Skye Polaris had his funeral in the main square of Skycloud city.
All business were shuttered for a day of mourning. Every home and business hung out streamers of white silk. Rustling in the wind, they danced like the hair of angels. A solemnity rarely seen in the Elysian lands hung over the city.
People took it upon themselves to dress in black and walked through the streets. It was a sharp contrast to the typical brilliant white of the holy metropolis.  Masses of black-clad bodies numbering in the hundreds made their way through the lanes and alleys like a dark, slow-moving river. In their hands they clutched white chrysanthemum flowers, which they placed within the square as a sign of their lament. 
Hundreds of thousands of flowers lay upon the cold stone.
A boundless sea of petals carpeted the square. Doves fluttered forlornly in groups overhead. Leading the procession was the High Priest, who was followed by the commanders of each army corps. They bore the jade coffin of General Skye between them. There was no body, of course. In its stead they placed within the casket Skye’s empty armor. Step by solemn step they inched toward the center of the square.
Two thousand soldiers were arrayed as an honor guard. Dull sunlight glinted off their ceremonial regalia, and their drawn weapons. They stood vigil on either side of the lane as though they were ready to follow their fallen General into battle. Trailing the procession were the members of the Polaris family, who trudged along with forlorn expressions and broken spirit.
For the Polaris family, losing their patriarch was like losing their heart. Who among them could shoulder the responsibility this glorious man had borne for decades?
“Thank you, General, for your service to our grateful realm.”
“Almighty gods, watch over the spirit of our Commander!”
“Grandpa Skye… may your journey to Sumeru be an easy one. We will watch over Skycloud for you now.”
Cloudhawk stood outside of the crowds, looking over the sea of white flowers. It was a stunning visual, but what really struck him were the faces of ordinary folk he passed. Old, young, women, men… they looked so lost. The sadness he saw was true, and they had all gathered here to share their sorrow, for each other and for the man they were seeing off. It was a beautiful, painful display of human emotion.
Cloudhawk looked on from a distance.
Dawn was with her family and the other officers, standing before the casket. Her eyes were red from crying, but it somehow only added to her beauty. She told herself to be strong, but visions of when she would ride her grandpa’s shoulders and tug on his beard assailed her as they walked. The tears came as she confronted the awful truth that he was gone forever. That old man who came to clean up the messes she left behind was gone. He carried their family on his broad shoulders for years, but no longer.
From now on, there was no more War-God. The Polaris family was doomed to shameful decline.
Cloudhawk didn’t know how to comfort his friend. She had to go through this on her own.
As he watched, another group of ten people walked toward the procession. They were the representatives from the Cloude family, several veteran demonhunters as well as Frost, Clay, Augustus… faces every citizen recognized at a glance. In the center, walking with solemn purpose, was Arcuturs Cloude, their Governor.
He was dressed in a simple and respectful black robe, here to participate in the funeral. The moment Dawn saw him approach her hands curled into fists. Why were they here, shedding crocodile tears?
However, the citizens looked upon their great Governor with eyes of glowing admiration. General Skye was gone, but their illustrious Governor remained to protect them from the horrors of the wastes.
“My heard is laden with regret, like all of you!” Arcturus stepped into the middle of the crowd, and looked over them with sorrowful eyes. “Together, we mourn the loss of a great warrior, a legend who walked among us. Our magnificent city suffers the loss of a tremendous spirit. It is a tragedy for our people and our society.”
Dawn glared at the Governor with eyes that promised bloody murder – a volcano that threatened to erupt at any moment.
“All of us, regardless of station – from the ordinary man to the noblest officer – will one day take the bitter journey to Mount Sumeru.” Arcturus’ voice carried across the square with an almost hypnotic cadence. The pain of his words drew in the crowd. “But where even a simple life can shine like the bloom of fireworks in the heart of humanity, the loss of this great man will shine among the heavens like a blanket of stars. Though the body may be gone, the will and power shall guide us forward in our righteous exploits.”
“Skycloud is embroiled in a period of strife we have not experienced for many years. But do not think the loss of our Commander makes us weak. His strength will live forever more within all of you, and together are made greater than the sum of our parts. Skycloud is eternal and invincible because of the sacrifice of men like Skye Polaris. Follow his example, and together we will ensure our realm continues to the end of time!”
A wave of emotion surged through the crowd at Arcturus’ words.
But then a note of discord trilled through the din, as from the crowds there arose a stifling aura. It was a choking, murderous intent that everyone could feel like needles on the skin.
From the sea of white petals shot a dazzling light, fast as lightning and ten times as deadly. The air became filled with gentle white petals as the glint from a sword whipped passed, toward the Governor.
A sea of shocked faces watched. Someone was trying to kill Arcturus!
But Frost was still. So was Clay, and every other member of the Cloude family.
In their eyes, this attempt was laughably ineffectual. Skycloud was living in a golden age where three Master Demonhunters had risen to prominence, and the greatest among them was the Governor himself. If some foolish assassin could kill Arcuturs with these underhanded tactics, how many times would Skycloud have been dominated by the enemy already?
The Governor extended two fingers, and almost halfheartedly pinched them together. A glimmering sword appeared caught between his fingers.
Whatever strength, momentum and fury was behind that blow it didn’t matter. Arcturus had stopped it with hardly any effort at all. It all abruptly drained away into nothing.
Eyes darted among the crowd to see who would be so bold as to make an attempt on the governor’s life. Who was foolish enough to brazenly try to assassinate the city’s leader? But when they saw who it was, the faces of the crowd fell in disbelief. Dawn Polaris, the granddaughter of their late War-God, had her hands wrapped tight around the pommel of Terrangelica. She was thrusting forward as hard as she could, but the blade would go no further.
Dawn was impulsive, morally inflexible and decisive in action. She had always dared to wear her heart on her sleeve. Her nature would not allow her to do nothing as the man behind her grandfather’s murder bemoaned the loss like it hadn’t been his doing. How dare he stand before the people and make his grand speeches!
It was an insult to her grandfather’s memory! Dawn would not stand for it, so with absolute resolve she drew her sword against Skycloud’s Governor. Of course she was no fool – she knew she would not succeed. She did it anyway.
But attacking the Governor… that was treason! No one understood what would possess Dawn Polaris to commit such a grievous sin!
Being so far away from the center of the square, Cloudhawk couldn’t stop her. Her strike had been fierce and true, filled with all the strength she could muster, so he likely couldn’t have stopped her even if he tried. Anyway, it was too late now.
“You bastard! You despicable hypocrite!” Dawn roared at Arcturus, giving vent to all of her pain and anger. “Give me back my grandfather!”
“This daughter of the Polaris family is bereaved. I know the pain you are going through.” Arcturus gently shook his head. “General Skye didn’t die for me, he died for all of us. He died for our realm and all of humanity, and his influence will reach far into our future. We will remember him.”
Bullshit! Every word was heinous lies to Dawn’s ears. She poured her will into Terrangelica and tried again to chop the Governor in half.
But Arcturus was much faster. With a single finger he knocked her blade to the side, while simultaneously a streak of electricity traveled through the blade. Dawn couldn’t hold her weapon and was forced to release it. Terrangelica was flung away and scattered along the stone with a clang.
Burning electrical power seared her nerves. It traveled up through her hands and into the rest of her body, like thousands of ants chewing tunnels under her skin. Eventually she lost control of her muscles and slumped to the ground with a thud.
Several demonhunters from the Cloude family moved in then, grabbing Dawn and holding her fast.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” An elder of the Polaris family stepped forward and shouted at them indignantly. “We haven’t even laid General Skye to rest and already you put your hands on his granddaughter!”
Clay answered. “Dawn Polaris tried to assassinate the Governor. Everyone here witnessed it. We must be cautious for the safety of our Governor and our realm, no matter the background of the culprit. Leave Dawn to me.”
Members of the Cloude family took her away.
As Cloudhawk watched it happen he felt his heart skip a beat. There weren’t many who knew about Arcturus’ crimes. The likes of Barb and the old drunk didn’t have the strength to oppose him. The only two with any real power were him and Dawn. Was this the Governor’s attempt at cutting the weeds and razing the roots?
First they would deal with Dawn, and then they would inevitably come for him.
As expected, the funeral had only just finished when a group of soldiers in full armor approached Cloudhawk. But instead of Cloude’s men, they identified themselves as members of the Temple.
“What’s the problem?”
“We have reason to believe there was another inside agent hiding among the expeditionary force. We have plenty of evidence to show for it. We have reason to believe you are guilty of crimes against our armed forces, and must ask you to come and explain yourself.”
Cloudhawk had no choice. Once again, he was brought before the Temple.
Arcturus Cloude now had control of the political and military power of Skycloud. High Priest Ramiel seemed not to notice, and even Selene stood silently by his side. She recognized what Arcturus was up to, though. Was he so impatient to cut down potential threats?
“Relying on information from within the expeditionary force, we are charging you with suspicions of collaborating with the enemy, blasphemy, treason, and war crimes.” An agent from the Temple read out his laundry list of offenses. “From this moment onward you are relieved of your command – both as fleet commander and Warden of the Talons of God. During this first hearing you will be given an opportunity to defend yourself from these accusations – but your words will be judged by Governor Arcturus and High Priest Ramiel, so think before you speak.”
Cloudhawk’s eyes turned toward the imperious bearing of Arcturus Cloude. A strange expression crossed his features, one of bitter mirth. Once again he had to defend himself from false allegations.
1. Interesting fact; though not displayed here, the traditional color of death and funerals in China is typically white. Often times during funerals mourners will wear white caps or kerchiefs on their heads. This is why you should always think twice before offering white clothing as a gift to someone in China, especially hats. Of course, this is less prevalent now with the new globalist generation and they won’t fault a foreigner for their ignorance.
2. Interesting story number two! In Tian’An Men square the ‘body’ of Mao Zedong is interred. Most suspect it isn’t the realm body, but a wax replica. Supposedly they bring out the real body on special occasions, but I find that unlikely. On most days you can visit his mausoleum and, if you like, purchase a flower from wandering vendors who walk up and down the line. You go inside and place the flower at the foot of Mao’s coffin… where they are picked up a few moments later by attendants and resold to others waiting in line. Nothing honors the communist spirit like capitalizing on public sentiment!
RWX: So guys, this whole 'getting married' thing ended up being more work than I thought it would be (which, in hindsight, sounds like the stupidest thing to say ever)... and this is before the wedding. In China, we do the marriage registration first, followed by the wedding after. I'm just beat, after doing things like entertaining all sorts of family, guests, taking two THOUSAND pre-wedding pictures, then spending 6 hours the next day deleting 1800 of them as we picked out 200... it's just been a bad week'ish, although bad for the right reasons I guess. Everything is finally done (for now, with the wedding in August), but I'm bushwhacked. I was planning to drop a good ten-plus chapters at a minimum, but I just couldn't power my way through more than five today, so I'll do another five tomorrow and possibly the day after before getting back into our normal rhythm. Thanks to everyone for their nice comments. Mrs. Ren appreciates you all as well!