to be returned to its original owners.
Mr. Ink brought Cloudhawk to the audience hall, then through it to an artificial lake in the backyard. General Polaris’ old but powerful silhouette was seen standing in a pavilion overlooking the lake, watching the ripples.
Cloudhawk was surprised to find that Skye was not surrounded by his typical explosive aura, like a lake of fire bubbling beneath the surface. Skye turned to face the young man, noting the broken sword in his hand, and let his eyes wander as he heaved a deep sigh.
It was only then Cloudhawk felt something was off. This wasn’t the animalistic General he knew. This was just… a tired old man. As the pillars of his family crumbled one after the other, all of that pressure came to rest on his broad shoulders.
Cloudhawk could now understand why this old man always seemed so overly aggressive. He was the only person supporting his family in a cutthroat political field. If he admitted his age, then the Polaris family would age into obscurity with him. If he was weak, then his family was seen as weak. If he fell, the whole Polaris clan crumbled.
So General Skye Polaris couldn’t be old. He couldn’t be weak. He had to be stronger and more ferocious than anyone, because he wasn’t a man – he was the soul of his family, and the bearer of his ancestors’ honor. It was an impossibly heavy burden to carry.
“Honestly, Aegir wasn’t all that special.” Skye stared at the gently undulating lake before him. “Do you know why he was chosen to be General of the Border Army?”
Cloudhawk thought for a moment. “No, I don’t.”
Skye continued to speak, facing the training ground situated in the center of the lake. “He was adopted from an offshoot family when he was eight years old, a nobody. His contemporaries all wanted to make their mark on the world, and they strove to show off their great prowess and ambition. But not Aegir. He always seemed to live in his own world, training here in this garden day and night.”
“Just train?” Cloudhawk asked.
“That’s right. Just train. From the moment he opened his eyes in the morning to the second before he fell asleep, day after day, year after year. It didn’t matter if it was raining, or if he was sick. The sword was all that existed for him. For as long I knew him, he never had friends, lovers or offspring. He hardly ever left the house. Do you know how long that went on?”
“Three years? Five?”
“True, he wasn’t as talented as some. He relied on strength of will and character to improve himself. It cost him forty years of loneliness and disregard before he finally took his place as one of the greatest soldiers of the realm.” Skye’s eyes continued to search the lake, as though that was where the memories were hidden. “More than half his life given to the blade. Forty years of hardships. In the end, he became a peerless swordsman whose skill with the blade was renowned throughout the realm. No one would have expected that this man from humble origins would one day become General of the Border Army.”
Cloudhawk looked at the shattered blade in his hand and voiced his thoughts. “How could he endure so many years being alone?”
“Because he had faith. When a man is strong in his faith, no humiliation or hardship can break his spirit. If your faith is strong, you can be willing to give up everything and still go on. Through faith and sacrifice, a person of even the basest origins can become a king. Aegir was never coddled a day in his life, and he had no woman or children to lift him up. From his earliest days, he was subject to ridicule and mockery, but he didn’t care. To him, so long as he had his sword then all was right.”
Skye paused and lowered his head.
“You have a unique talent, the kind that could change the world. But tell me – what about faith? One look at you, and I can tell you’re lost. Why don’t you ask yourself what it is that you want?”
Cloudhawk looked at the lake surface, lost in thought. He thought about the things he used to believe. He had come to believe that such things were impossible, but listening to Aegir’s story hit something deep inside him.
Skye looked at the young man. “Do you know what I saw in you when we first met? You were unrestrained, unyielding, and untamable! You were like a wild animal. You’ve grown over the years, grow strong – and faster than anyone could have predicted. But what happened to that wild heart?”
It was a question Cloudhawk had also asked himself.
“It’s the same for most anyone. We seem to grow and improve, accumulating power and status and things. But really, we often come to discover that we’ve already lost the most important thing without even realizing it.” Skye fixed Cloudhawk with an earnest stare. “You’re young, full of potential. If you don’t like the state of the world, then use your strength to change it. You have the power to do it!”
Cloudhawk was quiet for a time. Then, without warning, his arm flashed out.
A shattered blade glittered in the gentle light of the yard. It tumbled through the air like a butterfly with broken wings. Both men watched as that broken butterfly’s final dance brought it rest in the center of the lake.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I really, really liked this chapter as well (I seem to be saying this a lot). What do you think Cloudhawk's tossing of the sword symbolizes?