“Enter!” Several Templars entered and opened the large doors to the guard room. “This is where you’ll be living until the end of your hearing.”
“Stop pushing me around. You guys got no fuckin’ manners.” Cloudhawk fussily straightened his clothes while shooting the stink eye to his guards. “I’ve got legs, alright? You think I can’t walk on my own?”
“Stop talking!” One of them, a captain, glared at the mouthy youth. “You better show me a little respect, and don’t think you’re getting out of here. Try to escape and things will go very badly for you. Even the Apostle won’t be able to protect you from what I’ll do!”
He punctuated his threat by slamming the door. The resonant thud rumbled through the room.
Cloudhawk irreverently jabbed his middle finger at where the man had stood. Did he really think this place could hold him? It wasn’t like Cloudhawk had been wasting time all these years.
‘House arrest’ was just another sort of imprisonment, only with fewer chains and slightly better accommodations. They would give him three square meals a day, and he didn’t expect to be mistreated. Most importantly, though, the Temple was likely the only place Arcturus’ power couldn’t reach.
The structure of the Temple was unique. Its interior was three or four times larger than it appeared from the outside, which was possible because it was constructed with mysterious godly power. It somehow flouted the rules of time and space, which Cloudhawk sensed because the energy density in here was several times what it was outside.
Because of the unique makeup of the energy levels here, even just moving around required more effort. Cloudhawk found that the strange dimensional make-up of the temple was more than his relic could overcome. It’s why the Temple didn’t confiscate his relics, even though they knew he had phase powers.
Of course, Cloudhawk’s powers were more varied and complicated than they gave him credit for. He didn’t need to waste energy trying to phase through the walls of the Temple when he could simply teleport to another dimension. All he had to do was lip into his warehouse out in space, wander off a few steps, then boom – he was free. The Temple couldn’t hold him, no place could.
However, having the ability to escape and actually accomplishing it were two different things. When he got out, what then? What was he supposed to do?
Cloudhawk sat cross-legged and fell into a quiet contemplation. He had to look at the bright side; sure he was locked up in this place, but at least he was getting a little fucking peace and quiet for a change.
Still, something had to be done. Cloudhawk wrapped his fingers around the relic that hung from his neck and plucked it off. He stared at it, dull even under the strange Elysian lantern light.
The phase stone was black as coal, with a texture somewhere between rock and jade. Really, very unassuming except for the almost imperceptible threads of red veins that snaked across its surface and pulsed with the faintest light. Such a simple looking thing, containing such incredible power.
From the moment he found this stone, Cloudhawk’s whole life had changed.
He felt like something had been pushing him down this path. From when he found the stone and everything that happened afterward. It was like none of it was by accident, that some unseen hand was leading him from one experience to the next. Everything was predetermined.
It was… uncomfortable. Like his name he was a hawk, aching for freedom. He would accept no fetters, and would only remain in a cage if he so chose.
Cloudhawk didn’t know what would come if he kept walking this path, but he did know that there was nothing that strength and knowledge could not change. If he encountered something intractable, it just meant he wasn’t strong or smart enough yet.
Fate… fate. What did any of that mean? It was an excuse for the weak and a self-deprecating falsehood for the strong. Cloudhawk was determined to take fate into his own hands, but if he wanted to do that he needed more power!
He’d gotten stronger quickly in the last half year, but compared to his goal it was a drop in a bucket. He needed more, or he couldn’t protect himself from his enemies much less his friends.
When he thought about it his fingers tightened around the stone.
Tiny licks of flame reached from between his fingers, the ominous green of Castigation fire. They slithered out from within him like tentacles, gently reaching for the relic.
He watched as green fire permeating the stone.
Castigation was a relic unlike any other. What made it special was its parasitic nature. When it joined with a host, the power of the relic spread through every cell of its master much like Trespasser. Now, it was as much a part of him as anything else.
The actual substance of Castigation Fire was infinitesimal, but it devoured anything it touched. That made it phenomenally dangerous. He’d seen it damage other relics as well, because Castigation Fire gnawed at the source of what made them work. It made repairing said relics very difficult.
What’s more, Castigation Fire retained some of that material that made relics function and brought it into the host. In short, it took from a relic and delivered it into a person’s body, eventually granting the bearer the ability to use the relic’s power without the item itself.
That’s how Cloudhawk had absorbed a piece of Quiet Carnage’s power before it was destroyed. He wondered… if he could extract some of the power of Quiet Carnage, could he do the same with the phase stone?
He decided to try.
Of course, the phase stone was also different from other relics. The demands it placed on the bearer were intense. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have taken a thousand years for someone to come along and claim it. There was no doubt that something about Cloudhawk, some hidden lineage or talent, was what allowed him to use the tone. That’s why the demon king chose him.
It all began when he touched it.
He remembered feeling a connection with it right away, like they were of the same body. It was meant for him, it was a birthright. No one else could wield it but him because of this innate kinship. He was intimately familiar with it even long before he stumbled on that cave. So, it would be the subject of his first experiment.
The phase stone was of a higher grade than Castigation Fire, there was no danger of the green fires destroying it. Even if his efforts failed, he wouldn’t be losing a relic.
Cloudhawk continued to carefully release the power until the stone was completely enveloped. As it happened, he felt like he was caught in some strange space, a familiar space – that sea of mental energy locked within the stone.
Vast, and black. It was what remained of the Demon King’s power.
Though only a fraction of what the beast had wielded in life, the immensity of it was staggering. Were Cloudhawk able to absorb it all, he would instantly be as mighty as a Master Demonhunter.
Much of the reason for his improvements over the years was thanks to the power locked in this stone. It was a dark gift from a dead monarch, available because he was ordained as the creature’s successor. If not for it, no matter how hard he worked it would be a miracle for him to become even half as strong as he was today without the phase stone.
The dark sea stretched out before him like a mirror. Faint lights danced across its surface like the starry night sky. Overhead, the ‘sky’ was an eerie green reflecting on the murky surface.
Flickers of green began to descend, gently touching down upon the sea. When the darkness swallowed up the fires its smooth surface began to tremble, and then seethe. Sinister hues of green began to creep into the pure black waters.
As the fires continued to descend, the sea boiled ever more intensely. Cloudhawk looked out over a limitless expanse of pitching waters. Steam was belched into the air as the sea of psychic energy began to boil away.
The process continued for a time. A rain of Castigation fire was falling all around.
Suddenly Cloudhawk opened his eyes and took deep, gasping breaths. He was soaked from head to toe, like he’d been wading through an ocean. His eyes snapped to the phase stone, where he discovered with surprise that it had become smaller. Where before there had been veins of red through the rock, now they were green. It appeared Castigation Fire was still at war with the black sea within.
Power surged through Cloudhawk’s body. He could feel it filling him.
He’d directly absorbed only a fraction of the steam he’d seen, however the rest was not lost or wasted. Rather, it was conveyed into his body as he expected it might. His own body became the new vessel for the power sealed in the stone.
What did it mean that the relic was smaller? It must have melted!
He was puzzled by the results and a little frightened, for he hadn’t wanted to damage the relic in his efforts. Fortunately, he found that the powers of the stone were not diminished by his attempts. Instead, it was now shared with his own body.
In other words, with time and effort Cloudhawk could boil the entire sea of energy within the stone and swallow it into himself. Once that was accomplished he could phase and teleport without the stone, a true super human.
Over the next few days Cloudhawk was shuffled back and forth from his hearings. He entertained himself by harassing his captors, and when he had a spare moment would continue to work with the stone.
“Next time, don’t be so arrogant!”
“Antagonizing the Governor isn’t doing yourself any favors!”
“Yeah, Miss Polaris – you’re causing the Grand Master a heap of trouble.”
Cloudhawk had just settled down for a rest when he heard talking through the wall. He listened as Dawn was shoved into the room next door.
Since she was a former Templar, her relationship with their captors was on better terms. Their gruff words were meant to persuade her, for her own benefit. For her part, however, Dawn did not seem grateful for their attempts. Instead she sent them away in no uncertain terms.
Cloudhawk chuckled. “I thought there was something different in the air today. I should have known it would be the noble Miss stomping around.”
He heard Dawn rush to the wall they shared, striking it with so much force it trembled. “Cloudhawk? They threw you in here as well?”
“They put me here right after they took you away.”
“It’s inconceivable what they’re doing. I tell them the truth but no one listens. How can you be so relaxed?”
“Nothing wrong with a little quiet and three solid meals a day. Hell, I’d stay here a year or so if they’d let me – not a good vacation.”
When he heard her voice it was irritated and incredulous. “You’d willingly live such a cowardly life?”
“Surprise! You’re annoyed with me.” He leaned with his back against the wall as he spoke with her. “You know the southern wastelands?”
“Yes, it’s riddled with mutant creatures. What about it?”
“Four years ago, my life was spent picking through the ruins of the southern wastes. I was lucky to get a full meal once a day. I was forever picking through garbage looking for scraps, hiding from slavers, and shivering in the dark hole I called my home. When I opened my eyes in the morning I was happy to still be breathing.”
As she listened to Cloudhawk recount his former life, Dawn calmed down.
“It’s been years since I’ve had to live that way.” Cloudhawk’s voice was calm and even. “But I don’t have to go back to know the ruins are still filled with people who were like me, just trying to survive. While some people may call being locked up in this place hell, where I come from this is heaven. Heaven and hell… it’s really just a matter of perspective.”
Dawn didn’t agree with him, but couldn’t refute his logic.
“That’s humans for you. If you gave someone a few pieces of every day for nothing, then stopped suddenly, inwardly they’d hate you for it. If you slapped someone across the face every day and then stopped because your hand hurt, your victim would thank you for it.”
“What are you trying to say, that all humans are garbage?”
“I guess that depends on how you look at it. So far as I’m concerned, all people are equal. Honor, riches, dignity – all external bullshit. Being focused on all of that nonsense is stupid and serves nothing but to make you lose your way.” Cloudhawk laid back on the mattress, folding his hands behind his head. “If I was the same person, picking through the ruins for grubs, I’d fight for what’s mine but wouldn’t complain about what I didn’t have. It was hard, but I was satisfied, even happy. You gain and you lose, you earn what you deserve – it’s how you stay true to your natural self.”
Dawn couldn’t help but chuckle. It was the first time she’d laughed in days.Previous Chapter Next Chapter